Point proved

I have to say, I am sad that my assertion about Jacqueline's blind spot is so true, and that her rationality and knowledge of economics goes out the window on this subject. Let's look at part of her response:

Intelligent women, when given the choice to not reproduce, are choosing to not have babies in increasing numbers. Also dumb people have many more children than smart people do. So, it seems that people who have the intellectual capability to think through their decision to have kids (and actually make a decision instead of just blindly following their hormones/societal pressure) are more and more likely to decide to NOT have kids. If you see dumb people choosing to do something and smart people choosing not to do it, doesn’t that suggest to you that perhaps it’s a dumb thing to do???

There are two problems with this:

First, consider the economics of being a woman and making decisions about how many kids to have. Let's suppose that a woman's ability to rear children is independent of intelligence, but her alternate choices (like working) are highly dependent on intelligence. Hence the number of kids she chooses will depend on intelligence. You can't simply ascribe it to "smart people solve problems better" (Jacqueline's claim) when the answer depends on intelligence. The claim is wrong.

More importantly, while it is true that smart people have less kids, most smart people do have kids. What intelligent women are doing is choosing to have less kids, not to have no kids. I mean, I expect the number who have no kids has gone up as well, and is correlated with intelligence. But most smart women are still having kids - they are just having 1 or 2 instead of 3 or 4 or more.

Now we turn the logic around. If it is true, as Jacqueline claims, that smart people's choices are important signals to be respected, then shouldn't the fact that most smart women still choose to have kids be important and meaningful? How can it possibly be fair to notice that some smart women don't have kids (or more smart women don't have kids) and to not notice that most of them do?

Jacqueline is apparently sick of being told that she has a duty to have kids, or is a horrible person if she doesn't. I think both of those things are ridiculous, and she is welcome to roundly criticize anyone who says them. But making general claims based on that annoyance is foolish, and letting those emotions color her thinking on an entire subject quite naturally results in saying foolish things, rather than dispassionately considering the evidence.

She also had some good points, which I will quote but not respond to, as I need to go home and watch the baby:

Having children used to be a good idea, when children were an investment good and they only way you would be cared for in your old age is if you had some. But now we can save money to provide for ourselves in our old age (and non-parents are much more capable of doing this than parents since they’re not wasting their money on offspring). Children are now a consumption good… and as far as consumption goods go, they are pretty lousy, especially for women. In my first post I linked to a happiness study that discovered that despite the lies parents tell to themselves and others about how great spending time with their kids is, in reality women enjoy childcare as much as they do housework. So they are spending a tremendous amount of money – and often giving up even more in opportunity cost – to acquire a consumption good that makes them miserable.

In a modern society, having children – especially for women – makes as much sense as gorging yourself on sweets and fats. It is a biological urge that used to be beneficial but now is just harmful.

I will just briefly add that the research she cites is only one widely-mentioned study, and that most other happiness studies have shown that families do contribute to happiness, and that spending time with family is one of the happiest things you can do. And that I think the sweets metaphor is quite appropriate. Gorging yourself on sweets nowadays is a bad idea. Don't you still enjoy them in moderation? Having a huge family may well be a bad idea. Why does that mean people cannot enjoy a small one?

Share this

Here's a few more points to

Here's a few more points to think about.

First, perhaps it is true that children are an underproduced public good these days. If so, then how should a libertarian approach the problem? Having the government tax people to fund breeders? Or by applying social pressure to get people to contribute to the commonweal? I'd prefer #2, thanks.

Second, that study on happiness is borderline useless. So women didn't enjoy "taking care of my children". What does that mean? Seems to me it probably means, basically, doing chores on their behalf - chauffering, wiping butts, etc. Who would enjoy that? Yet children were reasonably rewarding "interaction" partners. Also, "taking care of my children" was more rewarding than "working". So, Jacqueline, maybe you should quit your job and get some children! Of course, watching TV is even better - so maybe you should devote your life to that. If you've got a trust fund, that is. ("Socializing" was the highest rated category other than sex, so really you should do those. Paris Hilton beckons.)

And this brings us to my third point. Jacqueline argues as if her own pleasure were the only thing that matters to her. And if it is, that's OK with me - good luck to her. But most of us have a bit more in mind for our lives than just our own pleasure. There are many things that give me pleasure, that I'd never boast about. For example, I love pissing away time at the computer playing games. I can do it for hours and love it! Totally immersed! Are you impressed? I thought not.

Conversely, there are things that I don't like doing, particularly, compared to lazing about watching TV. And I could arrange my life to maximize them. But I don't. Why? Because I want to be a certain kind of person. I want to be a person who works hard in spite of it not always being enjoyable. A person who friends can count on, in spite of it being inconvenient. A person who takes care of himself, even though it would be easy to let others take care of me.

When my life ends, I don't want to look back and think, "man, I sure did maximize my pleasure! I sure watched a lot of TV!". No. Rather, I want to think back and say to myself, "I lived a good life." Not happy - good.

If you met someone, and found that he had a trust fund, and was using it to spend 16 hours a day in front of the TV, would you respect him? I would not. I'd think he was a major loser, no matter how happy he seemed.

Nozick touched on this tangentially in Anarchy State and Utopia, discussing an "experience machine". If you could "plug in" to a computer which would give you a life of happiness via synthetic experiences, would you do it? I would not. I want not just to be happy, but to be a certain kind of person. And I want not just to do things that make me happy, but to do things that make the world better, and that make other people happy - especially people I love.

And related to that whole

And related to that whole experience thing... it's one thing to ask new parents if they are enjoying it. Maybe, maybe not. You'll certainly get horror stories about lack of sleep. It's another thing to ask old people, "what are you proud of in your life"? If you do (I have), you'll get a variety of things. But I've never heard anyone claim they were proud of being happy. (Also never heard anyone claim to be proud of watching TV, or even having been made happy by it.) Instead they talk about things like their work, serving their country or community or church, and, almost always, about their pride and joy in their kids, if they have kids.

Now, this is not to say that old people's happiness in reflection is any more valid than current pleasure. But it does speak to me. Perhaps it might speak to you, too.

First, perhaps it is true

First, perhaps it is true that children are an underproduced public good these days. If so, then how should a libertarian approach the problem? Having the government tax people to fund breeders? Or by applying social pressure to get people to contribute to the commonweal? I’d prefer #2, thanks.

Far from being Libertarian, the government of Singapore has put such policies in place:

http://www.channelnewsasia.com/rally/baby/mediarelease.htm

If I'm not mistaken, years ago as that country was becoming the "rising star in the East", the birthrate, particularly among the educated, was falling proportionally. So the government began to offer cash incentives to encourage the childless working class to have babies, and those with one child to have more babies. Supposedly, the government feared that if the underclass were having all the babies they (Singapore) would soon lose their status as the rising star.

...

I read Jaqueline's arguments, and I agree many of them are based on emotion. On the other hand, some of her points about the long-term sacrifices women must make to have and raise children are actually true, at least often enough to merit consideration by those interested in rationally selfish behavior. And to be sure, fathers make sacrifices too.

Over the years I have read convincing arguments by parents and non-parents alike arguing the rationally selfish basis for having or not having children. To the extent people actually think about having children, and Jacqueline is correct, far too many don't, the decision nevertheless still boils down to a matter of preference and the kind of experiences you want for yourself in this life. The decision is partly economic, but infused with emotion and environmental influences as well.

Happiness is the reward of pride. Having and raising good kids is one source of pride, but there are many others.

It occured to me last night

It occured to me last night that there is another error in the claim that we can derive optimal strategy from what smart people do more of.

Suppose we ignore the question of tastes. The task is merely to choose from doors A, B, and C. Intelligence helps you solve the puzzle of figuring out the best door. Door A has a donkey, door B has $100K, and door C has $10K. No one likes donkeys. Here are the choice profiles:

Intelligence: (A, B, C)
Dumb: (5%, 20%, 75%)
Average: (10%, 40%, 50%)
Smart: (20%, 60%, 10%)

It is clear to see that intelligence is a big help at finding the best door, B. But Jacqueline's argument is equivalent to concluding from this data that A must be the best door.

Even if tastes don't matter, and even if intelligence helps you figure out something, you cannot infer that a minority choice is optimal just because it is popular among the intelligent. When errors are continuously distributed, it is to be expected that as you move closer to optimal, you get more errors on the far side.

(Not that I am calling the choice not to have kids an error! Just pointing out some faulty logic)

I'd like to mention also

I'd like to mention also that if, as is often believed, intelligence is correlated with genetics and/or upbringing, then the decision by smart people not to have children because dumb people are having more children is a decision to increase the proportion of dumb people to intelligent people in society, resulting in society as a whole becoming less and less intelligent. Which to me, isn't a very intelligent line of thinking at all.

I’d like to mention also

I’d like to mention also that if, as is often believed, intelligence is correlated with genetics and/or upbringing, then the decision by smart people not to have children because dumb people are having more children is a decision to increase the proportion of dumb people to intelligent people in society, resulting in society as a whole becoming less and less intelligent. Which to me, isn’t a very intelligent line of thinking at all.

The problem is that smart people who really don't want to have kids are, in an evolutionary sense, maladapted. Making these people have kids anyway is a very poor solution, since you're just carrying the problem over into the next generation -- those kids are statistically a lot more likely to become smart folks who don't want kids. It's a lot more humane to let folks like Jacqueline exercise their preference and stick to making memetic contributions to humanity, contributions that they likely wouldn't be able to make if they were forced to have children.

Smart people who really want to maximize their genetic contribution to the next generation do still seem to be able to outperform dumb people. I expect to see the frequency of meeps in the population increase.

The other existing way to attack this problem is to make the world worse for dumb people. This is historically what has kept the dumb population in check, but suffice it to say that there are extreme moral and practical problems with deliberately doing this. In any case, given the progress we're making in genetics, we have a good shot of developing the technology necessary to allow dumb people to have smart children who are still largely "their own" (which is extremely important; after all, even today dumb people can choose to adopt smarter children, but they have no interest in this). I'm pretty sure that that's the approach we should focus on.

The problem is that smart

The problem is that smart people who really don’t want to have kids are, in an evolutionary sense, maladapted.

Not at all, and in many cases quite the contrary. The most obvious example when it's wise to control your numbers is when resources are scarce. This is the usual evolutionary explanation anyway. Far from being "maladapted," smart moderns with limited resources who intentionally avoid having children are an example of being acutely well adapted.

Not at all, and in many

Not at all, and in many cases quite the contrary. The most obvious example when it's wise to control your numbers is when resources are scarce. This is the usual evolutionary explanation anyway. Far from being "maladapted," smart moderns with limited resources who intentionally avoid having children are an example of being acutely well adapted.

Nope. You misunderstand the brutal simplicity of the evolutionarily utility function. All it cares about is your long-term genetic imprint. Things like wealth, status, etc. are only relevant to the extent that they enhance reproductive opportunities.

"Limited resources" in today's welfare state is very different from "limited resources" in the past. It was correct to avoid having a fourth child in the past when doing so seriously compromised the nutrition you could offer all your children. Today, the state prevents that, so nowadays the optimal evolutionary strategy usually involves having as many healthy children as you possibly can and using the state to force others to shoulder most of the costs.

Fortunately, we aren't slaves to evolution; we're free to focus on different life goals.

Nope. You misunderstand the

Nope. You misunderstand the brutal simplicity of the evolutionarily utility function. All it cares about is your long-term genetic imprint. Things like wealth, status, etc. are only relevant to the extent that they enhance reproductive opportunities.

Can't imagine what you're talkng about here, since I didn't make any claims about natural selection operating against "wealth, status, etc."

“Limited resources” in today’s welfare state is very different from “limited resources” in the past.

Correct. But your orignial claim was that intentionally childless, smart people are maladapted "in an evolutionary sense." The welfare was not around during our evolution. In fact it's less than 200 years old. Adaption to a changed environment, in an evolutionary sense, takes a considerably longer time than that to occur.

Adaption to a changed

Adaption to a changed environment, in an evolutionary sense, takes a considerably longer time than that to occur.

It seems our thinking is pretty much in agreement and the confusion is just over language.

My main point was about how our population has been adapting to the new welfare state/birth control/resource abundance environment -- the frequency of smart people who dislike kids is declining. My other point was that people who try to fight this demographic shift by pressuring women like Jacqueline to have kids are misguided.

My main point was about how

My main point was about how our population has been adapting to the new welfare state/birth control/resource abundance environment – the frequency of smart people who dislike kids is declining.

I understood your point. I won’t argue with you that the increase in children at the expense of the welfare state, even if true, is an “adaptation.” But it’s not a heritable adaptation. Therefore it’s unavailable for natural selection to operate on, and thus not one occurring in an “evolutionary sense.” So the story goes anyway.

But it's not a heritable

But it's not a heritable adaptation. Therefore it's unavailable for natural selection to operate on, and thus not one occurring in an "evolutionary sense." So the story goes anyway.

There are highly heritable traits which do correlate with modern childbearing behavior (among other things, religiosity and IQ). That's enough for natural selection to work with.

There are highly heritable

There are highly heritable traits which do correlate with modern childbearing behavior (among other things, religiosity and IQ).

Well that's quite different than your original claim; nevertheless, do you have a cite for these data?

Well that's quite different

Well that's quite different than your original claim; nevertheless, do you have a cite for these data?

(It is what I meant with my original claim; when I said "maladapted in an evolutionary sense", I was mentally contrasting that with their success at being happy with their own lives. Evolution doesn't care much about happiness. Again, sorry about the ambiguous language.)

A quick Google and PubMed search yields the following citations, and many others:

Michele Hoffnung, "Wanting It All: Career, Marriage, and Motherhood During College-Educated Women's 20s," Sex Roles 50 [2004]: 711-723. College-educated women who "want it all", including a family, have not been having many children in practice.

KA al-Mubarak, DJ Adamchak, "Fertility attitudes and behavior of Saudi Arabian students enrolled in U.S. universities," Soc Biol. 1994 Fall-Winter; 41(3-4):267-73. "Religiosity remained positive and significant in relationship to desired number of children (beta = 0.408, p 0.01). Actual number of children was found to be significantly and negatively related to wife's education (beta = -0.280, p 0.01)"

WD Mosher, LB Williams, DP Johnson, "Religion and Fertility in the United States: New Patterns," Demography, 1992. Notes that non-religious people have the lowest fertility of all in the US.

Dov Friedlander, Carole Feldmann, "The Modern Shift to Below-Replacement Fertility: Has Israel's Population Joined the Process?", Population Studies July 1993; 47(2):295-306. "Indeed, it is the high fertility of the orthodox population among the two major ethnic groups, combined with the decline towards below-replacement fertility of the non-orthodox, which produces the high mean fertility of the entire population."

A final comment and then I'm

A final comment and then I'm sure we both have more important things to tend to...

Michele Hoffnung, “Wanting It All: Career, Marriage, and Motherhood During College-Educated Women’s 20s,” Sex Roles 50 [2004]: 711-723. College-educated women who “want it all", including a family, have not been having many children in practice.

This paper concludes that educated women (i.e. higher IQ -- I'll grant the correspondence for the sake of argument) merely postpone marriage and childbirth, but evidently they were found to be no less desirous of having children. The author says so in the very first paragraph. Granted, overall, educated women are evidently having fewer children as a group, but having fewer children as opposed to remaining deliberately childless for life are two very different intentions. This paper doesn't support your claim. Unless you're now extending the claim to include women who want two children as opposed to, say, three or four, as also being maladapted in an "evolutionary sense."