Should We Pay People (More) To Reproduce?

In his interesting post , Doug Kmiec argues that the U.S. government should adopt French child-subsidy policies in order to encourage Americans to have more children. But unless within-family reproduction is good in itself—more on this in a moment—there is no reason to ape the French, whose motives are, as Kmiec notes, entirely based on demographic fears that do not exist in the United States. Thanks to immigration and the fecundity of recent arrivals, the U.S. population is already growing; why would we want it to grow more rapidly?

Doug thinks that we should use the tax system to compel ourselves to pay otherwise-unwilling others to produce offspring who will grow up and finance our retirement. Wouldn’t it be easier if we just saved our own money for retirement or, if that is too hard, increase current Social Security taxes and future payouts? Why this complicated business of bringing into existence an entire generation of workers to serve as a vehicle for transferring our money from our current selves to our future selves?

To be sure, it’s possible that we would all benefit if the American population grew. Whether we would is a very tricky question that I won’t try to answer, but if so, a better way of populating the land is to admit migrants instead of creating otherwise-unwanted persons by subsidizing childbirth. Paying people to have more babies doesn’t seem reasonable when there are so many millions clamoring to get in.

I can’t help thinking that Doug’s idea that being pro-family means being pro-reproduction reflects an instinctive effort to shore up a social conservative philosophy under assault by our rapidly changing mores. Suppose Americans come to approve of gay marriage and to treat it the same as heterosexual marriage. What becomes of “family values,” once such a politically potent slogan? Republican Party strategists must be scratching their heads. If family values can no longer be against homosexuality, what are they against? Single people? Premarital sex? Here’s a prediction: The family values debate of the future will pit gays and straights who think everyone should get married and have children against gays and straights who think that marriage is a stodgy bourgeois construct designed to channel the revolutionary energy of sexuality into diaper changing and carpool planning while the planet chokes on the greenhouse-gas emissions of the multiplying hordes.