Of course, one needs readers before comments are a problem.

The problem with talking about intentional population control is that everyone points and calls you Hitler. Worse, people use it as a vehicle for their nativist sentiments and say the problem is the unwashed brown hordes swarming the border. For the record, both are bullshit. (If you are inspired to leave some racist comment about immigration, please return to the Public Policy Institute of California report, first paragraph.  Birth rate, not immigration, accounts for population growth in California.)

My hope is to avoid some of that by pointing out the scale of the problem of unintended births. As a first cut, simply getting people’s reproduction in line with their own desires would halve our projected population increase. That should not require state coercion. A state policy and real resources* dedicated to that would be beneficial all around.

You could go even farther, and without saying that anyone shouldn’t have children, create policies that delay desired children. Remember, a year or two of delayed emissions are valuable to us. Flattening the growth curve matters at any discrete point in the future. I was more optimistic about his option until I saw the PPIC report and this CDC report saying that mean maternal age at first birth is already pretty high. But you could target programs at communities in which women have children young. You could use the solution everyone offers for less-developed-countries, and educate the ladies. Forgiving student loans for Latina women who haven’t given birth by age 25 might bring their age at first birth up to the general population’s.

My point is that there are non-coercive options and a role for the state (like making birth control free and ubiquitous). The choice isn’t between doing nothing and firing up the sterilization chambers based on eugenics. There are also large environmental costs from maintaining the taboo on openly discussing population. We should be braver. We should bring it up and keep bringing it up.




*If you are wondering how much to spend, the cost of averted new dams would be a one-time $6-7 billion. So that would be break-even in one facet of environmental costs. If you start thinking about subway capacity or new airport runways we wouldn’t have to build, I think you can find some real money to spend. Adaptation to climate change is predicted to cost a few percent of GDP, or about twice the financial system bail-out, or twice the stimulus package, so there’s room to think big.


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7 responses to “Of course, one needs readers before comments are a problem.

  1. Margie

    I think if you’re willing to take on the taboo subject of unintended pregnancies, then you also have to be willing to take on the taboo (among guilty white liberals) subject of immigration.

    From the PPIC report, “Thus, in addition to its direct contribution to state growth, migration also plays an important indirect role in its effect on fertility rates.”

    I read somewhere recently that amongst 4 generation latino-americans that the college graduation rate is about 6%. There is not the emphasis on education among the latino population that you see among the asian population. Thus, I’m not sure that the education incentives you propose for latinas will really work.

    You know that I’m not anti-immigration, but I think you are obscuring the truth when you say that immigration has no impact on population growth in our state.

    • onthepublicrecord

      I don’t really want to have that conversation, partially because I have a welcoming mindset and partially because it gets ugly fast. I was hoping to draw boundaries about this one piece of the conversation, and only talk about unintended births.

  2. Margie

    You said, “As a first cut, simply getting people’s reproduction in line with their own desires would halve our projected population increase.”

    So back to the immigration/birth rate connection, a lot of our immigrant population is active in the Catholic Church which very much is against reproducing according to one’s desires.

    I really really don’t think you can separate immigration from birth rate. You end up ignoring cultural factors that can be very difficult to change.

  3. Noumenon

    Man, I read through huge portions of that thread at Unfogged, mostly because dsquared is one of my favorite Internet commenters. I’m surprised he didn’t turn the harshness down among friends and surprised that you don’t actually require affirmative kindness to hang in a comment thread.

    Mostly I just can’t believe, looking at this blog, that you’re really the author. I had decided that it must be somebody male in your department who was inspired by you and who had influenced your style, but I didn’t think a person could change their own writing style this much. It’s a very fetching style; it’s really simple, conversationalish, but it sort of treats the reader as someone who’s a cut above the rest and who you really expect to understand and excel. I dunno.

    I’m kind of disappointed that it is you because I already know you and I was getting to like this fresh new voice with their fresh take from inside the bureaucracy.

  4. onthepublicrecord

    Heh. I can’t imagine that he considers me a friend. There have never been any signs of that.

    Naw. I chose affirmative kindness as a standard for commenters to talk to each other. I’m pretty chill about how people talk to me. If you remember, I excluded myself from affirmative kindness for a year or so.

    You think this sounds so very different? Hm. Interesting to hear. It seems roughly in line with my old policy pieces. I have never discussed blogging with anyone in my department. It is, in fact, a very high priority of mine that I avoid that conversation with anyone at work.

    I’m sorry that I am not a new viewpoint. I will try to think of new things!

  5. That thread reaffirmed my opinion of unfogged comment threads. So much heat, so little light, and time spent reading it I’ll never get back.

  6. Noumenon

    Hey, where’d my comment go? I was saying that I always thought of Unfogged as a big happy family place where you would treat people like friends, whether you knew each other personally.

    Also, you don’t have to be a whole new person, because the new content is dredging up all kinds of new perspectives and it’s really shifted your tone as well, so it’s like a whole new blog!