The eugenics of contraception

After copping some criticism for his comments on the coverage of female contraception in health insurance, Steven Landsburg has noted that some arguments in its favour may have merit. Two of the more interesting he notes are as follows:

We might not want to discourage parenthood in general, but surely we want to discourage parenthood by the sort of woman who won’t use contraception unless it’s subsidised. Ideally we’d tax childbirth among that class of women, but since they’re hard to identify, the best available policy is to subsidize contraception.

We might not want to discourage parenthood in general, but surely we want to discourage unwanted parenthood, because unwanted babies are far less socially valuable than wanted babies.

On the first argument, Landsburg is not convinced that the primary group who will change their behaviour are the poor or the dumb, or that we do not want them reproducing. However, he notes the second, which in some ways reflects the Levitt-Donohue abortion-crime theory, is an argument worth taking seriously. The two arguments are quite similar, however, as while Levitt and Donohue explained the abortion-crime effect in terms of unwanted parenthood, the theory is often quoted in the context of what type of people had the abortions.

However, what struck me about these arguments is that they are representative of an increasing tendency for discussions about tax or family policy, contraception and immigration to refer to the effects on the composition of the next generation. On the one hand, I find the subject interesting and have blogged about it before. On the other, if government started to actively consider factors such as these, I can only imagine the unintended consequences.

3 comments

  1. Both “theories” are explicit insults, not even thinly veiled, but it’s the type of political-incorrectness-for-its-own-sake that I’ve come to expect from an “academic” shock jock like Landsburg; a purveyor of polemics advertised as textbooks.

    It is interesting to see right of center movements such as evolutionary economics and “libertarianism” showing their true colors.  We should start directing the attention of sanctimonious holy rollers who try to paint people like Margaret Sanger as “eugenicists” to real eugenicicsts in the here and now such as Steven Landsburg, Jason Collins, and the Freakonomists.

  2. ^I’ve never gotten any eugenic vibe from Jason whatsoever, so I don’t know where that come from.(You could look to my discussion with him on IQ where he explicitly stated he would like to find ways for people of differing IQs to live together cohesively, not the words I’d expect from a eugenicist.)

    Also don’t see how an evolutionary approach to economics is right of centre, seems like a pretty realistic way to look at things compared to other approaches to economics.

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