A Modest Proposal for Preventing the Children of Poor People From Being a Burden on Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public 2011



Jaybird is Birdmojo on Xbox Live and Jaybirdmojo on Playstation's network. He's been playing consoles since the Atari 2600 and it was Zork that taught him how to touch-type. If you've got a song for Wednesday, a commercial for Saturday, a recommendation for Tuesday, an essay for Monday, or, heck, just a handful a questions, fire off an email to AskJaybird-at-gmail.com

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113 Responses

  1. Avatar Michael Drew says:

    This is truly odd.  Great post.  I don’t know about that site – I’ve had a weird feeling about it since it launched.  Why is it such a big deal to these folks that some people at some point suggested that their hearts didn’t bleed?  If what you’re trying to do with your libertarianism is advance the welfare of the worst off, that is fantastic.  But libertarians have always said their program had that as an end (minus a few who truly want the poor to have only worse poverty as the incentive to pick themselves up by their bootstraps – far, far less than the majority).  It’s not a new thing, just a new label.  Why complain so much about the doubters – why put that front and center?  Just deliver the goods, right?

    Not that they don’t have every right to engage in a bit of strategic branding like anyone else.  But they don’t seem to be offering that much new or distinctive on the substance front.  Given the caliber of the people contributing and the fanfare with which they announced their effort, I ultimately found their product underwhelming and, after giving it what I felt was a fair chance, stopped reading.  The libertarians around here are more interesting, idiosyncratic, creative, and how can I say this, human-seeming to me than the brain trust over there is.  They’re thorough, though, I’ll give them that.Report

  2. Avatar dhex says:

    skipping over my knee-jerk WHRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRUT? reaction to the original car crash essay, you’re probably not wrong that coercive kumbayah is going to be a common frame of reference for the “invasive jerkwad efforts of the future” or whatever you’d like to call them.

    but i think that’s largely because it’s so rhetorically flexible (liberals or conservatives use it with ease), appeals to so many on such a fundamental level (kumbayah, busybodydom, some combination thereof) and is part of the dual narrative of “the way things used to be ™”, when unions were strong and families had no gays and the middle class was made out of good intentions and even better results. it works for #occupywilliamsburg and #occupycolonialwilliamsburg in equal measure. outside of a handful of cranks, curmudgeons and astute handsome and nearly wealthy fellows like myself, nearly everyone loves communitas.Report

  3. Avatar david says:

    The non-aggression principle an unfaithful yardstick. It’ll happily partner off with every imaginable definition of property rights to produce virtually any result, like the one here, achieved quite simply by arguing that children don’t and can’t consent to their quality of parenting and so shoddy parenting is an aggression upon [i]their[/i] rights to whatever.

    I do wonder why Andrew Cohen jumped to licensure instead of existing family-related legislation that does, already, empower the state to remove children from parents it judges incompetent.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to david says:

      Licensure has this “prior restraint” dynamic going on that after-the-fact legislation does not, I guess. A license is a “nudge” as opposed to “men with guns”.

      There. That’s my best attempt to defend it.Report

      • Avatar david in reply to Jaybird says:

        But… it’s exactly the same. Licensure is enforced by men with guns. Is this that libertarian blindspot where tort law is miraculously less statist than regulation again?Report

  4. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    An off-shoot of the Great Society, maybe, but a perverse one.

    I think overall stuff like this is more of a means of trying to quantify a moral element into poverty. You are poor, thus you are not qualified to do: XYZ.

    This seems to come into many angles when you look at disenfranchizing people in general. Whether it’s for voting (felony conviction disenfranchisement laws, or voter ID laws), healthcare, retirement pensions, social safety net, income support, etc. All of it presupposes there’s some sort of virtue attached to the concept of success/failure in the “meritocracy” and a need to conflate social, moral superiority to the material well being of the community.

    Andrew Gelman did a good job of actually pointing out the general flaw of viewing meritocratic success as having a moral component. Virtue seems to be the thing that money can’t buy, so you have to shape public opinion with it to make ti seem virtuous.


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      An off-shoot of the Great Society, maybe, but a perverse one.

      I wasn’t intending to communicate that I think it is a good thing.Report

      • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Jaybird says:

        I know. I just meant I don’t think that’s what LBJ had in mind. (Admittedly I am perhaps a bit overly defensive about LBJ’s legacy and the Great Society programs…)Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

        The GS argument would work better if Prohibition didn’t predate it by a few years. I think people tended to have  a far greater communitarian streak going back a couple hundred years. Living in small towns and having very little social and geographic mobility will lead people to  focus a lot on their neighbors.

        In as much as there is a “it seems to me that there is very much an undercurrent of “if my responsibilities involve feeding you and sheltering you, your responsibilities to me involve trying to find a job and not wasting your time and potential by doing dope!” feeling in this country i think it far more in the opponents of things like Uni Health Care/Social safety net/etc  then supporters. Certainly you can find exceptions but i think the “i don’t want to pay for addicts to eat twinkies” is a common argument against having  a SS net. The royal maroon gov of Florida has tried to push drug testing for various public funds, which is not popular with liberals or people who….umm…have a basic respect for human dignity. ( that is leaving aside the massive corruption involved)  Libertarians aren’t responsible for the worst arguments for things like Gitmo or torture. Similarly i don’t think liberals are responsible for the worst arguments against things we support.Report

        • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to greginak says:

          Jaybird’s point is that the conditions that end up being put on welfare assistance by the reactionaries to it are inevitable, should be seen as unintended consequences, and that the proponents of the welfare measures should be held responsible for the effects of the reactionaries (To what extent I am not fully clear), or at least made to accept the costs (moral or fiscal) of those effects as direct costs of the initial measures, not as costs of the reaction (since the reaction is inevitable given the nature of the American character, perhaps).  You want a welfare state in america?  Well America is America, and the results, whatever they are, are what you asked for.

          This is in fact a dodge to the extent it holds reactionaries blameless for the content of the reaction (they’re a perfectly predictable black box, given the nature of the American character), since the reaction is not in fact without its own agency.  But I don’t know to what extent Jaybird actually obviates the agency of the reactionaries.  It’s certainly not entirely.  But my sense is that he strongly wants it both ways: he doesn’t want to deny the agency of the reactionaries in the reaction, but he does want to stress the effects of the reaction as a consequence of the initial action (welfare state establishment).  But preserving the agency of the reactionaries necessarily blunts the argument that the reaction is a mechanistic result of the action.Report

          • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew says:

            This is in fact a dodge to the extent it holds reactionaries blameless for the content of the reaction… But my sense is that he strongly wants it both ways:

            That’s a very good point MD.Report

          • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

            I wouldn’t call it “inevitable” as much as “exceptionally predictable”.

            I mean, let’s look at Europe. Does Europe have a problem with people screaming about welfare recipients living on the dole who spend all of their time “visiting Amsterdam”? It seems to me that it doesn’t.

            There are a handful of reasons why and these reasons go back a couple of generations but… I think that the general attitude of Europe isn’t the same one as found here in America.

            It does seem to me that America’s culture is somewhat different from Europe’s but it different in a way that makes it somewhat predictable and, yes, the American response to Government Assistance is a predictable one.

            Does this absolve the agency on the part of the predictable folks? I don’t think that it would. I do think that failure to take this into account when setting something up is negligent, however.Report

            • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

              If it’s different from culture to culture, then that seems to me to be an argument that it is, all things being equal, a somewhat less predictable matter than if it was a consistent outcome everywhere.  Looking backward, seeing something that happened, and saying, “That was predictable” is not the same thing as that thing actually being very predictable.  Also – how would one “take into account” this predictable result (if it were indeed predictable)?  This is where I end up feeling you’re being elusive and dodgy.  What, precisely, did they neglect to do: design a much more perfect welfare state that would have been impervious to political reaction and resentment (and what would that have looked like?), or is it just that they failed to realize these predictable results made welfare a bad idea, so their actual sin of omission was to fail to not implement a welfare state?

              I should say too that I don’t agree that in the instance, the public impetus for drug control actually did stem to any great degree from welfare resentment. I think it stemmed more from the reaction to the unrest of the late 60s and early 70s that swept Nixon into power on a law and order platform, combined with the hollowing out of the central city that resulted from deindustrialization and white flight.  Even if we hadn’t had welfare, so long as we had a perception of violent crime and drug trade, perpetrated by the blighted leftover population of racial Others, ruling our “inner cities,” and threatening the safety of the suburbs, we were going to have a War on Drugs and eventually something like the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act.  The idea of welfare mothers on drugs and drug dealers on welfare just ended up as a convenient talking point along the way – and more in the service of the campaign to reform/end than to escalate the Drug War.  I really don’t think the Drug War was mostly reactive effect of the War on Poverty; it was more a response to perceptions of social breakdown, crime, and encroaching racial minorities.)Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Michael Drew says:

                reform/end *welfare*Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                What, precisely, did they neglect to do: design a much more perfect welfare state that would have been impervious to political reaction and resentment (and what would that have looked like?), or is it just that they failed to realize these predictable results made welfare a bad idea, so their actual sin of omission was to fail to not implement a welfare state?

                Well, my argument is not that they shouldn’t have implemented a welfare state (though I’m pretty sure that there are possible implementations that would be better than the one we got) nor is it that these predictable results made welfare in general a bad idea.

                It’s more that this action has this unintended consequence. Is that price worth paying?

                If you want to argue that the price is worth paying, sure. I can go with that. If you want to argue that the price is too high with the unintended consequences, sure. I can go with that too.

                The argument that since the unintended consequences are not universal that they can be assumed to be preventable (is this the argument you’re making?) is one that, it seems to me, to have a lot of little unintended consequences likely to follow in the wake of any implementation… and it seems a fair question to ask if that price will be worth paying.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                Sorry for the interval; life intervened.

                I’m not making any argument about whether a policy should be held accountable for all its consequences (it should), or about the merits of whether this policy was worth its costs.  (In suggesting that political effects of welfare seem less predictable if they are different from place to place, I was just questioning your assertion that America’s reaction to welfare must have been very predictable at the time.)

                The question I was trying to pose is when we can say that something that happens in a world shaped by some previous thing can be said to be a consequence of that thing.  My view is that agency thickly mucks up that question.  Predictability is actually a dodge here – it’s just another way of making people’s reactions to things analytically mechanistic, effectively denying the (analytic importance of) their agency.  But it’s the only thing by which you can connect the political reaction to policies to the policies themselves in a way where you can say that it is a “consequence.”  Because if, from the perspective of the original policy maker (or the reactionary himself for that matter), the reaction could be pretty much anything, but it ends up being that, and being so by the affirmative choice of the reactionary, then the claim that it was a consequence of the previous policy and not an independent political action in its own right that we should evaluate on its own merits becomes much more tenuous.  That’s why you put such weight on the question of predictability.

                That’s in general. In this case, I think you haven’t made the case that it was so predictable that Americans’ political reaction to a WoP would be to call into existence a WoD that, if they successfully did so, then the WoD should be considered an unintended consequence of the WoP.  And, to reiterate from a previous comment, for that matter you haven’t in my view made the case that, when Americans historically did call into existence a WoD, what they were actually doing was enacting a political reaction to the WoP.

                The sequentiality-causality difficulties here are two-fold. We can’t un-live the experience of seeing a WoD follow a WoP, so we can’t know how much knowing that one did is affecting our willingness to say it was predictable that one would give rise to the other (absent actual contemporary predictions to that effect).  And we’re not even sure that the causal mechanism we are positing between the two things actually operated.  We’re not at all sure that the War on Drugs came about because of how people felt about welfare.  I don’t think it did, but I haven’t presented any more evidence than you.  This does seem like the kind of proposition that bears the burden of some showing, rather than its denial doing so.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Dude, life happens a lot. I am fond of the acronym “OBE”. Overcome By Events.

                Here’s why I think the war on drugs should have been predictable following the implementation of the war on poverty. There are two major reasons:

                1) just a few years earlier, the Food Stamp Act of 1964 passed. One of the things it did was exclude alcoholic beverages and imported foods from food stamp eligibility (and, according to Wikipedia, “the House version would have prohibited the purchase of soft drinks, luxury foods, and luxury frozen foods”).

                Now, why would the prohibition of soft drinks and luxury foods (something not defined by wikipedia but I’m pretty sure that they’re not talking about fugu) have appeared in a law intended to provide food to the hungry? Well, my assumption is the undercurrent of a Puritan Ethic in the American attitude toward charity. (Let me know if you want me to go into detail on this.)

                2) just a few decades earlier, Prohibition was passed on the strength of a great many things but the A-Plus Number One thing that it was passed on was the idea that this would end crime. Here’s from Wikipedia again:

                Many court cases also debated the subject under different lights and for different situations, there was an overall lean towards prohibition, however, many cases still ruled opposed to the believed effects. In Mugler v. Kansas, 1887, Justice Harlan, wrote, “We cannot shut out of view the fact, within the knowledge of all, that the public health, the public morals, and the public safety, may be endangered by the general use of intoxicating drinks; nor the fact established by statistics accessible to every one, that the idleness, disorder, pauperism and crime existing in the country, are, in some degree… traceable to this evil.” In support of prohibition, Crowley v. Christensen, 1890, said, “The statistics of every state show a greater amount of crime and misery attributable to the use of ardent spirits obtained at these retail liquor saloons than to any other source.”

                Why is that relevant? Here: In 1968, Lyndon B. Johnson decided that the government needed to make an effort to curtail the social unrest that blanketed the country at the time. He decided to focus his efforts on illegal drug use. While this may seem to be an unrelated initiative, Johnson’s choice to go after illegal drugs was in line with expert opinion on the subject at the time. In the ‘60s, it was believed that at least half of the crime in the U.S. was drug related, and this number grew as high as 90 percent in the next decade.

                All that to say, it seems to me that this was predictable because it wasn’t the first time that it happened. There is very much an attitude of resentment towards the idea that someone may be misappropriating charity *AND* it’s mixed with the idea that pleasurable substances are the root of crime. The past was prologue… and in living memory.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Jaybird says:

                It seems like you’ve presented evidence

                1) that the welfare state was implemented with an eye toward attending to sentiments about welfare aiding the purchase of chemical substances (arguably attending to concerns about unintended consequences of not doing so, though I wouldn’t argue doing so with any concerted seriousness); and

                2) that both WoD 1.0 and WoD 2.0 stemmed from public concern with violent crime and disorder just as I suggested as an alternative to your explanation that they did.

                …But not that either version of WoD resulted from political reaction to the idea that substance users and merchants might be receiving welfare aid.  Embedding a certain reflection of public attitudes toward chemical use (or health practice generally) doesn’t constitute the commencement of a War On Drugs, and potentially has has nothing to do with it at all.  It does, i realize, go to your larger point in the post, but my very point is that, while you have a good point on the issue of creeping personal regulation resulting from welfare policy, the policy genesis of the WoD has its roots elsewhere.

                But that’s on my first perusal of your presentment; this is certainly something to chew on.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Jaybird says:

                For what it’s worth, I don’t think that these things were done with a deliberate connection from A to B. They didn’t say “Well, we’re giving people welfare… LET’S BUST THEM FOR DRUGS!”

                I think that a great deal of welfare was handed out grudgingly but because it was the right thing to do (“we all have responsibilities to each other”) and, very, very soon thereafter, the bad side of paternalism kicked in. If I have responsibility for you, and we agree that I do, to what extent do I have license to prevent you from making bad and/or self-destructive choices?Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Jaybird says:

                Because poor minorities weren’t unfairly preyed upon by the police before the implementation of welfare.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Michael Drew says:

                Michael Drew, I just wanted to chime in here to say I agree with both your substantive points in this comment. 1) Predictability-after-the-fact is en empty criticism of any action. Like, empty in the worst sort of way.  But it holds even less validity when empirical evidence suggests that cultural reactions to welfare have been and continue to be varied. And 2), I agree with your take on the origins of the drug war: that it was a reaction to innercity race riots from the 60’s and 70’s.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Remember the insurgency in Iraq and how “no one could have predicted it”?

                There were a great many arguments given in response to this argument but the strongest was this: “People did.”

                If we don’t see more arguments talking about people unfit to parent in the coming years and how something needs to be done (and, more to the point, made in “respectable” publications), I’ll be *DELIGHTED* to have been wrong on this one.

                There are folks in this very thread who don’t see a problem with what’s proposed here. Here!

                We’ll see this argument made on a public stage before 2020.Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Are you providing this one piece of evidence to support your thesis, or are you generalizing from it to prove your thesis?



              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                It’s yet untested. “Respectable” publications have not, to my knowledge, yet made this argument.

                They either will or they won’t (and I’m petty enough to see an argument like “we need a One Child Policy like China has!” as an argument that meets the requirements).

                If they won’t, I am 100% wrong on this. I suspect that they will and we will see these arguments made in the coming years… and we will see tepid agreement to certain parts of the policy, assuming a can opener, etc, in the same way that we have seen tepid agreement in these very comments.Report

              • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Stillwater says:

                SW, thanks – glad I’m making some sense to you.Report

            • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Jaybird says:

              I mean, let’s look at Europe. Does Europe have a problem with people screaming about welfare recipients living on the dole who spend all of their time “visiting Amsterdam”

              My rather shallow and superficial understanding is that this is indeed becoming sort of an issue, particularly as it pertains to immigrant communities (see for example, German Turk relationships and periodic riots in the suburbs of Paris.  And a little bit of what happened in London earlier this year)Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

          The royal maroon gov of Florida has tried to push drug testing for various public funds, which is not popular with liberals or people who….umm…have a basic respect for human dignity.

          Doing some quick googling, it seems to me that non-liberals and/or people who have a basic indifference/contempt for human dignity have something close to a super-majority. To what extent should their concerns be ignored?

          (For the record: I am exceptionally sympathetic to the argument that says “It doesn’t matter what your stupid feelings are, there are funamental human rights that shouldn’t be infringed upon AND WE ARE GOING TO PROTECT THEM EVEN IF IT HURTS YOUR STUPID FEELINGS.”)Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      It’s not that money buys virtue; it’s that virtue buys money, up to a point. I don’t think that the rich are as a rule morally superior to the middle class, but you do have to be a bit of a fish-up to be chronically poor in the first world. By and large, the poor are poor because they lack basic middle-class virtues like conscientiousness.

      The distinction between the rich and the middle class is not the same as the distinction between the middle-class and the poor, and Gelman’s post doesn’t really address that.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        Actually, Gelman’s post doesn’t really even accurately characterize the distinction between the rich and the middle-class in the general case. Yes, a few people get rich just by being very lucky and/or naturally talented. But when I think of all the ways that I could plausibly become rich (surgeon, lawyer, investment banker, starting a business), they all involve a hell of a lot more work than I do in my upper-middle-class job. With a few lucky exceptions, I think that the rich really do (or did, before they got rich) work harder than the middle-class.Report

      • Avatar Kolohe in reply to Brandon Berg says:

        I have come to believe this is backwards – the poor and middle class (and rich) fish up as much as each other do, but as you move up you have much more of a *social* safety net to bail you out of trouble.  (and in the case of the rich, and economic one as well – e.g. Robert Downey could afford to be much more of a drug addict than the random urban homeless person)Report

  5. Avatar Liberty60 says:

    This essay and the post exemplify why radicalism knows no direction- it can flow in any direction to produce any result.

    In other words, in a conservative mind, every good thing has an opposing good, that needs to be balanced.

    I don’t hear a lot about balance and moderation from libertarians; I hear that consent is good, but coercion is bad. Flat, unqualified statements.

    Are there times when consent and coercion are hard to distinguish from one another?

    Not to hear libertarians tell it.


    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Liberty60 says:

      Some guy: “I had a pretty good sandwich for lunch today.”

      Liberty60: “If I had to sum up Libertarianism in one word, it would be GLUTTONY!!!”Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Jaybird says:

        Perhaps you have to see the movie Seven to get the reference.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Innocent? Is that supposed to be funny? An obese man… a disgusting man who could barely stand up; a man who if you saw him on the street, you’d point him out to your friends so that they could join you in mocking him; a man, who if you saw him while you were eating, you wouldn’t be able to finish your meal…. Only in a world this shitty could you even try to say these were innocent people and keep a straight face. But that’s the point. We see a deadly sin on every street corner, in every home, and we tolerate it. We tolerate it because it’s common, it’s trivial. We tolerate it morning, noon, and night. Well, not anymore. I’m setting the example. What I’ve done is going to be puzzled over and studied and followed… forever.Report

      • Avatar Liberty60 in reply to Jaybird says:


        I was writing an apology, for my posts that seemed to tar all libertarians as wild eyed reckless radicals, devoid of nuance or cautious reason.

        Then I read Steve the Hyena’s post.

        Never mind.Report

    • Avatar BradP in reply to Liberty60 says:

      “I don’t hear a lot about balance and moderation from libertarians; I hear that consent is good, but coercion is bad. Flat, unqualified statements.”

      You know, that is sort of the basic moral principle of libertarianism, which may be why you don’t hear a lot of balance from libertarians between their support of consent and coercion. 

      “Are there times when consent and coercion are hard to distinguish from one another?”

      Of course.  But this has nothing to do with the libertarian position on consent and non-aggression.  And as it is, most libertarians understand consent and non-aggression as guiding principles, not ironclad rules. 

      You are making the error of conflating the question of “Is coercion wrong” with “What is coercion and what is consent”, and, since you hear libertarian consensus on the former question, assume consensus on the latter.

      That mistake is rather incredible when made in response a discussion of the “libertarianess” of parental licenses.Report

  6. Avatar Steve the hyena says:

    Though parental licensing would be more libertarian. The idea that parents should hold plenary power over another person without that person’s consent is anathema to most formulations of libertarianism. As such, it seems perfectly reasonable within libertarianism to place restrictions on this necessary evil.Report

    • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist in reply to Steve the hyena says:

      Except that it isn’t.  Parental licensing carries with it the potential for denying certain socio-economic demographics the right/ability to parent.

      Think about it.  A parental test is a government test, whose content will be politically determined to some degree or another.  It will also have a fee associated with it, because every government permission slip does.

      So the right to parent your child will be, to some degree or another, based upon the educational/temporal/financial resources a mother has available to her.  She’ll need to be able to afford the test, and the time to be able to study for it, and to know what to study.

      Who wants o bet the test would never be captured by various social engineers of one stripe or another?Report

  7. Avatar Jesse Ewiak says:

    I’m for pretty much handing out birth controls and condoms starting at age 12 and going from there. But, I’m an evil statist who wants to take the right of being a horrible parent and causing another generation of teenage pregnancy away from the people.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jesse Ewiak says:

      You’re confused. It’s social conservatives, not libertarians, who object to giving teenagers access to birth control. People who disagree with you are not actually interchangeable.Report

  8. Avatar trizzlor says:

    I think your point that any public good will always draw the public to coercive regulation is a really incisive one. This is particularly scary now that we’ve made ourselves into a public good via subsidized health-care. But I’d like to point out that the arguments against Parental Licenses are the arguments against Licenses full-stop. Here they are for driver’s licenses:

    * The license stands in the way of a very necessary task, and if bad people got into power they would take advantage of the license cartel to benefit their own needs: they could ban minorities from driving, or make impossible test questions and give their cronies the answers.
    * We already have laws in place to punish bad drivers, the license is just a way to punish the good drivers.
    * The license disproportionately effects the poor who have to take time out of their day for training and testing, as well as pay the associated fees.
    * The license depends on a massive publicly funded bureaucratic machine with no clear accountability or competition. After all, we all know what a treat it is to go to the DMV.

    In conclusion, the establishment of public roads has lead directly to a coercive driver’s licensing scheme, etc. etc. Unless you’re against licenses in general, there seem to be two big differences between parents and drivers: 1) we are much more inclined to see parenting as an inalienable right than driving; and 2) basic parenting skills are ephemeral – difficult to measure and test consistently – unlike basic driving skills. Most importantly, we do not have an epidemic of bad parenting that justifies those two big draw-backs. I’m sure that if something like 60% of toddler deaths were directly due to simple bad parenting (that wasn’t being prevented by post-hoc punishment) then Cohen’s proposal would get much more approval.

    So how do these stipulations fare in the context of forced sterilization? It seems like all three of them would fail: procreation is a natural right, inheritance of “imbecility” is ephemeral, and we don’t have a substantial epidemic of imbeciles. What about health-care and our bodies? Well, what we put in our bodies is already a restricted right (see: War on Drugs); general health is fairly easy to diagnose and treat; and we do have an epidemic of poor health-habits… Yikes! It looks like Michelle Obama’s eating initiative is just the tip of the spear.Report

    • Avatar boegiboe in reply to trizzlor says:

      Very good points. I have up until now been mostly on the licensing side of the fence of the drivers license question, but you may very well have dragged me over to the other side.

      I do think Michelle Obama’s work, which focuses on education about good eating habits, is exactly the sort of thing a non-elected person with a great deal of fame-as-clout should be doing to improve society. It’s stuff like that which, if successful, will help us resist those who would want to control eating habits through the law.

      I try to restrict my grammar fastidiousness usually, but you’re misusing the word “ephemeral,” which means “lasting a very short time.” What you want is a word that means “hard to define or describe clearly,” such as “abstract.”Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to trizzlor says:

      According to the law of the land, procreation is not a natural right. Certain segments of the population may not reproduce legally.Report

    • Avatar Stillwater in reply to trizzlor says:

      In conclusion, the establishment of public roads has lead directly to a coercive driver’s licensing scheme, etc. etc.

      Actually, I think you have this categorically wrong. If there were no public roads, then private entities that owned the roads (ie., the ones who paid to have them built) could and inevitably would coercively compel people to pay fees for their use. One of those fees might be a license to travel one those roads in any event. So the coercive scheme your opposed to here is not in any way different from one imposed my private entities. And your complaint isn’t that coercive licensing for the purposes of driving is wrong, it’s that it’s wrong when government does it.

      But notice that only when the roads are owned by the public does the topic of eliminating coercive governmental power wrt DLs even arise. That roads are a public good established and governed by the state is a necessary condition for your argument to even make any sense.Report

  9. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    I’m not in principle opposed to parental licensure. People don’t have the right to pollute the air, or drive recklessly on public highways, or litter, because these things impose negative externalities on others. Likewise, people don’t have the right to bear children they can’t afford to take care of, because this imposes a negative externality on those of us who have to pick up the tab. There’s nothing illiberal about forcing people to bear the costs of their own decisions.

    I’m not terribly keen on this particular implementation, though, because instead of internalizing the costs of reproductive decisions, it forcibly externalizes them.Report

    • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Brandon Berg says:


      This sentiment confirms a theory among conservatives and libertarians that might otherwise have been considered paranoid.  That theory is that entitlements (e.g., welfare, health care), over time, come to be considered (wrongly, but often inexorably) as “rights.”  Rights imply corresponding duties.  Thus, since poor parents have a “right” to receive welfare to support their children, John Q. Taxpayer has a corresponding proportionate “duty” to pay taxes to keep the welfare system going.

      Since John Q. Taxpayer is harmed because of this, he has a right to mitigate this harm.  Mitigation can occur in one of two (or probably more) ways:  (1) Eliminating or reducing welfare.  As we saw at the beginning, however, entitlements have come to be regarded as “rights,” and depriving “rights” is fraught with problems.  Moreover, there’s another “right” in play here: the “right” not to feel guilty or depressed at the fact of impoverished people in our communities.  This is the psychic “externality” these poor and/or bad parents impose on the rest of us.

      Thus, we are left with option (2): exercising our “right” to require poor people to obtain a license before they have kids.  Never mind that having kids is a natural right.  Our psychic rights—to entitlements, to be free from guilt and sadness over others’ situation, etc.—are the ones that really matter anymore.  How can someone not have a right to something if I <i>feel</i> bad when they don’t have it?  And, to the pertinent issue, how can someone have a “right” to bear and raise children free from government oversight if I <i>don’t feel bad</i> when we take it away?

      If this is the crux of “bleeding heart libertarianism,” count me out.Report

      • Avatar Tim Kowal in reply to Tim Kowal says:

        I didn’t spell out the “conspiracy” I led with:

        1. Government creates a new entitlement.

        2. Entitlement becomes a new right.

        3. New right imposes a new duty.

        4. Compliance with new duty requires individuals to cede traditional rights.

        5. Repeat as necessary.Report

  10. Avatar North says:

     I’m skeptical that there will be any salience to the issue if society continues on the trajectory we are on. We’re seeing birth rates plummet in many regions where the US has in recent history drawn its immigrants from. We’re seeing birth rates decline in many historically populous places. Asia in particular is facing a steep decline as is much of the Middle East. In general I’m of the opinion that declining birth rates are something to be celebrated or at least viewed with general equanimity. A natural and non-imposed decline in the number of humans on the planet would be an unmitigated ecological good and if the cause of the decline is an improvement in economic, legal and educational conditions for women then that’s another unmitigated good.

    Licenses to have babies? If current trends continue officials will greet unlicensed pregnancies with parades, not cops.Report

    • Avatar Kim in reply to North says:

      only if the liberals win.

      If the conservatives win, we under-the-table legalize rape (if she wasn’t bruised, she was probably consenting…Bristol ought to ring a bell…), and continue to stigmatize women as the only people capable of not consenting to sex — continue to engage in slut-shaming.

      The wonder is that anyone can stand up and say this is a good thing.Report

  11. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    Instead of wasting your time with yet another list of reasons that this is morally reprehensible and not-exactly-libertarian (I’m sure you wrote one in your own head by the time you got to this paragraph)

    Not really, no. what are those reasons?Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Brandon Berg says:

      I should mention here that I get the usual concerns about legislative incompetence. I expect that any legislation actually produced based on this idea would get it horribly wrong, because that’s what government does. But I don’t see why there’s anything wrong with the idea in principle.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Brandon Berg says:


      First off, when it comes to license enforcement, I’m pretty sure that we agree that there aren’t enough government workers to investigate every pregnancy, correct? So we’re going to be enforcing this licensure law against a fraction of the population. Much like the War on Drugs, the enforcement of this law will fall hardest on minority populations.

      Additionally, when it comes to licenses denied because of tests failed, the people most ill-served by the worst schools are most likely to do poorly on the (surely multiple-choice) test. As such, I don’t see that a license will ever (Like ever ever) be denied to people from *THIS* part of town while licenses would be denied to people from *THAT* part of town quite regularly.

      And, on top of that, there’s only one gender that will be sitting the chair across from the desk of the bureaucrat. Only one. Every time. Seriously, if 1 out of 100 times there is a guy sitting there talking about how *HE* deserves a parenting license? I’d be shocked. We’d be talking about denying licenses to single mothers.

      This would be a government policy designed to drag women into an office where they had to defend their fertility to someone paid to make women defend their fertility.

      That’s just off the top of my head. Do you need more?Report

      • Avatar BradP in reply to Jaybird says:

        These are all valid, but consequentialist.  Because of that it is feasible that someone could downplay your concerns and say that running that risk is worth the benefits of the policy.

        Basically it leaves the door open to (the progressive sort of) liberal to say, it would be just if it were just administered properly, and the libertarian would be put in a position to change his or her argument or agree.  (Of course the likelihood of fair administration is an easy win for libertarians on this one)

        I have a feeling that many would argue that those consequences are secondary, and that the restriction placed upon having and raising children would be the primary problem.

        To me, the parenthood/child’s rights is a blind spot for libertarians, and there really is no good way to address it.  So the question I would like to see answered is this:  “Assuming this licensing could be administered universally and equally, why should a libertarian be opposed to it.”Report

        • Avatar kenB in reply to BradP says:

          This point came up in the comments there as well — the objections are all as-applied, and Cohen seems to be assuming an ideal state.

          I’m actually not 100% convinced that all this unfairness would ensue, anyway —  it’s not really in the interests of the state to enforce this strongly since it means that the state takes on the burden of raising the child, so underenforcement would probably be the norm regardless of social class.  And also, in its ubiquity it would be comparable to driver’s licenses — do we see such inequitable results there that we’re predicting for this?

          If the licensing test was very basic, so as just to make sure that the parent(s) have given a bit of thought to the process, and the penalty was something much less than removal of the child, e.g. fines or mandatory attendance at a parenting class, I think there’s a not-bad argument for it.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Jaybird says:

        The government (well, state governments collectively) has enough workers to test everyone who wants a driver’s license. On average, people renew their driver’s licenses more often than they have children. I don’t see why the logistics of licensing parents are any worse.

        And, on top of that, there’s only one gender that will be sitting the chair across from the desk of the bureaucrat.

        Says who? I assume that the proposal was to have both parents get licensed. If not, it should be. Obviously that’s going to be problematic when the father can’t be identified or located, but I’m fine with the mothers receiving extra scrutiny in these cases, because single mothers as a group don’t have a great parenting track record. It’s profiling, sure, but it’s profiling that’s entirely appropriate.

        Additionally, when it comes to licenses denied because of tests failed, the people most ill-served by the worst schools are most likely to do poorly on the (surely multiple-choice) test.

        But that’s the whole point, isn’t it? Licenses would be denied to people who can’t answer basic questions about parenting, and they would not be denied to people who could. Just like with driver’s licenses. Yes, this would mean that poor people would be overrepresented amoung those denied licenses, but that’s because poor people are overrepresented among bad parents. Test-taking isn’t just some parlor trick they teach rich kids so they’ll fit in at the yacht club, it’s demonstration of actual knowledge.

        The bottom line is that reproduction has huge externalities, and as such there’s nothing illiberal about regulating it, any more than there is about regulating driving on public roads.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Single mothers have a fucking fantastic parenting record. Throughout recorded history, every time there was a war, there were single mothers. In Roman times, most mothers saw their husbands when they got back from campaigns, if they were a soldier, and a lot of people were soldiers.

          I suppose I need not mention the whole Japanese/Chinese thing, but there are Indian societies where the sire is not part of the parenting, and those kids are raised fine.

          Someone along the line decided that “male role models” were the be-all, end all, of parenting. It’s stupid.

          I will admit that poor, stressed out parents correlate with worse outcomes for their kids. That is IRRESPECTIVE of the marital status.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Kim says:

            Widows aren’t single mothers.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              Does the Fathers ghost contribute something?Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to North says:

                Actually, yeah, kind of. The father can serve as  a positive role model even in death, through the mother and other family members telling the child about him. But what I was really getting at is that “single” refers specifically to the state of never having been married. And the kind of women who have children in that state are different from the kind of women who have children while married and then lose their husbands in a war.


              • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                You should look at a West Virginia geneology sometime. The number of “before marriage” pregnancies that became “mama had two kids within 6 months” ….

                MOST people over recorded history had sex before marriage. Often with the fathers of their husbands. When a 12 year old son gets a girl pregnant… well, we know what’s more likely, if his balls haven’t dropped yet.

                What does it take to be a single mother? It takes CHUTZPAH. Most single mothers were in a reasonably committed relationship that ended either before the kid was born, or shortly thereafter. A woman decides that it’s better to go it alone, than to deal with a womanizing, abusing, etc man.

                That’s life.

                In What World does single mother refer to never being married?? That’s just stupid. Single means not married now.


            • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

              And who said i was talking about widows? Men went off to war, for years. They got married, had sex, disappeared for a year or two, came back, had sex again, and went off again.

              This does not sound like single motherhood to you?

              I submit that Single Motherhood ought to include cases where the husband disappears (to the point of putting “husband catching” ads in the paper), and that the case of war/crusade is little different from “husband abandoned you” except in terms of fiscal stability.

              But if you wanted to say POOR PEOPLE SUCK for being poor, just say it already.Report

          • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Kim says:

            Which is to say, I don’t think that the primary problem with single motherhood is the absence of a father, but rather that single mothers themselves tend to have significantly lower intelligence and conscientiousness than married mothers.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Tod Kelly says:

                Do you actually believe that this is false, or just that people shouldn’t point it out?Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Well, sir, I know damn fucking well it’s false. I know it because I know how many fucking stupid shits had abortions in my high school (someone pulled the records, this isn’t supposition).

                You’re blaming victims, in many cases, victims of rape. In others, victims of abuse. And you’re claiming that they are not CONSCIENTIOUS. Of all the fucked up stupid shitty things to say about someone… They didn’t give the kid away, they didn’t abort, they chose to do The Right Thing (conservative trademark).

                Single Mothers, in the sense of girls who have babies out of wedlock, are MORE likely among higher intelligence girls. In higher intelligence people of both genders, instincts tend to surface more (it also has to do with being a bit of an outsider) — and instincts tell those fine 12-18 year olds to procreate. And we aren’t talking sex with a condom. We’re talking women getting non-violently raped (defined as “wouldn’t have consented before” “woudln’t have consented after” and “definitely didn’t want it during” REGARDLESS of what was left unsaid at the time — just because she’s not telling a guy to stop, because she physically can’t speak (instincts, again)).Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                I believe this is false.  I think of the various women I know who decided to get divorces even though they had kids, and somehow “less intelligent” or “not contentious” doesn’t fit.

                To declare them so seems more like attaching a preferred narrative to what goes on in the real world than the other way around.Report

              • Avatar Brandon Berg in reply to Tod Kelly says:


                I didn’t say anything about divorcees. In fact, I’m not entirely sure where they fit into this. Again, “divorced,” “widowed,” and “single” are different marital statuses.

                However, it absolutely is true that women who have children out of wedlock tend to be less intelligent than women who do not. If you look at Murray and Herrnstein’s analysis of the NLSY data, for example, they found that 32% of white women with IQ < 75 had children out of wedlock, with that percentage declining steadily as IQ rose down to only 2% for women with IQ > 125.

                They also did find that people with above-average IQs had lower rates of divorce in the first five years of marriage, but that there was essentially no difference in divorce rates between people with average and below-average IQs.

                I suspect you’ll be tempted to roll your eyes at anything related to The Bell Curve, but keep in mind that most of the controversy was around the 10% of the book related to race, and that the APA pretty much backed them up on the rest of the book.

                I’m having trouble finding research directly addressing the question of the correlation between conscientiousness and single motherhood, but I’ll see if I can find something later.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                Numbers are bogus. It is entirely too easy to fake not being pregnant, and to actually get into the statistics, your parents need to not want to cover up for you. Smart kids get parents who are willing to “not ruin their lives” by “adopting” the kid, or by giving the smart kid a “year abroad.”

                suppose I ought to note that instincts are sometimes stronger in retarded kids… (it’s how they propagate…).

                Also, do us a damn favor and cite the dates. My statistics and knowledge run back to around the mid-1980’s (when large organizations started semi-deliberately creating environments for smart kids to reproduce.)Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

                “I’m having trouble”

                Translates to:

                I was talking out of my ASS, and being judgemental about some people I’ve never met, and haven’t tried to understand.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Brandon Berg says:

          Sincerely doubt poor people are overrepresented among bad parents. maybe “absentee” parents, but if you’re working two jobs to keep your mortgage afloat… that’s not bad parenting, merely HARD WORK.

          I’d wager most rich folks raise worse kids than most poor ones. If nothing else, a poor kid’s gotta dream.Report

  12. Avatar Burt Likko says:

    Any principle — such as the idea that when people live in a society, they owe responsibilities to one another — can be stretched to a point of absurdity and in support of perverse results. At some point common sense has to be involved.Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew in reply to Burt Likko says:

      You damn liberals with your enforced moderation and unprincipled value-balancing.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Burt Likko says:

      My problem is with “common sense” and how differently it manifests from here to there.

      “Hey, we ought to sterilize morons. We don’t want them to have babies that they won’t be able to take care of, after all. We don’t let them drive, we don’t let them fly airplanes. It’s just common sense.”Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

        Jaybird: It seems to me that you are missing a big factor in your slippery slope argument.  The primary reason people (in a  large majority) have found ways to rationalize the war on drugs or sterilizing people with developmental disabilities isn’t that the well-intentioned arguments get carried away.

        The primary reason is that people (in a large majority) don’t like or want to be around people that regularly do drugs and people with developmental disabilities, and don’t care enough about them as human beings to worry to much about the negative consequences.

        I agree that these “well-intentioned” arguments can lead to horrific results, but I put it to you that you are confusing a symptom with the cause.  Which is why Cohen’s amazingly bad idea will never, ever gain any traction.  There just aren’t enough Megan McArdles in the world.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Tod Kelly says:

          It seems to me that you are missing a big factor in your slippery slope argument.

          There’s one thing that I always have to point out when it comes to this particular slippery slope argument.

          Buck v. Bell was not about a woman who had Trisomy-21 who wished to engage in copulation with her Trisomy-21 boyfriend in a heartwarming “The Other Sister” situation.

          It was about a woman who was raped by the nephew of a powerful man who was railroaded into an institution and had her ovaries and uterus removed under false pretenses.

          I’m not asking “well, what if this gets misused by powerful people?”

          I’m saying “The very first case where we discussed this and where people said ‘yeah, give her a hysterectomy’ and where she was given one was a case where this was being misused by powerful people.”

          We STARTED OUT at the bottom of the slope.Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jaybird says:

            Fair enough.  But my point stands.Report

          • Avatar greginak in reply to Jaybird says:

            Would it be worthwhile to point out that the slippery slope argument is a logical fallacy. Using the SS we can prove everything and anything: liberalism leads to stalinism, libertarianism leads to us being Somalia, etc.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to greginak says:

              Let’s break this down, Greg.

              The Slippery Slope argument takes the form:

              If we do X, then Y will happen. If Y will happen, then Z will happen. If Z happens, we will do Aleph! SO SUPPORT FOR X IS REALLY SUPPORT FOR ALEPH!!!

              You see Rick Santorum, among others, make this argument with regards to Gay Marriage leading to Plural Marriage and people marrying dogs or furniture.

              My argument was not that if we institute a policy where the most demonstrably unfit people are sterilized that it will eventually lead to this policy being used against women who are raped by the nephews of powerful men.

              My argument is that the very first time that it was used that it was used to do that. There was no slope to go down. There was no Y and no Z. There was just X and the first time we used the policy, Aleph.

              This happened. This actually happened.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater in reply to greginak says:

              If we do X, then Y will happen. If Y will happen, then Z will happen. If Z happens, we will do Aleph! SO SUPPORT FOR X IS REALLY SUPPORT FOR ALEPH!!!

              I don’t think that’s right. A slippery slope argument is one where the conditions which justify X can  be used to justify Y, and Z and Aleph. It’s not that doing action X will cause doing action Y or Z or Aleph.

              Your argument is causal: once we do action X, we’re more inclined to do action Y, and Z and Aleph. And that view probably has some merit. But that’s different than saying that the conceptual justification for welfare entails forced sterilization (or whatever). Or even that the conditions justifying welfare could be used to permit forced sterilization.



              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                Pardon me, you’re right.

                The slippery slope argument is that X leads to Y, Y to Z, and Z to Aleph.

                If you can demonstrate that X will lead to Y, and Y to Z, and Z to Aleph, then the argument is not fallacious.

                The problem comes when you jump to “IF X THEN ALEPH!” without establishing that X will necessarily lead to Y, and that Y will necessarily lead to Z, and Z will necessarily lead to Aleph.

                The argument X -> Y, X, Therefore Y (followed by Y -> Z AND Z -> Aleph) is merely Modus Ponens (assuming true statements).Report

              • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Jaybird says:

                Yeah. And your argument here is not so much about a conceptual slippery slope, or even a purely causal one, but more like the first instance of X can – and as a matter of fact often does! – lead to slopey-incrementalism in a pretty bad direction – a direction which gets easier to both justify as well as act on but wouldn’t present itself unless initial action X was actually taken. Yes?



              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Stillwater says:

                In the very particular case of Buck v. Bell, I put emphasis on what actually happened in the name of the argument given.

                I did research on this the other day and found that, in Michigan, there was recently a case where two parents wanted to get their developmentally disabled daughter (she had an IQ of 70, I think) a tubal ligation (note: not a hysterectomy) because they wanted to make sure that she didn’t get pregnant if she was sexually active. The daughter was the daughter of both of the people in question, the parents themselves requested this operation on behalf of their daughter, and so on. There was a civil rights group that fought the parents on this and it went up all the way to, I think, the State Supreme Court (I’ll get better data for you wrt this case later tonight, if you care to read it) where the court found that the parents did, in fact, have the jurisdiction to make this request on behalf of their daughter and the interest group did not have jurisdiction to block it.

                The woman got a tubal ligation.

                This is one of those cases where I avert my eyes and say that I am grateful that I did not have to make the call that the parents had to make (and then that the courts had to make).

                This is seriously a troublesome issue and, maybe, it’s a good thing that it’s not as easy as making a doctor’s appointment.

                In Buck v. Bell, however, they weren’t debating a case as troublesome/heartbreaking as this one (that was legislated in the last, I want to say, 10 years). I mean, if we really wanted to get into the weeds with this issue, cases like this one would be the place, right? There are a lot of problems involving informed consent, the responsibilities on the part of caretakers (biologically provided or state provided), and Human Rights.

                Buck v. Bell was just evil. And it was decided 8-0.

                And it seems to me that if we’re arguing such things as state involvement with parental licensure, we need to look back and see “were there any cases similar to this one in the past?” and, if there were, “what happened with those cases?”

                Which is what makes Buck v. Bell relevant.

                What happened the last time the State saw itself in a position where it was the arbiter of issues where we had to deal with degenerate or imbecilic parents?

                It seems to me that “something monstrous” happened.

                I’m going to need a lot more than “we’ve changed since 1927” before I think we should open that bottle again.Report

  13. [Nodding head vigorously while touching finger to nose and pointing at Jaybird]Report

  14. Avatar Brandon Berg says:

    What I kind of suspect is going on here is that people strongly associate reproduction with sex, and thus the aversion to regulating one transfers to regulation of the other. But reproduction really isn’t anything like sex when it comes to justifications for regulation. Sex doesn’t have externalities. Reproduction does, especially in the context of a welfare state. It’s not inherently illiberal to regulate actions that have externalities for the purpose of reducing or internalizing those externalities.Report

  15. Avatar Mike says:

    There’s an old joke about the “War on Poverty” that goes thus:

    1. We had the war on poverty.
    2. So why are even more people poor than before?
    3. Didn’t you hear? It was a war on poverty. They lost.Report

  16. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    Do you think he’s just a deep-cover libertarian? Do you think his intention the entire time was to launch a thousand articles such as yours in response?Report

  17. Avatar Katherine says:

    So, how does this argument explain the fact that pretty much every Western, developed nation that isn’t America both has a stronger social welfare system and more anti-poverty measures, and is less insane about drugs?  I’m having trouble seeing your connection there: the War on Poverty is very clearly a liberal initiative and the War on Drugs just as clearly a conservative one; the War on Poverty had basically been ended by the time the War on Drugs was implemented; and the two trends don’t coincide in most other countries, either, with the opposite (more social welfare, less anti-drug craziness) being the general policy in Canada and Europe.  Probably because those countries view “not letting people starve or die on the street” as a basic obligation of the society and the state, rather than something people have to earn.

    The current US health care plan isn’t a government one [by my understanding, its main provisions are 1) regulating the insurance companies so they have to cover more people and 2) requiring everyone to buy health insurance so that the companies have more customers and can afford to do 1)], so I don’t think it will affect ideas and stigma regarding healthy behaviour.  In cases where there’s genuine single-payer health care, like Canada, and it’s facing a cost crunch, though, I think that does have an impact.  Provincial government advertising encouraging people to exercise more is pretty common here in BC.  Anti-smoking laws are incredibly stringent (not only can you not smoke in any building, you can’t smoke near the the entry to any building, or near a bus shelter, for example), and while this is purportedly to protect the health and comfort of non-smoking people in general and people with respiratory problems (often aggravated by secondhand smoke) in particular, I can’t help feeling a little like it’s also geared at making life as difficult as possible for smokers to encourage them to quit, and encourage others not to start.

    I think drawing the line from there to eugenics and forced sterilization, as you do with your quote, is frankly insane and removes most of the credibility from your post, though.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

      I think drawing the line from there to eugenics and forced sterilization, as you do with your quote, is frankly insane and removes most of the credibility from your post, though.

      I get that a lot.

      I wasn’t drawing the line from there to eugenics and forced sterilization, though. I jumped to eugenics and forced sterilization from the discussion of parental licensure and I used the unintended consequences from the War on Poverty/Drugs as evidence for unintended consequences running amok.

      So, how does this argument explain the fact that pretty much every Western, developed nation that isn’t America both has a stronger social welfare system and more anti-poverty measures, and is less insane about drugs?

      Well, there’s another argument that I make all the time that there is an inconsistent triad that consists of Open Immigration, Heterogeneous culture, and a Robust Welfare State.

      My argument is that the other Western Developed nations have the Robust Welfare State and either restrict immigration somewhat or they enforce some measure of homogeneity with regards to culture (for an example of this being measurable, I tend to use language laws).

      My evidence for this dynamic in Europe is the rising anti-Immigrant sentiment and movement toward, for example, more language laws. It manifests in America differently, of course, because America has put a lot less emphasis on, for example, the Robust Welfare State.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

        My argument is that the other Western Developed nations have the Robust Welfare State and either restrict immigration somewhat or they enforce some measure of homogeneity with regards to culture (for an example of this being measurable, I tend to use language laws).

        Well, I’m Canadian, so I’m trying to see how your argument relates to us.  We have a fairly open immigration system (albeit one with plenty of issues relating to backlogs, and problems with people who are professionals in their own countries not being able to practice their professions here due to registration/accreditation issues), a degree of ethnic, cultural and linguistic heterogeneity (bilingualism, obviously, and also large immigrant populations from east and south Asia), and a decent social safety net (i.e.: ‘welfare state’) that’s certainly more expansive than the US one.  And the general grousing from Quebec aside, not a lot of ethno-linguistic tensions.

        I think Europe’s issues revolve more around the combination of historical cultural heterogeneity and current immigration trends.  Many European countries have powerful pre-established cultural identities, and expect immigrants to assimilate to them, rather than having the immigrants and the country each influence and change each other to a degree.  France seems to be particularly strongly this way, probably because French culture is highly defined and a major part of national identity; Quebec’s attitude to immigrants (assimilate fully or stay out) seems to be pretty close to France’s.  Then there’s the tensions of having people from socially conservative populations immigrating in significant numbers to highly secular and socially liberal nations – France and the Netherlands, which have social liberalism and secularism as major parts of their cultures, are having the strongest difficulties  in that area.

        With regards to immigration, the US is a lot more like Canada than like Europe, in being a nation of immigrants and having a national identity centred around civics (the Constitution and America’s history are what makes it America, just as parliamentary democracy, social justice and tolerance are what makes Canada Canada, and a diversity of ethnicities and cultures has historically enhanced rather than threatened it) rather than a homogenous national culture.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

          My wife is from PEI and went to school in Montreal.

          One of the things that I remember was going through town on a bus and seeing a *HUGE* mural written in French with all sorts of interesting things going on behind the letters. I asked Maribou to read it to me and she said “Celebrating (howevermany) years of not being forced to the bottom of the wall!”

          “What?”, I asked. She then went on to explain to me the language laws that Canada, and specifically Quebec (and *VERY* specifically Montreal) has. Stuff like English letters much be no bigger than half the size of the French letters in a sign and how there were people whose job it was to drive around and make sure that PFK (“MEGA BOUFFE!”) was twice as big as KFC.

          We then talked for a while about how Canada has two official languages and the various things that this means in practice for Montreal, Quebec, and Canada in general.

          As I was driving home the other day, I heard an article on NPR about Randy Cunneyworth and the current scandal his position as coach of the Canadiens is creating.

          I’m American, though. We tend to blow these things out of proportion and it’s not like we speak more than one language anyway.Report

          • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

            Yes, bilingualism is a big issue.  But when you reference language laws, I thought you were referring to regulations about which national languages immigrants must be able to speak, or US conservative advocacy for legislation declaring English the national language.  Canada’s language laws (outside of Quebec) are inclusive – e.g., federal services must be available in both languages – rather than exclusive (“you must speak this specific language”).  There’s a lot of immigrants in Canada who still speak their native language at home rather than French or English, with movement to speaking primarily English or French coming with the second generation.

            It’s hard to see how that bilingualism has anything to do with why you believe the US can’t accommodate both ethnic diversity and a robust social safety net (and sane drug laws – though our Conservatives are sadly starting to emulate you guys, that’s pure ideology, not some kind of demographic determinism) like Canada does.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

              What I mean by “language laws” is that “the government will go to no great lengths to accomodate you if you do not speak (one of) the official language(s)”.

              In the US, we have forms in, like, 30 different languages. Seriously! You can request Social Security forms in Tagalog. We have *NO* official language. We have a de facto one, of course… but, officially, it’s “all of them”.

              Saying “you have to speak (one of) the official language(s)” is not particularly “inclusive”.Report

      • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

        I actually do have an alternative explanation to yours, although I worry about offering it because I’m far from an expert on American society and the history of American domestic policy, and it’s the sort of thing that tends to rile people up.

        That explanation is racism.

        America has a long history of white people opposing anything that might result in government resources going to black people, resting to a degree on the long-standing racist stereotype of black people as shiftless and lazy.  The New Deal policies were able to be implemented because they specifically excluded black people.  When Johnson, with the Great Society and War on Poverty, started showing concern about black poverty, there was an overwhelming backlash, and Republicans (absorbing the former Dixiecrats) dedicated themselves far more to gutting the social safety net.  They declared the War on Drugs as a backlash against the counterculture and against racial tensions, and used it as the newest means of targeting black Americans.

        I don’t think the solution to this is not to have a social safety net.  I think the solution is to address the historical effects of racism, confront the racism that exists today (and declares itself extremely offended and insulted when anyone calls it by that name), and support people who will defend and uphold the social safety net.  I think that the blame is properly placed on the people who introduced and implemented the War on Drugs and sought (with considerable success) to strengthen the stereotype of black people as shiftless and lazy (“welfare queens with Cadillacs”), and not on the people who tried to alleviate poverty in the first place and were stymied by conservatives.Report

        • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

          I imagine that countries were there was significantly less heterogeneity would manifest significantly less racism.

          The only way to really measure this is to see if countries that have more and more immigrants move more in the direction of legislation protecting (if not promoting) cultural homogeneity.Report

          • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

            My issue is that you’re treating racism as an inevitable social phenomenon as opposed to something we should focus on combating.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

              While there are many many different kinds of racism, the two that I’m going to address here are institutional racism and personal racism. (For the sake of making this particular minefield easier to gambol across, I’ll stick to using the Irish in my examples.)

              Institutional racism would be of the form “No Irish Need Apply” when it came to government contracts, having separate fountains for Irish people (because the Irish fountains have whiskey coming from them!), and so on. Personal racism manifests like “I don’t like Irish people” or freaking out about Irish people urinating outside all the time when it’s their culture.

              The former kind can be legislated away, for the most part, to make sure that all Government Contracts have an equal shot at being given to the lowest bidder and making sure that public facilities are equal and available to everyone. Sure.

              Personal racism is harder to fight against. While it’s possible to pass some kinds of laws against the absolute worst manifestations, you have to rely on social censure for the rest… and that’s not always so easy to deal with in practice given the little cloisters that people make for themselves made up of people mostly like themselves.

              This results in certain policies that have disparate impact without it looking like they were ever intended to actually discriminate against a particular race, religion, or creed. “We have random alcohol tests!” is a fine policy for a workplace to have, right? I mean you don’t think that it’s okay for people to be *DRUNK* at work, right? What about their co-workers? What about job safety? And there is special emphasis on this liquor vs. that one and, next thing you know, it’s the Irish who get picked for random alcohol tests.

              Or passing a law that says “people can be pulled over for not wearing seatbelts” and then, when the people are pulled over for that, go through the boilerplate of “I detected the scent of alcohol” and, after a search of the car, maybe an open bottle of something is found in the glove compartment or back seat.

              Given that the majority of folks pulled over for seatbelt violations would be Irish, wouldn’t it be more likely that larger numbers of them get arrested for this or that minor infraction that otherwise wouldn’t have been found? And it’s not like you can argue against it because, hey, safetybelts save lives! Do you want people to go through windshields?

              And so we set up a system where race isn’t mentioned at all that results in more Irish people being arrested. A racism without racists, if you will.

              Since passing laws stopped the first kind mentioned, the institutional racism, it seems illogical to think that the second kind mentioned could best be fought by repeal of laws rather than passing more and more about who can be pulled over for what… maybe social stigma needs to be able to make a comeback and do what it does rather than set up a system whereby “protecting and serving” people results in a lot more people being arrested.

              It’s not that I think that I don’t think that we shouldn’t focus on combatting racism… it’s that the tools that people clamor for to fight personal racism can actually make things worse even though these tools did a great job against institutional racism.Report

              • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

                Thank you for explaining.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird in reply to Katherine says:

                Whew, re-reading that was a mess! Sorry about that.

                To address your point again: My issue is that you’re treating racism as an inevitable social phenomenon as opposed to something we should focus on combating.

                I’ll try to sum up and be concise: There are forms of racism that can be formally addressed and, for the most part, they are (there are some remaining issues with voter registration issues but, as a whole, the racist institutions and laws have been dismantled). The problem that we, as a society, have now is informal racism.

                The immediate inclination is to use many of the tools used to fight formal racism because, after all, they worked.

                I think that this actually has the unintended consequences of making things worse (and creating an iatrogenic situation where doubling down makes the problem worse which makes people want to double down again which makes the problem even worse than that and so on).

                Informal racism is a cultural, not a legal, issue and needs to be addressed with cultural, and not legal, remedies.Report

              • Avatar Tom Van Dyke in reply to Jaybird says:

                JB speaketh sense again, the bastard.  I was fascinated by Shelby Foote’s [via JL Wall] politically incorrect point that the Civil War and its half-million dead still left us with Jim Crow, lynchings, miserable poverty, whathaveyou.

                As a bit of a student of A-A history meself, the irony that segregated [pre-Brown vs. Board] Black America had its own economy, thriving culture [Harlem Renaissance] and marriage and employment rates within a whisker of whites’.

                Oh, I’ve said too much; I haven’t said enough…


              • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                That’s you in the corner?Report

              • That’s me in the spot.  Light.  Losing your religion.

                As for mine, it depends on what day this is. I don’t talk about it much.Report

              • Avatar Jesse Ewiak in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                Well, the problem was the we killed a couple hundred thousand Southern yeoman farmers and not enough Southern plantation owners and those who directly profited from the slave trade. Then again, if I had my druthers, a statue of William Sherman would be in every city he walked through.Report

              • Avatar Katherine in reply to Tom Van Dyke says:

                JB speaketh sense again, the bastard.  I was fascinated by Shelby Foote’s [via JL Wall] politically incorrect point that the Civil War and its half-million dead still left us with Jim Crow, lynchings, miserable poverty, whathaveyou.

                Not fascinating at all.  The point is not that too much was done, but that too little was done.  Radical Reconstruction needed to be kept in place, including retaining federal troops in the South until the southern states demonstrated that they were willing to protect their black citizens from riots and lynchings and admit their right to vote and serve in government.  (Even then, forcing southern states to that point would sure have been a hard slog; but there was more momentum in the 1860s-early 1870s, and more recognition of the humanity and merit of black Americans, than there would be for another century after.)  They sure as hell weren’t going to do that without the Civil War, not when immediately prior to it most of their politicians espoused ambitions of extending slavery into all the territories and even into the north, and advocated the slave system as the only stable foundation of society and the inferiority and incapacity of black people as a fundamental fact.

                That several years of inconsistent work after the war wasn’t enough to suppress the violence of southern whites towards the states’ black populations is less than surprising.  And both the poverty and the disenfranchisement were enforced through that violence; and they in turn left the black population with few resources to fight the Jim Crow system.Report

              • Avatar Katherine in reply to Jaybird says:

                Informal racism is a cultural, not a legal, issue and needs to be addressed with cultural, and not legal, remedies.

                I’ve advanced the same argument with regard to sexism on multiple occasions.  With regards to racism, at least, I’d split the categories into three: institutional (legal), structural (e.g., employers being less likely to hire black people; cops being more likely to stop black people, or to shoot them) and personal (people harbouring negative assumptions about ethnic minorities).  Structural is different in that it involves people in positions of power and has the capacity to cause significant social and economic (and, wrt cops, bodily) harm to ethnic minorities, and I think it’s something government has a responsibility to tackle, for example by curbing police powers generally, and seriously punishing officers who shoot innocent people.

                My major question, though, to get back to the original substance of your post, is: do we deliberately avoid implementing social safety net programs on the basis that they may cause backlash from whites who don’t want their money going to “lazy, irresponsible black people”, leading to such things as the drug war?  Do we assume this is an unavoidable “unintended consequence”?

                Or do we implement such programs and work on changing the cultural arguments and improving understanding of historical reasons for black poverty, and on fighting racist assumptions, to gain broader public support for those programs?

                I support the latter.  I perceived your original post as advancing the former.Report

        • Avatar Stillwater in reply to Katherine says:

          That explanation is racism.

          Agreed. But that’s not as fun as elaborate theories of interconnected social obligations enforced by the coercive power of the state. For some reason, white people receiving welfare and medicaid doesn’t constitute a cultural and economic crisis in the US.Report