On Ross Douthat, More Children, and Less Decadence


Ethan Gach

I write about comics, video games and American politics. I fear death above all things. Just below that is waking up in the morning to go to work. You can follow me on Twitter at @ethangach or at my blog, gamingvulture.tumblr.com. And though my opinions aren’t for hire, my virtue is.

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181 Responses

  1. Avatar Kim says:

    Oh, how I pine for a truly conservative party!
    Perhaps there are some around here who might be interested in starting one?
    Reactionary is not conservative, folks.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Kim says:

      Evidence to this effect?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        Edmund Burke?Report

        • Burke was a whig. Quite a liberal one by the standards of his day, even.

          Just because people like to appropriate his dislike of radical revolutionary regimes doesn’t mean he was particularly conservative.

          He’s no more conservative than say is a libertarian.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

            But there’s a distinct strain of conservatism that is Burkean, nonetheless. The man is less important than the conceptual approach that takes his name.Report

            • And there’s a distinct strain of Republican Party politics that’s libertarian nontheless. What Dr. Hanley says is less important than the conceptual approach taken toward government.

              But in any case, you used the man himself as an example, rather than Burkean wankerism.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                Well, I almost typed Burkeanism, and I suppose I should have.

                And your first paragraph is absolutely true; I quite agree.Report

              • I just get a bit sick of people who believe in limiting other people’s rights using the name of a man who pushed for Catholic Emancipation and Abolition during the late 18th century. He deserves better.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                I’m not talking about that, of course.Report

              • Certainly.

                Burke’s just a personal hero. The association of his name with a political philosophy that seems inclined to be antithetical to his notions is just a personal annoyance. I apologize.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Understood, but Burke did suggest that successful change required assent from every sector of society, did he not? Not unanimous assent, but wide scale assent that crossed the social divisions.Report

              • To my recollection in his public life he tended to act the opposite and suggest that legislators and statesmen had a duty to do what was right and conduct change to their government in accordance to the general good. He was against radicalism in the French revolutionary mold, but he was also in favor of American independence, Catholic Emancipation, ending much of capital punishment, etc. that were all in fact, quite outside the mainstream, and he pushed for them anyway.

                His biggest problem was abstract concepts being in the realm of the political. This manifested in his era as radical revolutionary ideas such as the French Revolution.

                In many ways the myth construction of the sort Douthat does is as much a manner similar in the abstract.Report

              • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) in reply to James Hanley says:

                Being a man of generally conservative temperment, I am taking more and more interest in Burke and Burkean thought. I have a passing familiarity with his writing and legacy, but like a lot of writers, his works seems to be appropriated more than studied.

                A search on B&N turns up 747 books on the man. Maybe some of the ordinary gentlepersons around here could suggest a few that have a good discussion of his thoughts?

                “Reflections On The Revolution” of course is the original, but I would be more interested in a consise discussion of Burkean thought, particularly the tension between his views on Authority and Liberty.

                Much thanks an advance!Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Burke’s Letter to the Electors of Bristol will always be a shining star in the firmament of political discourse.Report

        • Avatar NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

          Personally I am rather tired and annoyed by how many conservatives claim they are merely maintaining the mantle of “Burkean” skepticism. It often seems to merely be a pretext for keeping enshrined order and privilege in the named of “tradition”

          It is all so very pompous of them.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to NewDealer says:

            The Conservative mindset does encompass a herd instinct: they’ll push the Party Line though they don’t really adhere to it all themselves. Inauthentic belief, if you will. It’s rather like someone saying “I am an adherent to the X Philosophy” to which someone else will say “But Xes believe in the Y axiom” to which X usually hotly responds, “Why are you trying to lump me in with every hothead in my party?!” Conservatives have a variant on that, they’ll sorta go along with the Y proposition in their own fold, lest they be cast out as a heretic.

            But out here, among others, they’ll hearken back to the halcyon days of Burke, a way of dismissing the idiocy of the Y position, as if today’s Conservatives aren’t really Conservative enough. The Marxists did that, too. The Marxists had a rather better excuse. Today’s Conservatives don’t. Truth is, they haven’t read Burke all that well. He looked an awful lot more like a Classical Liberal than anything or anyone calling itself Conservative today.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:

            Of course it looks like that from the outside. And it’s entirely appropriate for liberals/progressives/libertarians to point that out. But it’s also appropriate to point out that change is disruptive, and not always in good or predictable ways, and that the more radical–bigger and faster–the change, the more unpredictable its effects are.

            It’s the dynamic between those who push forward and those who urge caution that I think is not just valuable but necessary.

            And at the very least, progressive ideas being forced to slow down a bit may actually help the progressive cause by mitigating backlash. You don’t win if you move so far and fast that you frighten people beyond what they can take, even if their opposition is small-minded and bigoted. It’s precisely because their minds change only slowly that caution is a virtuous constraint on progressivism.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:

              You don’t win if you move so far and fast that you frighten people beyond what they can take, even if their opposition is small-minded and bigoted. It’s precisely because their minds change only slowly that caution is a virtuous constraint on progressivism.

              That’s great, as long as your the in-group, not the group on the receiving end of the small-minded bigotry.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to zic says:

                Changing a law is rather like doing surgery. Helps to keep the incision site as small as possible and a large supply of haemostats handy to keep blood loss to a minimum. But the surgery should address the problem as far as is possible: gangrene can’t be addressed via half-measures or the problem gets far worse.

                This is especially true of deregulation. Laws are usually written in blood, addressing a serious problem which led to their passage in the first place. Be sure, in the process of repealing a law, you don’t invite the same old problem back onto the stage.Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Be sure, in the process of repealing a law, you don’t invite the same old problem back onto the stage.

                Would have been great if Republicans would have paid attention to that before repealing Glass-Steagall… :/Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to M.A. says:

                Thing is, as I said downstream, we could have effectively repealed Glass-Steagall and kept the whole thing from blowing up in everyone’s faces. We do have more information now. Thing is, if in the course of repealing it, we could have said “Thou houses of Wall Street, having been thus granted the privilege of being both banks and investment houses, shalt confine thy trade in risk to the floors of regulated exchanges. For lo, thou art not Insurance Companies, whatever thy new status might be. Be not Stupid in the No Stupid Zone or thy collective and corporate pee-pees shall be thrust into the Engines of Justice and thou shalt be cast forth into Utter Darkness.”Report

              • Avatar Marchmaine in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I think I prefer this style to your usual mortar shells of prose.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Pynchon, one of my rhetorical heroes, wrote a whole book in this arch Jacobean style, Mason & Dixon.

                Who claims Truth, Truth abandons. History is hir’d, or coerc’d, only in Interests that must ever prove base. She is too innocent, to be left within the reach of anyone in Power, — who need but touch her, and all her Credit is in the instant vanish’d, as if it had never been. She needs rather to be tended lovingly and honorably by fabulists and counterfeiters, Ballad-Mongers and Cranks of ev’ry Radius, Masters of Disguise to provide her the Costume, Toilette, and Bearing, and Speech nimble enough to keep her beyond the Desires, or even the Curiosity, of Government.

                Pynchon was a mighty mortar man in any dialect. Count me in with the Cranks of ev’ry Radius.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

                I fully understand your point, but what I’m saying is that if you’re the group on the receiving end, moving too fast can result in the in-group reacting so aggressively that they shut down all your progress. Whereas if you chip away steadily without ever pushing them beyond what they can bear, they may never organize resistance.

                I’m not talking about what is morally right; I’m talking about what is strategically true. And I’m not suggesting the out-group should wait patiently–MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” guides me here. I’m just suggesting that a strategic approach rather than an “everything that is right and just, right now” approach is likely to be more successful.

                It’s easy to let our normative preferences over-ride our strategic considerations, but wishing things to be a certain way isn’t what makes things that way. Opponents are simply a part of the playing field, and their reactions have to be taken into account–not accommodated, but understood and planned for–if we’re going to employ successful political strategies.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Gradual progress is often worse than complete change. Look at the struggle for LGBT rights or civil rights: most substantive change is catastrophic because there’s no tolerance for any gradualism from the opposition.

                The American Civil War: half-measures only made things far worse. Good will compromise where evil will not.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Yes, it’s just like how the current swing from majority-against to majority-for on same-sex marriage was the result of a Supreme Court-mandated recognization.

                Oh wait, that didn’t happen.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to DensityDuck says:

                States issue marriage licenses, not the Federal Gummint. Maybe we’ll see a joint tax filing case come before SCOTUS which could make DOMA unconstitutional.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:


                Intentionally or not, this damns suffering communities. Either they wait for progress to slowly take hold (which takes a long time) or they demand change now and don’t get it (which takes a long time).Report

              • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

                Whereas if you chip away steadily without ever pushing them beyond what they can bear, they may never organize resistance.

                Sounds great in theory.

                Out here in the real world, you try to do small things, and you’re accused (rightly, if the strategy is in fact in effect) of incrementalism. They oppose the sensible reforms all the more by making sensationalized accusations.

                Equal marriage rights for gays? Oh, you’re just a front for polygamists/andrists/gynists/amorists. And you’re a front for people who’d marry their dog or their sheep. Or you’re trying to “destroy the institution of marriage.”

                Personally? If someone can make a relationship of 3,4,5 people work – more power to them. Two-person relationships are rocky enough, though I suppose if the 3rd person is the one adept at smoothing rough edges and translating Type-A personality into something Type-B personality understands, there could be something to the theory as well. I would think libertarians would see it as a contract thing, voluntary association, and probably not have a big deal about it even while the christians slash their wrists over the mere thought (while ignoring the incredibly long list of polygamist instances in their own religion).

                Back to the main point: incrementalism doesn’t slow the backlash. To claim that it does denies the evidence right in front of your eyes. What gets rid of the backlash is people waking up the morning after a change and realizing the sun is still in the sky, the earth’s still under their feet, and everything else is still working.Report

            • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

              But it’s also appropriate to point out that change is disruptive, and not always in good or predictable ways, and that the more radical–bigger and faster–the change, the more unpredictable its effects are.

              Which is why conservatives are skeptical of modern capitalism and its whirlwind-like creative destruction.


              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Do you really want me to argue that, or should I just leave it alone with a smile?Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                Up to you, but I’m only half-joking. Economic disruption is hard on people, as is finding that your painfully acquired skills are no longer valuable, and dismissing that with reference to buggy-whip factories (conservative politicians and pundits, not anyone here) is pretty fishing despicable.

                And we saw what the financial types did with their shiny new CDOs and CDSs. I’d certainly consider legislation that restricts new financial instruments until people have had a chance to become used to them.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                I bring tidings of great joy:

                Elizabeth Warren.

                On the Senate Banking Committee.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to zic says:

                Hooray! We’ve arrived! 😉

                (in a week, when I have changed my gravatar again, this joke will make no sense).Report

              • Avatar Roger in reply to zic says:

                Plus one, Glyph.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to zic says:

                She is a native American.

                Unlike Obama.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                CDO and CDS instruments were traded on exchanges such as ICE.

                Yanno (heh heh) for all this cheap talk about the Free Market, it’s amazing how little regulation it takes to make a Free Market actually work. You see, first you need a market. ICE contracts never got in trouble like the rest of those OTC contracts.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Well, in a nutshell, Mike, my answer is that you’ve proved my point. The faster and bigger the change caused by the market–the more disruption–the bigger the backlash by those affected, and by liberals in general, will be. It’s not a surprise, not an unexpected finding. So liberals should recognize the truth in what I’m saying, and recognize that conservatives are just as reactive to sudden change–and if anything even more so.

                Believe me, market advocates don’t want sudden huge dislocations. Even if they’re good in the long run, they both recognize just how wrenching and troublesome they are in the short run, and just how likely they are to cause people to react against markets.Report

              • Avatar MikeSchilling in reply to James Hanley says:

                And the disruption caused by the housing crash and subsequent Great Recession is the same kind of thing as the disruption caused by the fact that Russell can get married now. Sure it is.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Sure, Mike, that’s exactly what I said.

                You usually do better than that.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:

                Who are these magical market-advocating unicorns that recognize the suffering that markets can cause? Where are they? The primary argument used against those of us who point out the short-term suck is the (ludicrous) “yeah yeah, but in the long run…”Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

                You’ve never heard of Paul Krugman?Report

              • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) in reply to Mike Schilling says:

                Mike points out an interesting dynamic-
                Contemporary liberals and conservatives are in very different places than we were even as recently as 30 years ago.

                Liberals are resisting changes to the New Deal, which for nearly all of us, is the only governmental structure we have personally experienced; Even SSM is less of a radical change than it appears, since its purpose is to allow everyone to take part in the traditional institutions of family-making, with its structure of monogamy and household construction.

                Conservatives can fairly claim to being defenders of tradition with respect to SSM, but in economic terms they are pretty radical. The Tea Party inspired vision of society doesn’t really have any actual traditional examples, so much as it draws on a mythological history.Report

            • Avatar NewDealer in reply to James Hanley says:

              I am all for examining the idea that many (but not all) pieces of policy of legislation can have unintended consequences and/or be a double-edged sword. However, I would probably strongly disagree about when this comes to social issues like gay marriage with “Burkean” conservatives.

              However, I don’t see many conservatives being Burkean skeptics when it comes to analyzing the unintended consequences of their policy preferences.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to NewDealer says:

                Well, that’s often because the “unintended consequences” were actually precisely what was intended.Report

              • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Sam says:

                Would it be ironic to call them Jacobins?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to NewDealer says:


                I agree, in the case of SSM. I don’t agree in the case of drug legalization, even though I fully support it. Leave it to me and I’d legalize drugs across the whole country today and release everyone who’s in jail/prison just on drug charges.

                But in fact I think it’s wiser to see how it goes in CO/WA before we go whole hog (if the Feds will only allow the laws to actually take effect) either across the whole country or with harder drugs.

                Only a fool believes nothing could possibly go wrong with their ideal policy. But we’re all fools; all subject to the nirvana fallacy. To my grim amusement I can preach that until I run out of breath, and people will say, “sure, sure, but not in this case,” never recognizing their own contradiction.Report

      • Avatar Kim in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        People who are pro-rape (numerous highly placed people on the Christian right, for some it’s their prime means of reproduction, after all.), pro-spousal-abuse (Akin), and anti-women’s sufferage (now, Coulter, going to be more in 4 years if something’s not done NOW) do not count as a “conservative” movement as defined by TVD. They, instead, count as a reactionary movement who claims to want to turn back the clock, while they go tampering with “what has worked” for millenia.

        Oh, you wanted the rest of the party too? Koch and company are pursuing a policy to pyramidize the society’s wealth, in such a way to keep the working and middle classes too stressed/pushed to the brink to take back any of the wealth that’s been … removed from their pockets.

        And wanting to roll back the ADA, for entirely specious reasoning which aptly illustrates that you haven’t read the law, at all, is also not conservative (Rand Paul).
        Well, that’s evidence forReport

        • Avatar zic in reply to Kim says:

          I really don’t want to defend the weirdos on the right, Kim, but it’s also pretty outrageous to suggest that they’re ‘pro-rape.’

          For some, there is a real lack of comprehension of a woman’s right to self-determination; spousal abused, spousal rape, and forced pregnancy fall out of their father-knows-best world view. But I don’t believe they’re pro-rape; that for some it’s the primary means of reproduction; that’s a pretty nasty and unhelpful charge, and one that’s not going to win rape victims an easier time pursuing justice or one that’s not going to help diminish the frequency of rape.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to zic says:

            I’m not here to be helpful. I’m not here to win friends among the Christian Right, or to try and persuade them. They don’t, in general, come here, and that’s fine by me.

            I do apologize that my referencing the truth is interfering with your propaganda, I recognize that you have reasons for wanting to obscure the truth, and that they may be more valuable than my reasons for stating it. If I thought there were people within the Christian Right coming here, I might speak more charily.

            I think that it is quite helpful to understand the people who come into power in the Christian Right, and why they seek said power. It is also helpful to understand the rank-and-file’s need to have “free wimmenz” (aka women that they don’t need to convince to marry them, as it’s seen as a duty to get all the women matched off).Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Kim says:

              Kim, spewing propaganda. Or is this humor?

              Rape is not something to joke about; and the ‘legitimate rape’ definition — that it’s only rape when it’s a stranger jumping you from the bush — requires work.

              The Christian Right also comprises women, many in loving relationships; women who willingly submit to their husbands, who’s lives in the glory of God as expressed through their marriage devotion are rich and fulfilling.

              I find it deeply disturbing; defining a woman’s deepest worth by her devotion to her husband, parents, and children.

              But if you go around calling those relationships rapes, I’d expect the folks you’re talking about will think you’re a nut and assume you have nothing worthwhile to say, and so they won’t listen.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Kim says:

          I do think this comment crosses a line that ought not to be crossed around here. To say that rape is the “prime means of reproduction” for the Christian right is inexcusable.

          If it matters, I say that as an atheist who is pro-gay, pro-contraception, and pro-choice.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to Jason Kuznicki says:

            I think you’re overgeneralizing what I said. by, like, a lot.
            I suppose this is my fault for not communicating well, and I do apologize.

            I did not mean to say that the Christian Right, as a whole, uses rape as the “prime means of reproduction.”Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kim says:

          This isn’t dKos. We have our own little dialect around here and this sort of trash talk is best kept over there in Orange Land. Do try to get with the plan, Kim. If you want to toss these old worn-out grenades, try somewhere else.Report

        • Avatar Kim in reply to Kim says:

          ahem. “for some “highly placed” people of the Christian Right” rape is their prime means of reproduction.

          note key equivative words here: some, and highly placed. I did in no way shape or form mean to imply that most of the Christian Right uses rape to reproduce.

          The National Enquirer would like to lump Bristol’s baby daddy under this (noting that he’s said to have fathered quite a few children in the year he fathered Bristol’s baby). I have not seen the video evidence, so I’m not going to take a personal stand, on the consensuality of this particular act, or of the others. But the circumstantial evidence (including the “didn’t have an immediate shotgun marriage”) points towards it.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Kim says:

            “for some “highly placed” people of the Christian Right” rape is their prime means of reproduction

            Cite or STFU.

            And no, the National Enquirer’s breathless scoop on Bristol’s beau is not a cite to anything approaching actual evidence about “highly placed” people using rape as their “prime means of reproduction.”

            This is just repulsive. You’ve gone beyond sometimes amusing crackpot to repulsively nasty vile wretch.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

              Though we fight horribly between ourselves, and though nothing is less wanted than unwanted advice — with the further inference that you’re absolutely right…

              Do not feed the troll.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                Do not feed the troll.

                But she’s not a true troll. She’s a regular commenter. My response was really a signal to any non-regular reader wandering by, to say, “Please don’t think this is what we’re all about here.”Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                Do you remember me quoting David Foster Wallace some while back, where he was describing the role of Standard White English and its privileged role in academic discourse? How there were other dialects, all that? How we all use different dialects in the various contexts of our daily lives.

                Kim can’t or won’t learn LeagueSpeak. She’s still using DailyKosSpeak. LeagueSpeak isn’t about what we say so much as what we don’t say. We’re all burned out on the simplistic harshitude and much-thrown brickbats of other places. Harshitude we have in plenty hereabouts but it simply must be clever. And we don’t hold long grudges, preferring the joys of starting up new fights to the tiresomely boring resurrections of old fights. DKS is all about trope-mongering, the distressingly awful reassurance the insecure afford each other via damnation of a common enemy.

                She’s a lasting embarrassment to me as a Liberal, that’s for sure.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to BlaiseP says:

                I don’t see her as an embarrassment to liberals; I just think there’s something not quite right that is entirely distinct from any of her beliefs or values. That’s why I don’t think my response will actually have any affect on her, and is just a signal to passers-by.

                As for Daily Kos, I think I read an article there once. Didn’t read the commentary. I knew it was liberal, but I had no idea it was as you describe it. I suppose it’s good to have the warning in case I ever happen across it again.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:


                What of the substantive places where Republicans have either refused to engage on rape or have come out swinging in defense of rapists and their apologists? Should we just ignore that because Kim’s trolling?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:


                I didn’t respond to your earlier question, and I’m hard pressed to dignify this one with a substantive response, either. If you want to assume I mean things I never mentioned, I can’t stop you, but it’s not worthy of a serious response.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

                Like it or leave it, it’s not trolling. I believe what I say and continue to talk to people willing to engage with me.
                Perhaps I put some of it quite poorly, and I do apologize for such.

                You can call it flamebait if you want, which would be far more accurate (If, i hasten to add, unintentional)Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:

                You asked for evidence on the Republican/Christian Right response to rape. I provided plenty of evidence that shows a clear pattern of disengagement at best. That’s not worth dignifying? The issue only matters when considered within Kim’s ridiculousness?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                If you want to assume I mean things I never mentioned, I can’t stop you, but it’s not worthy of a serious response.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:

                It seemed as though you were denying that the Republican relationship with rape was rocky at all, not simply that Kim was trolling.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Once more, if you want to assume I mean things I never mentioned, I can’t stop you, but it’s not worthy of a serious response.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

                @James: I spent quite a bit of time there. It was just horrid, the way they’d carry on. DKos has its own cant, Kim has brought it with her. I know it when I see it.

                @Sam: the GOP is trying to hold onto Family Values. Rape is one of those areas where they perceive the Camel’s Nose coming in under the tent. As I said earlier, they have a problem with Insincere Beliefs: they’ll sublimate and carry on and yowl about Intrusive Gummint. But really, their hearts aren’t in that fight. A few loudmouths.

                @Kim: you have made a very bad impression on many of us, that much should be obvious by now. You keep a civil tongue in your head: there are lots of very smart people around here. As a Liberal in the company some highly intelligent Libertarians and Conservatives, you might stop and consider what you say. We’ve heard all the standard hooey — and yes, a good deal of what you’re saying is flamebait and you know it, too.

                Duck makes an interesting point: it’s a question of attitude. Your meaning is clear enough, all right. Nobody can tell you how to say anything but this bit of advice I’ll give you anyway: your sharp elbow is not making you any friends.Report

              • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to BlaiseP says:

                …it’s not a question of “speak”. It’s a question of attitude. Kim isn’t using different words or meaning different things by them. Her meaning is clear.Report

            • Avatar Sam in reply to James Hanley says:

              “prime means of reproduction…” is silly.

              But surely you’re not claiming that Republicans take rape seriously, are you? Even if you ignore the candidates that they have been routinely trotting out recently – “When life gives you rape, make rapeade!” – there is the ongoing opposition to the Violence Against Women Act, there is the ongoing support of those who condone and encourage rape (The Boy Scouts, The Catholic Church), there is the opposition to things like the widespread availability of Plan-B, there is the refusal to mandate that hospitals provide Plan-B, etc.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to Sam says:

                I’m way far out liberal. You know that I agree with you and with Kim on most of the disgusting misogynist stances the GOP embraces.

                But the tone of Kim’s orignal comment was every bit as offensive as a conservative claiming liberals are all baby killers because they support abortion rights.

                The worlds a whole lot more complicated then either caricature.Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to zic says:

                I agree with you. Kim’s comment is disgusting. I wrote silly, which I almost immediately regretted. Those caricatures aren’t useful.

                That acknowledged though, pointing out all of the places where Republicans would seem to prefer siding with either rapists or, more often, their apologists doesn’t seem unreasonable to me.Report

              • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) in reply to zic says:

                Agreed, Kim’s comment runs the risk of becoming our version of Mr. Cheeks.Report

            • Avatar M.A. in reply to James Hanley says:

              Republicans stand in opposition to the idea that a married woman has the right to refuse sexual interaction to her husband.

              They stood athwart every law in every state that was eventually passed regarding spousal rape over their objections.

              Then there’s their opposition to availability of ‘plan B’, the ridiculous “raped women who get pregnant should make the best of a bad situation” nonsense, the “women don’t get pregnant if it’s actual rape” nonsense.

              Brainwashing women into sexual toys who are told that they ought to “submit to their husband” as a “holy duty”? Yeah, and that was the same angle David Koresh and Warren Jeffs used too. But Republicans support that line of thinking. “Promise Keepers”, “Quiverfull”, even Michele Bachmann’s line of insanity about how she had to get her husband’s permission to seek an education and “The Lord says: Be submissive, wives. You are to be submissive to your husbands” nonsense.

              Republicans may or may not be pro- “violent, jumping out of the bushes” rape (though damn, they do go back to the old “she was a slut, she was asking for it” methods of DARVO victim-blaming awfully fast). In other respects, there can be no question that the Republicans support brainwashing women in schemes where the idea of consent and womens’ rights to their own, independent and equal sexual identity and health are injured.Report

              • Avatar Kim in reply to M.A. says:

                “Brainwashing women into sexual toys who are told that they ought to “submit to their husband” as a “holy duty”? ”
                … you realize that in some of these faiths (at least Judaism) it is every bit a man’s moral duty to perform if his wife desires it?Report

            • Avatar Kim in reply to James Hanley says:

              umm.. did my citations get caught in a buffer somewhere?
              Or did I just not post?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Kim says:

          Isn’t being pro-rape why people root for the Steelers?Report

  2. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    Why do people still regard this man as being somehow thoughtful or having interesting insights on people?

    He is and has always been a judgmental, narrow-minded prick. A Juvenal without the wit or the eloquence.Report

    • Avatar zic in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Well said.

      And he’s inordinately concerned with what women and their reproductive organs should and should not do. Would that he’s spend a bit of his precious ink and space suggesting that men, that fathers, might benefit from more flexible work schedules to spend more time with their families, more respect as care givers, both for their children and their aging parents, and more efforts to develop the potential of the already-born instead of railing against the lost potential of the never-to-be born.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Juvenal’s hard to grasp in modern times. By my lights, he was more of a Stephen Colbert. Rome was then full to brimming with ridiculous people aping the Noble Agricola.Report

    • Avatar NewDealer in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

      Every paper needs to kind of heretic columnist:

      1. A moderate type person that their readership can largely agree with. This is David Brooks at the Times. He plays the role of moderate conservative who does not offend liberal sensibilities on equal rights for minorities. He also writes the frequent “I will be the conservative who agrees with liberal talking points but for different reasoning” column.

      2. Someone who conforms to the worst stereotypes of the other side and allows the readership to mock, gloat, and feel superior. This is Ross Douthat’s role whether he realizes it or not.

      3. He tends to write things that spur reaction. The modern media market makes more money from one sensational article or column than a whole traffic. Hence the need to peddle in easy outrage.Report

  3. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    As you imply, there’s an education factor involved. The primary attenuator for population growth is the education of girls. A girl who graduates from secondary school will have fewer children and have them later in life. They will survive to adulthood and live better lives.

    This has been known since the 1970s. I did some work on a survey of the state of Kerala in India, which routinely returned Communists to the Indian Parliament in those times. China had its One Child Policy, which wasn’t working very well. But here were two rice-growing cultures, similar in other respects. Kerala educated its women, China usually educated girls for six or seven years. The difference was clear: more education.

    But family planning makes a huge difference, too. It strikes me strange, to see the same people who have strong ethical reservations about abortion so upset over supporting family planning strategies.Report

  4. Avatar North says:

    I gotta agree; Ross is utterly wrong on this one.

    Low birthrates aren’t a plague or a scourge in this context; they’re a triumph. First world countries should, by all means, drop below replacement levels of children. The difference can be made up by immigration thus pulling productive young people out of the third world; easing the population burden on economies and ecologies least suited to sustaining them and producing a non-coercive income stream back to the less developed economies to help them progress more rapidly.

    I see utterly nothing wrong with population stagnation or even decline. The idea of spending scarce resources fighting this virtous trend strikes me as wacky. Douthat it completely out in the left field (right field?) on this one.

    Also, Freddie’s comic has to be one of the most amusing things he’s made or written in ages. Awesomesauce!Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to North says:

      Klipspringer (singing) “the rich get richer and the poor get—children!”
      Gatsby: “Don’t talk so much, old sport…. Play!”

    • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:

      I see utterly nothing wrong with population stagnation or even decline.

      It can cause some troublesome economic dislocations. A declining population is going to have difficulty both with finding workers for all its jobs and especially with supporting it’s elderly population, which will be too big relative to the working age population.

      But those are costs, not catastrophes.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to James Hanley says:

        I agree. Costs, not catastrophes. But considered against the costs of population growth, where the hapless wage-earner is burdened with both the costs of children and parents, it’s not that large a trade-off.

        When I was interviewing people for HIPAA/EDI work, I’d give them a claim containing references to three people: the insured, her mother and her daughter. Who’s who in that claim?Report

      • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley says:

        Oh agreed Hanley. I should have been more precise. I see nothing wrong at all with native born population stagnation or decline so long as there’s active immigration that keeps the population growth at a net positive. That is the state of affairs the US would face for the forseeable future if Ross’ nightmare comes true.

        Agreed that absent immigration balancing it out or in the presence of global population decline or stagnation some economic, governmental and other instruments would get wonky. A lot of stuff was built assuming population growth. That said if technology based productivity continues to cause net productivity to rise then I dare say we’d be looking at increases in per capita wellfare and still a likely positive outcome.Report

        • Avatar Dan Miller in reply to North says:

          Of course, never-ending population growth brings its own set of costs (and I really like the “cost, not catastrophe” line). Megan McArdle had a really good response to Douthat that touched on this here.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to Dan Miller says:

            Well yes, unless we somehow escape the Terran gravity well we’re going to have to accomidate stagnant or diminishing population levels. Nothing says, however, that we need account for diminishing productivity levels.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:


          I took your line more expansively. Sorry about that. I took “population decline” more literally, along the lines of “birthrate is below replacement rate and there’s not sufficient immigration to make up for it, perhaps because birthrates are below replacement rates globally” (sometime in the future).

          But definitely in your “immigration compensates for declining birth rate” meaning, I’m right on board with you.Report

          • Avatar North in reply to James Hanley says:

            James, the global replacement levels argument is definitely an interesting one but I’d submit that even if every country on the planet slipped into birthrates below replacement level the US specifically (and likely the developed West in general) would not face much difficulty as long as they maintained open immigration. Even in a declining population world lots of third world young people would opt to immigrate to the west or the US. Heck, maybe even more would since in a global decline scenario immigration restrictionists would probably be viewed as absolutely insane.

            The more I think about it actually the more interesting it seems. Would poor third world countries actually try and take steps to discourage or prevent emigration? Could a declining global population not be a powerful goad against repressive and backwards governments? The worlds countries all being forced to compete with each other for people? That would be a scenario that would/could redound to the rapid advancement of global governance.

            No I can’t find it in me to fear population stabilization or decline on a global scale even. Absolutely some institutions and systems would need to be rejiggered but likely not in the West or the US. As long as the developed world remains what it is and the undeveloped world remains what it is the US would not want for immigrants (and this is without even going into what labor scarcity would do to the capital/labor calculus and workers rights).Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to North says:

              North, the issue with James’s theory is given by James himself somewhere on this or t’other today — resistance by those who fear change. No Irish need apply and all that.

              Fewer babies by the right sorts of people, replaced by babies of folks from somewhere else?

              Oh my. We’d have non-English speaking schools, Sharia law, and funny noodle dishes all over the heartland.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

                Pessimist James fears you’re right.

                Optimist James thinks those countries’ birth rates will only decline that much when they are developed at first world levels, so not only would there be less pressure for folks to emigrate from them, but they’d be more acceptable to Americans, who like their furriners to be wealthy and westernized.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:

                North and James both,

                Having spent my youth consuming every piece of post-apocalyptic fiction I could get my hands on, I don’t think we’ll ever make the step to sane reproduction policy or minimized nativism.

                But I really like this trend we’re seeing (Did Burt start it?) of expressing multiple POVs. Optimist zic holds out hope, for it is the most precious of liberal character traits.

                Pessimist zic thinks the libertarians are just co-opting.

                Motherly zic is delights in multiple sides of complex issues being examined at the dinner table.

                And Hedge Witch zic sees it’s all warping into the infinite potential of what might be woven.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to zic says:

                Hedge witch zic? Are hedge witches good to have around? I’ve been thinking about planting a hedge.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:

                Some of them.

                What’s you’re climate? I can tell you things that would be of value in a hedge row.

                When it comes to hedges, I’m not particularly fond of monocultures; same holds for hedges in the stock market. An instinctive repulsion to one thing taking over the available space. Reality throws out options; nurture them.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Actually, my yard’s not suited to hedges. But I would love one in the very back, very well shaded part of my yard. If you know a good hedge plant that grows well in deep shade in climate zone 6, with or without endemic witches, I’d be happy to hear.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

                If there’s a bustle in it, don’t be alarmed.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:

                Texas Mountain Laurel

              • Avatar greginak in reply to James Hanley says:

                I hear good things about Shrubbery.Report

              • Avatar Glyph in reply to James Hanley says:

                IT’S A TRAP!

                Do NOT plant Boxwood, unless you enjoy the smell of cat pee wafting in your windows.

                This has been a public service message from Shrubbery Lovers Against Boxwood (SLAB)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                The neighbors on each side of me have cats. They love my front porch and back yard. They are demons from hell sent to torment me.Report

              • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:


                That sounds familiar.Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to James Hanley says:


                Its just the spring Clean for the May Queen



              • Who is this optimist James? An imaginary friend?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

                Optimist James is the guy who sees that the history of the world has been a trajectory toward longer lives, better health, greater wealth and less violence, and says that while can’t understand how that wretched hive of scum and villainy called humanity has managed it, manage it they apparently have.

                Pessimist James says sure, but it’s only a matter of time ’til they fish it up.Report

              • Optimist James is a whig?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to James Hanley says:

                Well, he is a free trader and opponent of executive power, so maybe he is. But he’s not really anti-Catholic, just anti Notre Dame.Report

              • Avatar North in reply to zic says:

                Oh yes Zic. But I dunno, while nativism doesn’t make much sense to me at any time it makes even less sense to me in a hypothetical declining population country.
                “Them immigrants are stealin our jobs! (derk-ur-dur!)”
                “Uh yeah but there isn’t anyone else clamoring to do em, the population is dropping.”
                “… … um derk-ur-dur?”Report

      • Avatar zic in reply to James Hanley says:

        Totally agree.

        I also feel like we’re not doing enough to measure the population loads and still have diverse biosystems; that our long-term well-being is intricately linked to those diverse systems; particularly at the level of the very small microbe and bottom-of-the-food chain level.Report

  5. Avatar DRS says:

    I’d be more impressed if the column had been written by his wife – the professional journalist who writes for a major national newspaper. The person who would be expected to stay on the job, work the same hours and perform the same duties, while dealing with the physical changes and challenges of being pregnant (and may the Flying Spaghetti Monster help her if she’s got to fit multiple doctor’s appointments into the working day!). The person who probably would be expected to bear the brunt of the first year’s care and feeding of the infant. And the person whose career would sustain a brief stagnation because she wouldn’t be seen as promotional material (“We could promote her, of course, but what if she goes off and gets pregnant again?”) or would get interesting career-building assignments because she’d be away from home and infant too long.

    It’s a lot easier for a working woman to have a baby if she has a job rather than a career. And a lot of women rather like having careers.Report

  6. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think Douthat’s article and reaction show the impossible split between the religious conservative and secular mind.

    It seems to me that there is a large section of religious conservatives in the United States who are largely Calivinist and Orthodox in their thinking. It does not matter if they are Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Greek Orthodox, or anything else. They have all had their worldview tinted by Purtianical Calvinism. To these people any lifestyle that is not ascetic or working towards a concept of the afterlife is one that is decadent. The career people who decide to have one or two children later in life are no different than 20-something club kids who stay up all night and binge on drugs and booze.

    On the other hand if a person is secular or at least theologically liberal enough to reject the concept of hell and judgment than there is nothing wrong with having kid’s later in life except maybe personal regret but that is an individual and not societal issue.

    There is simply no middle-ground between these positions.Report

  7. Avatar dhex says:

    you could just punch yourself in the face mr. gach, and you’d have the same endpoint of reading a douhat column without the pain of reading a douhat column.Report

  8. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    Am I allowed to agree wholeheartedly with the liberals here? Without, like, any qualifications at all?

    Because I’d like to, if that’s still permitted.Report

  9. Avatar Sam says:

    What gets me is that Douthat’s the sort of person who is aghast when the wrong sorts of people are adding babies to the nation’s total. Think of his reaction to Russell’s family. Hell, I can barely stomach his reaction to my family – my wife and I had two children before getting married (cue sound effect). So it isn’t simply enough for him for babies to be born. They’ve got to be the right kind of babies, raised in the right kind of homes, raised by the right kind of people, sent to the right kind of schools, etc. He demands that so many preconditions be satisfied that he can’t possibly also see this dream come to fruition.

    Meanwhile, he tip-toes around some of the reasons that people might not be having as many babies – like it being incredibly difficult in today’s America to have a stay-at-home parent – without ever bothering to engage in possible solutions, almost certainly because he recognizes that potential solutions might be described by some as (HORRORS!) liberal.Report

    • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto in reply to Sam says:

      When you get paid to sit at home and write scolding essays about how immoral other people are, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that not everyone makes their living that way.Report

      • Avatar Chris in reply to Nob Akimoto says:

        This is, it seems, the problem with the vast majority of “commentary” at the national media level. A bunch of people who are extremely privileged and, well, rich, writing about the lives and views of people who aren’t, are going to miss the mark more often than not. That’s why they should spend more time hanging out at the Applebee’s salad bar, ya know?Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Chris says:

          This is why I don’t understand what seems to be the universal disdain for Maureen Dowd. They’re all silly and superficial, but at least she knows that and has fun with it.Report

  10. Avatar Glyph says:

    Totally OT and coincidental, but I was just looking at Mike Tyson pictures and I noticed this version of the same picture on this post – I did not realize that “angry baby” was a meme.Report

  11. Avatar Damon says:

    “Douthat wastes no time in, of all things, suggesting that the government *does* have an important part to play in all of this (a conservative, who doesn’t trust the government to effectively regulate health insurance exchanges, happens to have no problem using every economic tool at its disposal to increase aggregate baby production).”

    Love the inconsistancy. The gov’t could fix a lot of the poblems it helps to generate if they stopped debasing the currency.Report

  12. Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) says:

    Douthat traffics in the mythological view of history that I referred to above-
    the idea that, for instance, my grandparents had 10 children on their farm in the Midwest because they were heroically pious, altruistic, and selflessly devoted to community; whereas I had one child because I am decadent.

    How could he possibly have managed to graduate college, without once running across the fact that in agrarian communities having children is a very self-interested act, whereas in modern industrial communities children are a cost, if not an outright luxury?

    Its isn’t simple ignorance; its the deliberate willful blindness to facts that don’t fit the Heroic Mythology. In this, Douthat is just a high-toned version of that guy who paints pictures of Jesus delivering the Constitution to the Founders.Report

  13. Avatar Murali says:

    You know, the reason you guys are so blase about not having children is because social security completely externalises the costs of not having kids while internalises the benefits. Why have kids when I can have other people’s kids pay for my retirement. If you had to either fund your own retirement or depend on your own kids, you would see people who don’t have kids, don’t save for their own retirement, but still want support from other people’s kids as the free loading moochers they are.Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Murali says:

      I’m not quite sure if you’re making a joke or not.

      1. I pay into Social Security already.

      2. The people most likely to rely on social security overlap, in large part, with those who will have children. I think this is an uncontroversial claim to make, but if you or someone else does, I’ll go in search of some data.Report

      • Avatar Murali in reply to Ethan Gach says:

        I was being over the top, but the core point remains. And we can expand the argument to include Medicare as well.

        1. I pay into Social Security already.

        I wasn’t addressing you personally, but a collective you to all the Americans here. People who have kids pay for both social security and their kids. People who don’t have kids pay social security only. Yet both sets of people withdraw social security and medicare checques. Clearly the latter group is free riding on the former, especially if we assume that most people will pay into social security to support their elders. People without kids are not doing their part to create sources of funding for the social security program.

        2. The people most likely to rely on social security overlap, in large part, with those who will have children. I think this is an uncontroversial claim to make, but if you or someone else does, I’ll go in search of some data.

        More data is always good. Certainly, the current batch of retirees were a relatively fertile lot and so probably most of them had kids. The current proportion of childless people relying on social security is probably low. But I predict that the number of childless people relying on social security is likely to increase. Will there be a massive free-rider problem in the future? I don’t know I don’t have the data. Maybe your data will help.

        Nevertheless, my point is not primarily about free-rider problems, so much that any childless couple who relies on social security is free-riding (except perhaps in the rare case where they had children but those children died). In fact, arguably, having children who do not (and in probability will not) pay into social security but relying on social security is free riding as well* And free-riding is ipso facto morally wrong. And even if we find no need to get rid of social security etc, it is still legitimate to criticise those who take advantae of the system without having children to pay into it for doing so.

        *This is a tough question. Does this mean that all welfare is free-riding? If welfare is not free-riding then can I turn around and say that having children who don’t pay into social security, but still withdrawing social security checques is still free-riding? Also, to what extent are parents responsible for the fact that their kids turned out badly?Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Murali says:

          I think there is something morally warped going on here, in so far as children are seen not as free agents, and parents are somehow held responsible for all of their childrens future contributions.

          Social Security is the way it is. We can make arguments that it should be changed. But not moral arguments impuning people for using the program as it currently exists, in so far as it is not, and never was meant to be a 1:1 payback, but rather an insurance program.

          In terms of making things more “fair,” I’m sure we could find a compromise between raising the child tax deduction and/or shrinking the amount of money I recieve from the program for not having children.

          But neither of those things bears on one’s ability to criticize people for not having children, rather than criticizing a program that it could be argued depends on future contributions from them.Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to Ethan Gach says:

            morally warped going on here, in so far as children are seen not as free agents, and parents are somehow held responsible for all of their childrens future contributions.

            But children in many ways are not free agents. It is not the child’s fault that he was raised in a poor family environment and did not acquire the appropriate virtues. Of course, once people reach adulthood, we tend to hold them responsible for their own faults, but at least from a psychological standpoint, except in extreme cases, one’s parents are the ones who are more directly causally responsible for the moral and intellectual development of their child. And we often do in fact censure parents when their kids turn out to be hooligans. We can similarly censure parents at least to some extent when their kids fail to become fully contributing members of society if different actions on the part of parents would have avoided that outcome, and we can reasonably expect parents to have acted correctly.

            But neither of those things bears on one’s ability to criticize people for not having children, rather than criticizing a program that it could be argued depends on future contributions from them.

            But if the system is put mildly at risk because people are not having children, then they are not behaving in ways that they are supposed to behave. i.e. You now face having to increase the retirement age, decreasing the payout and increasing the contribution in order to keep SS solvent just because some people didn’t have enough kids.Report

            • Avatar North in reply to Murali says:

              Err.. the reason there’s talk about altering social security is that the money collected for social security was spent as it was collected. That people didn’t have children is completely unrelated to social security’s woes. The population of the country has increased significantly every year that social security has existed (thanks to immigration).Report

              • Avatar Murali in reply to North says:

                But isn’t there a demographic problem? Don’t you have too many old people and too few workers to maintain payout and contribution rates? i.e. isn’t the US suffering from a greying population?Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Murali says:

                Yes, but to some extent it’s just a demographic blip. The babyboomers are an unusually large generation. Once they’re gone, there’ll be a better balance (although not as good a balance as when the boomers were in their prime working years because, again, they’re an unusually large generation).

                They are one of the reasons I’m very pro-immigration.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Murali says:

                Yup, and more immigrants to the U.S., Europe, Japan, Canada, Australia, Narnia, and Middle Earth, helps balance out the “too many people” that other developing countries have

                We have too few kids. They have too many. Everybody wins in the long run.

                Also too: we are so efficient in the 1st world now, we can afford to have fewer young people take care (economically) of more older people. People talk about worries about social security, but remember that the U.S. has a combine household wealth of about 55 trillion dollars, far greater than ever in history even adjusted for inflation (except right before the crash.)Report

              • Avatar North in reply to Murali says:

                The only actual demographic problem exists in the fevered imagination of conservatives. In reality the country imports tons of young people who are perfectly capable of (and do) filling the roll that the missing young native born would fill. Japan has a demographic problem. The US? None at all.

                Conservatives slightly (very slightly) make a case for an assimilation problem. Serious deficit hawks make a much stronger case for an accounting and government finance problem. Demographic problem? None that I’m aware of.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley in reply to North says:

                I can’t fully agree, North. In 1960 there were about 5 workers for every SS recipient. Today that’s down to about 2 or just under. That’s a demographic problem. A correctable one (my preferred way is to quietly euthanize all baby boomers), but one that will take time, and one that a low birth rate makes more difficult to correct, since it requires more immigration, which creates–regrettably–political backlash.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Murali says:

          I don’t think there’s as much a free ride as you suggest of childless adults.

          First, they either pay local property taxes or they pay rent, which pays taxes, to support schools.

          Second they pay state/federal taxes, some of which support any number of programs that aid children, including SCHIP(insurance) Headstart, and education.

          Third, living in those communities but not having children in the school system provide helps those towns control their costs. When our children were small, we purchase a piece of land in a very small town in NH. We met numbers of our neighbors as they sought out that most crucial piece of information — were we going to build a house and move there, thus forcing their property taxes up, because of the increased education costs?Report

          • Avatar Murali in reply to zic says:

            Perhaps. If people were net tax contributors on average, they would be a positive externality and not having children would prima facie be free-riding. If on the other hand, people were net consumers of taxed money (federal and state combined) then they would be a negative externality and drive up taxes. Then it is having children which is free-riding.Report

        • Avatar LWA (Liberal With Attitude) in reply to Murali says:

          The structure you are referencing, where children support their parents, is what was broken, and what Social Security sought to fix.

          It specifically was NOT meant to be “todays workers support their parents”. It was designed as “Today’s workers support any and all retirees”.

          There can’t be any free riding since it was designed to decouple retirees and children.Report

          • This doesn’t make sense. That is like saying that in a true communist system*, there is no free-riding because the system is designed to decouple production and consumption. If decoupling production and consumption is what causes the free-rider problem in communist systems, regardless of whether that decoupling was intended or not, then the decoupling of retirees and children in Soical security leads to fee-riding whether or not the decoupling was intended.

            *I am not saying that social security is communist. I am tired and couldn’t think of another exampleReport

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Murali says:

      Gee, I was thinking that I didn’t have kids because I DIDN’T WANT TO RAISE THEM, not that I was getting a benefit of someone else’s kids paying for my SS. Of course, I pay for those kids to go to publik skoolz too, so I think I’m getting the shorter end of the stick.Report

  14. Avatar Erik Kain says:

    I’ll just say this. I like pro-family policies. I am a pro family person. I would love to see policies such as universal healthcare for everyone implemented. That would make raising a family much easier. I would like to see extended maternal and paternal care similar to what many European countries offer. I think that would help incentivize not just having families, but spending time with them. I would like to see the work week shortened so that we could spend more time with our families as well. And I would like to see more money go toward education and less toward violence. These all strike me as very pro family whether or not this world remains, as it always has been, a decadent one beneath the veneer.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Erik Kain says:

      Well sure E.D. but you’re talking about policy and policy wise much of the left would merrily pile aboard the train with both you and Ross. It’s when the man starts implying that childlessness is somehow immoral or decadent that everyone leaps back off again.Report

  15. Avatar Katherine says:

    I don’t understand what Ross is trying to get at at all.

    I’ll grant that, in general, bearing and rearing children requires a degree of self-sacrifice and love that can mature a person and built moral strength.

    However, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that can do so. The fact that some people aren’t having children doesn’t mean that they’re by definition only using their lives for self-gratification. And if the people not having children were selfish and shallow, economically encouraging them to have children, if successful, would probably just result in them becoming poor parents.

    Finally, I can’t see how not having children can possible constitute “privileging the present over the future”. On a macro scale, the opposite is true: since resources are finite, decreasing the birthrate increases the amount of resources to go around for the next generation, and decreases the rate at which consumption rises. Since the current generations are already straining the environment pretty heavily, fewer people is a good thing for the future if it can be achieved through voluntary action.

    If the problem is America’s age structure in the coming years, increased immigration is a better option than pro-natalism. The cost of training even an unskilled immigrant is lower than the cost of raising a child from infancy to adulthood, and it would provide economic opportunities to people who already exist.Report

  16. Avatar Rufus F. says:

    I don’t know. I lived for a while in a moderate sized French city that had lost a lot of its population over the years and a larger American rust belt city that had lost something like 2/3rds. It’s nice to wander around empty streets alone, but after a while it gets dispiriting. You sense that they’ve given up on the future. Of course, this has a lot more to do with economic conditions than narcissism or consumption patterns. This paragraph, right before his paroxysms about decadence is more sensible than those:

    “More broadly, a more secure economic foundation beneath working-class Americans would presumably help promote childbearing as well. Stable families are crucial to prosperity and mobility, but the reverse is also true, and policies that made it easier to climb the economic ladder would make it easier to raise a family as well.”

    Of course it would. I live in a lower working class city with lots and lots of kiddies (and kiddies having kiddies to be sure). The differences, as I see them, amount to it being a very Catholic city for one thing, but also that there’s a heck of a lot of social services here that make it possible for people on the lower end of the economic spectrum to have kids and raise them. This is something that social conservatives should support, so at least give him some credit for recognizing that, right before he tries to further poison the cultural well.Report

    • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Rufus F. says:

      In terms of decadence, I’m not going to suggest that cultures don’t decline- of course they do. But his hopelessness there is unfounded- cultural renaissances happen just as often, not to mention the simple fact that, when times are good, people have a lot more kids. It’s always happened before, as far as I know, so shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Ah, economic security might help, but the spirit of modernity is probably just exhausted,” is silly. I’m going to bet more heavily on people, when they feel economically safe, having more sex and children.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley in reply to Rufus F. says:

        My question is what does it mean for a culture to decline? If we were going to measure it, what would be the variables that a group of people of intelligence and integrity, but with differing ideological values, could agree upon?Report

        • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to James Hanley says:

          The easiest way to objectively measure this would be by looking at how dynamic a culture is–how vibrant creative and critical impulses are, etc.

          A culture that is stagnant is, I think, in decline by default (which is not necessarily the same thing as economic, social, or poltical decline–though people like Nial Ferguson and other imperialists like to assume that decline in one area is necessarily causually linked to all of the others).Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to James Hanley says:

          Good question! My stab at it would be to point out the obvious, if not always conscious, fact that we must choose to opt into a society. Culture is generally the way a society explains itself- that is, explains why we should opt in- what sort of meaning this society will give to our lives by opting in to it. So, a decadent culture tends to reflect the emptiness of that commitment. Don’t get me wrong- corrupt states, cartels, rampant criminality- all of these things are what destroy societies, but cultures usually reflect those conditions. Now, there’s a famous speech in the Orson Welles movie The Third Man arguing that great art comes from times of turmoil:
          But great art’s not quite the same thing as a strong culture. And it seems to me that cultural decline will be reflected by how many people choose to opt out. We can see plenty of examples in history of that happening.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Rufus F. says:

        I wonder just how silly it is to observe modernity is exhausted? If not exhausted, fragmented. I suppose there’s something to be said for people having more kids when they’re economically safe but I don’t know anyone who’s feeling that way. Everyone’s staring into the void of their smartphones, connected to the world via 4G and Bluetooth but not really talking to each other much, any more. People don’t always have more kids when times are good, the Baby Boom notwithstanding. Population growth these days tracks with education: the less education the more children.

        It’s not such a bad thing, a population decline. The poor can rise. In turn, their girls will have more education and fewer children, the cycle repeats again.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to BlaiseP says:

          Ah, you make a very good point Blaise. At the least, I can’t fully explain why this sentence resonates sadly with me: “Everyone’s staring into the void of their smartphones, connected to the world via 4G and Bluetooth but not really talking to each other much, any more.”Report

      • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Rufus F. says:

        Perhaps this is a narrow thing for me to suggest, but at least in considering my own experience, I think the potential for a fulfilling career (and this is what would tie it to education) makes me consider the things I can do with my life outside of a traditional family.

        If, on the other hand, I was only focused on a good paying job, and some modicum of upward mobility in it, than I would probably be married by next summer, and have kids the following year (I am currently 25).

        But, because I’ve had a good high school education, gone to college, and grappled with the whole millenial emphasis on (perhaps naively) creativity and doing something beyond getting a respectable job with a good pay check, I look at children and marriage not as a way to make my otherwise lackluster day job more meaningful and fulfilling (by making it the means toward a vibrant and rewarding family life), but as a cost that has to be measured against the potential work I won’t be able to do after having them.

        In attempting to pursure less lucrative and secure occupations, whether in writing or some other cultural industry, I look at marriage as a potential roadblock should I need to uproot my life for a unexpected opportunity, and children as a rewarding but irreconciliable burden with grad school or taking up entry level work in a new field by the time I’m already mid to late 20s.

        Not a lot of that is probably just me, and how I look at my own situation. But I think there is some deeper connection between the millenial emphasis on creative and rewarding work (paid or not), and the degree to which we put off marraige and having children (even though we, on average, make more money/have more potential job security, than our friends who didn’t make it through college and now have already started families back in our hometowns).Report

    • Avatar Ethan Gach in reply to Rufus F. says:

      And I totally support the policies he metions (though I don’t know why he himself does)–I’m strictly arguing against the strange beliefs that are motivating them. They seem to result from a malavolent nexus of cultural imperialism and religious first principles.Report