A few notes I wrote down somewhere, years ago, spurred by someone’s suggestion that parenthood should be licensed.

  • Bringing a child into the world that you cannot raise is certainly a moral failure, if not an injustice. I suspect it is an injustice.IMG_4118
  • The current policy of subsidizing the children of the improvident — and thus improvident parents — has huge social burdens: taxes, crime, etc. And it encourages more improvidence by reducing the risks
    of improvidence.
  • If one believes that parents have a duty to take care of their children — a positive duty, not merely a duty of forbearance — then parents who unleash upon the world uncared-for children are abusing those children’s rights, as well as placing a burden upon others.
  • Freedom without responsibility is an evasion. One common evasion of responsibility is to demand and even assume a “right to reproduce,” but to fob onto others the duty to feed, clothe, and educate those children. What moral argument can justify that?
  • People concerned about these issues sometimes suggest parental licensing . . . a peculiarly statist reaction to these problems and challenges. It could be that a parent who is too poor to feed or educate his/her child might better lose rights to protect his child as his/her own, after demonstrated lapse. There might even be remedies in an imagined competitive government society. (But most likely charity would be the norm. And disincentive enough . . . charity being something different from “entitlement.”)
  • There is a difference between bringing children into the world when healthy and in secure finance (while later falling on hard circumstances), and conceiving and bringing a child into the world while already in hard circumstances. I know at least one case where doctors sterilized a mother on government assistance, saying it was for medical reasons but which I suspected was for other reasons entirely. (Even the woman in question had this suspicion.) It may very well be the case that physicians occasionally engage in a little social engineering like the one I am mentioning, in cases where a woman repeatedly unleashes onto the world children that will burden the taxpayer. And certainlythis policy has at least surface merit. Were I a benefactor of unmarried mothers, I can imagine insisting that the “price” of subsidy would be voluntary sterilization, for the “social good.”
  • These concepts were freely discussed in the early Progressive Era. Unfortunately, the standard of responsibility was social eugenics, not eugenics by sexual selection. Those old statists, such as the vile economist Richard T. Ely, had no pieties about the great virtue of a free lumpenproletariat spawning unwanted and underfed and undereducated children, for it is from the ranks of such offspring that the criminal class solidifies.
  • Individualist theories of children’s rights tend to fall into three categories: the Baby Burners, the Baby Starvers, and the Parent Coercers.
    1. The Baby Burner position was taken up by Benjamin R. Tucker, who argued that children were the property of their parents, who (therefore) had the right to dispose of them. Tucker compared the burning of a baby to the burning of a Titian painting: He might prevent someone from doing such a horrendous-but-lawful thing, but he would be, technically, in the legal wrong.
    2. Anarchist-Communist writer Viroqua Daniels (writing in the Firebrand) was a Baby Starver, though she evaded that extremity. In response to Tucker, she demanded that “children shall be free.” Well, thanks. But does that mean that parents may starve their children, maliciously? Or, out of shame, not tell anybody as their children starve along with the rest of the family? If children have only and exactly “the same rights that adults have” (the official position of the Libertarian Party when I followed its platform), then parents almost certainly have the right to starvetheir children. This is an ugly position.
    3. Finally, many individualists hold to a more common sense notion: Parents are obliged to feed, clothe, and educate their children — and should be legally obliged to do so. A parent has no right to starve his or her child. A parent who fails in this obligation faces some sort of criminal or tortious liability. Thus parents may be coerced for the benefit of the rights of the child. From this latter position it does not follow, contra current prejudice, that “society” is obligated to feed or clothe or house or educate children, though this can get murky.

It seems to me that a division of responsibility could better handle “children as a problem” than would a top-down regulatory system. But what amazes me is not that someone would suggest licensing parentage, but that the reasons one might argue for such a policy almost never get discussed. Licensing seems obviously wrong to me. But letting children starve — or pass through their formative years without any instruction that could lead to responsible adult status (by some contractual employment, either wage/salary, or performance contract, or truck-and-barter) — strikes me as nuts, too.

Recent discussions in which free migration — well, immigration — is compared to population growth by sexual reproduction are on point. It is worth noting that in both cases unregulated population change is less a problem when taxpayer subsidy is out of the picture. Contemplation of these issues would, I hazard, lead people to demand less subsidy not only for immigrants, but also natural-born children by natives.

As it is, with subsidy, demands for regulation will likely grow.