A Deep Dive into the Model
What are the most important questions to ask about the ethics of having kids?
These are the questions that inspired the development of the Fair Start model. We want to empower people with the knowledge needed to think differently about the way we plan our families so we can create a better future for every child.
- What is the minimum level of well-being, in terms of food, love, attention, health care, etc., every child needs and deserves?
- Do all children deserve a fair start in life and opportunities equal to what other children in their generation will have?
- What do all children need to one day be able to work together, as a democratic community, to make the rules under which they will live?
- How does the act of having kids impact the natural world that sustains us and all other life forms (or beings), physically and psychologically?
- Are there objective reasons for having children, and how can parents use those reasons to work together to make a better future for all children?
Why does Having Kids focus on promoting the Fair Start Model?
The Fair Start model is a novel and effective way to maximize values that everyone shares – like well-being, equality, continuity, nature, and democracy– by making a small change to the way we all think about bringing children into the world. Over time, small changes in the way we think and behave, like cooperatively devoting more to each child by creating smaller families, can produce big results. We can change how we choose to have kids from simply creating more without thinking concretely about what that means for them and the world, to investing more in each one we thoughtfully bring into the world.
Why advocate for a parenting model at all?
We believe that the Fair Start model may provide a pathway to creating a safe and healthy world that offers equal opportunities to everyone. For parents to get what they want, they will have to work together to ensure that every child born will pass through the vital array of resources necessary for their own personal development and so that they can have a positive impact on others. A model or suggested best practice, like the Fair Start model, is one way for parents to work together. The model helps parents ensure that their children have a fair shot at a great life.
How does the Fair Start family planning model work?
Are there objective reasons for having children and how can parents use those reasons to work together to make a better future for all children? Could parents use shared or objective values like minimum levels of well-being, fairness, democracy, and nature to guide their decisions and work with others to ensure every parent has what children need in the long-term? For example, would-be parents could consider what they themselves would need and want as a child being born into this word, including what they would want the future of the world to look like in terms of the number, and cooperative or democratic capabilities, of the people in it. They would also consider what they would deserve, relative to other children being born at that time, in terms of birth conditions that ensure equal opportunities in life. Would-be parents would then work with other families and their community, who also have obligations to provide for children coming into this world, to cooperatively create those conditions and opportunities before having kids. In essence, this describes a process of give and take, where would-be parents give up some of the choice they would have under current family planning models in exchange for incentivizing resources other families and their community can provide. In practice, we believe the Fair Start model would look like smaller families and communities working together, by using excess community resources to incentivize improved birth and early childhood development conditions, to ensure a fair start in life for every child.
Are the model and the values it arises from concrete and specific enough to actually apply?
Yes. The Fair Start model replaces outdated parenting models that focus only on the interests of parents rather than the interests of parents, future children, and society. Each side of the model reflects fundamental values and rights, like parents’ interests in the continuity and improvement of life for humans, future children’s interest in minimum levels of well-being and equal opportunities in life, and society’s interest in both the organization of human thinking into functional democracies, as well as the absence of human power, or nature. These values and rights are more political than ethical, and all derive from the more ultimate value of freedom, conceived of as consensual political association. They are also constitutional, in the sense that they should guide the constant reconstituting of social organizations through the act of having children, and as such override other rights, interests, desires, etc. These five universal, objective, compatible, and interlocking values trump competing interests and guide how the model is applied.
A Minimum Level of Well-Being
What minimum of things like love, nutrition, attention, health, safety, etc., does every child deserve, from the moment they are born? What minimum would you have wanted at birth? If children deserve certain things, why not assure them before the children enter the world? These questions frame the idea of a minimum level of well-being to be assured before children are born, and the fact that it is impossible to care about children without caring and controlling the conditions into which they are born. Specific and concrete examples of conditions below the minimum level would be people who do not want to have children but lack the means to avoid having them, minor parents, households adjudged unfit by a court of law, as well as conditions that fall far below the minimum required by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. How can we achieve bringing children into the world above the minimum levels? We use other values, like Improved Continuity, Fairness and Democracy, to create family planning regimes based on redistribution of resources.
How do families achieve minimum levels of well-being? Society and parents must work together to achieve them (they are mutually obligated) using the idea of improved continuity, and also work together to revise the levels of well-being relative to the conditions into which other children are born. Do children in the poorest families deserve the same opportunities in life as children born into the richest? Are all children really born free and equal? Should wealthy families have a third child who will have all the privileges in life, while the first child of a poor family has none? Why tolerate a system that produces unearned benefits at all? A child’s opportunities in life should not be luck of the draw, and every child deserves a fair start, with the same opportunities in life in as other children. The Fair Start model moves us toward that concrete and specific level of fairness, and relies on parents’ desire to do what it takes to protect their child’s rights to drive the changes necessary to achieve it.
How do the values of a Minimum Level of Well-Being and Fairness relate? The two act as the ends of a spectrum, between which parents will choose to have children, assuring the former and cooperating with other families and their community to assure the latter.
Most people want their personal lives to continue and improve. The Fair Start model takes this universal value (comparable to the universal value of free speech or of bodily integrity) of improved continuity and applies it as the specific and fundamental value underlying parenting, the goal of which is transformed into having just enough children to continue parents’ lives (usually one or two), biologically or otherwise, but at levels of well-being above that of the parents’ own lives. Improved continuity replaces autonomy, which does not apply to the act of creating another person, and can in no way support a right to have children as fundamental human right that limits override by competing rights or democratic choice. Improved continuity is an objective and shared value (as opposed to flimsy subjective and dubious values like wanting an infant to cuddle, a future laborer, a child of a specific gender, etc.), which is emblematic of the sort of values that would support human rights. It provides a center of gravity around which parents can cooperate, and it synergizes with the next four values. Improved Continuity also frees up the resources needed to start making values like well-being and fairness work because it recognizes that parents’ interest in having children diminishes with each child a parent has, and that as such there is an inherent or intrinsic limit to the number of children parents have an objective interest in having.
Democracy is the physical ideal of groups of people voluntarily coming together and working together to make and live by the best set of rules they can, with everything that ideal implies about the quantities and qualities of the people in those groups, and their constant need for decentralization of power. It is self-rule, in the purest sense imaginable, and is a form of human political evolution. Democracies should satisfy our basic human need for meaningful group identity and belonging, while they are also empowering us as individuals, and should serve as the most fundamental organizing unit of societies. Given that people have the ultimate political authority in democracies, democracies begin with the question: whom would you choose or “elect” as your fellow citizens and how many would you choose, assuming you could? Would you choose people inclined to give their role to leaders, or so many people that each person was attenuated from the group rule-making process and had very little actual role in it at all? Would you invest more in each person in ways that gave everyone common ground? True democracies have lower quantities of people, who in turn have higher levels of civic quality. That moves in the opposite direction of preconstitutional systems, like the economy we live in today, where policies openly advocate for adding more and more people, irrespective of their civic qualities, to drive greed-based growth. The Fair Start model builds real and intergenerational democratic communities (based on a rejection of representative democracy, enabled by a combination of radical federalism and application of the Fair Start model) from the ground up and inside out, by helping families work together to bring people into the world that can form and maintain them: people that can empathize, objectify values and norms, come to agreements, and trust one another. It reverses the pre-democratic trend, continuing today, of maximizing quantity irrespective of civic quality to empower the state and its economy. Democracy also helps inform and define the previous three values, and through its deliberated and proactive inclusivity of future generations becomes a powerful reason to collectively invest heavily in family planning.
When we refer to climate change, what is the implicit baseline from which the change is occurring? What is the opposite of anthropogenic power and influence? Nature, in the Fair Start model, is conceived of as the nonhuman world or the political ideal of nonpolity: the absence of human power and that which makes freely consenting to others’ influence and true democracy, possible. Nature is physical freedom from others, serves as a truly individuating baseline environment for human well-being and consumption, and is also the minimum baseline for liberal political systems to remain legitimate. Nature and democracy work together. For example, limiting the size of democratic communities to protect the nonhuman world also ensures that each person maintains a role in their communities, places without human power incentivize democracies to produce citizens that can be trusted in places with no sanctioning authority, etc. More specifically, nature refers to all other species and their habitat, more or less at the level of diversity that existed in the 18th century. This conception of nature sets an aspirational but specific benchmark for allowing biodiversity to re-establish on Earth, and creating a physical space against which true democracies can be defined and their growth borders set. This conception of nature creates the basis for a fundamental human right to, a fundamental need for, and a correlative duty to preserve, wilderness, and also embodies the next step of progressivism: the decolonization and liberation of the biotic and abiotic world we have historically subjugated. This conception also unifies the animal, environmental, and human rights movements around widely shared values and a means of achieving common goals. Nature so conceived represents the highest aspiration of decolonization, that of the nonhuman world, and the simultaneous liberation of nonhumans and humans alike.
One will often hear environmentalists speak of nature as an antiquated concept and as a roadblock to seeing the human and other than human world as an interrelated whole. Having Kids rejects these arguments as based on a naturalistic fallacy that ignores norms governing the exercise of human power, and because they promote the continued colonization and eradication of the nonhuman world, to the detriment of democracy and human freedom.
The balance point
The values, which are the most objective values that can be coherently articulated, can then contextualized and applied to create a balance point for every family planning decision, and serve as a basis for the Fair Start family planning model. Given the current the state of affairs in the world, that balance in generally achieved with this simple formulation:
Smaller families working together to plan a fair start in life for every child.
The model and these values can then be applied, for example, by restructuring state child tax credits, reducing or eliminating them for wealthy families after the first or second child in favor of family planning, early childhood development, affirmative action, and wilderness restoration programs. The model and these values can be similarly applied through trusts between families, changes in corporate benefit programs, and a variety of other ways.
It’s really not that complex. Truly valuing human life means planning for it in the best possible way.
Why do parents benefit from adopting the model?
Parents stand the best chance of giving their own children good lives and a better future by cooperating and coordinating their behavior with other parents. The model facilitates cooperation and thus serves parents’ own interests, protecting their child and getting them what they want – a better future for their kids. For example, under the Fair Start model, parents can set up incentive-based educational trusts, with part of the money they would have spent on having one extra child, to help other parents give their child more of a fair start in life. In addition to changing the benefits and burdens of having kids, the Fair Start model changes the weight of parents’ demand for resources to give their kid a fair start in life. Parents struggling socioeconomically and otherwise creates two classes of politically vulnerable or compromised persons, and that can undermine the way democracies function. Everyone has a weighty interest to avoid that, and assist parents to limit their vulnerability.
What is the Isolation Model of parenting that the Fair Start model is replacing?
The Isolation family planning model focuses on what parents want in the short term rather than on what children and society need in the long term. It thereby breaks the link between vital needs and available resources. The isolation model developed into its current form in the middle of the 20th century with the emergence of a reproductive autonomy right that simplistically treated having kids and not having kids as equally private matters.
That right, and the isolation model it promoted, ignored the fact that having children is the most public thing most people will ever do and precluded collective action where it is needed most. It also disregarded the fact that children are born vulnerable to the people and conditions around them rather than being ensured a minimum level of well-being and a fair start in life. By treating having children as a private matter, it also eliminated the opportunity for parents to cooperate in their decision making to achieve the best outcomes for every child. This also ensured that often the most caring and thoughtful people would forgo having children in a largely vain (because of the lack of collective action) attempt to do things like protect the environment, other animals, and other people’s children.
What are the mistakes that led to the Isolation Model?
The one-sided model first evolved from patriarchal systems that treated children as the property of their parents, at a time before reliable methods of contraception and terminating pregnancies were widely available, and before scientists understood the lasting implications of one’s early childhood. This context set the stage for world leaders and human rights theorists, in the middle of the 20th century, to fuse the acts of having and not having children under the protection of one fundamental human right, frame that right as based on subjective choice rather than objective interest, and ignore how that fusion and framing would impact the interests of future children and the community. That in turn led to the disastrous situation, environmentally, socially, and politically, in which we find ourselves today, which is driven by the root cause of the way be plan (and don’t plan) to bring children into the world and provide for them. The Fair Start model works to correct these mistakes.
What does Having Kids produce?
The Fair Start model simultaneously maximizes five objective, shared and highly defined values (described further below): Improved Continuity, Well-being, Fairness, Democracy, and Nature. These values, unlike market values, are the building blocks of human-rights based social organization, and hence freedom. The model produces these values by changing the way we plan families, which is the most effective way possible, producing all of the values at the same time.
Isn't the world underpopulated, and aren't fertility rates too low?
Claims about overpopulation and underpopulation depend on a normative baseline, or a point of comparison for whether something is over or under what it should be. In the 20th century world fertility rates were cut in half in order to avoid environmental and other catastrophes. As the inevitable demographic shift occurs as a result of that change (see below),
many growth economists and businesses that rely on an ever growing supply of cheap labor, taxpayers, and consumers began a propaganda campaign about the dangers of “underpopulation” and low fertility rates. Using their normative baselines of growth, or even replacement fertility, ignores human rights and the widely shared values the Fair Start model is based upon, and puts valuing profit over valuing child welfare, nature, democracy, and fairness. Growth economics calls for creating high quantities of relatively servile and imitative people in order to produce wealth for elites, rather than the connected communities of free and equal people that democracies require. Read more here.
The reality is that falling fertility rates could be seen as a form of political evolution, in which humans alter their behavior to effectively protect their own ecosystems. That would in turn set the stage for an intergenerational secession from the patriarchal and economic nation-state model, into smaller, sustainable and truly democratic communities where each child is born free and equal, and each person has a meaningful role in forming and altering the rules under which they live.
Does the Fair Start model interfere with freedom and human rights?
Quite the opposite. Human freedom depends on functional systems of human rights and democracy and a healthy natural environment. Those systems do not work without correctly structuring the very first human rights, the reproductive rights that create the humans in the term “human rights.” The Fair Start model correctly structures those rights to maximize choice or consent by all would-be parents, as well as future children and the community. The Fair Start model orients around objective values to free us from the Isolation Model, which limits our freedoms, both in terms of our rights to things like adequate levels of food, healthcare and education, and meaningful opportunities in life, and rights to be free from things like abusive and neglectful parenting (because communities would be working together to provide the safety and security all children need and deserve), massive and dysfunctional political systems and a destroyed natural environment. Many have died in the past to protect our freedoms. The least we can do is plan our families responsibly.
Does the Fair Start model interfere with the personal or private decision making of would-be parents?
No. There is nothing personal or private about the act of creating another person. Do the interests of every future child matter? Does that make the act of having a child more interpersonal? As a parent, does one not care about how other parents are raising the children with whom you, and especially your child, will eventually share this world? Do we want to create human societies comprised of mutual respect for each other and the natural world? The best way to protect and ensure the fundamental human right of all people to have kids is to see it as part of a holistic system of human rights that interlocks continuity with other values like child welfare and nature, rather than treating the act of creating another person as something we do autonomously. We need to base the right on something other than autonomy.
Is the Fair Start model conservative or liberal?
Neither. It transcends popular political labels and is designed to fix specific mistakes, like not treating the social contract, human rights, and democracy as intergenerational processes, that have prevented the realization of these three and other political ideals, ideals that almost everyone in the world today shares.
For example, we use family planning as a vehicle to redistribute resources rather than government, because we value the efficiency of early intervention as well as the equity of a fair start in life. Instead of the New Deal we call it the Real Deal.
Is Having Kids a one-size-fits-all way to plan your family?
Yes and no. The Fair Start model derives from careful analysis of the universal human right to have children, which means the model is based on universal values that all people share and that are inherent in the act of having children For that reason, the model looks like a one-size-fits-all, like any model derived from universal human rights. However, the Fair Start model has to be applied in a flexible way, and must be tailored to fit cultural, economic, and other contexts.
Is the Fair Start model too slow-acting a solution to immediate problems we face today?
No. It is the most effective way to reduce one’s impact on the environment, allows for other and immediate behavioral changes given the impact of our role modeling on impressionable children, and also builds resilient future generations that will be better equipped to deal with problems in the future. Moreover, we have to remember that the Fair Start model is comprised of several human rights – a right to continue our lives through a life that is better than our own, a right for parents to ensure the resources they need to give their kids a fair start in life, and a right to nature. Rights holders could make separate demands for these rights now, including using the human right to access nature to take effective action against perpetrators degrading our atmosphere and climate. That said, the Fair Start model is the easiest and best way to further our shared values, pivoting around our love for children and desire for their betterment.
Is there an analogy for what Having Kids does?
Some see the Fair Start model as a form of civil rights for future children and other animals, ensuring their freedom and equality. Others see the Fair Start model as adding the requisite nuance to the fundamental right to have children that is present in other human rights, like to right to speak freely. We all have the right to speak freely, but to ensure that right does not interfere with other freedoms and rights we limit it, so that political speech is more valued than commercial speech, we can’t defame people or incite violence, we can’t force others to listen to us, etc.
Is there a useful heuristic to understand the Fair Start model?
Yes. Read through popular media on the subject of fertility rates, and you will often see economists and demographers opining on altering family planning systems with the goal of increasing a particular country’s gross domestic product. Imagine how you would do the same, but with the goal being to produce groups of free and equal people who could form and, when desired, reform ongoing agreements where each person would have a meaningful role in creating the rules under which they will live. In doing so, you will have to account for the quantity and relevant capabilities of the people. Imagine that the people are there to form a social contract – that they will have to trust each other enough to enter the agreement, and the number of people to each contract cannot swell to the point of things becoming undemocratic.
Is there a narrative that helps us better understand the Fair Start model
Yes. Remember the story of the social contract, the historical basis for many modern systems of human rights and democracy? In essence, the story justifies today’s systems of government by treating them as the product of free and equal people voluntarily or consensually coming together to make the rules they will live by. What if rather than thinking of that as something that happens at a particular point in time, we temporalized the process to account for how we “come together” with future generations? Incoming generations might demand some minimum level of well-being at entry that would be consistent with child welfare laws and the Children’s Rights Convention, as well as a Rawlsian-type fair start relative to other incoming children. Extant members of democracies would also want to consent to incoming generations, which would give a powerful reason for them to invest heavily in the development of those generations as democratic citizens. All persons would want, in the process of bringing in future generations, to preserve nature so that humans would be able to consent to coming together, so that there would be places, states of nature, or neutral political positions from which to come together from and to which persons could withdraw. Finally, in this process would-be parents would want to be assured a right to have children, which could be based upon a weighty objective value like improved continuity, as opposed to something like autonomy which has nothing to do with the act of creating another person. Notice how the Isolation Model of family planning makes no sense, considered from this human rights-based perspective.
Why does Having Kids talk about family planning models rather than overpopulation?
Population is a negatively framed subject focused on one consequence of family planning modeling. But having kids goes way beyond the issue of numbers, modeling can be more qualitative than quantitative, and we want to focus on the solution to many problems rather than focus on one of the problems.
Why does Having Kids use specific values to talk about family models?
Because family planning affects all of us and all of our futures, we believe it should come from values that we all share. Therefore we specify five shared values as the basis for our work and describe how they fit together. Anyone claiming to care about the future, from corporations to politicians to civic leaders, ought to be able to articulate shared values, how their own lives reflect a demonstrated respect for those values, how they plan to further those values in the future, and what a future world derived from those values would actually look like.
How does Having Kids rebuild democratic communities from within current political systems?
Having Kids uses the Fair Start model to redirect resources from extractive centers of power like large corporations, governments, and wealthy families towards developing and empowering children as democratic citizens committed to, and capable of, decentralizing that power and taking back influence over their own lives through meaningful participation in legitimate democratic communities. With time, we are creating a world where the inequalities and unearned privileges pervasive today are a thing of the past.
How does the Fair Start model get us to think differently about the way we care about children and nature?
It’s impossible to care about children and the people they will become without caring about the conditions in which they are born, their opportunities in life, their democratic role in making the rules they will live under, and the future world they will inhabit. Being indifferent to parents’ decisions to have children, or to the development of the people with whom you share a democracy, means not caring. Moreover, being a caring person means also caring about the most vulnerable classes of entities at risk, like other species and their natural world. Our world is not an empty place that human growth simply fills in – it is filled with communities of plants and animals we decimate as our ecocide continues and expands.
The work Having Kids seems abstract. Is it all based on theory?
No. Our work is based on the experiences of people who grew up constantly exposed to stories of other children being born into conditions everyone seemed to agree they should not be in, watching some of their peers succeed in a system of total inequality based on family privileges other children never had or based only on the intelligences currently admired by human societies and economies, living in massive bureaucracies in which the average citizen had little or any meaningful democratic role, and seeing the natural world around their communities overrun and destroyed. The Fair Start model is a reaction and a possible solution to all of these problems.
How does the Fair Start model relate to animal rights and environmentalism?
The animal rights and environmental protection movements share a core desire to liberate a diversity of other species in their natural habitats, which in turn would provide a normative baseline ensuring the safety and health of humans. That desire will be never be fulfilled without a family planning model that ensures minimum capabilities for things like empathy, in a maximum number of people. Trying to fulfill that desire without addressing family planning ignores the one and most fundamental human behavior that matters most to other animals and the natural environment.
Why not simply focus on providing access to contraception, or reducing overconsumption, or educating young girls?
Access to contraceptives is of no use without a populace intent on using them and having the knowledge to do so in a safe, effective and desirable manner. That, in turn, depends on a family planning model, or how we decide to plan families.
Levels of consumption are likewise always dependent on the number of people consuming and their disposition to consume at particular levels which, like their number, often derives from family planning models and what they teach us about our relation to the nonhuman world and how we should be reared.
Finally, Having Kids does promote education of young girls, and part of any curriculum must include ethical family planning models, like the Fair Start model.
Does the Fair Start model interfere with religious rights?
No. While governments may not discriminate among religions nor prevent forms of worship and assembly, they may regulate conduct, like having kids, that impacts others in the community. Moreover, the Fair Start model may align better with the best interpretations of many religions by replacing the human subjectivity at the heart of the Isolation Model with objective values that many people view as the true reflection of god – like nature, or the continuity of life.
Does the Fair Start model endanger a woman's right to choose to prevent or terminate her pregnancy?
No. The act of having a child is different from the act of preventing or terminating a pregnancy. While often conflated (because of a series of policy mistakes in the twentieth century), the two different behaviors are protected by distinct moral and legal rights.
Having Kids works with communities, political institutions, and corporations to maximize the well-being of every child. By encouraging these entities to adopt the Fair Start model, we help shift the conversation to a more holistic dialogue about creating a better future for every child and the community. No other organization is systematically promoting a family model that a) helps parents plan their family and actualize that plan based on how they can best provide for their children if they choose to have them, b) encourages communities to promote a norm of having smaller families so that more resources can go to each child to provide a better future for every child, and c) supports democracies that create programs to offer a better future for every child while considering the nonhuman world that community lives in. In order to fix larger problems that our world faces such as, poverty, environmental degradation, wealth inequality, and educational gaps between groups, we need to start thinking holistically and better equalize our communities.
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