David Brooks recently made an argument in The New York Times that should resonate with conservatives: Inequity, and many other related crises, stem from the family and the way we raise our kids. His argument speaks to the sense among most conservatives that deep changes in our culture, and the decline of the family as a preparative institution, is the root of many evils from debilitating loneliness to widespread drug addiction.
But Brooks stopped short of offering a truly effective solution to the problem. Why? Any solution would have to start with an obvious but controversial truism: If we want to ensure families prepare children to succeed, we need to start before those children are born and actually ensure that parents are ready to raise and develop children responsibly. That process does not happen magically.
How Family Planning Should Be Reformed
It requires reforming the way we plan families. How, exactly? As a recent Having Kids research paper published in the Loyola Chicago Law Review pointed out, one step forward would be to successfully incentivize prospective parents to wait to have kids until those would-be parents have met certain milestones. The cost savings of taking these steps to ensure responsible parenting are unparalleled, especially when we factor in the huge impact on pressing crises like climate change and extreme child poverty.
In other words, it’s good to make sure the state will not have to pay the costs of parents failing to actually raise the kids they have, rather than our paying taxes to make sure the state continues to do a horrible job of post-hoc parenting. Moreover, this process can reduce population growth and the big government, centralization of power, and mind-numbing bureaucracy that comes with it. All this moves us toward governance that’s actually representative of the people themselves. That vision of freedom is the opposite of Mao’s policy of pushing women to have more kids, which made China, now with well over 1 billion people, the greatest threat to freedom in the world today.
In short, ensuring every kid a fair start in life, in part by paying would-be parents to prepare, is a policy that works. Conservatives should support family planning reform because it embodies these fundamental conservative values:
• Promoting responsible parenting and families
• Ensuring our promotion of responsible parenting is efficient by acting before problems arise, and
• Guaranteeing the American idea of freedom, or personal autonomy, that is possible only in a democracy of well-prepared citizens capable of self-rule and with true access to equal opportunities in life.
Where Personal Freedom Really Begins
There is, of course, a push among conservatives to ignore values like responsible parenting, fair starts in life, and participatory democracy in favor of policies that create kids as consumers, future workers, and compliant taxpayers because promoting a high birth rate will inflate the economy. That is simply selling out our values and foisting on our kids the costs of bad parenting in what Nobel Laureate Steven Chu called a pyramid Ponzi scheme. We are a democracy before we are an economy, and there is no reasonable conception of personal freedom that does not start with accounting for and developing the people who actually constitute our political systems and, as such, have power over us. And accounting for future citizens of our democracy means ensuring responsible parenting.
The many who gave their lives to protect what they perceived to be a unique form of freedom did not die so that the United States could become a threat to itself, ecologically through the climate and other environmental crises, and socially through the decline of the family as an institution that prepares kids for functional society. Better family planning is our best solution to both the environmental and social problems we face.