Quote of the Day September 5, 2013: “Self-interest and Altruism Point in the Same Direction.”


Today’s quote comes from the book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun than You Think by Bryan Caplan. I don’t know much, or anything about the author, and to be honest I’ve only read the first 15 pages of this book. I was visiting my in-laws recently and they have hundreds, perhaps thousands of books. When I get some down time I often pick one off one of their shelves and give it a whirl. As I poked through their collection this one stood out. I’m pretty sure because babies are on my mind now that I have a 7 month old around the house. Just like being married, or anything else worth while for that matter, he’s a lot of work but incredibly rewarding. Now that I’m counted among the billions of parents in the world, I notice all the talk about how to teach, how to discipline, and even thoughts on how many you should have.

Many people today suggest that you should only have one, two or at the most, three children. It’s simply socially responsible they would say considering our culture’s obsession with overpopulation. And it is true as our globe now supports more than 7 billion people, that the number boggles the mind and has visibly risen by a few billion in many of our contemporary’s life times. Some say they don’t know much about population but for them personally, the thought of many kids, or even kids at all seems way too burdensome. But then there are others who say just the opposite. Children aren’t work. They are actually enjoyable. And as far as being socially responsible, the only responsible thing is to have children, and lots of them. This is the position the author Bryan Caplan takes.

When he says, “self-interest and altruism point in the same direction,” he’s saying that it is actually in the self interest of the few and of the many to have more kids. Individually he says that the reality is that kids are work, but not nearly as much work as they are made out to be. Also that they are a lot of work when they are young, but long term they pay off dividends in adult friendship, those who will take care of you when you are older, or even assets in a family business. Long term views aside, they are actually quite rewarding in the day to day as well. Also many people are far too worried about “screwing up” their kids by not being the perfect parent. His view is that the odds are kids end up turning out more or less normal anyway and that parents obviously should be careful to instill work ethic, knowledge, and values, but that they shouldn’t give themselves too much credit. Kids will turn out more or less fine. Also statistics say that most people who have kids, when asked later on in life, say they wish they had even more and very few say they regret having kids altogether. Meanwhile others who did not have kids usually say that they do, in fact, regret not having kids.So he establishes that it is in an individual’s self-interest to have more kids than they would have.

Where it links with altruism is that he also makes quite a case in favor of the idea that the more our population grows the better life will be. He is quite convincing (even if I end up not being in this little summary). He contests that we are not becoming overpopulated, and that historically, humanity has always and only flourished as our populations have increased. The more humans means the more ideas, and more solutions to the problems of the day. More exploration and more support from back home. More humans may mean using more resources, but it also means more of us to discover how to utilize the more resources that we need. Also he notes that in the 1940s there were 10 workers to every 1 senior living on social security. Today there are about 5 workers to every 1 senior. This trend means social security and other programs like it that depend on the young to produce so that the old or infirmed can be taken care of are on their way out. If we as a nation had more children in a macro sense, we could ensure that the pyramid-type programs we have set up have a base to remain sustainable. And on an even more macro and nationalistic note, countries, historically and statistically, that have viewer than 2.6 children per person cannot sustain their own numbers over time, simply due to the normal death rate that all countries experience. So if you think of the United States, for instance, as an island with no people coming in or out, only deaths and births, every person on average would need to have 2 to 3 children to simply keep the same amount of people around over time. Now since countries like the US are not closed doors, if US citizens have fewer kids than necessary to sustain their own numbers, the continent of America will not cease to be populated, but instead it will be populated by other cultures that do have more children.

I supose this could be viewed as a good or a bad thing, depending on what you think about American culture and what you think about the cultures that would overtake it. Either way it is an interesting view about having more kids is selfish, but it is also very generous and altruistic. We often think of those as mutually exclusive terms. I won’t get into them here but there are many economic theories and social and theological approaches that share that view. Obviously the self-interested who rob a bank, or commit a murder are doing things in self-interest alone and they do not actually help others. But there are other behaviors that accomplish both apparently.

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1 Comment

  1. Dear Son, So happy that you have such a huge quantity of literature to choose from when in Canada. I’m glad that this topic of population of the human species is of interest to you. I have many ideas and opinions on this subject,BUT, will share a couple. God did not create us all equal in the human sense, or else there would not be 1 baby born premature, or with a brain stem defect, etc. And we do not have children born to parents with the same cultural customs,or same influencial habitat, etc. We tend to lump every human into one category. Yes, Jesus knows us all, and Jesus loves the little children, but, He allows each incident of our lives to take place to mold us and teach us if we stay open and teachable. My view on the number of children to have should have this consideration–does every child get a lot of child rearing attention from each parent, or do the older ones have to take a back seat to time and energy spent rearing and teaching them because there’s always a baby to take care of,or, perhaps each older child has to take care of the younger sibling and it goes on and on and you end up with kids and you say, “When did he start doing that” or ” Why does he feel that way or do it that way or respond that way?” If a parent can’t spend enough time with each child to really have the child feel intimately at ease to be able to share every thought and opinion with them, a closeness many parents don’t have with all their kids, because they have too many, and there ain’t enough time in the day, then, you end up looking at that kid across the table from you, and you say, when did that person that is my child, change and become that person whom I fathered but don’t even know? I can only say, I’ve observed it in large families, coming from a family of 3 girls, but I’ve seen it in families as I was growing up-families with 6, or 8 children,etc. There’s no such thing as a “black sheep in the family” an expression to excuse the 1 or 2 siblings in a family that did not fit the criteria of society’s standards or the family’s standards.There’s such a thing as a child getting lost in the shuffle of too many to listen to, too many to teach, too many to really get to know well, and guide well, because there’s only 24 hours in a day.( And where did that expression, black sheep come from,why isn’t it “white sheep”) HaHaHa! So, I believe in having as many children as you can afford to spend much equal time with (which is lots) so that you can really influence them to be children that will make you proud, but mostly, God, proud, because that ‘s what we should strive for. God has allowed us our sinful nature,but, we have many opportunities to learn right from wrong, and we have free will. Our parents and our time with our parents and then our other mentors as we get older are our teachers and we learn and become, with God’s grace, who He allows us to be. If a parent can’t spend quality time with each kid alone then you are not in a suitable condition to keep having children. That said, again, God is in control, and can take a sad abused child and make him a king. And can have the child who got NO attention from his parents and that could be the one child out of the dozen that cares for them in their twilight years. He is in control!

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