Ladies Still Not Taxpayer Dispensers

At Slate, Kerry Howley talks sense to Michelle Goldberg about the doubtful feminist wisdom of using population panic as a pretext for putatively “feminist” policies. Goldberg has clearly neglected Howley’s powerful Reason feature on natalist policy from which I offer this concluding excerpt:

But as pro-baby policies are inevitably sold as pro-mother, and by extension pro-woman, it’s worth recalling the sentiment behind the Australian birth premiums and Singaporean matchmaking schemes. At the heart of any fertility incentive lies an attempt to encourage a particular group of women to orient their bodies in a traditional way. Every pro-fertility policy is an effort to slow cultural transformation, to stabilize a society’s ethnic composition, to ossify a current conception of a national culture by freezing the genetic makeup of a nation. From Poland to Singapore, swollen wombs are a bulwark against change.

There is a reason we speak of “Mother Russia” and “Mother India.” Feminist sociologists such as Nira Yuval-Davis refer to women as the “boundary markers” of a state or society. While men may leave, fight, and be compromised, women represent purity and continuity. Yuval-Davis points out in her book Gender and Nation that the Hitler Youth Movement had different mottos for girls and boys. The boys’ motto was: “Live faithfully; fight bravely; die laughing.” For girls: “Be faithful; be pure; be German.” Girls simply had to be. They were the collective.

In times of great social anxiety, we see new calls for women to return to home and hearth—calls alternately cast as a return to tradition and as a progressive leap forward, but efforts, nonetheless, to enlist women in a national project while defining the boundaries of national inclusion. Depopulation is not a given, but ideologically fraught and scientifically questionable debates about gender, race, and culture will be with us no matter which way the population swings. “To know what demography is, we need to know what a population is,” the French social scientist Herve Le Bras wrote in The Invention of Populations. “That is where the trouble begins.” 

[Full disclosure: K.L. Howley and I co-own a rumbustious vizsla.]

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21 thoughts on “Ladies Still Not Taxpayer Dispensers

  1. Sorry, I can't take you and Kerry seriously on this topic since both of you have chosen to completely ignore the research (much done by your fellow Cato scholars) on the links between Social Security program and individual choices to have fewer children. You like to ignore and downplay those studies because you and Kerry like to pretend that there are no government anti-natalist polices as well. But I think that you're just as bad as anyone in wanting the government to subsidize your particular family preferences, since you do favor social insurance after all.

  2. I remember you being cranky about this before, but I forget what you think I'm ignoring. I know all about Jagadeesh's research. My position on social insurance has nothing to do with its effect on reproductive choices. Economic growth is anti-natalist since people with bigger incomes can self-insure. Am I supposed to be suspicious of growth or something? Explain again what you think we're not grasping?

  3. There must be a blueprint for a society's success that does not include population growth. Sometimes I think it (the blueprint) might include a global flood.

  4. Yuval-Davis points out in her book Gender and Nation that the Hitler Youth Movement had different mottos for girls and boys. The boys’ motto was: “Live faithfully; fight bravely; die laughing.” For girls: “Be faithful; be pure; be German.” Girls simply had to be. They were the collective.I found this book with google books but I can't find the citation page. Can anyone find a source for these mottos?

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  6. Is it the feminist view that “purity” of the female is one of the ideals that justifies natalist policies? Or, is it the feminist view that “purity” of the female is the ideal used to justify anti-natalist policies?Mary Douglas settled the question on purity long ago, but then, how many ideologues, Left, Right, or feminist, read Mary Douglas?

  7. Am I supposed to be suspicious of growth or something?Yep, a little suspicion might not hurt you.

  8. Thanks, uknowbetter.I'm curious as to what this would have been in German, though. I can't seem to find a poster or anything with a motto that looks similar to this one. Obviously google images is a pretty limited resource in this regard, but that's all I have.Text-wise, “seid Deutsch”, “bleibt Deutsch” “seid ihr Deutsch,” or “seid Deutscherinnen” yield nothing. But reverse translation is hard.

  9. Yeah, but what if you offer bribes to immigrant mothers as well as native-born mothers? Does this destroy the unholy alignment between natalist policy and race panic?I suspect you believe that pro-birth bribes are bad for other reasons. In general, you probably shouldn't bribe someone for doing X unless doing X has positive externalities.Having babies might have positive externalities, or it might not. But that should be a major part if not the major part of any discussion. The retrograde morality of nativists is an important point, but it does not by itself invalidate a nativist's preferred policy.

  10. Is there ever a case where pro-natalist policies are not predicated on the idea that women owe some reproductive duty to the nation, collective, society, or whatever? If there is, I haven't seen it. While I'm not sure where John Thacker is going with his comments, I suspect that it's something along the lines of “Since we have a Social Security program that is indistinguishable from a pyramid scheme, it is the duty of women to produce enough new taxpayers to support the system.” That is, of course, a good argument against the Social Security program as it is currently structured, the implication that there some sort of categorical imperative for women to produce children for the good of the group is disturbing to say the least. (And that may not be what John is saying at all.) There is simply no way to hold that position without also holding that individuals exist to serve the community. Certainly, there are any number of political creeds that proceed from that assumption, but they're all creepy.In short, the existence of social programs has no bearing on whether or not an individual has some sort of duty to reproduce to serve the collective. Full stop.

  11. That's not what I'm saying at all. To the contrary, it is people who support social insurance schemes who believe that the “community” has some sort of right to the earnings of other people's children to support their lifestyle. I'm not saying that I support the concept of such a duty, but I do think that people who are being taxed to support others' lifestyle deserve compensation. It's the supporters of social of Social Security who have turned it into a duty for women and a net tax; I just believe that they should be fairly compensated instead of enslaved. I'm saying that :1) It's an empirically supported fact that social insurance schemes like Social Security decrease the number of children that people have in a lifetime. Indeed, I definitely see how people could view this as a virtue; it does so by making people less dependent on their own children supporting them in old age. I know from Will's writings that he views independence from one's family as an important part of a liberal individualism. (And certainly there is oppression in dependence on one's family, as in older systems.) However, in previous conservations and comments, Will has seen fit to dismiss all these studies.2) Thanks to social insurance schemes, people who have children subsidize those who do not. One can argue about the whether the subsidy in the one direction outweighs the pro-natalist subsidies in the other direction. But it's absurd to me to pretend that pro-natalist subsidies and policies proceed from the assumption that an individual has a duty to reproduce to serve the collective, but that social insurance policies that tax the reproducing individual to serve the collective don't proceed from that assumption. Why pretend that the two cases are so different? In Will's case, I believe it's because he views the subsidy that enables a childless lifestyle and independence from family as a positive liberty, but sees no corresponding liberty when it comes to compensating mothers or allowing them to have children with fewer sacrifices.

    In short, the existence of social programs has no bearing on whether or not an individual has some sort of duty to reproduce to serve the collective. Full stop.

    I'll only grant that if you grant that pro-natalist policies have no bearing on that. Some people, especially in a policy position, may be motivated by that. But other people simply want to have children, feel that they can't afford it, and want to be compensated so that they can. Perhaps not a noble motive, but I hardly see how it's so different from single, childless people wanting the state to support them in their old age because they won't have children to do so.

  12. There is simply no way to hold that position without also holding that individuals exist to serve the community….In short, the existence of social programs has no bearing on whether or not an individual has some sort of duty to reproduce to serve the collective.

    I disagree. I would say that if you claim that we must tax individuals in order to support other people in their old age, then there is simply no way of holding that position without holding that individuals exist to serve the community. I don't see a fundamental difference behind the principles upholding social insurance and the principles upholding this sort of policy.Frankly, to me the arguments against the pro-natalist policies end up sounding like arguments that paying military members would “turn them into mercenaries.” You decided that individuals' reproduction would serve the community when you structured and supported Social Security. Refusing to consider the question of fair compensation doesn't change that theft.

  13. John- I thought that perhaps you were getting at the notion that socialprograms like SS proceed from the same communitarian assumptions as thenotion that women have a duty to reproduce. On that count, I agree. AndI'm not a fan of either notion.I apologize if I misread you.

  14. I can't seem to find a poster or anything with a motto that looks similar to this one.The cited boys' motto is probably a translation of 'Treu lebend, Tod-trotzend kämpfen, lachend sterben'. This was a motto Goebbels apparently had put on the banner of Storm 33, i.e. one that dates from the earlier days of the Nazis. I'm skeptical that it was either an official motto of the Hitler Youth (if so, you'd find more references) or that it would have been popular after about 1940, when 'die laughing' would have ceased to sound like such a romantic goal.I can't find any reference for the girl's motto, though it sounds accurate enough. In both cases these would definitely be *a* motto and not *the* motto…

  15. Will, I dont see how pro natalist policies are efforts to slow cultural transformation. (or how all of them are). Some times, its just about numbers. The government could just want more babies and more taxpayers… regardless of the demographic they fill. This can be done by encouraging local production, or by increasing foreign imports. Excuse the fact that I just talked about persons as goods to be bought a nd sold, but that's what a goverment tries to do when implements pro fertility and pro immigration policies.

  16. Will, I dont see how pro natalist policies are efforts to slow cultural transformation. (or how all of them are). Some times, its just about numbers. The government could just want more babies and more taxpayers… regardless of the demographic they fill. This can be done by encouraging local production, or by increasing foreign imports. Excuse the fact that I just talked about persons as goods to be bought a nd sold, but that's what a goverment tries to do when implements pro fertility and pro immigration policies.

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