Abortion of defective kids

Originally posted on MPCdot.com

In his book "A Farewell to Alms," Gregory Clark talks a lot about the Malthusian trap: the fact that, historically, when living standards rise, populations inevitably increase to swallow up the surplus wealth, pushing living standards right back down to subsistence level. To escape the Malthusian trap, you need a population that desires a high standard of living, and only has children when they can be raised at that standard.

While an emphasis on living standards is the requirement of Malthusian escape, that requirement is only met through reproductive restraint. On the surface, abortion might seem like a way to obtain that restraint -- have as much sex as you want and abort any excess kids. And humanity has a long history of infanticide, so it's not terribly unreasonable to expect this approach to work.

However, this is not at all what we see in the world, either today or in times past. Cultures which practice infanticide do not tend to escape the Malthusian trap, no matter their emphasis on material wealth. On the other hand, cultures which both emphasize high living standards and traditional Christian sexual morality have fared much better. I think there are two reasons for this.

First, I believe sexual restraint simply works better than abortion at curbing runaway reproduction. Rather than quenching sexual desire, sexual activity actually stimulates it; so if a country is laissez fare about its sexuality, and presents abortion as a kind of "get out of jail free card," there will be lots of sex, and while there will also be lots of abortions, it's simply human nature that childbearing will ultimately outstrip infanticide -- look at China, India, etc. On the other hand, a country which discourages infanticide tells its inhabitants that if they have sex, they will be liable for any resultant children; combine this with a requirement that sex only occur between married people who can afford to support any resultant children at a high standard of living, and you would expect said society to have fewer marriages overall, with those marriages occurring later in life and resulting in fewer children. The sexual passions are thereby kept in check, as is reproduction, and the nation escapes the Malthusian trap. This is exactly the phenomenon that Clark documents in the contrast between Europe and Asia leading up to the industrial revolution (although he did not explain it this way).

Second, I think you are infinitely more likely to have an industrial revolution -- that is, large increases in productivity -- when the sexual passions are restrained. Sexual activity can cost much more than the straightforward costs of child rearing. Single people seeking sex will spend inordinate amounts of time, energy, and money obtaining it. When society doesn't sacralize sex, it rapidly becomes everybody's favorite, all-consuming recreational drug. I think this is just common sense, the proof of which surrounds us. Feral women dressing like call girls and men devoting themselves to booze and "pickup" during their 20's and 30's are the clearest evidence of this cost, as is our increasingly sex-saturated media and popular culture. I think the growing narcissism of the facebook generation is a second order effect and also a huge waste of resources. (Really, who has time to cure cancer when there are skirts to chase and selfies to post?) This is in stark contrast to a culture of sexual sobriety. You can poke fun at Puritans and Victorians all you want, but they are the founding stock of our prosperity increases. A man who sees work simply as a way to fund his fornication will have a very different kind of career than a man who considers his vocation an opportunity to serve God, family, and country.

White people tend to think of abortion as a tradeoff between benefits to parents and society at the expense of murdered infants. Rabid pro-choicers aside (and even they are more talk than walk, I suspect), whites feel that there is something wrong about abortion. Does anybody really expect pro-choicers to make the case for tossing unwanted infants in the dumpster? I doubt it. But leaving unwanted children to die of exposure is historically commonplace. Even the most callous modern whites are far more sensitive about the rights of new members of society than our distant ancestors, they just don't realize it. Instead, they tend to focus on whether or not aversion to abortion is valid, and if so, in which circumstances, and to what extent. But why do whites have that feeling at all? I think that's the more interesting question. Here's my take:

Hunter-gatherer tribes have barbaric sexual morality and are rife with infanticide, but they also don't stockpile wealth and are constantly losing members to tribal warfare, so they never become malthusian. But I think that once a people begin to stockpile wealth through agriculture, they become haunted by the ghost of Malthus. Traditional Christian sexual morality provided a way out of the trap by changing man's relationship with his sexuality in a way that restrained population growth and freed energy to invest in productivity-increasing work. I believe that Christendom selected for an innate revulsion to infanticide by shunning (or stoning) those who didn't submit to its sexual norms. In my opinion, that's why Orientals can abort with abandon while even borderline white people like the Irish are disgusted by the practice -- it's more a result of breeding than it initially appears to be.

That the descendants of Christendom, with their aversion to abortion, have come to lead the world indicates that a disposition against infanticide is a survival benefit to the group. Allowing abortion might therefore be a Faustian bargain: we could be kicking the legs out from underneath the very table which supports prosperity. This may extend to anything that loosens traditional Christian sexual morality to some extent, i.e. contraceptives. At the very least, it seems to me that the three pillars of prosperity are reproductive restraint, preference for high living standards, and investments in technology -- and I think this is all undergirded by sexual restraint.

A commentator on Cochran and Harpending's blog noted that the past few generations in black America -- where thugs have many children by several baby mommas who support their spawn on welfare checks -- has been like a "Pitbull Breeding Experiment." I'm inclined to agree, and I see parallels in the possible unintended consequences of shifting abortion norms. Sexual passion is a powerful beast, we tamper with its yoke at our own peril.


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