Why do human beings respond to market signals and have a profit motive?
Because, for many generations, people who did were able to feed more babies with less effort than people who didn’t, and thus left behind more people who behaved as they did.
Now I’m not asserting that there’s a gene for profit motive. There are genes that influence problem solving ability, genes that influence drive and ambition, genes that influence the criteria by which women evaluate potential mates, and so on. All those genes lead to a creature capable of interpreting market signals and posessing some inclination and ability to respond to them when they present themselves.
But a changing environment leads to a change in the characteristics that lead to more surviving descendants. There have long been market signals that tell us we can profit by dividing our resources with fewer (or no) children; however, until recently, collecting that profit has been exceedingly difficult for most people. Today, of course, that is not so; keeping all of our resources for our own enjoyment by preventing childbirth is fairly easy for those that posess the same problem solving abilities and the profit motive that enabled our ancestors to earn more resources for the children they couldn’t easily avoid having.
Add to that the fact that death during childhood is now almost unheard of, and the formula for leaving behind lots of surviving kids and grandkids in our society is drastically different. The strategies might include:
1. Low opportunity costs associated with giving up education time and work time in favor of childrearing. This generally means lower intelligence or skill or a lack of some other characteristic that leads to success in school and the workplace, meaning that each hour devoted to childcare represents lower foregone earnings. Since in the current environment one does not even begin to get more than a Mickey Mouse education until about five of the prime childbearing years have already passed, those who pursue a real education have much longer generation times than those who don’t even finish the Mickey Mouse curriculum, leading to a faster growth among the latter given the same number of children borne over a lifetime.
2. A modification of the profit motive – placing children at a higher value than the current average person does, leading people to be willing to sacrifice more money and more education in order to have more children.
3. Some characteristic that leads to failure in birth control use. Impulsiveness, forgetfulness, inability to cope with the directions on the box, increased sex drive, what have you. Also under this heading would be a lesser ability to enjoy sex while using birth control.
Or, to sum it all up, we’re breeding birth-control-resistant humans, where birth control resistance comes from any one of several characteristics that should gradually become more prevalent in our population.
So there’s no need to worry that market signals or the free-rider problem will lead to an ongoing shortage of babies, since the children of those who have babies in the face of those signals will tend to behave similiarly to their parents and the children of those who follow the market signals and refuse to have children will never exist. Of course there’s plenty of reason to worry about what kind of babies we’re going to have. It’s not accurate or helpful to say that babies represent a positive externality or a negative externality – some are in the former category and others are in the latter.
I do have a policy recommendation. Birth control resistance mechanism 1 is absolutely incompatible with continued advancement or civilizational longevity. So the factors leading to the success of strategy 1 need to be modified. In particular, a shortening of childhood and an acceleration of the educational process (and an increased willingness to flunk poor students and require them to repeat classes) is clearly called for, to reduce the reproductive advantage that an inability to cope with advanced education offers. Even better would be a standard and widely-used mechanism by which people could significantly shorten their own childhoods by taking and passing their classes more quickly. This would not only lead to higher birth rates among those able to cope with more education, but also better academic performance for any given level of ability thanks to the profit motive and the desire to attain the blessings of liberty that most of us still posess.
Also helpful would be the repeal of measures designed to prevent careless and impulsive individuals from removing themselves from the gene pool, and an increased insistence on long imprisonment for those whose impulsive behavior brings injury to others.
One last idea would be a drastic change to Social Security. People would get a check based on a percentage of their own children’s income. That percentage would of course be significantly lower if the person didn’t help raise the child. In short, children would be productive long-term assets for their parents again, without paying more than they do now to support people that didn’t bother having or raising any children.
P.S. Shannon stated that wealthier and more successful families actually tended to have more children. I have found data that suggests something different. Families with four members have a higher median income than smaller families or larger families. Higher than four members, larger families have lower median family incomes. Also, this does not take in account the illegitimate children of single men by different women – they are not typically counted as part of the same family.