Babies and market signals

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.

7 thoughts on “Babies and market signals”

  1. You are an early homosapiens hunter. You go out and catch a small animal and eat it. You survive for another day.

    Now you are a different hunter. You organize a group of hunters, propose a strategy for bagging a large game animal, you accept suggestions and make modifications for others’ positive ideas, you go out and kill a large animal that can be brought back to the group and feed many, plus providing useful materials for various other needs.

    The first hunter is recognized as capable and self sufficient. The second is recognized as a good leader, who provides a surplus for the family (read profit), who is admired and emulated, attracts the interest of skilled women who can complement his hunting prowess with their own gathering, medicine making, clothing making, and who will produce several children.

    The profit motive, and the emotional and behavioral patterns that express it, are not some recent invention.

    Men and women generally want to have children because they enjoy the experience of intimacy and emotional attachment that fulfill needs much deeper than any amount of disposable income ever could.

    Parents also expect their extended families to care for them and provide loving support through their later years, especially in times of trevail and illness.

    Those without families in the same sense rely on the general committment of society. Remove it, and families would get much more popular with those for whom the idea now holds little attraction.

    As I said in Shannon’s earlier thread, those who don’t want children shouldn’t have them. My kids and grandkids will decide what to do when the time comes, based on their own loyalties and attachments.

    I’m not worried about the future—I’ve been feeding and clothing it for years now.

  2. Living in a country that used to be very poor, I was always amazed by dirt-poor families with 8-9 children and mega-rich couples who could barely find the time to have 1 child before the age of 35.

    My hypothesis of choice on this matter is that family planning and access to profilactic means are more available to those with wealth and education than those with no education and no means.

    People will have sex, no matter what, and consequences can’t be avoided. The poor are also more religious therefore their avoid abortions.

    This might also explain EU vs. India population trends versus wealth versus education.

  3. It’s not accurate or helpful to say that babies represent a positive externality or a negative externality

    Just to clarify, I was never concerned that the free-rider effect would cause a shortage of children, especially babies. Rather, I was concerned that it would cause a shortage of net productive adults i.e. adults who create more economic resources than they consume. From my strictly economic argument, childhood is just the production phase of the end product which is the adult.

    We have learned to think of children as representing nothing but the consumption of resources because we separate the child from the adult in our minds. Culturally, politically and socially we treat children so different from adults that we forget that every adult was once a child and that the conditions of child rearing today greatly influences quality of the adults of tomorrow.

  4. From a Darwinain “survival of the fittest” perspective, the welfare mother high school dropout is more “fit” to the modern environment than a childless woman in her thirties with a good job and a graduate degree.

    And no one has tried to figure out how the characteristics of the fathers of these welfare children. How do they differe from non-fathers? There are probably a small number of men who have fathered large numbers of welfare babies.

  5. The profit motive, and the emotional and behavioral patterns that express it, are not some recent invention.

    But birth control, for the most part, is. Convenient, effective birth control definitely is. So the ability to respond to the profit motive is new–or at least improved.

  6. “From a Darwinain “survival of the fittest” perspective, the welfare mother high school dropout is more “fit” to the modern environment than a childless woman in her thirties with a good job and a graduate degree.”

    Yeah, as long as there’s enough of the latter around to pay for the whole thing.

    But where are they going to come from?

    Let them get graduate degrees and good jobs in their early twenties (or even regular degrees that still mean something and good jobs in their late teens), and maybe there’ll be more of them around down the road.

  7. The availability of reasonably effective birth control has allowed women to expand their range of activities, and protect their health, to a degree unknown to earlier cultures, or to cultures in the modern day who live in an “earlier” time than the 21st century.

    This situation enhances the concept of the profit motive operating throughout society rather than inhibiting it. The thousands upon thousands of women in modern societies who can control their pregnancies, and therefore plan out their lifes’ course through education, work, and family, provide an enormous return on investment compared to the traditional woman’s role of little education and family service or unskilled work.

    Several years ago, my internist decided, after several years of full time practice, that she would cut back on her work load and devote more time to her young children.

    I would submit that over the course of her life, this highly skilled and dedicated mother would provide society, and her family, with a tremendous bonus of medical work, parental motivation and example, and intense devotion to her family and her patients in appropriate measure.

    If she had remained single, or childless, the ongoing generational aspect of her contribution in return for the investment that her parental family and society had made in her development would be very much reduced. (I will not say it would be zero due the mentoring function that she might provide to an unrelated young person, i.e., a form of foster parenting).

    My own wife has made similar decisions in order to balance the requirements of family, education, and work. Men do this also, of course, but without quite the same intensity of involvement as a woman who experiences pregnancy and the intense feelings of motherhood, especially in the early years.

    The return on this investment can be enormous, not only to the family, but to the society at large when X number of children follow the example of competent parents, and go on to a life of productive work.

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