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Babies for whom?

This post is a good example of what I wrote at the start of the year. I got an interesting idea that would require a lot of research to actually flesh out properly, but I don’t have the time to acquire that kind of expertise right now. So I don’t write the post, bury the idea, forget about it, and the world loses a half-assed good idea.

But, you dear readers told me that you can’t get enough of half-assed good ideas, so here it goes. All this adds to what I commented here at Land’s.

Yes, yes, people are not having babies. People in developed countries, that is. We don’t know why exactly, and everybody has its pet theory, but what we do have is a lot of data which we can run correlations with.

Low fertility is most severe in developed countries, but it doesn’t correlate cleanly with development. Moldova is as poor as any country in Africa, and it has low fertility. Spain is poorer than Sweden yet has lower fertility. Saudi Arabia is richer than Nepal yet has higher fertility.

One of the best correlations out there is female education, but again that doesn’t map neatly. Swedish or American women go to grad school in much higher rates than Japanese women, yet they have higher fertility.

The obvious answer to this melange of messy correlations is that there’s no one big factor. It’s like the genetics of height or IQ; hundreds of small factors that add-up, and possibly affect each other in quirky ways.

But that’s no fun, isn’t it? You aren’t going to impress your friends at dinner by talking about hundreds of factors that we don’t understand well. You need a compelling Narrative to sound smart and impressive. Well, listen up, I got something for you.

When you think about it, the assumption when talking about fertility rates is that people should breed more, and it’s a problem that they don’t. We assume that Malthus was right and humans automatically have more and more children even if they can’t feed them. Now of course Malthus didn’t exactly say that; and he did point out about mechanisms to limit fertility such as late marriage and property standards to be allowed to take a wife. But he thought that was a proof of how farsighted and civilized were the English in comparison with everyone else, the default state of mankind being to breed like rabbits until they food ran out.

But the historical record disproves that. In East Asia, marriage was early, and spinsterhood quite unheard of; but property standards for men to be allowed a wife were as high as everywhere else, and most importantly female infanticide was very common. Depending on the region or era, up to 40% of newborn girls in China or Japan were exposed at birth. Well actually they strangled them and made them drown in the amniotic water. Japan had the same population, 30 million, during the whole Edo period, 1600-1868. The Japanese also called infanticide “weeding”.

This was also quite common in Greece and Rome. Of course to modern eras this sounds awfully cruel, and if you tell your wives and sisters they’ll cry and say “how can mothers kill their own babies?!”. But it was common practice, and there’s no reason not to assume that this didn’t go back to Neolithic times.

Now things like infanticide or late marriage do have the result of lowering population growth; that’s not why people did it. People in pre-modern China didn’t strangle their newborn baby girls thinking “oh, a girl, we must kill her for the good of the nation”. And there were no government laws mandating it or encouraging the practice. If anything, from time to time governments wanted to stamp out the practice because they actually wanted more manpower.

No, what made people kill their babies; or put off marriage until an acceptable suitor proposed, were all family considerations. Jane Austen characters didn’t marry early because they weren’t allowed to, and they didn’t marry down because that was bad for the family’s reputation. And Chinese mothers killed their baby girls because having a girl is “watering your neighbors garden”, i.e. they marry, leave and bring no honor to the family. Having a boy is riskier but it has a potentially higher payoff.

So flipping the issue; why did people have children in the old days? Well mostly because you couldn’t avoid it; you had sex and more often than not you eventually got pregnant. But the rationale for raising kids and not exposing them was that children were good for the family. Boys were better than girls for the family, so boys were always raised, unless handicapped, and girls were often not. But the whole business of childrearing was done for the benefit of the family’s social standing. More boys meant more manpower for your clan, boys who would grow up to do things, possibly increasing your wealth or reputation. It quite often went the other way, but in a clannish society, family are your only friends, and everybody can use more friends. Should anything happen, you are always better off with a larger family to defend the clan.

Fast forward to today: why do people have children? Certainly not for the benefit of the family. What’s a family anyway? The man has his job and his friends, the wife has her job and her friends; some of these friends like kids, some don’t. If a woman is very invested in her career and social circle on her job, having kids is quite detrimental to her status. If you have friends with children, having children is beneficial; but only as many children as everybody else has. Having 6 kids in NYC won’t make you any friends, especially if they cause you to stop attending all those parties that people invite you to.

If you know your history, you may have noticed that the size of human groupings hasn’t been stable through history. Hunter-gatherers lived in clans, which in time and places built larger tribes. These tribes went on for quite some time until states were formed. State administration in West and East proceeded to dismantle the tribes, and make people more obedient to state power. The Catholic Church famously dismantled the Germanic kindreds through draconic outbreeding norms. In China, Shang Yang and the other Legalist reformers dismantled the tribes through land reform and the state monopoly of farming tools; but after the Han collapsed, big landowners accumulated clients which evolved into a clan system not unlike the ancient tribes.

The State attack on family size meant that the tribes were dismantled in favor of nuclear families; and the progressive state has gone one step further and dismantled the nuclear family in favor of the individual. Now think about this for a minute. People in the old days had children for the good of the family, the clan, or the tribe. One can see evidence of this at the sky-high fertility rates of places like Afghanistan, where intra-tribal conflict has been going on for decades. The tribe needs boys to defend the tribe, and so boys are produced. Large kin groups, and a state of conflict are very good predictors of birth rates.

Now if what drives the birth rate is the interest of the family; well people in developed countries have no family to defend. To the extent that you have a family; your children leave the house never to come back; they don’t follow your culture, don’t inherit your accent; won’t take over your job or business. For any functional understanding of “family”, families today do not exist. Hence people have no incentive to have children. There is nothing to defend. And there’s nothing to defend against anyway; modern state administration has eradicated tribal conflict for quite some time. Especially in the West; which explains the low fertility in Western Europe. You didn’t need any manpower to defend against your neighbors.

Now of course the fertility rate now isn’t 0, people do have children. But absent the tribal motivation, all that is left is the female biological clock, the cuteness of babies, and the natural cementing function that childbirth has to a newly married couple. Add all those up and you get 1.5 kids per couple, which is the average in the developed world. But after having 1 or 2 kids, most people feel absolutely no urge to have more than that; which surely means that the motivation is lacking.

Darwinian analysis of behavior is on the vogue today, and that’s generally a good thing; but people tend to somehow fall into the fallacy that evolution hard-codes adaptive behavior in the genes. But that’s not necessarily so; evolution only produces things that barely work, and once they work they leave it there. Much of human behavior is based on very flimsy software adaptations. Incest-avoidance doesn’t depend on binary olfatory clues; it works through the Westermarck effect, meaning that if a girl didn’t live in the same house with her father during the first 6 years of her life she’s quite likely to end up screwing him. Sexual attraction in humans also works to a stupid degree on visual clues; put a burka on a woman and no men will approach her.

And reproduction in humans works through a myriad of small motivations, some of which are hardware urges, but many others are software cues depending on the social environment. That means that low fertility isn’t a biological characteristic of liberals which will go extinct as conservatives replace them; it’s a cultural trait that depends on a social organization which is enforced by the modern state. Peter Frost wrote a great post on how the Parsis are going extinct, mostly through a lack of tribalism. Well states have been cracking down on tribalism for quite some time, and that’s not going to stop anytime soon.

If we can’t have tribes, the only solution is having the second best thing, i.e. synthetic tribes. Now, where I have heard about this before

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24 responses to “Babies for whom?

  1. Pingback: Babies for whom? | Neoreactive

  2. Max Bright February 5, 2015 at 09:25

    Group selection has always been a pretty highly contested theory, mainly because raising a kid is a lot of work just for a possible eventual tiny increase in the family’s aggregate status, and evolution is generally more selfish than that.

    If there’s any “one cause” for low or high fertility, I’d suggest that it’s a simple, selfish one. You will get old, and a (boy) child is an asset who will provide for you in your old age. He’s like a 401k, you put in effort and resources to raise him and then reap the benefits when you’re old. A girl might be a similar asset in some cultures, or just a liability, depending on how the culture deals with in-laws (I’m willing to bet the differences in infanticide rates correlate remarkably with in-law financial benefits).

    But in a modern culture with state pensions and social safety nets, all children are liabilities. Hence, there’s no logical reason to have them, and only those children who come about due to emotional reasons, or accidentally, are born.

    • spandrell February 5, 2015 at 10:04

      That is probably the biggest factor. But it doesn’t explain why rich people have children.

      It does explain why people in war zones have a lot; you never know how many are going to survive to support you.

      But to the extent that human behavior depends not only on individual calculations but on peer pressure; and culture itself can be defined the wider expression of peer pressure, then your group is going to influence your breeding patterns.

      I’m not a fan of group selection and honestly I don’t understand what those guys are trying to say. I’m making the psychological argument that human behavior is motivated by computations done by the brain; and well what are the inputs of that? Children as savings is a big argument (even today http://www.chinasmack.com/2015/stories/chinese-parents-with-11-children-better-than-saving-money.html )

      but it strikes me as the sort of mindset of a nuclear family. I can see industrial workers thinking like that. But for example in Japan, the eldest son stayed home to inherit, while everyone else was expelled from the house never to return, with no obligation to contribute money to the parents home. Yet they kept having them.

      • Anbuis August 3, 2015 at 18:04

        I go with the k vs. r evolutionary model. That K selected peoples whites & east Asians would have evolved to have less kids under stress, and R selected peoples to have more kids under stress. The stress on the K selected is wealth redistribution to the R, K selected parents want to make sure they can afford a good school for their kids before they have them while r selected people like a crack ho from NJ with 21 illegitimate kids that really exists has not such reservations.

    • Thales February 5, 2015 at 21:37

      Your 401K is never going to love you, never going to invite you over for holidays or just to have dinner. Your SS check won’t come to visit in any meaningful way. Medicare might pay for your hospital room, but will never bring it flowers, nor will it hold your had as you pass away, wondering if your life had any meaning.

  3. Pingback: Babies for whom? | Reaction Times

  4. Athrelon February 5, 2015 at 15:50

    Note thahat this would imply that among rich countries, less generous social safety nets mean less children, and safety nets depress child bearing especially for the poor. Neither seems obviously true, but hard data probably needed.

    • spandrell February 5, 2015 at 16:02

      Not following your reasoning.

      • Athrelon February 5, 2015 at 16:32

        Even in the abscence of war or family business, family can be a functional unit to create webs of obligation to take care of people in helpless parts of their life cycle, namely kids, elderly, sick, and temporarily unemployed. You’d expect state welfare systems to crowd out this function and reduce incentive to have a family, and this effect would be most pronounced among the poor for which any given dollar amount seems much greater.

        • spandrell February 5, 2015 at 16:39

          Well to some extent that poor have stopped forming families. A guy may get a girlfriend pregnant but more often than not he doesn’t stick around to form an actual family unit.

          But the poor are also more tribal, in the sense that they are more social and they tend to form gangs or teams of buddies, and care very much about the status of their team. Guys also linger once in a while to see how an ex-girlfriend and the kid is doing, and if the kid is growing up nicely he make get introduced into the gang.

          So there is some dimension of status that goes beyond material necessity, and hence can’t be replaced by food stamps.

  5. Pingback: Babies for whom? | The Libertarian Alliance Blog

  6. LKM February 7, 2015 at 06:00

    Interesting point on infanticide

    I once spent a week or two trying to figure out what explains the differentials of fertility rates and came to the same conclusion as the author that there’s really nothing straightforward.

    Socialism?
    France for example has one of the the highest white fertility rates while Germany has one of the lowest. Singapore and HK have the lowest of all (even when compared to comparably dense and expensive cities like Tokyo).

    Genetic?
    How do we explain Korea inter-temporally or the differentials between orthodox and reform Jews?

    Cathedral?
    I think it’s a bit of a stretch to blame it all on the “Cathedral” as well (tribal –> nuclear family –> individual).

    The mormon fertility rate is 3.0 and as far as I can tell, the fertility rate of the right wingers anonymous is also pretty low. Furthermore we see little evidence of Cathedral influence in many Asian societies.

    Status?
    Not sure if it’s status per se, but I think this might be closer to the truth. The core concept of Malthus remains intact but that the minimum acceptable living standards are always changing (so Malthus works in say agrarian societies but not for hunter gatherer ones). I disagree with the author about the impracticality and therefore the irrationality of having children — for most periods of time children were your source of labor and your retirement plan (filial piety dictating that children protect and defend their parents from rivals for example). If you live in a politically and medically stable society in which the highest added value occupations do not involve manual labor or warfare then it makes sense to invest more heavily in fewer children rather than diversify against risks (infant/adolescent mortality + four horsemen) at the expense of rearing quality.

    IQ shredder?

    1. it’s not population but aggregate ability that matters
    2. you can run two models: egalitarian/democratic hermits forcing massive selection pressures (Japan) or aristocrats rule and peasants do as they’re told (Singapore). In Japan’s case they will see IQ go up while keeping out migrants who will destroy their egalitarian welfare state society. Singapore is running the high return high risk model of allowing migrants to do the manual labor, distributing little welfare, and depriving most peasants of any real say in the operation of society. The risk is always that they move away from aristocrats and peasants to Eloi and Morlocks (which is what we have in the West).

    The fact that the high IQ population grows more slowly (and I think we’re in a self-correcting adjustment phase) is not a problem so long as you either close the borders, allow expansion of the borders (here I we can hold the progs in DC responsible….Israel should just use their technological advantages to conquer all of the Middle East), or don’t give the peasants a seat at the table. Furthermore advances in building materials (nanotech for example) etc will slowly reduce the problems associated with population density and housing cost.

  7. Pingback: This Week in Reaction (2015/02/06) | The Reactivity Place

  8. A.B Prosper February 10, 2015 at 22:29

    Its seems to me the lack of decent income is a commonly ignored blind spot for many . A huge number of people in Europe, upwards of 2/3 in some countries don’t have enough income to have large families even with state support. 40% underemployment and who knows how much unemployment is endemic poverty.

    Why on Earth would anyone assume they’d just keep popping out children?

    As a matter of fact given the poverty levels I’d argue current White fertility rates are on the high side. Its lower than it might be because of Leftism and Cultural Marxism but its still fairly high and if incomes were better, the actual White TFR would approach 2.2 or maybe more.

    and yes the low IQ, high time preference, types are having children , A: they still have better lives than in their home countries B: they are pre-modern and or stupid C: even they are effected to a high degree,

    What I am seeing is that modernity imposes a social carrying capacity limit, the kind of people required to maintain it require greater income investments and the efficiency inherent in modern systems creates smaller groups of people with the ability to get said income. Thus ultra low TfR

    This is an efficiency trap.

    And note its a not new thing, its amazing how regulated say the 13th century European economy was. Beyond serfdom, inefficiency was engineered in many places to create stability.

    That may be what we have to do, develop low growth high stability systems with incentives arranged around broad distribution of wealth. Not centrally planned solutions in as much as distrubtism and economic nationalism. This will screw the lower trust societies but at that point its a lifeboat solution anyway.

  9. outsider February 15, 2015 at 04:44

    It may be related to the decline in extended families.

    Also sexual selection. The nerds who maintain this society are the least attractive males, and most wimmenz use birth control during their decade on the thug carousel.

  10. Steve Finnell April 7, 2015 at 10:17

    CHRISTIANS AND KILLING THE UNBORN BY STEVE FINNELL

    Abortion advocates like to assert that unborn babies are nothing more than animal fetuses. How those who claim to be Christians can support abortion of the unborn is a mystery to me.

    There are 115,000 abortions performed every day throughout the world. Perplexing , to say the least, is that the same people who advocate killing 42 million babies per year oppose executing adult murderers. Where is the logic to cheer-leading the killing of innocent unborn babies, and then oppose the execution of convicted adult murderers.

    ARE UNBORN BABIES, IN FACT, ANIMAL FETUSES?

    Job 3:1-3 ….3 “Let the day perish on which I was to be born, And the night which said, ‘A boy is conceived.”

    Job said he was a boy at conception. Job was never a blob of tissue, called a fetus. Job was human when he was conceived.How can a Christian in good conscience support aborting the unborn?

    Job 3:16 “Or like a miscarriage which is discarded, I would not be, As infants that never saw light.

    Job referred to babies who were miscarried as infants; they were not some form of animal mass. How it possible for Christians to be pro-abortion?

    Luke 1:36 And behold, even your relative Elizabeth has also conceived a son in her old age; and she who was called barren is now in her sixth month.

    Life begins at conception. Elizabeth conceived John the Baptist, she did not conceive a mass of nonhuman flesh called a fetus.How can someone who claims to be a Christian add pro-choice to their list of belief positions?

    Luke 1: 12-15 Zacharias was troubled when he saw the angel, and fear gripped him. 13 But the angel said to him, “Do not afraid, Zacharias, for your petition has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will give him the name John……..he will be filled with the Holy Spirit while yet in his mother’s womb.

    The question is, would God send His Spirit into an nonhuman blob of flesh called a fetus? No, the Holy Spirit filled John the Baptist while he was in the womb. Why would a Christian choose to ignore this fact.Why approve of destroying children in the womb?

    WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY ABOUT THE KILLING OF INNOCENTS?

    Exodus 20:13″You shall not murder.
    Exodus 23:7 Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty.

    Who could be more innocent than unborn babies?

    Deuteronomy 27:25 “Cursed is he who accepts a bribe to strike down an innocent person.’ And all the people shall say,’Amen.’

    Do abortion doctors accept money to strike down the innocent?

    Proverbs 6:16-17 There are six things which the Lord hates, Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him: 17…….hands that shed innocent blood,

    The Lord hates hands that shed innocent blood. How is it possible for those who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, to also be champions of abortion, to be defenders of those who shed innocent blood, to be pro-abortion proponents?

    KILLING OF THE UNBORN IS SIN!

    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STAND BIBLE)
    Posted by Steve Finnell at 2:13 AM No comments:
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  11. AAB June 26, 2015 at 13:24

    It’s suprising that you didn’t mention the negetive effect that high population density and urbanisation have on fertility rates. Look at the Calhoun mouse utopia experiment for the effect of a high population density (the end result is no mice despite abundant food resources); and Volkmar Veiss for the effects of urbanisation (http://www.v-weiss.de/cycle.html) on fertility.

    • spandrell June 26, 2015 at 14:28

      That’s a factor, but it doesn’t explain low fertility in the European countryside, or the high fertility in South Asia.

      • jawohl September 18, 2015 at 21:52

        The European countryside has been famously depopulated in most countries, at least those with an identifiable countryside or hinterland left. If you walk around towns in Calabria, or the Ardèche, or anywhere in central Spain, you’ll find mostly middle-age and old folks. So, they’re not going to have a high fertility rate.

        Sorry to be commenting on old posts. I’m binging, dude. I love this stuff.

  12. Haru September 14, 2016 at 23:38

    > we can’t have tribes, the only solution is having the second best thing, i.e. synthetic tribes

    Maybe this next-best thing is still not good enough though. Synthetic tribes (as you say, cults) provide comfort and fit our instincts. But, to actually increase the fertility rate, children need to be seen as useful for the tribe. Not any cult will suit: it has to be one that somehow values having children. It also needs to have those children not leaving in droves when grown up (à la Amish or Quiverfull).

    However, tribes undermine the authority of the state, and civilization. Which is what we want to prevent in the first place, and the sole reason why increasing the fertility rate in developed countries is important!

    I don’t currently see any way to escape this conundrum.

    • spandrell September 15, 2016 at 03:53

      Amish don’t leave in droves. Defection rates are very low.
      Obviously any tribe which is strong enough to produce effective incentives for high fertility will be strong enough to resist to some extent the power of the state.
      The solution is, of course, to fuck the state. That doesn’t necessarily mean barbarism. The Chinese were civilized and fertile. Europeans were civilized and fertile not that long ago. Muslims aren’t my cup of tea but their countries are civilized, if not to our standards.

      Something has to give. And it will.

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