July 19, 2007
Do We Need More Babies Or Higher Producing Babies?

Writing in the Times of London Melanie McDonaghon argues that Europe needs more babies to pay for the retirement of older generations.

Europe needs more babies – the average continental family has a mere 1.37 children. Cutting back non-EU immigration to limit pressure on housing stock would help. So would state cash handouts. In Portugal, where the birthrate has fallen to 1.7 children per couple, the Government has considered giving tax breaks to people who have more than two children and levying higher taxes on those who have fewer. Germany is similarly concerned – it could lose the equivalent of the population of the former East Germany within 50 years. Russia’s population is contracting at the rate of three quarters of a million a year: the resourceful Mr Putin is paying mothers to have a second child.

Let us leave aside, for the moment, the eventual development of rejuvenation therapies which will make restrictions on reproduction necessary (unless you like the idea of covering the world with structures of gradually increasing heights). Suppose that industrialized countries really need babies. What kind of babies (dare I ask?) do industrialized countries really need? Wealth creators and large net taxpayers. Babies that will grow up to produce lots of goods and services and pay lots of taxes. Babies that earn high incomes on which lots of taxes can be extracted. In a nutshell: quality over quantity.

The approach of commentators who argue for more babies tends to be a game of playing averages. If women have more babies some small subset of those babies will grow up to become the highly skilled and high producing workers. Those workers and not the majority create the wealth and provide the services needed to take care of older generations. Well, suppose we could just create those workers rather than create a much larger set out of which the high producers emerge.

Smarter people have, on average, greater capacities to produce wealth. But not all very high IQ people choose to accumulate lots of wealth. In fact quite a few very smart people choose occupations that they find intellectually entertaining and not too demanding. Some get tenure in colleges and universities that do not expect much research output. Others get jobs where they are the smartest in their corporate or government department. In such jobs they can coast along and produce about as much as others without need for hard work.

The problem of smart underachieving low producers is solvable. Some people are workaholics. Some are smart. Some are accumulators and investors. Surely genetic factors play a role in all three of these characteristics. The coming era of extremely cheap DNA testing will allow us to identify all the genetic variations that influence how smart, hard working, wealth creating, and wealth accumulating humans become. Then genetic engineering techniques applied to reproduction will provide a way to create smart miser workaholic babies.

Once offspring genetic engineering becomes technologically possible the question arises as to what governments will tolerate or require for people who want to genetically engineer their babies. I'm about to propose something that might not become politically doable by Western countries (though the more pragmatic Chinese might pick up on it): Restrict reproduction to allow only the creation of wealth creators. I'm not saying restrict reproduction to those who own their own high tech companies and those who write lots of patents. Couples determined to reproduce in the face of legal requirements for the creation of big net assets offspring could use genetic engineering techniques to insert some genetic variations that will bring their babies up to legal standards.

If anyone is tempted to get all morally indignant on me: I do not recognize a basic right to reproduce. How can an act that creates huge external costs be a right? Second, eugenics is not an evil word. People practice eugenics on pets quite routinely. People practice human eugenics when they choose mates.

The main question to decide on eugenics isn't whether to do it. We will do it more and more as we develop more powerful tools for choosing offspring genetic characteristics. The main questions on eugenics revolve around which genetic choices produce costs and benefits for all of us and how big of costs come from each choice.

The general public isn't yet ready to seriously debate what our goals should be in the use of eugenic practices because we still lack the technology which will enable us to make eugenic choices. But the era of offspring genetic engineering is fast approaching and we need to start thinking about these questions.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2007 July 19 11:01 PM  Trends Demographic


Comments
Buckshot Deniston said at July 20, 2007 1:24 AM:

Sir, Nature versus nurture, you think only genetics determines whether contribution is high. I think 1 / 2 children per family means more resource goes to developing the individual, therefore they become more productive. So, I agree you are correct, quality is the best current long term solution. Eugenics? We have a long way to go in learning parenting before the 'lazy' way of selecting genes is necessary. Lazy because I suspect parents will pay the money for selected genes and leave the child to sort itself out... a recipe for social disaster.

Pete said at July 20, 2007 3:27 AM:

From what I've seen so far, our economies can only generate wealth if they are growing. Think of multi level marketing or pyramid selling - same thing. There is a flow of funds from bottom up. Because the top is narrower than the bottom the flow density increases towards the top, resulting in fewer people getting their hands on the dough which originates from the masses below them.
As the pyramid grows, the base grows with it. Base growth is most easily achieved by population increase.
How would this work with a stagnant or even shrinking population? Not very well you would agree.
More bluntly, you could call such a mechanism - exploitation. The older ones exploiting the broad base of younger generations. No problems here as long as the oldies are outnumbered significantly by younger gens.

I've yet to be convinced by anyone coming up with another socio ecological model which can generate wealth by any other means than exploitation of an ever growing base of mostly lesser capable people.
As long as no such model is found and practiced, the idea of substituting masses of conventional babies with a smaller number of higher-production-capabilities-babies just won't work out. They'd have to be working their guts out while being taxed to death.


Pete said at July 20, 2007 3:38 AM:

socio economical this is - you got my drift...

Bob Badour said at July 20, 2007 5:48 AM:

Pete,

Your thesis ignores some very relevant historical facts. Such as the economic boom that followed the black plague. Shrinking populations concentrate capital and resources among fewer individuals allowing a larger percentage of the population to contribute and to participate in wealth creation.

Dragon Horse said at July 20, 2007 7:05 AM:

Well Randall said it himself, this is not politically doable in the West and never will be as a government sanctioned social policy issue (not in our life times anyway). There will be no Gattaca. I think it is not pragmatic even if their was a policy, since when has the government ever been able to stop human reproduction, without forced sterilization or killing? Even China has recently found that many people in rural areas (including government workers) have been violating the one-child policy for years and just only officially register one child. Hell this was going on when I was in China in 1999, so if they can't do it, I'm guessing only a Stalinist type government can do it or a Nazi one. That is too high a social cost for most people to pay for "reproductive efficiency".

http://www.kaisernetwork.org/daily_reports/rep_index.cfm?DR_ID=46094

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0119177/

David said at July 20, 2007 9:25 AM:

If you wanted a proposal that would have eugenic effects, without violating anyone's human rights, try this one.
Every year the biological parents of one or more children, if still married (or widowed), would receive 2% of the sum of the net taxes paid by their children. Net taxes would be defined as taxes paid minus transfer payments received.
The 2% amount is of course subject to negotiation. Parents who considered this to be wrong could simply gift it back to their kids.

Wolf-Dog said at July 20, 2007 9:35 AM:

One problem with eugenics, is that once it becomes fashionable, it will also become competitive and even ruthless. Just imagine how the society will be if there is a new generation of very high IQ people who are also incredibly cruel and without any compassion. Monsters can be generated this way.

Worthington said at July 20, 2007 10:54 AM:

More likely is a new generation of very high IQ people who have no practical skills, are very narcissistic, and wish to be praised, pampered and entertained constantly. It comes from emphasizing self-esteem at the expense of competence.

Dave Gore said at July 20, 2007 11:00 AM:

The women most likely to have children - Moslems, Mormons, etc. - are the least likely to use eugenics. Even among a single ethnic group, the more educated women have many fewer children than the less educated. So what is really needed is a subculture of intelligent women who commit themselves to having lots of healthy children. A new religion?

sciolus said at July 20, 2007 11:01 AM:

Glad that Bob Badour pointed this out. The economic boom after the Black Plague was initially the result of wealth redistribution. A normal peasant was now able to afford more than he ever could previously. Also, cities were depleted of affordable labor, so businesses were forced to pay higher wages for fresh laborers from the countryside - or find newer ways to produce the same things efficiently. These were incentives that added purchase power to the hoi polloi and made businesses rethink its process.

The other factor is, a disaster of this scale (in some cities 70% population perished, and over Europe ~1/3 affected) effectively absolved the government from not providing for the needs of the citizens (guards, aqueducts, granaries, prisons, legal services, art sponsorship, troubadours, etc.) The money saved from these efforts could be better invested in newer and better infrastructures later.

Similarly for post-WWII era, (except that the effect of the infrastructures were not seen until decades later), people knew there was a harsh war going, and no one expected the government to provide free wine and cheese in such times. Rather, women entered factories, children ran the farms, and the industry as a whole found new ways to produce things.

So if we want a better world, a sudden reduction in population is a strong incentive for improvements. Economic boom comes in many forms, not just from increased demographics. In fact, demographic increase is more likely a bane to long-term growth, and we see it around us. Businesses have no incentive to boost wages (check). Government find ways to keep maximum people employed as possible (check). Underpaid workers increasingly expect the government to provide services (check). Consumer products suffer as household credit card debt start hurting (check). The areas with little innovation, e.g., phone, transportation, construction, clothing, durable goods, all charge more for sub-par services (check). Cities, states, and federal government, unable to pay for its expenses, start printing bonds faster and selling public buildings to foreign countries (check).

I have no problem with eugenics. I have no children, and don't want to pass my genetic problems to any offspring. After all, the purpose of reproduction is for a better future. If our next generation is not better than us, we have already failed the purpose of our existence.

Wolf-Dog said at July 20, 2007 1:02 PM:

David Matthews:
Randall Parker is not a warmonger, you are exaggerating. Muslims can be intelligent, but religion can be misused to brain-wash even intelligent people in general. The Muslims who performed the 9/11 attack, were all well educated, and they were in the upper class of their countries. In the absence of religious extremism, good people will do good things and bad people will do bad things, but once there is religious extremism, then good people will ALSO do bad things.
Bob Badour:
Since you mentioned the phenomenon of wealth concentration and wealth re-distribution, in this web site there are historical data and charts about taxes in the US before and after the Great Depression, as well as more recently:
http://www.truthandpolitics.org/top-rates.php
As you can see, although tax cuts are causing temporary economic booms, this is also causing economic collapses due to the concentration of wealth that it causes. And after every economic collapse, the new governments seem to legislate confiscatory taxes to re-distribute wealth. But this re-distribution is also preparing a future economic boom, since the masses then have more money to spend.

rsilvetz said at July 20, 2007 3:44 PM:

I would cry (and laugh) except RP is being serious.

1) Just try pulling that sort of bs on a self-respecting freedom-loving population. The instigator of such a policy and his army of enforcement bureaucrats would be dead by nightfall. Hell, I might even get on a plane and help them shoot some of the skunks and I would sleep like a baby afterwards.

2) What's the bs on external costs? To speak of raising children as sunk lost costs you have to invalidate the concept of investment. That most humans are net value producers over their lifetime. I am better off the more there are. If we broke the stranglehold of socialism on the planet, productivity would soar exponentially. Which would make the whole need for a genetic elite of wealth producers a total non-issue.

3) The complete non-understanding of the Great Depression and other boom-bust cycles, in a post above is not even wrong for how bad it is. Please see all materials related to George Reisman's Capitalism for a full and comprehensive treatment of free market matters and why tax cuts do not and cannot have any negative effects, except on government-sponsored parasites. And, as an aside, that concentrations of capital are not bad and in fact a necessary and natural aspect of free economies.

4) Atheism doesn't solve the problem of human violence, but it goes a long way in getting there. Without the religious rationalization do you think anyone would voluntarily blow themselves up without reward? How many dupes do you really think are out there?

My 2 cents.

I'm off to see the Wizard (long vacation)... see you all in September.

Pete said at July 20, 2007 3:45 PM:

Bob and sciolus,

any wide spread catastrophies like wars or fatal epidemies create a dent in population growth. The few people remaining, redistribute whatever the ones who had to go, left behind. For the survivors are lucky in that they inherit, what the dying had to leave behind. They are also lucky in that they can reproduce at a faster rate as before because the supporting infrastructure had already been put in place by the great number of people which had to leave it all behind.

You'd have to admit though, that no government in the civiliced world would/could introduce such drastic measures required to create a sharp dent in population growth.
Not within their own people at least.

And that they are trying to achieve just this in other regions can be seen every day.
They just don't see any other way of laying the foundation for wealth creation.

Reality Czech said at July 20, 2007 7:50 PM:

The difference is that atheists don't have the promise (however false) of an everlasting reward for doing it.

Audacious Epigone said at July 20, 2007 9:15 PM:

Randall,

The study that forms the basis of the article linked to about intelligence and wealth is a crock.

Zagorsky offers data tables based on median values by IQ range in five point increments, as releasing his entire dataset of 7,403 individuals isn't practical for an online pdf. Using these incremental averages and without controlling for any other factors, the correlation between IQ and wealth and the correlation between IQ and income are both more than .98, with income and intelligence slightly more rigorous. It is not surprising that the relationship is stronger between intelligence and income, since income is more 'purely' merit-based than wealth is (due to inheritance, astute wealth managers, etc). In light of this data, the argument that IQ and wealth are unrelated is absurd.

Those nearly perfect correlations are arrived at by treating group averages and individual samples. By individual, Zagorsky reports .16 for wealth and .30 for income, presumably without any adjustments (although I didn't see it spelled out explicitly thus).

This phenomenon is almost ubiquitous in the social sciences, and focusing on each individual data point makes it easy to portray the relationship of any two variables as meager or nonexistent.

The strongest correlation with IQ Zagorsky finds, from the 33 variables he uses, is between IQ and whether or not the participant is black. And even this inverse correlation is a modest -.35. Yet the tenacious IQ gap between blacks and whites has remained at around 15 points for at least several decades now

David Friedman said at July 21, 2007 12:24 AM:

Why do you take it for granted that a child produces net negative externalities? So far as fixed resources are concerned, a child is not born with title to a per capita share clutched in his fist. To the extent that such matters are handled via private property, any resources he gets he must buy or be given by someone.

Obviously, there are some negative externalities due to pollution, crime, political redistribution and such. But there are positive externalities as well. Thirty some years ago I tried to estimate the numbers and concluded that they were too uncertain to make it possible to sign the sum. You can find that piece, published as a pamphlet by the Population Council back in 1972, at:

http://www.daviddfriedman.com/Academic/Laissez-Faire_In_Popn/L_F_in_Population.html

Zeb said at July 21, 2007 2:15 AM:

Iīm a regular reader of your blog, and generally I agree with most of your ideas. But this one kind of struck a bad cord. I find your suggestion of eugenics somewhat absurd.

1. Generally speaking, two people will make more money than one. I realize this is a very general assumption, but if a couple has children, I would definitely put my money down on two children collectively earning more money than one, even if that one was artificially genetically selected, while the other two werenīt. I wouldnīt always win the bet, but I would assume that most would agree two working people on average, will bring about more money than one.

2. My next point is that two children will have more children than one child. Itīs important to look further than simply one generation. In order for a society to have growth, it is necessary for a couple to have at least 2.1 children. We also know that generally more highly educated women have less babies. I doubt this trend will change much in the future. Having smarter children, which will presumably become higher educated, will result in having less children. This trend will continue to grow and the difference between the number of young, taxed workers and older people will also grow. This means that genetically "inferior" children will have to produce even more than "inferior" people now can produce. Perhaps this is possible, but to what extent? Genetically "inferior" people will still have their limits, and with the growing lifespan of humans, the dependence on young workers will only grow stronger. Again, I would bet on two people born by chance being able to produce more than one, that was genetically altered. You seem to think that making people genetically inferior will turn them into machines or better yet, gods. Although they will have many good attributes, talents and skills, they will still be human. And humans will ALWAYS have flaws.

3. For every successful, wealthy person (i will generalize this as white-collar workers), there is an army of people who are doing the "grunt" work (blue-collar workers). Although further developments in technology decrease the dependence on these blue-collar workers, there will simply always be jobs that humans must do. Technological advancement also creates the need for more blue-collar workers in reture. If you genetically create people who are fit with the skills to become white-collar workers, then you must also genetically create people who are more adapted to the blue-collar workers. Without the support of the blue-collar workers, the white-collar workers will have no one to pick their crops, sell their products, pack, produce, ship, build their buildings, make their toilets, sell them their food, etc...

4. The situation that I foresee from your proposal of eugenics, sounds awfully similar to Huxley's Brave New World. I believe your suggestion, although it may seem harmless and beneficial in theory, is a slippery slope to a very dangerous outcome. Similar ideas have been presented in the not so-long ago history, and although they didnīt have the technological advancements that we may have today, their justifications for such ideas were very similar. I have no idea how many people read your blog, but I find your proposal dangerous and unethical and I had to say something against it. I realize that my arguments have been vague, without sources and much was based on assumption, but I unfortunately donīt have the time to write something more. I just wanted my ideas to at least be considered.
Also, when Wolf-Dog is paraphrasing someone, he should at least mention it. It was Steven Weinberg.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2007 11:57 AM:

David Friedman,

I will make several assertions and see if you think each of them is uncertain:

1) On average smart people create more positive externalities than dumb people.

2) Some small fraction of smart people (e.g. the best scientists and engineers) create way more positive externalities than others.

3) The market delivers most of the benefits of scientific discoveries and technologies advantages to the masses rather than to the people make the discoveries and come up with the designs.

4) The value of human brawn is declining as machines can do more physical work. So there's less need for a large low skilled population to work in factories to achieve economies of scale. Rather, we are faced with the question of how to create make-work for the dummies.

5) Some people create little in the way of positive externalities and much in the way of negative externalities. For example, career criminals fit the bill. So do people who spend their lives getting supported by the taxes paid by others and who do little constructive.

6) The majority of the American people pay less in taxes than they get in benefits. In fact, the percentage which is ne positive on government benefits payment is shrinking for demographic reasons (immigration and aging).

7) The higher the population density the more that must get spent on externality cost abatement. For example, there's little need for emissions reduction of cars in North Dakota but a huge need for emissions reduction for cars in LA or NYC.

8) The cost of pollution abatement is not linear with amount of emissions reduction. There's cheaper lower lying fruit and then more expensive reduction for the last percentages of emissions. Granted, there's also a learning curve and economies of scale in the development of emissions control tech.

9) Natural resources are becoming more expensive. Due to industrialization of larger numbers of people and due to depletions of various sources of natural resources (oil and copper and come to mind) Julian Simon has ceased to be correct about the long term trend in natural resource prices.

10) Humanity is a disaster for many other species. The number of brown bears has dropped two orders of magnitude in the US West in the last couple of hundred years and many other similar examples can be cited.

11) Many technological developments current in process have as their goal an even greater shift of the biosphere toward production for humans. Cellulosic technology for energy? A way to make just about all plant matter useful for powering cars and trucks. Cellulosic technology will cause species extinctions. Deforestation of the Amazon? A way to use still more land to graze cattle to feed increasingly affluent humans. Wild nature is going to shrink down into small theme parks. What's the external cost of that? It depends on your values.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2007 12:32 PM:

Zeb,

Whether two babies will grow up to produce more than one baby really depends a great deal on the babies. One 150 IQ baby will produce an order of magnitude (or greater) more than 2 75 IQ babies. Heck, one 150 IQ baby will produce more than 2 110 IQ babies. Quality can beat quantity and when it comes to brain power quality of brains usually beats quantity of brains.

As for the prospects of Brave New World: People will genetically engineer their offspring as soon as they gain the capability to do so. I'm arguing for using that capability to reduce the number of people needed in new generations and to reduce the number of people who are net negatives on the rest of us.

Randall Parker said at July 21, 2007 1:02 PM:

Pete, Bob, and sciolus,

The biggest benefit for the survivors of the late 1340s plague was a reduction in the ratio of people to land. More food was available per person.

Sure, there were labor market effects. But hunger was the biggest cause of death and that's because they couldn't grow enough food for everyone on the land available.

Bob Badour said at July 21, 2007 3:47 PM:

Thanks Randall, I don't think that contradicts my point.

David Friedman said at July 22, 2007 2:15 AM:

Randall writes:

David Friedman,

I will make several assertions and see if you think each of them is uncertain:

1) On average smart people create more positive externalities than dumb people.

Uncertain. People can use their intelligence to manipulate the political system to benefit themselves at the expense of others. In a market, one mostly gains by providing benefits, but in a political system one gains largely at the expense of others--and something like a third of all income in a society such as ours passes through government.

2) Some small fraction of smart people (e.g. the best scientists and engineers) create way more positive externalities than others.

Agree.

3) The market delivers most of the benefits of scientific discoveries and technologies advantages to the masses rather than to the people make the discoveries and come up with the designs.

Agree.

4) The value of human brawn is declining as machines can do more physical work. So there's less need for a large low skilled population to work in factories to achieve economies of scale. Rather, we are faced with the question of how to create make-work for the dummies.

Disagree with the final statement. Even someone noticeably below average is still better at many tasks than a computer, still has positive productivity.

5) Some people create little in the way of positive externalities and much in the way of negative externalities. For example, career criminals fit the bill. So do people who spend their lives getting supported by the taxes paid by others and who do little constructive.

So do successful lobbyists and the interest groups that employ them. The total take due to private crime is tiny compared to the total amount redistributed, in various ways, by government.

6) The majority of the American people pay less in taxes than they get in benefits. In fact, the percentage which is ne positive on government benefits payment is shrinking for demographic reasons (immigration and aging).

Strongly disagree. You write as if it were a zero sum game--as if each dollar collected from a taxpayer represented a dollar benefit to someone else.

Surely you are familiar with the concept of excess burden--which applies in both directions. The dollar collected from the taxpayer typically costs him more than a dollar, because of the ways in which he alters his behavior to avoid paying it. The dollar received by the welfare recipient or sugar producer, benefits him by less than a dollar, because of the ways he alters his behavior to get more of it. If that isn't obvious I will be happy to expand on it. My guess is that most of the population on net loses by government taxation and spending--the cost to them of paying the taxes is higher than the benefit to them from the government spending it.

Suppose the government spends $10,000 to hire me to engage in some useless activity. Is my benefit $10,000? Only if the value of my leisure to me is zero, which is unlikely.

7) The higher the population density the more that must get spent on externality cost abatement. For example, there's little need for emissions reduction of cars in North Dakota but a huge need for emissions reduction for cars in LA or NYC.

Probably true. But there are also large positive externalities associated with high population density--which is why so many people choose to live in LA or NYC when not only is the air cleaner in North Dakota but housing is a lot cheaper.

8) The cost of pollution abatement is not linear with amount of emissions reduction. There's cheaper lower lying fruit and then more expensive reduction for the last percentages of emissions. Granted, there's also a learning curve and economies of scale in the development of emissions control tech.

Yes--to both parts.

9) Natural resources are becoming more expensive. Due to industrialization of larger numbers of people and due to depletions of various sources of natural resources (oil and copper and come to mind) Julian Simon has ceased to be correct about the long term trend in natural resource prices.

I'm not sure it is true, but in any case, natural resources belong to someone. The fact that a resource has gotten more expensive is only a pecuniary externality--what the buyer loses the seller gains.

10) Humanity is a disaster for many other species. The number of brown bears has dropped two orders of magnitude in the US West in the last couple of hundred years and many other similar examples can be cited.

Probably true, although deer seem at the moment to be a counterexample, along with pigeons and other species that find that we provide them an attractive environment.

11) Many technological developments current in process have as their goal an even greater shift of the biosphere toward production for humans. Cellulosic technology for energy? A way to make just about all plant matter useful for powering cars and trucks. Cellulosic technology will cause species extinctions. Deforestation of the Amazon? A way to use still more land to graze cattle to feed increasingly affluent humans. Wild nature is going to shrink down into small theme parks. What's the external cost of that? It depends on your values.

Yes. And the amount of literature and art--more generally, the amount of human activity--should continue to increase. Wild nature is a value--but so is human civilization.

I don't think your list of questions responds to my point. I'm not denying that negative externalities exist. But you, like lots of people who try to base an argument on externalities, are selective in which ones you notice. Someone who wants to ban something only counts negative externalities, someone who wants to subsidize something only counts positive externalities. Most things, including children, produce both positive and negative externalities.

Kralizec said at July 22, 2007 9:24 AM:

Before you crank up a program of selective breeding or more direct genetic engineering, I wonder if you will first have the discussion as to what the end or ends of a breeding program had best be. Here, I need not bother to write indignantly against selective breeding. It suffices to laugh derisively at enthusiastic evangelism for experimenting on continental populations without a most searching, subtle, and foresighted consideration of the ends of such a program. And unless someone has thought the whole matter out, it seems the first thing in the order of business is to breed a human being who can--no, to figure out how--no, to discern the desires and abilities of such a human being, or to breed someone who can just do that!

I'll laugh at all "our" increasing wealth and "advancing" technology, until someone persuades me he understands the best use to which to put it. I'll laugh at your breeding program, until someone has bred the excellent human being required in order to refine and impose it.

Randall Parker said at July 22, 2007 5:52 PM:

1) Smart and dumb people and externalities: Certainly smart individuals can find all sorts of ways to be parasitic and too many do. But I think my assertion here is obviously true and easily demonstrated: Imagine all the smart people disappearing tomorrow. Would the dumb people be worse off or better off as a consequence? Would you dispute that the dummies would be worse off?

4) Creation of make-work for dummies: The number of things that dummies can do better than computers continues to shrink. Computers become more powerful and materials advances allow better sensors and actuators to be built. I'm expecting huge reductions in maid usage, agricultural field workers, and of course continued reduction in manufacturing labor usage. Computers will eventually take over long haul truck operation and other more complex tasks.

5) Yes, of course the redistribution by government is huge. But the amount I pay to government to help those of much lesser ability will go up if the number with much lesser ability increases.

6) Yes, I know that there are dead weight effects from taxes. Yes, the money paid in taxes partly goes to all sorts of intermediaries and not just the supposed intended beneficiaries. Also, the choices governments make to supposedly benefit the poor end up being different than what the poor would most value. So the amount of value taken from the taxpayer is greater than the amount of value received by someone else (and even if the amount of value was the same that wouldn't make it morally right). But my point is that the more poor people and low skilled people we have in our midst the more that the net wealth creators will have to pay for others.

7) Benefits to living in densely populated cities: Certainly. But that does not mean that having more large cities is a benefit. Look at it this way: If we have X hundred million people some percentage N of them will live in cities. Add in another hundred million people and that additional hundred million might also have the same percentage N living in cities. That does not mean that the existing X hundred million experienced a gain. We might have more cities. More LAs and NYCs. That's a problem because the external costs of dealing with large numbers of people do not scale up proportionate to population increases. All those cities now have to have even more spent on mitigation of large numbers. For example, water might be in shorter supply along a river which now has more cities along it.

10) The number of species losing as a result of humanity exceeds the number benefitting. We are taking more of the biomass for ourselves. So the rest have less. Also, to each individual human the potential to enjoy nature goes down because fewer places we might visit have natural parts. Beaches are walled off. Forests replaced with housing tracts and highways.

11) The amount of literature and art does not always increase in any substantial way when populations increase. Where are the Mozarts of the world? We had far greater music created when humanity was a small fraction of its current size. Even some of the popular music forms have decayed. Rock used to go thru rapid changes. That petered out in the early 80s. You can find plenty of talented Jazz and Blues performers but not as many composers. We do have rap which has somewhere between zero and negative value.

Children producing positive and negative externalities: I'm arguing a very politically incorrect position: Some children are net negatives and others net positives and the extent of the positives and negatives varies hugely. I'm also arguing that we are going to find all sorts of genetic variations that are in large part responsible for this state of affairs.

I do not see having more people as automatically having more civilization. More people isn't more great creators. More great creators is more great creators. There's not an automatic constant 1 great mind per N thousand people. The ratio has varied greatly down thru history for genetic and cultural reasons (aside: I like the hypothesis that flowering of Greek civilization was caused by the spread of an allele that boosted brain power).

Why the drop-off in the great minds of the Mozart types? One possible cause is the rise of mass markets. The great minds can make more money producing far more pedestrian cultural products for affluent masses than they can make composing and writing for princes and archbishops. Maybe some of the the advertising jingle writers could be great composers. Look at movie scripts. They are written to appeal to average IQ teens. The intended market influences the cultural products. Maybe the only way back to a Renaissance is to stop production of dummies and only allow the birth of brilliant minds. Then the makers of cultural products would need to appeal once again to more intellectually refined audiences.

I also do not think most people are interesting. Nor do you. If you did then you'd read a far larger range of people and never visit the same site more than twice.

David Friedman said at July 23, 2007 2:16 AM:

Randall writes:

1) Smart and dumb people and externalities: Certainly smart individuals can find all sorts of ways to be parasitic and too many do. But I think my assertion here is obviously true and easily demonstrated: Imagine all the smart people disappearing tomorrow. Would the dumb people be worse off or better off as a consequence? Would you dispute that the dummies would be worse off?

Nope. But the smart people might be worse off--would be in a laissez-faire society--if the dumb people disappeared too. You seem to be imagining the world as a zero sum game, which it isn't. In general, there are gains to trade between people with different endowments--such as smart people and dumb people. Gains to both sides.

...

5) Yes, of course the redistribution by government is huge. But the amount I pay to government to help those of much lesser ability will go up if the number with much lesser ability increases.

Maybe, depending on the political situation. But the amount you pay to government to "help" those of great ability might also go up if their number increases.

6) Yes, I know that there are dead weight effects from taxes. Yes, the money paid in taxes partly goes to all sorts of intermediaries and not just the supposed intended beneficiaries.

Asking where the money goes just confuses things--it reinforces the error of thinking that you can track benefits by tracking dollars. If the money goes to me to hire me to do something only marginally more attractive than my next best alternative, then the fact that I am paid X dollars tells us almost nothing about how much benefit I get.

...So the amount of value taken from the taxpayer is greater than the amount of value received by someone else (and even if the amount of value was the same that wouldn't make it morally right). But my point is that the more poor people and low skilled people we have in our midst the more that the net wealth creators will have to pay for others.

Maybe. Such people may be objects of sympathy. But they have some disadvantages in manipulating the political system in their benefit compared to more able people, so I don't think you can predict, on net, the effect in the future.

7) Benefits to living in densely populated cities: Certainly. But that does not mean that having more large cities is a benefit. Look at it this way: If we have X hundred million people some percentage N of them will live in cities. Add in another hundred million people and that additional hundred million might also have the same percentage N living in cities. That does not mean that the existing X hundred million experienced a gain. We might have more cities. More LAs and NYCs. That's a problem because the external costs of dealing with large numbers of people do not scale up proportionate to population increases. All those cities now have to have even more spent on mitigation of large numbers. For example, water might be in shorter supply along a river which now has more cities along it.

That is to say, the people in the cities are producing negative externalities--and positive externalities for each other. I don't see your a priori basis for signing the sum. Would the world be a better place if NYC vanished?

10) The number of species losing as a result of humanity exceeds the number benefitting. We are taking more of the biomass for ourselves. So the rest have less. Also, to each individual human the potential to enjoy nature goes down because fewer places we might visit have natural parts. Beaches are walled off. Forests replaced with housing tracts and highways.

But in fact, most people don't choose to visit the nature that does exist, suggesting that the value you are concerned with isn't a terribly large one.

11) The amount of literature and art does not always increase in any substantial way when populations increase. Where are the Mozarts of the world? We had far greater music created when humanity was a small fraction of its current size. Even some of the popular music forms have decayed. Rock used to go thru rapid changes. That petered out in the early 80s. You can find plenty of talented Jazz and Blues performers but not as many composers. We do have rap which has somewhere between zero and negative value.

Lots of things affect the amount of literature, music, etc. Can you think of any reason to believe that per capita output goes down when population goes up? That's what your argument requires. [You offer one later, but it strikes me as highly conjectural].

Children producing positive and negative externalities: I'm arguing a very politically incorrect position: Some children are net negatives and others net positives and the extent of the positives and negatives varies hugely. I'm also arguing that we are going to find all sorts of genetic variations that are in large part responsible for this state of affairs.

Part of the problem with your analysis, I think, is that there is an implicit egalitarian assumption--that people who produce less than the average will get subidised by people who produce more. There is no particular reason to expect that to be true--I don't think it has been true of most past societies. Your discussion seems to confuse people who produce more with people who produce greater net positive externalities. Those are different categories, and I'm not sure how easily one could predict the latter.

...

Why the drop-off in the great minds of the Mozart types? One possible cause is the rise of mass markets. The great minds can make more money producing far more pedestrian cultural products for affluent masses than they can make composing and writing for princes and archbishops. Maybe some of the the advertising jingle writers could be great composers. Look at movie scripts. They are written to appeal to average IQ teens. The intended market influences the cultural products. Maybe the only way back to a Renaissance is to stop production of dummies and only allow the birth of brilliant minds. Then the makers of cultural products would need to appeal once again to more intellectually refined audiences.

Alternatively, you are greatly exaggerating the average productivity of past societies because you are seeing the high points over the centuries. If there is an equivalent of Mozart alive today, in some art form, you might well not know of him. In 1955, how many people knew that Tolkien existed? How does the body of literature written in the 10th or 15th century compare to that written in the 20th?

I also do not think most people are interesting. Nor do you. If you did then you'd read a far larger range of people and never visit the same site more than twice.

Ceteris paribus, the more people exist there more exist who I would find interesting, and the more interesting the most interesting to me will be.

Randall Parker said at July 24, 2007 8:30 PM:

David Friedman,

If the dumb people generated a lot of value then I'd expect them to make a lot more money than they do. I do not see economic evidence that they generate a lot of value.

There's a piece of evidence in very plain view that supports the idea that lower IQ people suppress the productive ability of higher IQ people: Richard Lynn's work on IQ and per capita GDP. His IQ and the Wealth of Nations and later books show that the higher IQ people are clearly better off in countries that have higher average IQs. Look at a graph of per capita GDP versus average IQ. That graph is too steep for the smarties to derive benefit from having lots of dummies around. Smarties are more productive around other smarties and they both produce little and earn less in countries which have lower average IQs.

Look at lower average IQ countries. Their smartest people make less money than people of comparable intellectual ability who live in America. Hence we can recruit from these other countries and brain drain them.

I realize that Lynn's work is based on a view of genetics and IQ that is more or less taboo. But there's a lot of evidence to support it and I think the taboos that suppress rational discussion of psychometric research are a huge denial of a massive amount of evidence that contradict the modern liberal view of humanity.

My implicit egalitarian assumption: Transfer payments keep growing as a percentage of GDP.

Average productivity of past societies: I realize it was very low overall. In spite of that in a fairly small area in Europe in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries in countries with much smaller populations than our own great composers did work that has no modern equal in quality.

Ceteris paribus: But that's not a reasonable assumption. Given that things will be different I'm stating my position on how they should be different versus how they will be different without the interventions that would make things better.

Sulfur said at July 30, 2010 8:34 AM:

Very stupid idea. And since stupid, also dangerous. Giving human brains to decide exactly what kinds of skills and characteristics next generation should have? Really? Since when human brain is able to predict all consequences of such policy? Since when human brain is designed to live with such a burden? last time I cheked it was designed to increase survival rates in harsh conditions. It was designed to find mate, but not to engineer future of its species. That work belongs to evolution and natural selection. Last time I checked all grand plans for revolution in society came to nought, because it turned out that human brain is incapable of solving such problems and failed to foreseen consequences of introduced changes. We are unable to design single law which will last longer than 10 years in unchanged form. We can't introduce technology with dangerous or even deadly side effects. We can't solve most basic problems our societies face without causing two new. Really, you think that with such skills and achievements you can outsmart evolution? That you are so knowledgable that you know all the laws of nature and can predict everything? Have you concidered something apart from theoretical results of such propositions? I will tell you one, as an example: evolution of our species as a part of political program. Politicans and bureacrats deciding about our DNA. Baaad idea... They can't even use one dollar of taxes properly, yet you think it would be wonderfull to make them decide about your genom, your brain, your body, your soul. Eugenics-yes, indeed a word which is a taboo. But lets face it: choosing a mate is not eugenics. Its natural. We are designed to do so, this is what natural selection is about. Eugenics is when someone decides what is best for its species acting outside natural selection. It never works as it should, nor it is evolutionary clever. Look at all those animals achieved trough selective breeding and other methods: poor things wouldn't survive without our help. We don't care, because we need them to do certain things-they are serving us... But to whom DNA-engineered humans will serve? I will tell you: the State. The old, good totalitarian State-just in new, more fancy and advanced form. The Mechanism, The Law, the Institution. They won't be for us-we will be for them. Yes, lets make laws and pass bills, lets build economy concentrated around designing workers, ingeneers and so on. Let's leave this unproductive superstition that "state is for people", lets make us-for the state! Its all dictators dream came true! Finally-no problems with building nazism, communism, theocracies of all kind... talk about free will we will not. Talk about free choice we will not (ha! Free choice! of course "there is no such thing" already, beacuase we don't have free choice, thats superstition! So there will be no difference... yesh? Mmm, wonderfull vision, based on...hold on, it is not based on anything, it's just belief. Our understanding of free choice have changed thanks too advance in siences. But this advance have not eleminated it, as some suggest. It just shows, that for instance my DNA is part of my freedom of choice and my free will.). Talk about liberal democracy we will not. Talk about evolution we will not. State-oh yes, this we like a lot. Everything for the State. Humans-for the State. Children-for the State. Our DNA for the State. Our future as a species-for the State. That's why eugenics is taboo-becuase it is retarded, dangerous and plainly stupid. But it is damn easy and a very temptating tool for tailoring people to ones needs. Eugenics is against spirit of Enlightement, where humans trough Reason are progressing thanks to world-changing ideas. Not human-changing policies. It's against common sense and it is a blasphemy for Rationality.

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