A Political Alliance of Bastards: The Welfare State and Population Control
I begin with my favorite closing dialogue in the history of the movies. It is from The Professionals (1966).Ralph Bellamy hires four adventurers to bring back his kidnapped wife. A Mexican revolutionary has kidnapped her. But it turns out that she went with him willingly. So, they escort her from her husband's ranch at the end of the movie. This led to the following exchange:
There is an international alliance between the bastard children of the welfare state and the self-made bastards who designed the welfare state and then sold it to the voters, beginning in the French Revolution. The alliance rests on a crucial two-part idea: the moral legitimacy and economic efficacy of central economic planning.
Here is a fundamental law of nature: you cannot change just one thing.
Here is a fundamental rule of politics: the state cannot regulate just one thing.
Here is a fundamental rule of economics: economic control means people control.
Beginning in the French Enlightenment, and continuing to the present day, there has been an anti-population growth faction among Western intellectuals. These people favor central planning.
At the same time, there has been a pro-population growth commitment of central planners.
It may seem odd that we find have both positions represented among central planners and those who believe in central planning, but it is not difficult to explain. On the one hand, if you believe that population growth will exceed economic growth per capita, you want to control the growth of population. You want to keep per capita wealth high, so you need to reduce the rate of population expansion. On the other hand, if you find, as central planners always do, that central planning needs more "free" resources to confiscate, especially for military purposes, and the population is failing to grow, you have a problem. The problem is this: you need new workers to pay off old political promises to the voters. The politicians have made enormous promises with respect to old-age security, and there are not enough new workers coming into the labor force to tax. Furthermore, the military finds it more difficult to recruit willing or even unwilling subjects. So, we saw in the 1930's that fascist governments in Europe promoted large families. We are beginning to see the same kind of government programs, such as free daycare and paid leave for recent mothers, in Western Europe, which is facing population decline among the original population, and much higher birth rates among immigrant groups, especially Muslims. So, central planners want it both ways.
In my 1985 commentary on the Book of Exodus, I ended chapter 1 with this assessment.
Pharaoh saw the necessity of protecting his nation's resources from the prolific Israelites. Three and a half millennia later, fearful and defensive socialists have similar concerns. Bertrand Russell, the British socialist philosopher and mathematician, saw clearly the dilemma of socialism: to produce rising per capita wealth, low-productivity socialism requires zero population growth. Socialism also still requires the imposition of harsh penalties against rival populations that continue to grow, just as it did in ancient Egypt. He wrote in 1923:Central planners resist the idea that families should have the right to determine family size, and so they devise programs which will either subsidize or penalize large families, depending on what stage the socialist government is in. The central planners simply cannot accept the fact that in the area of family size, individual decision-making, and individual responsibility should be allowed to determine family size, and therefore the national population in the future. There is great resistance in central planning groups to the idea of individual responsibility and individual authority. The central planners want the civil government, not family governments, to determine how large the median family ought to be. China is the most blatant example, with its policy of one child per family. But now that policy is backfiring, just as critics said 35 years ago that it would. There is an excess of young men, and an excess of young men always leads to social discontent and social problems. Central planners want to avoid both.Socialism, especially international socialism, is only possible as a stable system if the population is stationary or nearly so. A slow increase might be coped with by improvements in agricultural methods, but a rapid increase must in the end reduce the whole population to penury, and would be almost certain to cause wars. In view of the fact that the population of France has become stationary, and the birth rate has declined enormously among other white nations, it may be hoped that the white population of the world will soon cease to increase. The Asiatic races will be longer, and the negroes still longer, before their birth-rate falls sufficiently to make their numbers stable without the help of war and pestilence. But it is to be hoped that the religious prejudices which have hitherto hampered the spread of birth control will die out, and that within (say) two hundred years the whole world will learn not to be unduly prolific. Until that happens, the benefits aimed at by socialism can only be partially realized, and the less prolific races will have to defend themselves against the more prolific by methods which are disgusting even if they are necessary. In the meantime, therefore, our socialistic aspirations have to be confined to the white races, perhaps with the inclusion of the Japanese and Chinese at no distant date. [Bertrand Russell, The Prospects of Industrial Civilization, 2nd ed. (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1959), p. 273. First edition: 1923. He did not change his views enough to warrant a revision of this passage.]
Therefore, it should not be surprising that proponents of zero population growth should be found among the college-educated super-rich. They have imbibed on the ideology of Keynesian guidance of the economy, and they are concerned that the lower classes will be able to outvote them. This same concern was fundamental to the progressive movement after 1900. The most blatant promoter of this outlook was the founder of Planned Parenthood, Margaret Sanger. Her racist polemic against immigrants and the poor, The Pivot of Civilization (1922), is online. George Grant's biography of her is well-named: Killer Angel.
The Progressive Era's eugenics movement favored forced state sterilization of the feeble-minded. Its state laws were validated by the Supreme Court in the Buck v. Bell decision in 1927. It has never been overturned. The Nazis used American state legislation, begun before World War I, as models for its own program of forced sterilization. Indiana was the pioneer. Some of these state laws stayed on the books until the 1950's.
The super-rich in the early decades of the 1900's were supporters of this movement. The Rockefeller family was especially involved, both ideologically and financially. The rhetoric and pamphlets of the 1920's were dropped down the memory hole after World War II, because the Progressives wanted to cover up the fact that the Nazis had relied heavily on the eugenics movement for both its ideology and its programs. But the same zero-population growth outlook has remained. John D. Rockefeller III was a major promoter of zero population growth. He founded the Population Council in 1952.
THE FRENCH REVOLUTION
This hostility to population growth goes back to the Jacobin movement of the French Revolution. This is a long neglected aspect of European history. One person, above all others, called attention to this aspect of the French Revolution: Nesta Webster. In her 1919 book, The French Revolution: A Study in Democracy, she spent considerable space on tracing the background of this idea. In the case of the French revolutionaries, they didn't just want to control the growth of population; they wanted to exterminate at least a third of the French population. They said so publicly. They attempted to do so administratively during Robespierre's reign of terror. This aspect of the French Revolution has been deep-sixed by professional historians. They tend to favor the ideology of the French Revolution, and this aspect of it is an embarrassment to them. It sounds so ruthless. I have reprinted the section of her book dealing with the depopulation plans here: http://www.garynorth.com/public/13370.cfm.
The plans of the French revolutionaries in the 1790's were completely overturned by the steady population growth that was beginning at that time. The best estimate of world population in 1800 is a billion people. Today, it is over 7 billion people. The unforeseen economic growth, which also began to compound about the time of the French Revolution, was matched by an equally unforeseen expansion of world population. Always before in world history, population growth had rapidly pushed to the limits of the economic environment. Always before, famines, plagues, and wars reversed population growth. Sometime around 1800, for the first time in the recorded history of the world, population growth continued to rise, but it did not reach the limits of growth economically or environmentally.
Today's economic elitists think that civil governments should intervene in people's lives, so they have fewer children. The elitists are as terrified of population growth as the Jacobins were in 1793. But these fears were unnecessary in 1793, and they are unnecessary today. Individuals can be trusted to decide how many children they want to have, as long as they are made economically responsible for their children. Costs and benefits must be imposed by civil law and custom.
What bothers Leftists today is this. Their programs of wealth confiscation in the name of the poor have produced the obvious result: single welfare mothers who have numerous children, because they know that they can get state and federal money when they have these children. Welfare mothers are not stupid. They are milking the system. The Leftists are appalled by the outcome of their policies. They find, lo and behold, that when the state subsidizes poverty, we get more poverty. The free market responds to incentives. Will wonders never cease?
So, they are schizophrenic. They have always been schizophrenic. On the one hand, they justify taxing the middle-class to finance the poor. They also make certain that their own tax advantages keep them from being taxed as heavily as the middle class. Then they are trapped. Red ink overwhelms national governments. The politicians need to have workers to support the welfare state, but the bastard adult children of the single mothers, who have grown up under the tender mercies of the welfare state's bureaucracies, don't want to work. They want to stay on the dole. Where are the central planners going to find productive citizens who will be capable of paying the taxes to support the present welfare state recipients? This includes a vast and growing army of old people, who are about to tap into the biggest welfare state operations in the history of mankind. It's tough to be a Leftist.
So, when we read about various programs of population control, we can safely dismiss them. People are going to make their own decisions, and the do-gooders [with other people's money] among the super-rich and the intellectual elite do not have any effect on most people's decisions. The middle classes around the world make their own decisions about family size.
The Jacobins' depopulation promoters in 1793 found that their dreams and schemes ended on the guillotine. Robespierre was beheaded by his own government in 1794.
The Keynesian elitists think they are smarter than the broad masses of the population. They are not. They suffer from what F. A. Hayek called the fatal conceit. They think they can plan for other people. They think that the outcomes will be better than the decisions of individuals and families. There is a living model for this outlook: Robert Mugabe. There is a working model of the results of this outlook: Zimbabwe.
So, I don't take seriously the various population plans of Western intellectuals. They don't have the votes necessary to turn the West into Red China in 1979.