Opinion: Columnists

A libertarian case for having more kids

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Opinion,Conn Carroll,Columnists,Campaign 2012,Politics Digest,Family Issues,Libertarianism

We were going to stop at two. Two kids that is. We had even taken some admittedly reversible but not-inexpensive steps to make sure we didn't have a third.

Then my aunt cracked a joke.

"When are you gonna get that fertile Italian wife of yours pregnant again," she said over the phone one Thanksgiving. I laughed heartily at the time, knowing she was kidding ... or at least half-kidding. Despite coming from a family of eight kids, my father ended up being the only one of his male siblings to have a son. But this was the first time any of them had even hinted that I should think about having more kids. But think, I did.

My wife and I loved the two kids we had already, but they were a ton of work! Diapers, feedings, play dates, school, homework, Cub Scouts, soccer, ballet, etc., etc. Where would we find the time? Would we need a bigger house? Could we ever afford to go on vacation again?

A few weeks later, I spotted a book title that peaked my interest: "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids," by George Mason University economic professor Bryan Caplan. Two-hundred and forty pages of shared reading later, and my wife was on the phone with her doctor to make No. 3 possible.

Caplan's case basically boils down to this: Too many Americans are reluctant to have more children because we overestimate the resources (time/money/effort) it takes to raise a happy, well-adjusted child.

Those vocabulary flashcards? Not worth it. Your son hates piano lessons? Don't put yourself through the pain of forcing him to go. You don't have time to cook dinner? Get takeout. And perhaps most subversively, if you need a few minutes to compose yourself, don't be afraid to let Cookie Monster babysit your kids for half an hour.

Its scary advice for many parents to hear, but Caplan has reams of scientific studies to back it up. "Adoption and twin research provides strong evidence that parents barely affect their children's prospects," Caplan writes.

For example, one paper he cites shows that while parents can have a large impact on a 2-year-old's vocabulary, by the age of 12, all that intensive training does not significantly separate them from their uncoached peers. "Nature, not nurture, explains most family resemblance, so parents can safely cut themselves a lot of additional slack."

Caplan's advice is not for everybody. If you love travel or live in an expensive city, a bigger family is probably not for you. Caplan's parenting advice probably won't work for parents with controlling personalities either. If you think you can mold your children in your own image, then fewer kids is probably best for you.

"Show more modesty and get more happiness," Caplan writes. "You can have a better life and a bigger family if you admit that your kids' future is not in your hands."

Not that Caplan advises parents to let their kids do whatever they want. Quite the opposite. Caplan stresses that clear and consistent discipline is not only necessary for your child's well-being, but for any parent's sanity, as well. An unruly household where a pack of kids ignores their parents would drive anyone crazy.

Most pro-natalist books make the case that having more children is good for all of humanity. And "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" does have one such chapter. But, as a libertarian, Caplan's book does not contain any laundry list of government programs designed to make bigger families more common.

Instead, Caplan's book is about how parents can learn to enjoy parenting more. "The main lesson," Caplan writes, "is that parenting is about the journey, not the destination."

Conn Carroll (ccarroll@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.

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