How Many Babies Are “Enough?”


“Americans aren’t having enough babies,” Catherine Rampell writes at the Washington Post. “Ironically, pro-life politicians might be making the problem worse.”

Her suggestion for addressing the supposed problem: “Slash the tax burden for families with young kids, a traditionally bipartisan policy that a few Republican senators are currently blocking.”

I’ve got a few problems with that suggestion.

One is that most “child tax credit” proposals of the type implied are actually subsidies — that is, they are “refundable,” such that beneficiaries can actually receive a net payment FROM the government (in other words, from the taxpayers), rather than paying any taxes at all TO the government.

Another is that I don’t like social engineering by government.

Using tax policy to influence how much beer people drink, what kind of cars people drive, or how many babies people have is just a way of imposing some people’s social preferences (and the costs of exercising those preferences) on other people.

Americans, Rampell tells us (citing polling data), are “having fewer kids than they say they want.”

She doesn’t cite any polling data on how many kids those same people want to pay the costs of conceiving, delivering, and raising. I suspect the latter number would be lower.

I want one more Tesla than I currently own (the latter number is zero), but I don’t want to pay the advertised sticker price. Nor do I support taxing you, or Ms. Rampell, more to buy me one (or to give me a tax credit to reduce my cost of buying one).

Ms. Rampell does posit substantive “problems” arising from “a population that fails to replace itself” — a smaller work force that doesn’t pay as much in taxes, for example.

And to her credit, she notices that there’s also a ready “solution”: More immigration.

A healthy economy attracts people from elsewhere to fulfill demand for goods and services.

As it happens, those people tend to come from cultures where having babies hasn’t gone quite so out of fashion as it seems to be getting here.

And instead of demanding subsidies for having those babies, they’d be paying the taxes that the “missing” babies would have eventually been paying. “Problem” solved.

[Note: I don’t consider taxes, or paying them, a good thing, but I guess I’m a sort of “moderate” — if we’re forced to pay them, I consider using them to engineer desired social outcomes worse than using them to fill potholes, but better than using them to murder poor brown people in the Middle East and Central Asia.]

How many babies are “enough?” As many as people choose to have in the expectation of covering the costs without subsidies. Any other number is just damaging political interference.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.