Thursday, January 15, 2009
I read in the paper the other day that the birth rate among teens (15-19) is on the rise in 26 states. So what? Let’s start with some rather hard facts. First, Mother Nature has programmed us to reproduce, whether we like it or not. And as a species, we’re pretty good it; as evidenced by our absence on the “endangered species” list. Maybe we’re too good! Second, Mother Nature discourages procreative efforts that are both “too early” and “too late.” Biologically, “too early” might refer to prepubescent pregnancy, which is pretty much impossible apart from biotechnology (ova retrieval, IVF etc). It might also mean that “too early” might threaten the life (or health) of mother or child. “Too late,” biologically speaking, might relate to the age of the ova and possibly the sperm. We know that late procreators run a higher risk for genetic malformations, especially, Down syndrome. Human children require a certain amount of “care” in order to survive long enough to sustain the procreative cycle. Culturally speaking, procreating “too early” might mean that young couples or young single mothers that have children might not be able to “care” for the child. “Too late,” might refer to the probability that the old couple or single mother might be too old (or sick) to care for the child; or they might be so old that they may die before the child can survive his/her own. The key work here is “care.” In our current cultural environment, “care” implies more than the provision of basic food, clothing, and shelter. Today, parents are also expected to prepare their children to participate in our complex socioeconomic environment. In other words, “care” requires the provision of an education. In this regard, many “old couples” are much more financially secure than “young couples,” and therefore might be more likely to be able to afford to provide that education. Now, for a libertarian, the basic question is who is responsible for providing all of this “care” when the teenage procreative couple (or single mother) are unable to do it? Here are the possibilities: the male (or sperm donor); the female (or egg donor); the couple together; the immediate family of either the procreating male and/or female (grandparents, older brothers or sisters etc); or some third party (government or a charitable organization); or all of the above. Many (if not most) libertarians lay the onus of responsibility on the young couple, their parents, and/or other blood relatives. Unfortunately, our culture has evolved (or devolved) to the point where many families are now dysfunctional. At least some of that dysfunctionality can be blamed on perverse incentives wrought by government: welfare programs (which discourage work), public schools (which discourage learning), tax policies (which discourage marriage), minimum wage laws (which discourage low wage jobs), child labor laws (which discourage child labor and/or education), and health care policies (which discourage low wage jobs and maternal and neonatal health). So until we address the root causes of what makes teen pregnancies problematic, I really don’t know what to say!