Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

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Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids is a book by Bryan Caplan.

My thoughts after reading the book

My views definitely did shift more toward having kids and having more of them. However it isn’t clear to me yet whether having kids is better than, say, paying people to have more kids. I think it’s quite plausible that mentoring a large number of kids leads to greater impact than raising a small (in comparison) number of kids. Of course, there are things like sperm donation, but this seems quite difficult in the US.

I find Caplan’s brand of natalism to be quite appealing, though it’s quite disconcerting to see how he takes everything he says on the topic to be so obvious. After reading Nick Beckstead’s thesis for example, I find that even beliefs that might seem obvious might not be so obvious upon further consideration, and that it’s irresponsible to simply say “life is too short” to investigate more.


Here are some passages I particularly enjoyed in the book.

On overpopulation, which mentions keyhole solutions:

If the birth of a human being has a lot of positives and a few negatives, the constructive response isn’t to denounce “people.” The constructive response is to selectively target the negatives. Name specific problems, and figure out the cheapest way to handle them.

Selective targeting requires more imagination than mass sterilization, but it’s worth the extra mental effort. If you want to do something about man-made global warming, you don’t have to reduce the number of human beings on the planet. You just have to get humanity to reduce its carbon emissions. A carbon tax is one simple way to get from here to there. To discourage emissions, make emissions more expensive, then sit back and watch lifestyles and technology adapt. The same principle applies to virtually any population problem you can imagine. Don’t like congestion at rush hour? An electronically collected toll is a straightforward way to get traffic moving again.

On the limitations of twin and adoption studies:

For policymakers, the restricted range in twin and adoption studies is a major blind spot. But middle-class parents in First World countries needn’t worry. Families like yours have been studied to death. In your corner of the world, you can safely rely on the postcard version of behavioral genetics: The chief cause of family resemblance is heredity, not upbringing—and while the short-run effects of upbringing are self-evident, they leave little lasting impression.

On trait selection:

trait selection is better for kids, too. Compatibility is a two-way street: When parents get kids they really want, kids get parents who really want them. More important, trait selection reassures parents—which leads them to be more generous with the gift of life. Parents who want this control might seem depraved, but don’t be so quick to condemn them. If it’s okay to rig the genetic lottery by marrying Mr. Right, why is it wrong to rig the genetic lottery by visiting Dr. Know? If it’s okay to refuse to have any children, why is it wrong to refuse to have children of a certain kind?

See also