Eric writes “The Megyn Kelly bit was hilarious, but I disagree with you about the value of maternity leave. Maternity leave subsidizes raising children, which is unfair because not everyone wants to have kids and is also bad for the planet because we don’t need more people here. Not having a child is arguably the single best thing a person can do for the environment, and couples who can’t or don’t want to have kids already face social stigma. I’m not saying it wouldn’t suck to have a kid and have to keep working, but why should society further encourage more babies?”
I think it’s a mistake to view raising children as a form of private consumption. It’s a form of socially necessary labor that’s traditionally been undertaken by women on coercive terms for sub-market wages. But there’s a reason why every country I’m aware of publicly subsidizes schools and it’s part and parcel with the idea that in general parents should be supported. It’s especially mistaken, I think, to try to look at children as a negative environmental externality. The beginning of wisdom here is to note that pollution isn’t “bad for the planet.” The planet is a gigantic roughly spherical chunk of rocks that can easily survive whatever level of greenhouse gas emissions or whatever else we care to pump into the atmosphere. The big picture ecological threat is a threat to human beings, and to the continued existence of ecological conditions that are conducive to human flourishing. Radical population reduction would sharply reduce the quantity of anthropogenic ecological impacts, but to what end? The goal needs to be to reconfigure human activity in order to make it sustainable over a longer time horizon. But sustained human flourishing requires both acceptable levels of ecological impact and also the continued production of new human beings.
Now of course the specific conclusion as regards maternity leave is open to empirical revision. If I thought the birthrate would jump to nine babies per woman in the face of taxpayer financed universal paid maternity leave, I’d reverse my view on the matter. But that seems unlikely. Actual patterns of childbearing indicate that women in control of their economic and reproductive lives (correctly) regard having and raising children to be an extremely costly undertaking on which they’re reluctant to embark.