If I had to answer why I don’t want kids – and I can’t speak for my wife who just believes kids are a burden on savings – I have two responses.
Firstly, the decision was mostly forced on me by my wife’s miscarriage. But, of course, we could adopt. The emotional ripper that was my wife’s miscarriage just forced the two of us to consider issues most couples discuss in a more reasonable frame of mind – or, perhaps more romantic situations. My wife and I didn’t mull these issues over wine and dinner; she was on too many meds and was actively despising my existence at the time. There’s nothing like a miscarriage to puncture the ridiculous fantasies advertising agencies concoct for the media of fat-faced babies, tikes on bikes, and idyllic portraits of old people and grandchildren. Have you heard – or smelled – how horrible women become in a maternity ward? Honestly, I’ve been in fights in alleys that made more sense and seemed more pleasant. Why would anyone choose that carnage?
The global causes of postfamilialism are diverse, and many, on their own, are socially favorable or at least benign. The rush of people worldwide into cities, for example, has ushered in prosperity for hundreds of millions, allowing families to be both smaller and more prosperous. Improvements in contraception and increased access to it have given women far greater control of their reproductive options, which has coincided with a decline in religion in most advanced countries. With women’s rights largely secured in the First World and their seats in the classroom, the statehouse, and the boardroom no longer tokens or novelties, children have ceased being an economic or cultural necessity for many or an eventual outcome of sex.
But those changes happened quickly enough—within a lifetime—that they’ve created rapidly graying national populations in developed, and even some developing, countries worldwide, as boomers hold on to life and on to the pension and health benefits promised by the state while relatively few new children arrive to balance their numbers and to pay for those promises.
Until recently that decrepitude has seemed oceans away, as America’s open spaces, sprawling suburbs, openness to immigrants, and relatively religious culture helped keep our population young and growing. But attitudes are changing here as well. A plurality of Americans—46 percent—told Pew in 2009 that the rising number of women without children “makes no difference one way or the other” for our society.
These changes are not theoretical or inconsequential. Europe and East Asia, trailblazers in population decline, have spent decades trying to push up their birthrates and revitalize aging populations while confronting the political, economic, and social consequences of them. It’s time for us to consider what an aging, increasingly child-free population, growing more slowly, would mean here. As younger Americans individually eschew families of their own, they are contributing to the ever-growing imbalance between older retirees—basically their parents—and working-age Americans, potentially propelling both into a spiral of soaring entitlement costs and diminished economic vigor and creating a culture marked by hyperindividualism and dependence on the state as the family unit erodes.
Crudely put, the lack of productive screwing could further be screwing the screwed generation.
You’re not getting screwed by billionaires and plutocrats. You’re getting screwed by Mom and Dad.
Systematically and in all sorts of ways. Old people are doing everything possible to rob you of your money, your future, your dignity, and your freedom.
Here’s the irony, too (in a sort of Alanis Morissette sense): You’re getting hosed by the very same group that 45 years ago was bitching and moaning about “the generation gap” and how their parents just didn’t understand what really mattered in life.
Secondly, as Richard Wolff highlights – and Adam Smith is the progenitor of that moral outrage against capitalism – the world is just plain ugly and no amount of idyllic prodding is going to make it any fairer.
Richard Wolff: You know, but you know, capitalism– I like to say to people, capitalism, like all systems, when it comes into being, is born a few hundred years ago in Europe and spreads around the world, like other systems before it. It has always produced those who admire and celebrate it and those who are critical of it.
I used to say to my students, “If you want to understand the family who lives down the street, suppose there’s mama, papa, two children. And one of the children thinks it’s the greatest family there ever was, and the other one is quite critical. If you want to understand the family, do you choose only one child to interview, or do you think it might be wise to interview both of them?”
For me, I began to interview the critics of capitalism, because I thought, “Let’s see what they have to say.” And that for me opened an immense door of critical insights that I found invaluable. And I’ve never forgiven my teachers for not having exposed me to that.
Bill Moyers: But so few have done that. As you know, as you’ve written, as you have said, we’ve not had much of a debate in this country for, I don’t know, since the Great Depression over the nature of the system, the endemic crisis of capitalism that is built into the system. We have simply not had that kind of debate. Why do you think that is?
Richard Wolff: Well, I think we have had it from time to time. We have had some of the greatest economists in the tradition, for example, Thorstein Veblen, at the beginning of the 20th century, a great American economist, very critical of the system. Someone who taught me, Paul Sweezy, another Harvard graduate. These are people who have been around and at various times in our history, the beginning of the 20th century, during the 1930’s, again in the 1960’s, there was intense debate.
There has been that kind of thing in our history. I mean, we as Americans, after all, we take a certain pride, which I think is justified, we criticize our school system. We just spent two years criticizing our health delivery system in this country. We criticize our energy system, our transportation system.
And we want to believe, and I think it’s true, that to criticize this system, to have an honest debate, exposes flaws, makes it possible to repair or improve them, and then our society benefits. But then how do you explain, and that’s your question, that we don’t do that for our economic system?
For 50 years, when capitalism is raised, you have two allowable responses: celebration, cheerleading. Okay, that’s very nice. But that means you have freed that system from all criticism, from all real debate. It can indulge its worst tendencies without fear of exposure and attack. Because when you begin to criticize capitalism, you’re either told that you’re ignorant and don’t understand things, or with more dark implications, you’re somehow disloyal. You’re somehow a person who doesn’t like America or something.
Bringing children into this world is a human rights violation unless I can convince others to protest this very real condition. Having kids is a luxury for the time after we get our collective brains and hearts in gear. Not having kids is my form of protest, and I hope it’s not my last salvo.