Eugenics Plan, Part 2

In an earlier article, The Abortion Plan, I discussed how abortion can be justified from a utilitarianism/pragmatist perspective, without necessarily turning it into a left/right issue.

From slatestarcodex.com comments, this issue came up again.

“parents who get abortions are parents who can’t afford children, so it’s saving them from a bad life” or the Freakonomics argument that abortions lower crime rates sound creepy and eugenics-y, and not at all in line with Blue/Grey values as I understand them.

This echoes what I wrote in second article, Public Outrage Getting in the Way of Good Eugenics Policy:

Eugenics offers the opportunity for parents to do what’s in the best interests of their offspring, and possibly society as a whole. By self-selecting for high-IQ, for example, we can possibly speed up technological progress and reduce entitlement spending and crime. Prenatal screening is commonplace among high-risk individuals to check for genetic or chromosomal disorders. Carrier testing is used to identify people who carry one copy of a gene mutation that, when present in two copies, causes a genetic disorder. Such screening saves taxpayers billions.

As a utilitarian conservative, I agree with abortion on the grounds of the Freakonomics argument. I’m tired of the stark left/right divide on this issue and I do think there is room for middle ground. Prenatal screening for potentially lethal genetic diseases already occurs in high-risk populations; we argue that this can be extended to screen for desirable traits like high-IQ and as a way to potentially reduce entitlement spending and crime. Since crime, income, educational attainment, and IQ all seem to have evidence of heredity, there are probably genetic markers that can be found for these traits and behaviors.

In the comments, someone proposes a plan,

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that an unwanted/unplanned poor child has a significant cost to society in terms of welfare, crime and possibly a whole lot of things I haven’t thought about. Let’s fix that cost to an arbitrary number, say 1/5th the cost of bringing up a child, or for the US roughly 50k USD.

Now, let’s offer 1/10 of that cost as a direct monetary incentive to have people sterilised. For maximum effect, we would offer this only to women.

If you are rich enough to actually bring up a child, 5000 USD is a trivial sum and not worth the hassle. If you are too poor to bring up a child, 5000 USD is a substantial sum, and if you want your tubes tied anyway, today you probably can’t afford it.

If you have taken the money and your financial situation changes from winning the lottery or whatnot, well these things are reversible now, and I suspect that the cost of a reversal operation is higher than the 5k.

Why isn’t this the obvious solution to a LOT of problems related to poverty?

It’s a good solution, but one that farces major hurdles being implemented because it evokes fear of Nazism and compulsory sterilization, even if such comparisons are unfounded. Politicians like to talk about poverty of a social problem, not a biological one. Scientists have to tread this water carefully. This censorship, whether self-imposed or imposed by society, hurts potential progress that can be made on these issues. Our eugenics problem would involve:

1. prenatal screening and early term abortions (this is already done for high-risk populations such as the Ashkenazim, but it would be extended to the general population)
2. monetary compensation for undergoing sterilization for high-risk populations.
3. lesser monetary compensation for abstinence for high-risk populations
4. education/increased public awareness about the benefits of eugenics

Financial incentives would help sidestep the boogeyman of mandatory sterilizations, a red herring that torpedoes any possibility of a productive public discourse on this issue.

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