What’s Wrong with Paying Parents to Not Have Children?
In this paper, I use the example of Project Prevention, a nonprofit that incentivizes people with substance abuse problems to not have children, as a launching point to pose a thought experiment. Namely, I consider a hypothetical policy whereby the U.S. government would issue a $5,000 tax credit per year to poor women or couples if they refrain from having a child. I examine several arguments in favor of such a policy, most notably that it produces mutual gains for both parties and is, technically speaking, completely voluntary. I then outline three potential objections to the policy. The coercion objection worries that when a poor woman or couple “consents” to the policy, they are not truly acting freely. The social engineering objection says that it is not the government’s place to say who is and is not fit to have children, much less intentionally or unintentionally “select out” a specific category of people in society. Finally, the corruption objection says that the policy is wrong because it requires that the parties to the transaction value the activities of childbearing and childrearing in a corrupting way—in other words, by treating them according to lower norms than are appropriate. Despite finding all three objections quite compelling, particularly the latter, I do not go so far as to claim that payment for pregnancy refrainment should be illegal in the private domain. What makes this particular formulation of the hypothetical unacceptable is that the federal government itself is a party to the morally wrong transaction.