April 12, 2010

Gary Becker PhD
1101 East 57th Street
Chicago, IL 60637
(773) 702-6241

Dear Dr. Becker:
I appreciated your contribution to the documentary “Demographic Winter.”  It is made clear that the economic consequences of the current low birth rate will be severe.  Yet as I remember from college economics the field is defined thus: Your efforts produce a basket of goods and services you want.  Economics determines what is in that basket.  Yet now we see the dog wagging the tail and economics determining what people want.  We are to believe that suddenly people do not want babies.  I find that more than paradoxical.  I do not believe it.

I take your point that the presence of women in the work place means they are not in the nursery.  I take your point that people want to invest more per child.  But these are choices.  I propose that they are not the critical choice.  I propose that people are not having babies because they are infertile.  And that is because of choices they make but they do not understand the implications of those choices. 

I need not dwell on the issue that low fertility bodes ill.  The documentary did that quite well.  What I will insist upon is that fertility is determined by choice of marriage partner and for practical purposes the more closely related the marriage partner the better.

I repeat.  Marrying relatives is the only effective way to have babies.  There is an enormous amount of data in support of this and nothing that contradicts it.  There are some points that require a little hand waving, but even they are few.  If you want to see data, a computer simulation and letters I write to experts, dig through my website nobabies.net.  If you want a blitz condensation, read the March 25, 2010 entry. 

I understand that people will generally make decisions in what they consider to be their own self interest.  That wouldn’t include children, but we are socially and biologically hardwired to create them.  A person can be expected to avoid harming his own child almost all the time (Ivan the Terrible notwithstanding).  But if we are deluded about the implications of our choices, then we may act in a fashion contrary to our desires. 

Logically speaking, it is utterly irrational to have a child with the intent of harming that child.  Since the infertility of not marrying kin accumulates over generations (at least five, probably ten or more) marrying non kin is – well – you think of a word.  It is not what anyone would do if that person were in position of the facts I have steered you toward.

This issue has implications far outside economics.  Consider for instance discrimination.  A person might avoid dealings with someone of a different ethnic group.  Say a person needs his house painted and the best person to do it is of a different group.  If the one needing the painting done settles for less than the best, that has been a cost.  To be sure, the more people of that ethnic group in the community, the higher the cost on average.  But the cost never goes away no matter how small the group being frozen out.  So why do it?  Why hurt oneself out of sheer spite? 

Easy.  We probably are hard wired socially, and possibly even biologically although I have no direct evidence, to avoid non-kin.  This non-kin avoidance goes to the question of mating choice and has a direct impact on fertility.  Again it is … what was that word I asked you to choose? It is not what anyone would do.  After all, you probably aren’t going to marry the house painter.  It makes no sense, but it happens.  I would hope that if people understood the reason for their prejudices they could dismiss them.  They could marry rationally and for other purposes treat all equally.  The distinction between ethnic groups would have no meaning. 

Let me know what you think.


M. Linton Herbert MD 

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