Be Fruitful and Multiply Capitalism: Children as Economic Items

According to a recent online article in U.S. News and World Report, “… one of the great strengths of the U.S. economy, especially compared to Europe and Japan, is a relatively high birth rate.” This statement is pretty clear:  procreation equates to production. Thus, why–or rather, for whom—could birthrate be a problem? Isn’t the angst about fertility hiding the real difficulties faced by population?

Is a falling birthrate a big problem?

Others in the media have also warned that if women don’t have higher numbers of children, the economy could suffer. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat compared the decreasing American birthrate to France’s higher one: “America has no real family policy to speak of at the moment, and the evidence from countries like Sweden and France suggests that reducing the ever-rising cost of having kids can help fertility rates rebound.” But while benefits such the ones in France obviously could help those rates rebound, they aren’t the key to economic growth.

According to Karl Marx, the proletariat is opposed to capitalism. Proletarians have no capital (or means of production); therefore, to meet their needs, have recourse to wage labor. Originally, a proletarian was a Roman citizen who had only his children (Proles) as wealth. Proletariats were considered the least of all citizens, consisting of those who could not afford any piece of armor and whose right to vote was only theoretical.

Consequently, a falling birthrate is indeed a serious problem—for capitalists. Meanwhile, and more concretely, the 99% have concerns about future. As one young man wrote on the tumblr “We are the 99 Percent,” “I beg this younger generation to wait to have kids because the economy is so bad. I want freedom, life, liberty, and most of all the pursuit of happiness. I barely have life, almost no liberty’s but one thing I want most is happiness. I believe love is more valuable than money.”

A falling of human rights is a big problem

Instead of pressuring women to have more babies, it makes more sense to support the children that already exist. The connections between low fertility and sustainability have been manifest for decades. As Kenneth Boulding, an economist and peace activist, noted years ago, “Anyone who believes that exponential growth can go on forever in a finite world is either a madman or an economist.” In the US, like anywhere else, the right to a life free of poverty is a fundamental human right. But a 2010 report found that “1.6 million children” in the US “were living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families.”

Our future depends on us; nobody else should bear this responsibility. It is our duty to enable children to have a secure future.


  1. Excellent post! I think you’ve made it abundantly clear that one of the many problems with taking a macro view on the birth rate–or anything, for that matter–is that the devil is in the details. Economy theory may hold that children and widgets are interchangeable commodities. Hopefully there are more of us who recognize a huge difference.

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