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May 26, 2005


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Paddy Carter

my favorite mad right winger idea, heard in village pub, based on the idea that depravation breeds crime and bad genes breed depravation (and round and round in a vicious circle of poverty and bad role models) is to sterilise all young offenders. Break the circle!

minus several thousand for human rights but, I had to admit, perhaps a few points for effectiveness


"But isn’t this grossly illiberal? No. Here’s John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty..."

Isn't that an appeal to authority..?


Blimpish -
It is a minor appeal to authority, because On Liberty carries great wieght, some earned, some emotional, regarding what counts as liberty. However, it is unavoidable and excuseable because the relevant *argument* from On Liberty was quoted and it was proper to cite the source.


The above said, I still disagree with this post. The quote from Mill is in a sense technically correct - restrictions on reproduction are not violations of individual liberty because there are other individuals directly (the children) and indirectly (the society that must share the earth with the new person) affected.

However, Mill is here forgetting everything else in On Liberty about the benefits of diversity of lifestyles and distributing decision-making to the individuals with most direct knowledge of the particular situation.

Levitt's work makes no argument at all for compulsory abortions. Levitt's work shows that the abortion policy of the U.S. in the 70's and on lead to less crime than the abotion policy of the U.S. prior to the seventies. What was the old policy? Restrictions on abortion by most states. What is the new policy? Individual choice about abortion by the woman having the abortion. Levitt's work shows that when women are given a choice about abortion, they make better choices than when abortion is restricted.

AT MOST, this would support experimenting with compulsory abortions in limited jurisdictions as an emprical study to determin if compulsory abortions produce better outcomes than individual choice. But for someone who regularly complains (usually correctly) about "managerialism" in economic policy to describe a study showing individual choice produces better outcomes than government regulation as "a respectable utilitarian case" for government regulation in the opposite direction is bizzare. Maybe, just maybe, what the study indicates is that the belief that individuals tend, as a general rule, to make better decisions than central planners applies to the social realm as well as the economic.


My tongue was only slightly in cheek, Decnavda. As an ex-libertarian I am more than aware of On Liberty's near canonical status within modern liberalism. As you imply, it's not consistently earned - for example, Millian liberalism's only for civilised peoples, and is concerned with the promotion of a Religion of Humanity. But another time...


A few quick, serious thoughts on the post itself (anybody remember when I used to do long and serious comments? only with agony, probably!).

1. Obviously, I'm Right-wing and therefore a misogynist and therefore pro-life, and disagree with any such notions. It should be said, though, that even if I thought there was no moral objection to murdering unborn children, the proposal has issues. People on the Left regularly denounce custodial punishments and the death penalty because they work to dump people rather than trying to redeem them. It's a good criticism that people like me have to face up to (although I've yet to hear one of those uttering it give a sensible alternative). This would be doing exactly the same, except for being much worse - rather than dumping people because of their own crimes, it would dump a class of people, none of whom individually had committed a single crime.

2. How far would you want to take it? In the US, statistically, African-American people are massively more likely to be arrested and convicted for serious crime. Therefore, a crime-stopping mandatory-abortion strategy would entail, in effect, massively curtailing reproduction among one ethnic group - meaning its long-term demographic decline. It's even possible that the lack of responsibility (i.e., criminal-class African-Americans fear not the consequence of pregnancy) could encourage further waywardness, leading to more abortions until you end up with de facto ethnic cleansing..!

3. Didn't Keith Joseph create an awful stink back in the 1970s by suggesting poor people should be given contraceptives or sterilised or something?


Blimpish -
More falacies:

1. Begging the question. You start off claiming that altough you believe abortion is murder, you are going to discuss *other* problems with this idea. Then the other problem you mention is that, "it would dump a class of people, none of whom individually had committed a single crime." Yes, well, this assumes that fetuses are people, which is really the only basis for believing that abortion is murder. So the problem you discuss with promoting abortion is only a problem is you already agree that abortion is morally a problem.

2. Obviously Slippery Slope. Now, I actually would clasify slippery slope as an "argumentative red flag" rather than a fallacy, because slopes do sometimes slip. But you have to prove each connection. But you first have given no evidence that African-Americans commit crime in greater numbers after controlling for other factors (i.e. income), nor thet that costs of sterilizing all blacks would be less than the gains, and your last slope - that the result could be greater crime - not only lacks evidence but contradicts the evidence cited in the post.

3. Guilt by Association. Appeal to Authority's evil twin.


1. I'm guessing you believe that people who endorse legal abortion don't believe a foetus has any human status. In this country at least, people tend to be much mushier on the subject. Most people I know support abortion but uncomfortably so, because they do think a foetus is (at least vaguely) an unborn children - hence the ongoing discussion over the appropriate time limit. People do here (and probably around the world) accept abortion on utilitarian grounds, rather than as a rights issue as in the US. While you're correct that this is only a problem if you think that abortion is a problem, the number of hardened abortion-doesn't-matter types here is probably pretty small. So the 'fallacy' is true, but only insofar as it is also trivial.

2. As a self-declared libertarian Leftist, I guess you're under no obligation to understand the political process, but you've only ever so slightly missed the point. We are discussing a proposal (however archly put) for state policy here, not a perfect systematic action. Policy is conducted on the basis of simplifying assumptions and subject to the whims of bureaucracy in implementation. Surely a libertarian should appreciate those facts, if no others?

From the idea as stated, one assumes that characteristics of 'undesirables' for reproduction would include (as Beelzebub says, and Mill implies) financial means. So, criminality aside, African-Americans would bear the brunt because they receive (to my knowledge, and as you imply) lower incomes. So, same racial effect, just as if they forceably aborted criminal parents' foetuses.

When you say "the result could be greater crime... contradicts the evidence cited in the post," you're misreading. My point was that the individual people concerned would, freed up reproductive responsibility (again, a point a libertarian could be expected to appreciate), potentially become more wayward. This does not mean that there will be higher crime, only that the sanctioned group of people could sink further, while society overall might benefit.

3. Indeed it is, but again you're missing the point. I wasn't trying to blacken any proposal by association with Keith Joseph, only pointing out that his political ambitions were massively damaged in the fall-out of the speech mentioned 30 years ago. It was to point out about changing times, and make the point that although Chris referred to this as a liberal idea, the last person to actively propose something like it wasn't a liberal-leftist (although he could be described as liberal in some ways). But it seems you want to find itches to scratch, even where there are none. Oh well...


1. So, instead of an absolutist, "If abortion is murder, then compulsory abortion is wrong," argument, you are making a mushier, "To the extent that abortion is morally suspect, then compulsory abortion is problematic," argument. Well, tautologically, sure. To the extent that the fallacy is trivial, it is because the argument is trivial.

2. a. Even when administered by incompetent beurocrats hired by an inatentive populace, for me to believe the slope will slip I have to believe that there is some rational basis for adopting the intervening steps. I find the intervening steps you describe to be wildly improbable. As an opponent of compulsory abortion, I would like to have a good slippery slope argument in my rhetorical arsenal, but I find this one too implausible to use.
b. I do not believe America would target blacks for compulsory abortions in the forseeable future. You are correct however that "reasonable" financial requirements for a license to have children would have an unacceptable disparit impact on blacks. That is a good argument against.
c. Why on earth would you think that libertarians would "appreciate" an argument that freeing people from the consequences of sex would cause them to be more "wayward"? Most libertarians welcome technologies that enable sexual freedom, and welcome the exercise of such freedoms. "Paleoliberatians" like those at lewrockwell.com will look down their noses at wayward uses of such freedoms, but even they would grant the freedom. No, I do not think that freeing people from "reproductive responsibility" would cause more "waywardness" and I think the Levitt study is emperical evidence in my favor.

3. In the context of you post, it was reasonable for me to assume that you making an argument against compulsory abortion. Now that you have clarified that you were not, and merely commenting on changing political positions over time, I will agree that it is an interesting shift, although I seriously doubt that many on the liberal/left side would support compulsory abortion.


I know this sounds horribly wimpy, but I didn't intend to endorse the notion of compulsory abortion. In saying there was a "respectable utilitarian case" for it, I merely wanted to show why a utilitarian (which I think describes the "philosophy" of New Labour) might support the idea - I was not intending to endorse utilitarianism, which I have strongly opposed elsewhere. Personally, I think Decnavda's right here.
If we had a sensible welfare state - a basic income with no extra support for parents - the problem of teen mothers would diminish, as I suspect would the numbers of them.


Or just have mandatory castration for any man who gets any girl under 16 pregnant [On theoretical grounds here, Im not endorsing it]. Biometirc ID cards and DNA tests on babies will soon sort it out. [Ah a real reason to have ID cards!]


1. All my arguments are trivial. In the meantime, might it occur to you that I was (as Chris was in the post) simply musing on the point? Check the strapline of the blog. I comment here, and have done for ages, on the basis of leisurely discussion without having to take strong sides. It's fun. Lighten. Up.

2. a. The post was pointing to the potential use of compulsory abortion in the context of alleviating social ills, specifically crime, and specifically with reference to those prospective parents who cannot afford to raise their children. Both of the characteristics (prospective parents' criminality and their financial resources) so far discussed would surely be relevant considerations. In either case, my point was that a group of people would be constrained in reproduction and that because social pathologies unfortunately link to race (for historic reasons), that this would "in effect" (my words in the original comment) have a skewed impact on at least one ethnic group. I did not suggest that bureaucrats would target on race, only that that would be the likely consequence of how they would be likely to target. Take the time to read next time.

b. I don't think America's likely to use compulsory abortions on anybody, to be honest. Glad we agree that income would have a disparate effect on African-Americans. Consensus. Harmony. Yeah.

c. Again, you miss my point, primarily because you see through simple categories. My point was not about sexual freedom but about the link between freedom and responsibility, and (implicitly) the role of agency. Indeed, libertarians embrace all of the tools of technology that increase subjective choice and believe that people can be trusted to use them responsibly in freedom. But most libertarians, in my experience, believe that the sense of responsibility is cultivated by people freely making their own choices. Indeed, that's one of the strongest arguments that libertarians have - that freedom is its own education. But compulsory abortion would mean a libertine freedom - people not making choices and not taking responsibility. When I was a libertarian I was always dead against such things (though very much in favour of the liberating power of technology).

3. See the comment on 1, again you take things too seriously. I'm not aware of many on the Right (of any flavour) who'd favour compulsory abortion. The original point was about compulsory (or incentivised) sterilisation, which has a greater pedigree on the Left (at least in the UK and US), it should be said.

Chris: I'd pretty much guessed you weren't endorsing the idea! My comments were only to point out that the utilitarian case is not quite so clear-cut as you suggest, especially if you accept abortion itself on utilitarian grounds (which I'd guess most in the UK do).

Robert Schwartz

Littlecock? Beelzebub?

Do you make up these names?

Scott Campbell at Blithering Bunny

This all presumes that Bazza was being serious. Personally, I thought he was just joking about the licences.

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