Sunday, January 16, 2005

A Little Rant

Just to blow off some steam. This is courtesy of David Brooks' recent column about the need for women to make more babies for the glory of the United States, especially the need for educated women to breed more. Amanda at Mousewords has a much longer post on the topic, and you should read that one first, because mine will be an illegible rant.

First, may I ask what expertise has David Brooks to write about an issue he clearly views as only applying to women? Second, if he believes that the issue doesn't only apply to women, why does he write about fertility as if the male part of the parenthood equation is absent? For a moral-values-wingnut this is unacceptable. Third, why does he advocate nonexistent solutions to the problem he poses about balancing careers and childbirth? According to Brooks women can just take ten years off after graduation and then go back to a graduate program explicitly tailored for the needs of returning mothers. How many graduate programs of this type are there? And if there were many, how would their reputation in the labor markets be? And how likely is it that women who take ten years off this way will ever reach the same levels in their career paths as people who don't take the same time off?

The answer to the last question is that women who do this will never get the same perks or salaries or positions as those who stick to the jobs. Never, on average. Neither will they have the same incomes to retire on. What Brooks is proposing is a system where he wants more babies to be produced AND he wants the women to pay for that! Isn't that a neat solution for all but the women concerned? It will also make certain that very few women will ever get to be CEOs or full professors or Senators, and this should make most wingnuts happy as clams.

Fourth, it is not at all clear that the U.S. has a problem with birth rates, especially when immigration is taken into account. Even if the U.S. birthrates fell short of replacement levels, this might not be a bad thing on the world level as we really are too many compared to animals and plants on this planet already.

No, I don't think that this is the real concern of people like Brooks. The real concern is an age-old one, and it has to do with the question of who controls fertility. Brooks pretty much would like to control it if he could, and as it's not legally possible he tries to talk women into behaving the way he'd like them to. In some decades women are talked into having more children, in some decades women are talked into less children, but in either case the costs of these adjustments are commonly seen as belonging to the women and their families only, while the benefits flow largely elsewhere.

Of course there are slightly more surface versions about this age-old desire to control fertility, and they are the desire to have more white babies in this country as well as the desire to control uppity women. Brooks' tender column aims at both of this objectives.

None of this means that he wouldn't be right in stating that there are both women and men in their forties who regret not having children. The American labor market is horrible in terms of parents' rights, but Brooks doesn't want to meddle with the markets as he is a wingnut. Neither is he proposing any other real solutions to the problems of combining families and jobs, at least none that wouldn't predominantly benefit the wealthier (like tax subsidies for stay-at-home-parents).

David Brooks is a rat. Someone should write a whole column about how ratlike he is.