Michael Walsh argues that women aren’t making enough little workers. Welcome back to the “dual burden.” (More)

Production and Reproduction (Non-Cynical Saturday)

Yesterday in a National Review Online article titled The Consequences of No Consequences, Michael Walsh argued that women aren’t making enough little workers:

On the one hand – as NRO’s resident demography bore has been tirelessly pointing out – the Western world is facing an unparalleled demographic crisis brought on by a feminist-inspired modern twist on Lysistrata (showering sex but withholding children), while at the same time, the West’s vaunted “safety net” is collapsing because the system has been turned upside-down and a bevy of great-grandparents now coos over a single child.

Surely, this is the ultimate expression of the suicide cult that is the modern Left, a subset of libertine takers that so loathes itself that it will dragoon the makers into underwriting the chalices of tasty hemlock it’s so eager for everybody to quaff in order to put itself out of its misery. If, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody, it feels good, do it! Alas, it does hurt somebody – it hurts society, by robbing it of its future and burdening those lucky kids who make it through the contraceptive/abortifacient gauntlet with an unpayable debt to the very people who tried to get rid of them.

In other words, women have a duty to bear children so society will have enough workers.

The Italian example

Walsh begins by citing an article in another conservative magazine, The American Interest, that claims Italy’s pro-labor laws are “waging war on the young.” While the unemployment rate for Italians under age is 30.1%, and while the birth rate in Italy is among the lowest in the industrialized world, and while Italy does have strong pro-labor laws, the idea that Italian women aren’t having children because the state protects workers is … weak.

In fact, Italy spends only 3.8% of GDP on child-related social spending, compared to an average 8% for other European Union Nations. And there’s another problem, one that Walsh ignores:

Letizia Mencarini, a professor of demography at the University of Florence interviewed more than 3,000 mothers from five different cities across Italy to find out what would persuade them to have more children.

She found the more involved the father became in household chores, the more likely his wife was to want a second baby.

Last year, a “baby bonus” was introduced to try to encourage families to have more children

“A lot of Italian men do nothing around the house,” she says. “I would say career women in Italy work harder than any other in Europe when you factor in childcare and household duties.

“There is sufficient evidence to show that many women here are frightened of taking on the added work and responsibility that comes with a second child.”

In other words, Italian women aren’t having children because they get too little support as mothers, from government or their husbands. Add to that Italy’s already-high population density – 580 persons per square mile, compared to only 80 per square mile in the U.S. – and Italian women seem entirely reasonable in choosing not to bear multiple children.

Children as economic assets

But Walsh ignores those reasonable arguments. Instead he quotes Philip Longman:

The trick will be restoring what, in the days of family-owned farms and small businesses, was once true: that babies are an asset rather than a burden. Imagine a society in which parents get to keep more of the human capital they form by investing in their children. Imagine a society in which the family is no longer just a consumer unit, but a productive enterprise. The society that figures out how to restore the economic foundation of the family will own the future.

Ahh, the halcyon days when children worked on family farms or were expected to work at the family business. Or in a mine, for a few cents a day, to help the family pay for company housing and food at the company store.

The “dual burden”

Or perhaps Walsh would rather harken farther back, to a time when women had a duty to breed for their owners. As The Nation‘s JoAnn Wypijewski writes, that “dual burden” – to produce and to reproduce – is the too-often-ignored link between the black civil rights movement and the women’s movement:

We don’t commonly recognize that American slaveholders supported closing the trans-Atlantic slave trade; that they did so to protect the domestic market, boosting their own nascent breeding operation. Women were the primary focus: their bodies, their “stock,” their reproductive capacity, their issue. Planters advertised for them in the same way as they did for breeding cows or mares, in farm magazines and catalogs. They shared tips with one another on how to get maximum value out of their breeders. They sold or lent enslaved men as studs and were known to lock teenage boys and girls together to mate in a kind of bullpen.They propagated new slaves themselves, and allowed their sons to, and had their physicians exploit female anatomy while working to suppress African midwives’ practice in areas of fertility, contraception and abortion. Reproduction and its control became the planters’ prerogative and profit source. Women could try to escape, ingest toxins or jump out a window – abortion by suicide, except it was hardly a sure thing.
The foregoing is the merest scaffolding of one of the building blocks of Bridgewater’s argument, which continues thus. “If we integrate the lost chapter of slave breeding into those two traditional but separate stories, if we reconcile female slave resistance to coerced breeding as, in part, a struggle for emancipation and, in part, a struggle for reproductive freedom, the two tales become one: a comprehensive narrative that fuses the pursuit of reproductive freedom into the pursuit of civil freedom.”

Walsh insists that mandating contraceptive coverage in health insurance violates employers’ freedom. He blames Italian labor unions – not Italian men who refuse to help raise their children – for declining birth rates. He proposes a view of family that turns women back into breeding stock, lest they hurt society by “by robbing it of its future and burdening those lucky kids who make it through the contraceptive/abortifacient gauntlet with an unpayable debt to the very people who tried to get rid of them.”

Maybe The Onion wasn’t satire after all:

My first question, of course, was whether or not these Union toilers could be replaced with vastly less expensive workers under the Confederate model, but I was informed that for various complex reasons this may not be feasible for several years.

Something to consider the next time you hear a Republican talk about “freedom.”


Happy Saturday!