A modest proposal

So let me offer this modest proposal: When a child receives government assistance, we should deduct the cost from his parents’ future Social Security benefits. If one parent fails to provide child support, we should deduct the cost from his Social Security benefits alone; otherwise, the parents split the cost. Administratively, this seems quite manageable. Of course, this modest proposal means that many deadbeat dads will have to endure late retirement, but that seems a lot fairer than burdening taxpayers.

That is from Bryan Caplan.


Disparate impact

This. Right here. This is the conservative value network of GMU, Mercatus, Kochs, Caplan, Alex Jones, and the ever-present White nationalist Steve sailer.

We are close to achieving our short term goal of causing the termination of employment of the pseudo-anonymous Dr. Neo-Nazi “Scott Alexander.” He is literal poison. Like Tyler, he propagates his radical Buchanan-saque public choice agenda/value network through a fog of plausible deniability. An unrelated subreddit has discussed areas that are OFF LIMITS for discussion, and we’ve decided that Scott Alexander is responsible. He moderates comments on his own blog, but he allows for open debate on long settled factual opinions within academia. As we like to say: show me the man, and I’ll show you the thoughtcrime.

It is long overdue. These networks must be shut down.

Scott Alexander? How do you spell it?

I'm gonna read that guy!

Thank you!

His blog is called Slatestar Codex, it's good. Tyler has linked to him from time to time.

Both parents should be required to pay equally for their children not just the man. AND as a modest proposal if you go on assistance let's deduct that from your SS.

If it encourages birth parents to commit to raising their children -- and exempts them if they allow said children to be adopted by families more equipped to raise them -- what's the downside?

I think that Jonathan Swift did this thought better- about 300 years ago.

This is a really great comment in the context of sarcasm, mockery, and internet troll culture. I can't tell whether it is satirizing people who complained about the SSC subreddit or whether it is mocking the characterization of and loud reaction to people complaining about the now-altered subreddit.

I'm a regular SSC reader and I just assumed this person was being completely serious and genuine.

Don't use sarcasm on the internet, kids.

Brilliant. Thank you for shooting down this idiocy from Caplan in just two words.

(Never mind that most of the targets in question will have little or no SS benefits to tap in the first place.)

The beauty of being an "economist" is that you can crank out stupid ideas day after day after day after day after day, and you will never lose your job.

They'll have at least minimal benefits, but taking the money out will lead them to poverty and they'll be wards on the state. You can't get water from a stone.

"Disparate impact"



No sure what you mean. Can you or somebody else spell it out for us?

It will disproportionately effect black men, which is a violation of sacred lefty intersectional values.

Elite cognitive dissonance is music to my ears.

'we should deduct the cost from his parents’ future Social Security benefits'

Something about attainder would actually seem to apply in such a case.

'The United States Constitution forbids legislative bills of attainder: in federal law under Article I, Section 9, and in state law under Article I, Section 10. The fact that they were banned even under state law reflects the importance that the framers attached to this issue.

Within the U.S. Constitution, the clauses forbidding attainder laws serve two purposes. First, they reinforced the separation of powers, by forbidding the legislature to perform judicial or executive functions—since the outcome of any such acts of legislature would of necessity take the form of a bill of attainder. Second, they embody the concept of due process, which was partially reinforced by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The text of the Constitution, Article I, Section 9, Clause 3 is "No Bill of Attainder or ex post facto Law shall be passed". ' https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_of_attainder#United_States

Social Security payouts are determined by a worker's earnings. We could structure it to rely on this in part and to also rely on the earnings of a worker's children.

This would encourage having kids, but you get nothing extra if your kids end up in jail or on welfare or are otherwise not earners. There would still be tons of details to work-out, like what if your child becomes the trophy spouse of a very high earner? Assume 1/2 of the Social Security earnings attribute to the non-earning spouse?

Seems like this would mean no Social Security at all for any parents in the underclass.

Mission accomplished for this crowd. Nothing more farcical than getting lectured about "fairness" by the party of the no-income-tax-paid-for-15-years tax-fraud-in-Chief.

+1. Socioeconomic eugenics disguised as policy. The truck driver who brings in your groceries in the wee hours of the morning must be penalized for having a family. People like him must be made to pay.

So the all powerful all-knowing IRS failed?

Is that possible?

Lol wait a second, you think Tyler is republican, or Brian is .... Or both?

What are the administrative costs of this "modest proposal"? If you say "This can be done with present staff" this can be dismissed out of hand; that's simply not how bureaucracies work.

How are you going to FIND these deadbeats? This is no small issue. What percentage of deadbeats are actually caught right now? Remember, these people are already breaking the law--and if a significant number are doing so successfully (ie, are deadbeats without being in jail), that means we can't effectively police this police as is. And a lot of illegal immigrants buy IDs of legal residents to get around the whole "doesn't have an SSN" thing, and they've ended up paying child support.

What do you do with children who don't have parents, or who's parents simply abandon them?

What constitutes assistance? My one son purchases lunch at school, because his friends do and it makes our lives a bit easier; my other kids eat packed lunches because they like my wife's cooking better. The school gets a certain amount of government aid. How much of this comes out of my retirement? And who gets to decide (see the first paragraph)?

How about farm subsidies? Food comes from somewhere, and modern agriculture is intricately tied with federal financing.

This sounds a lot like a proposal from a Junior in college--it's a nice idea, but insufficient consideration has been given to real-world applications.

It’s a stupid idea but definitely workable. The beauty of our adversarial dysfunctional family courts....

...means that when the woman claims child support and it isn’t forthcoming, the father will forgo his social security. The stupidity in this plan is the assumption that the father was working legally at all in the first place.

First, it's telling that this conversation treats child custody as the realm of women, with men merely being paychecks.

Second, I'll believe it when I see it. You haven't addressed the first point: the inevitable bureaucracy expansion.

Almost like he is trying to come up with a policy based in reality instead of leftist political fantasy.

Can we remove any wages tenured professors receive from the government from their future Social Security benefits?


While we're at it, let's clawback the salaries of people working for the bailed out mortgage maws under federal conservatorship. That way we can shakedown both Caplans when they're aged and infirm.

This doesn't work because it still makes using government assistance a viable and successful reproductive strategy. By the time someone is eligible for SS benefits, they've stopped reproducing.

is there a transcript?

If this is a modest proposal then what is it satire of?

Maybe the fact that the state encourages irresponsible behaviour by subsidizing it via welfare, then wants to punish the weak and incompetent people (Steve's "disparate impact") the state is trying to protect in the first place?

I dunno ...

The purpose of Social Security isn't 'retirement savings' but rather social insurance--the amelioration of poverty in old age.

This proposal would create another problem even as it purports to solve another.

Isn't a better solution a garnishment of present wages, rather than future insurance.


The end result is a lot of underclass men in genuine not-enough-to-eat poverty in their old age. This seems like a spectacularly awful

S.S. is not social insurance. It's a pyramid scheme, and, in the end, welfare. Viewed in terms of welfare, it seems reasonable to broaden the cost/benefit calculation. Being a burden on society as an individual is one thing, but choosing to have children and expecting other to subsidize them adds an additional welfare burden.

On the other hand, to the extent that the poor are more myopic than average, losing future benefits is less likely to weigh in their decisions, and then we'll get the sob stories of the poor old guys who are facing hardship (and have limited work options) because they didn't realize how much their benefits would be reduced.

True. The only solution I can see is to 1) lift the cap for income subject to FICA taxes, 2) eliminate all benefits for people past a certain level of income (200K?) or wealth ($5 mil) and 3) start calling the whole scheme welfare.

And, yes, I'm collecting way more than I paid in. The whole "earned benefits" charade needs to stop.

Wikipedia: "In 2011 Caplan published a book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, arguing that people often work too hard in child-rearing, and as a result, they are scared of the idea of having children. Caplan's book urged parents to relax with respect to child-rearing. The book argues that as the perceived costs (in terms of child-rearing expense and effort) of having children fell, it made sense to have more children based on the basic theory of supply and demand." I suppose Caplan changed his mind, at least respect to those people having children.

If we're not going to let everyone opt out of Social Security, at the very least we should let the poorest among us opt out if they need the money to support their children, which is economically equivalent to Caplan's proposal. Opting out of Social Security is equivalent to paying into Social Security, receiving a benefit check against those payments to support one's children, and not receiving the subsequent Social Security benefits in old age.

Thus, how one reacts to Caplan's proposal tells us whether one prioritizes helping poor children over propping up old-age entitlement programs.

Yes, it's similar to the proposal of using SS to pay for "paid" family leave.

The obvious solution to child poverty isn't to set a distant-future punishment for broke parents, it's for there to *not be any children* in the first place.

Support vhemt. It's the solution to all our problems.

This proposal assumes, wrongly, that the only reason children might need government assistance is their parents are deadbeats. I realize conservatives like to pretend that all poverty is a result of moral failing (just as liberals like to pretend that poverty never has anything to do with moral failing), but the real world is more complicated than that.

I am pretty sure most families receiving assistance have a family member or two who works. But the wages are too low

I realize conservatives like to pretend that all poverty is a result of moral failing (just as liberals like to pretend that poverty never has anything to do with moral failing), but the real world is more complicated than that.

Since neither Caplan nor the Mercatus crew pretend to have any regard for the interests and priorities of those of us of a more conventional bent (who aren't business school faculty or chess nerds), you could at least do us the courtesy of not sticking us with the bill for sh%t they say.

If one parent fails to provide child support, we should deduct the cost from his Social Security benefits alone; otherwise, the parents split the cost.

The give-away in that sentence is the masculine pronoun. Men evil and irresponsible, women caring and good. Man in the wrong, woman right. If this society is to embrace increasing sexual equality, silly as the concept is, this type of thinking has to disappear.

Naturally, if this obscene idea could be adopted, it only makes sense for it to be applied to alimony as well. Males that trifle with women, or (gasp) marry one, or are even so foolish as to be alone with one in a room, are living in an antique world that no longer exists, at least in a large part of North America.

Poor snowflake.

Better yet, sterilize one of the parents...

Just pay for IUDs and call it an attack on the patriarchy.

A lot of people on this thread apparently never had to sit through a Brit Lit survey.

What do we do in the case of children whose parents are unknown or deceased?

The "modest proposal" is taken from a comment Caplan made after a debate between him and David Balan. I think what he means by "modest" is "an idiotic place holder", since it prima facie IS so idiotic.

Or get rid of all government assistance and see whether people really do start starving in the streets or whether civil society steps up to fill the role it traditionally held as the safety net prior to the new deal.

Finally a good idea! Welfare destroyed the black family and has created a cycle of dependence, lowered expectations, and transgenerational failure. Now they want to fix it by breaking it some more.

It did nothing of the kind. Illegitimate child-bearing has been rampant in just about every occidental country and is practiced by large numbers of people who've never taken an AFDC check in their lives. A generation ago, bout 20% of the black population was collecting AFDC at any one time. The share of the black population on the TANF rolls is now less than 4%. The observable effect on the share of children born out of wedlock has been bupkis.

Wrong! Dead wrong!

Out of wedlock births have increased dramatically, across the board, since 1965 - the birth of the welfare state. For blacks in the US, the number is 71%, a terrible number.

Yeah, it increased globally too. I don't know why and don't care either.


"I don't know why and don't care either."

Shocking coming from EdR...

You would have to set some lower threshold below which the SS payments could not go, or it would defeat the purpose of social security. I believe there is already a minimum currently around $800-$900 per month.

I could see reducing SS payments for people who are receiving more than the minimum in retirement, but that would really only affect people who only go on social assistance temporarily when they have young kids but somehow manage to make decent incomes before or after.

Maybe if America's ruling class had not sold its people i bondage to Red China, those children wouldn't need aid in first place. Americans should take care of the root cause of poverty and violence, and this root cause is Red China.

Brazil and China put together $20 billion worth of projects to build up Brazil's infrastructure. Are you sure the US is in the wrong here if Brazil seems to do the same?

This appears to be satire in the same vein as Jonathan Swift's classic "modest proposal" : https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Modest_Proposal

Just in case anyone missed the reference.


The comments show why sarcasm is not a effective way to communicate ideas.

I'm pretty sure it's tripe like this that Jacob levy was talking about when he said that one of his least favourite things about modern libertarianism is that it "too often veers into a smirking affection for “political incorrectness” for its own sake".

I'd like to say I think Bryan is better than crap like this, but I wouldn't really believe it.

"too often veers into a smirking affection for “political incorrectness” for its own sake".

Rubbish. Caplan says outre things because he's on the autism spectrum. The rest of them are very careful to avoid offending 'the culture' where they work. You're not going to see a critique of employment discrimination law from the Mercatus crew. You might see it from the septuagenarian Richard Epstein and the late Gottfried Dietze took on every sort of anti-discrimination law. Not the succeeding generation. Instead you'll see onanistic pieces on legalizing bribery, the Coase theorem, Bitcoin, and charter cities.

I don't support Caplan's proposal, but I wonder if food stamp benefits should be reduced when children are eligible for free school lunches. Where I live, even though it is an affluent town, there is a free food program (not sure if it's just lunch) over the summer for children who get free school lunches during the year.

Why not eliminate the grocery subsidies, the housing subsidies, and the utility subsidies and just amend and elaborate on EITC?

It's doubtful the provision of school lunches benefits from central co-ordination and economies of scale to such an extent that's its properly done by the central government of a country with 300 million people living in it. We've been stuck with the detritus of one of LBJ's marketing strategies for 50-odd years now.

I find libertarians hate families more than liberals or conservatives. Worse, they also seem to gravitate towards big government solutions when they do this. There's little difference between the raw algorithmic calculations of a faceless AI and the autistic, mechanical views of libertarians.

The man who once ran the Buckeye Institute in Ohio once offered that he began to leave the libertarian fold the day it occurred to him that a quite surprising share of the stars of the libertarian world were childless. (He was married at 24 and had five or six last I heard).

Social Security already disincentives population growth. http://users.nber.org/~denardim/research/fertility_socsec_draft06.pdf

If we must continue this disastrous program, parents should be credited for their investment into future contributors.

The right thing to do is to simply eliminate social security completely. Thus, parents will be incentivized to promote the welfare of their children directly. Furthermore, it will expose the real deadbeats - those who enjoy the benefits of other's children without bothering to supply any of their own.

Deadbeat dads either don't have the money (the plan closed) or are the kind of YOLO underclass thugs that definitely aren't thinking about reduced social security benefits one day.

If you want to punish fathers that don't stick around, just offer a special benefit that the biological father can only claim if he's married to the mother.

Are there no workhouses?

Childless people living in Fairfax County are paying a handsome sum in property taxes to provide schooling for Corina Caplan's parthenogenetically generated children. Can we claw that back too?

Ooooooo ... nasty! Haha!

He's stating existing law. Social security payments can be garnished to satisfy child support obligations. See 42 USC sec. 659 and SS ruling 79-4.

This is not merely theoretical. In my state, there is a 20-year statute of limitations on child support debt, so a debtor is not wholly clear until the child turns 38, and a judgment can be collected for 20 years after entry. Certainly, these are liabilities that can persist into a debtor's old age.

The amount of duplication, waste and arbitrage going on in all government solutions swamps any modest proposal on anything in Congress. The place is jammed, stuck, sand in the gears, hopeless.

It would be cheaper and simpler just to pay for IUDs for any woman 18 years or older who wants one. And the left would even celebrate it as “progress”, and “freedom from the patriarchy”.

I'm extremely on board with this. In fact perhaps we could even pay a bonus to low SES women who have this done.

Eugenicist! Genocidier!

I'm a bit unclear why fairness would produce good public policy. It's subjective so could justify almost anything, and empirically it seems to fail on a regular basis. Personally, I'd prefer evidence-based policy.

God must have loved poor people.....

If He wanted them to have child support, He would have provided It.

Deal with it: You are stuck with deadbeat dads and kids raised by (often) clueless Moms. No good solution. Not suggesting that poor folks are verminous pests (aside from a few), merely that, like cockroaches, ants, rats, pigeons, crows, they are here whether you like it or not. The only solution (such as it is), is to budget their costs in.

Why can't everyone be like econ professors? Surely the world would be a swell city on a hill if they were.

Alternatively, you could phrase the suggestion that the more Social Security taxes are paid by children, the more Social Security parents should get.

It would surely open up a whole new avenue of claiming someone else’s children as your own in order to defraud taxpayers.

Until they reach working age children do not pay Social Security taxes, as they do not work. And good grief bear in mind that kids are also a drain on society: for a good ling time (often well into their 20s these days) children are consumers and not producers, exactly like retired old people.

I proposed that (some) welfare benefits be conditionally repayable here:


It is very difficult to understand how Caplan can think that "we could significantly alleviate child poverty by holding irresponsible parents more financially accountable". He does bring up deadbeat dads, but this seems like quite an edge case that is better dealt with via laws affecting deadbeat dads rather than basically all families, or at least all lower middle class to poor families. (Do child tax credits count as government assistance? What about dependent care/FSA deductions? Pretty much everyone gets those, and the reason is because the government wants to encourage workers to actually reproduce at some point.)

Also, you really have to think of the abortion-related ramifications of such a policy. Maybe Caplan wants poor people to really want abortions since there are such huge retirement costs, but his political allies on this issue are all presumably staunchly opposed to policies that would be so pro-abortion. And I don't know what we are supposed to do when someone's child-assistance penalty drops to Social Security payout to below-some-moral-threshold level.

This is some poorly thought nonsense from Caplan, IMO.

The great English essayist and social critic William Cobbett had something to say about this in his response to Thomas Malthus' Essay on the Principle of Population:

The laws of nature, written in our passions, desires, and propensities; written even in the organization of our bodies; these laws compel the two sexes to hold that sort of intercourse which produces children. Yes, say you; but nature has other laws, and amongst those are, that man shall live by food, and that, if he cannot obtain food, he shall starve. Agreed, and if there be a man in England who cannot find, in the whole country, food enough to keep him alive, I allow that nature has doomed him to starve. If, in no shop, house, mill, barn, or other place, he can find food sufficient to keep him alive; then, I allow, that the laws of nature condemn him to die.

"Oh!" you will, with parson-like bawl, exclaim, "but he must not commit robbery or larceny! Robbery or larceny! What do you mean by that? Does the law of nature say anything about robbery or larceny? Does the law of nature know anything of these things? No; the law of nature bids man to take, whenever he can find it, whatever is necessary to his life, health, and ease. So you will quit the law of nature now, will you?: You will only take it as far as serves your purpose of cruelty. You will take it to sanction your barbarity; but will fling it away when it offers the man food.

Your muddled parson's head has led you into confusion here. The law of nature bids a man not to starve in a land of plenty, and forbids his being punished for taking food wherever he can find it. Your law of nature is sitting at Westminster, to make the labourer pay taxes, to make him fight for the safety of the land, to bind him in allegiance, and when he is poor and hungry , to cast him off to starve, or to hang him if he takes food to save his life! That is your law of nature; that is a parson's law of nature. I am glad, however, that you blundered upon the law of nature; because it is the very ground on which I mean to start in endeavouring clearly to establish the rights of the poor; on which subject I have not dwelt so fully as its importance seemed to demand; especially at a time when the poor ought to understand clearly what their rights are.

Long Island, 6 February 1819

Bryan gets close to but doesn't quite get to the heart of the free-rider-ish problem: what is the moral thing for civilized society to do with irresponsible people who need help today, because of bad decisions they made in the past?

How should we treat the irresponsible, the lazy, the almost-mentally retarded, and others who consistently make bad, impulsive decisions?

There is no good solutions -- but it's also sort of uncouth to even bring up the problem.

It would seem that the answer is to create an environment that “nudges” those sorts of people into making better decisions. One example would be to provide IUDs free of cost to any woman who wants one, in order to prevent childbirth among young and/or poorer women. We could also hire tens of thousands more police officers and deploy them in the US’ most crime ridden neighborhoods, as more cops on the beat is correlated with lower rates of criminal behavior. This would prevent many impulsive young men from committing a stupid crime and ending up in prison.

Another idea is to dramatically raise the taxes on alcoholic beverages. People do stupid things when drunk, so making it more expensive to drink leads to less stupid, impulsive behavior.

One more thing is universal pre-k. It doesn’t seem to have any long term impact on IQ or test scores, but it does seem to have a long term impact of making the children of poor parents have much greater self-control.

Excuse not always, but usually equal Cause
-i'm dying because i'm bleeding too much.
-stop making excuses!!!
-my fathers were poor so they couldn't pay me university... i couldn't go to university so i have lower salary, so i can't afford pay university to my child

Likewise, if you call the police to defend your property, we should increase your taxes by an amount equal to the cost.

If your employees go on public assistance we should increase your taxes by an amount equal to the cost.

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