I was pleasantly surprised to not be referenced in the mini-scandal that erupted when Niall Ferguson said that John Maynard Keynes wasn’t interested in the future because he was gay and childless.
It would have been easy enough for some liberal blogger to roll me into the story. Around the same time as Ferguson’s remarks went public, I was arguing that having kids indeed changes one’s political perspective. And like Ferguson, I had recently used the word “effete” — which a few commenters, incorrectly, attributed to being a veiled homophobic reference.
But happily (as far as I know), no one made the tortured connection. (I say “happily,” because much of what Ferguson said was, in fact, wrong. And he has since apologized.)
Still, there is an underlying point that deserves attention: Yes, having kids probably does make you care more about the future.
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Anecdotally speaking, I can tell you that I’ve probably become less libertarian and more communitarian since having children a few years ago. If one concedes that at least some of our political preferences are based on self-interest, then this is perfectly natural.
For example, as an adult, legalizing drugs, prostitution, etc., probably wouldn’t have terribly negative consequences on my life. If anything, it might even increase my liberty.
And even if there are some long-term negative results, how much longer do I have to live?
But if one is also concerned about the larger culture — not just academically interested in the “future,” but intimately worried about the next hundred years — well, that might lead to dramatically different conclusions.
Putting aside overt politics, if you have kids, you may find that (if you didn’t realize it before), you suddenly have a vested interest in communities having strong schools, churches, etc. This isn’t so much a left vs. right thing as a communitarian vs. individualism thing.
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This point is undermined by having become a cliche politicians use as a rationale for running for office, when they have no other reason. “That’s why I’m doing this for the grandkids,” said Herman Cain (countless times) when explaining why a man who had never been elected to anything would run for president.
Politicians use their kids to justify all sorts of things. How often have we heard them say they are resigning because they want to “spend more time with the family”? But like most cliches, it works because there is an element of truth to it.
Just today, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie used it to explain his lap-band surgery. “I have to do this for them, even if I don’t give a crap about myself,” he said. Wanting to live for your kids’ sake is utterly understandable (and if there is a political benefit to looking slimmer, well that’s icing on the cake.)
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Unlike Ferguson, I’m less interested in the effect of one childless opinion leader (granted, Keynes had significant impact on the world), than the trend we are witnessing among heterosexuals in America who are increasingly choosing to remain single and/or childless.
I’ve often written about the birth dearth, and the need for more people, so I’ll skip that here. But if you’re looking for an example of how having a family can change your perspective, just consider how unmarried women tend to vote compared to, say, married women. At the macro level, there is little doubt that being married and having children can have larger consequences on politics and society.
I should probably note that I recently chastised Sen. Rob Portman for changing his position on gay marriage after discovering his son was gay. If one has a well-reasoned political philosophy, it will not be terribly susceptible to the vagaries of life. But I think we might make an exception for the profound impact that comes from the realization that one has created life.
In some cases, the worldview changes can be similar to a spiritual awakening. To have kids is, almost by definition, to believe in an after-life. Only, in this case, it is an earthly after-life.