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Does Parenthood Consist of Breeding Slaves?

One strain of argument for the welfare state contends that because you have benefited from the welfare state, you have an obligation to fund the welfare state. As I put it in a recent post:

According to some of the welfare state supporters I’ve debated . . . [p]eople do things for you, and now you owe them. Older Americans paid for the government schools that educated you, so now you owe them Social Security. They paid for the roads, so now you owe them Medicare. They slaved and sacrificed for you, and now it’s your turn to slave and sacrifice for them.

What’s missing is your consent. In a free society, other people don’t get to impose what they regard as benefits on you and then extract what they regard as a fair price from you.

One reply is that children are incapable of giving or withholding their consent, and yet they receive enormous benefits from their parents, teachers, and all of society. Shouldn’t we expect them to give us something in return?

Well, no. As I wrote in my End the Debt Draft manifesto:

Children don’t choose to be born, and so while parents have an obligation to support their children, children have no moral obligation to support their parents. They might choose to do so out of goodwill, but their parents cannot demand it as a matter of right. What’s true at the individual level goes doubly for society as a whole. If we don’t owe support to our own parents, we certainly don’t owe it to strangers we have never met.

To listen to welfare statists tell it, there are a bunch of teachers and construction workers slaving away without pay in the hopes that my daughter will one day give them welfare handouts.

But the economic services children receive are paid for — by their parents. It is the parents who make the choice to have children, and thus they are consenting to take on an enormous number of costs: food, clothing, education, medical, and so on.

Now it’s true that today many of the economic services children receive — education, roads — are typically supplied by the government. But that’s irrelevant in this context. First, because those services are still paid for by taxes, including those paid by the parents. And second, because the provision of those services by the government represents a mistake, which children are not responsible for and should correct by privatizing them and abolishing the welfare state.

But what I object to most in this argument is its view of the relationship between parents and children. Speaking as a parent, the notion that my daughter is a burden I’m sacrificing for, in the hopes that someday she’ll become a resource for the welfare state to exploit, is offensive.

Any parent worthy of the name has a child because being a parent is enormously rewarding. I don’t pay for my daughter’s food, education, and medical care in the hopes that someday she’ll pay for mine (or anyone else’s). I do it because raising her to become an independent adult is one of the most enjoyable experiences I can imagine.

My hope is that my daughter grows up to pursue and achieve her own happiness, and one of the reasons I’ve made fighting the Debt Draft my mission in life is so that she doesn’t become a victim of the welfare state.