The Corner

Krugman vs. Pethokoukis

Paul Krugman:

Pethokoukis is wrong about what actually works in the direction he wants. He argues that big welfare states discourage having children, and dismisses pro-natalist policies as ineffectual. Here are fertility rates in advanced countries:

The two most extensive, generous welfare states in the world — France and Sweden — also have higher fertility than we do, significantly so in the case of France. And there’s a reason: strong pro-natalist policies, which greatly reduce the burden, financial and otherwise, of raising children. As I’ve written in the past, if you want to see policy informed by genuine family values — as opposed to “pro-family” values that are actually about patriarchy — France is a much better example than America.

This is a strange criticism, since Pethokoukis was writing in favor of moving U.S. policy in a more “pro-natalist” direction—or rather, I’d argue, a less anti-natalist one—by “greatly reduc[ing] the burden, financial and otherwise, of raising children.”

In the post to which Krugman links, incidentally, Pethokoukis neither suggests that “big welfare states discourage having children” nor “dismisses pro-natalist policies as ineffectual.” On the first point, what the conservatives Krugman is criticizing have actually said is that large old-age pension programs, an important part of the welfare state, tend to reduce family size. (See this article, for example, which discusses French policy without freaking out, which, I guess, is what the conservatives of Krugman’s imagination do.) On the second point, all Pethokoukis said was that pro-natalist policies “have a poor record at nudging people into having more kids than they want.” He went on to suggest that it is more feasible to make it easier for people to have the kids they do want. To catch that nuance, though, you’d have to be interested in accurately presenting other people’s views.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for National Review, a columnist for Bloomberg Opinion, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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