A Philosopher's Blog

Sterilizing the Poor

Posted in Ethics, Philosophy, Politics by Michael LaBossiere on September 30, 2011
Specially sterilized for you..

Image by ebertek via Flickr

On Wednesday a student in my ethics class asked me whether or not sterilizing the poor would end poverty. Interestingly, I was not asked whether this would be morally acceptable.  I gave a fairly concise answer in class, but thought I would expand on it a bit here.

On the face of it, it does make some sense that preventing the poor from reproducing would reduce poverty. After all, poverty is often an inherited condition and having no (or far fewer) children born to poor people would reduce the number of people inheriting poverty. It could also provide people with yet another incentive to avoid being poor (although it might be wondered whether people need more incentives beyond the existing ones). Also, children are expensive and if the sterilization rules took this into account, people who would become poor because of the cost of raising kids would be prevented from doing so, thus they would not become poor. None of this, obviously, directly addresses the ethics of the matter.

In the course of the discussion, the subject of whether or not poverty has a genetic link was brought up. On the one hand, it was argued that the traits that could incline people to poverty could be linked to various genes and sterilizing the poor would presumably reduced the number of people carrying these genes.  To use an analogy, not allowing blonde haired people to reproduce would certainly reduce the number of blonde haired people in the world. On the other hand, it was also argued that there seems to be little basis for assuming a genetic cause to poverty. If so, sterilization of the poor would not have the effect of a genetic culling of the population that would reduce poverty.

One point that is well worth considering is that poverty is not created by the specific people that happen to be poor (except insofar as they serve in the role of being the poor). Rather, poverty is created by factors (mainly people) in the social system and these factors would be in effect regardless of whether the current poor were sterilized or not. On this view, sterilizing the current poor would merely have the effect of changing, to a degree, the makeup of the next generation of the poor. To use an analogy, sterilizing politicians would not eliminate this social role.  Rather, it would just mean that the people who became politicians would be the children of non-politicians. Given the way the current system works, the children the poor would have had would be replaced in the ranks of the poor by other people-either those citizens who would become poor by the way the economic system works or those who enter the country to do the poverty level work that helps sustain this system.

My considered view is that sterilizing the poor would not eliminate poverty because it fails to address the main causes of poverty, namely the aspects of the economic system that creates and relies on poverty. I do, of course, admit that sterilizing the poor would reduce the number of poor people but this reduction would be at the cost of what certainly appears to be a morally wrong method. It would seem morally preferable to address the other causes of poverty rather than engaging in this sort of economic eugenics (“ecogenics”, perhaps?).

Enhanced by Zemanta
About these ads

31 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. ajmacdonaldjr said, on September 30, 2011 at 1:03 pm

    Sounds like your (affluent?) student has had an idea that’s already been accepted by the US Supreme Court and subsequently overturned:

    War on the Weak: http://books.google.com/books?id=mAdiPwAACAAJ&dq=War+on+the+Weak&hl=en&ei=KPSFTtWRC4XZ0QHz9-0G&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CC0Q6AEwAA

    “In War Against the Weak, award-winning investigative journalist Edwin Black connects the crimes of the Nazis to a pseudoscientific American movement of the early twentieth century called eugenics. Based on selective breeding of human beings, eugenics began in laboratories on Long Island but ended in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. Ultimately, over 60,000 unfit Americans were coercively sterilized, a third of them after Nuremberg declared such practices crimes agains humanity. This is a timely and shocking chronicle of bad science at its worst–which holds important lessons for the impending genetic age.”

    U.S. History Of Forced Sterilizations And Eugenics: http://reality-bytes.hubpages.com/hub/US-History-Of-Forced-Sterilizations

    Virginia had/has the strongest forced compulsory sterilization laws: http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2009-06-23-eugenics-carrie-buck_N.htm

    Minorities and the poor suffered the worst, of course: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ASrFufnMNDg

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on September 30, 2011 at 1:43 pm

      Quite so. I think some other countries are currently practicing this-or at least considering it.

  2. Edward Carney said, on September 30, 2011 at 6:16 pm

    As you said, poverty is obviously a social role. That is, for someone to be in poverty, there must be a point of contrast – someone who is wealthy. Once the question was raised as to whether sterilizing the poor would fix the problem, did no one see fit to ask whether sterilizing the rich would do the same?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 1, 2011 at 4:34 pm

      That is a good point. Sterilizing the rich would prevent the inheritance of wealth via biological children (except those born prior to any rich folks becoming rich), but presumably children of the non-rich would move up the economic ladder.

    • Anonymous said, on October 2, 2011 at 5:59 am

      “That is, for someone to be in poverty, there must be a point of contrast – someone who is wealthy.

      Use this statement instead of the one you made: “For someone to be healthy, there must be a point of contrast–someone who is unhealthy. ”

      True, but in a moot sort of way. It comes down to buying power and how much a person needs in order to maintain a happy existence. And in that, America is tops–better than any other country. The poor in Mississippi have more buying power than a lot of middle class in Sweden.

      Sterilizing the rich would not have the same effect. You would lose a vast amount of education and know-how which would be replaced by the uneducated and those with criminal background. So, if you want your country to look like Yemen, kill the rich in order to make things even for the poor.

      How about this: Regardless of where you or anyone else comes form, go to college, graduate, get a job, stop whining.

      • dhammett said, on October 2, 2011 at 10:04 am

        “Regardless of where you or anyone else comes form, go to college, graduate, get a job, stop whining”

        And it’s that easy. Hanson Philbrick, of the Boston Philbricks, IQ of 80 , proudly crosses the stage to receive his college diploma.

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 2, 2011 at 10:34 am

          College is more expensive with each year. Many of my students work, some full time, to pay for school (and even then they need loans). A fair number of students are forced to leave school because of the cost. Interestingly, faculty salaries at my school have been stagnant for quite some time-so those tuition increases are not going to the folks who do the actual teaching. Employment after school is not guaranteed, especially these days.

          • WTP said, on October 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm

            College may be more expensive, but access to information and instruction is less expensive than ever. Perhaps we don’t need colleges, or so many of them, any more?

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 2, 2011 at 10:27 am

        Health is different than wealth. My health has no connection to that of others (aside from contagious diseases, of course). We can all be healthy. Wealth is, however, a relative thing. For me to be wealthy, that entails that I have more than others. After all, it would be odd to say that if everyone had the same amount of stuff, we would all be wealthy. Unless, of course, you want to define being wealthy as merely having lots of valuable stuff. In which case, we could all be wealthy.

        No, sterilizing the rich would not seem to cause a loss of education and know how. After all, the rich who are well-educated and competent are not being targeted for termination, just sterilization. The kids of the rich do tend to get better education, but this is something they acquire and are not born with. Other kids could receive the same education. As far as competence goes, being rich does not entail competence (see Paris Hilton) nor does being non-rich entail a lack of competence (see Socrates).

        • Anonymous said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:28 am

          The rich aren’t more educated than the poor?

          It’s telling, Mike, that you immediately jumped on the fact that your student didn’t ask about the moral implications of sterilizing the poor, and neither do you speak of the moral problems with sterilizing the rich.

          I do wonder how many truly poor people all the whiners have even met or interacted with. What are THEY doing to help?

          Liberalism: The politics of envy. I think Cain felt the same emotion that liberals do everyday, right before he smashed his brother in the head with a rock.

          I don’t sit around all day feeling bad that others are rich and I’m not. People should look in the mirror and stop worrying how everyone else is doing; there’s plenty to fix in the person staring back from the looking glass. Sorry, I just can’t get myself to feel outrage at the rich in America. Don’t care. At all.

          Now Jalalludin Haqqani, he’s a rich guy I care about and would like to see dead.

        • Anonymous said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:32 am

          “Health is different than wealth. My health has no connection to that of others (aside from contagious diseases, of course). We can all be healthy.”

          As I said, it’s a true statement, but moot. The main question is not how much total wealth a person has, but can a person meet his basic needs and maybe have a little expendable cash.

          This is what I can’t stand about libs: they want to burn down the mansion because one of the door hinges is squeaks.

          • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:46 pm

            Liberals don’t want to do that. Many want their own mansions. Real liberals want everyone to have a decent place to live.

      • Edward Carney said, on October 2, 2011 at 4:31 pm

        I am truly sick to death of people perpetuating these kinds of fantasies. It’s interesting that you would bring up Sweden as an example to indicate how equitable American society is. Do you realize that, according to the UN Human Poverty Index, Sweden is the country with the least poverty respective to its population, in a ranking on which the United States comes in at number seventeen?

        With a national unemployment rate that stands around sixteen percent when people who have fallen off the rolls are factored in, it’s pretty stunning that anyone can still be so delusional as to explain economic hardship away as a failure of motivation or talent.

        What a nuanced solution you have to that problem; I’m sure it will get me out of my poverty straightaway. Well, let’s see here… I already went to NYU and graduated with honors in three years. So I guess the reason why I was without a full-time job for three years afterwards is that I just plain didn’t feel like working. And the eight-dollar an hour food service job that I finally managed to secure is certainly the sort of thing that will translate into a lifetime of affluence as long as one works hard, right? And don’t get me started on all the homeless people in my area. Surely those unmotivated layabouts could become captains of industry if only they set their minds to it. There couldn’t possibly be any external causes for anything here in the land of opportunity. That would make self-righteousness and dismissive self-interest a lot less fun.

        How about this: Show some goddamn human compassion.

        • Anonymous said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:45 am

          “What a nuanced solution you have to that problem; I’m sure it will get me out of my poverty straightaway.”

          No Ed, what kind of solution do you offer? Blame the rich? I’m not pro-rich or poor. But this debate is childish. Have I ever stated once here that there isn’t a employment problem right now in America? No. Have I ever said I don’t feel bad for the people who can’t find work? No. Will wealth redistribution and hating on the rich solve our problems? No.

          Human compassion? Are you not the one who ignited the line of sterilizing the rich, you fucking fascist? I wouldn’t hire your ass, either.

        • Anonymous said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:53 am

          Ed: Again–buying power, not absolute cash. Come to Europe and see how much a glass of soda is compared to what it costs in Mississippi.

          “With a national unemployment rate that stands around sixteen percent when people who have fallen off the rolls are factored in, it’s pretty stunning that anyone can still be so delusional as to explain economic hardship away as a failure of motivation or talent.”

          Putting words in my mouth. Did they teach you to do that in college? Take your degree and joint he Army, be an officer. It’s more effective than blaming the rich.

          • Edward Carney said, on October 3, 2011 at 8:53 am

            Have you completely lost sight of the fact that this thread began as a discussion of the practical effects of sterilizing the poor as a means of fighting poverty?

            “Human compassion? Are you not the one who ignited the line of sterilizing the rich, you fucking fascist? I wouldn’t hire your ass, either.”

            Are you fucking kidding me? Did you honestly read my first comment as advocacy of a sterilization program. It was a thought experiment intended to point out that attacking the poor as the source of poverty is painfully short-sighted because blame can go either way. Speaking more generally, my point is that individuals are not to blame for broad-ranging social problems.

            “It’s telling, Mike, that you immediately jumped on the fact that your student didn’t ask about the moral implications of sterilizing the poor, and neither do you speak of the moral problems with sterilizing the rich.”

            He didn’t discuss the moral implications of either. It’s not the topic. Practically every bit of ideology that you’ve read into other comments is just your own political ire coloring your interpretation. I don’t care where you went to school or what you do for a living; your reading comprehension sucks. Granted, maybe I’m overstating your case, too, but “go to college, graduate, get a job, stop whining” comes across pretty clearly as blaming the poor for their own poverty.

            • WTP said, on October 3, 2011 at 12:12 pm

              Oh, and Ed…just a friendly reminder: Perstare et praestare.

          • WTP said, on October 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm

            Now Magus, ease up on the nastiness with my friend Ed.

            On the other hand, Ed. What exactly is “goddamn human compassion” anyway? I couldn’t afford an expensive school like NYU, so I’m a bit ignorant in these matters.

            But getting to the crux of part of y’alls debate…I suppose I could be wrong but I have a funny feeling that Mike’s student, who supposedly started all of this either does not exist or was being extremely facetious with his comment. One would have to be very bold to put his/her social standing at risk like this at any public university, let alone FAMU.

  3. WTP said, on October 1, 2011 at 9:03 pm

    “My considered view is that sterilizing the poor would not eliminate poverty because it fails to address the main causes of poverty, namely the aspects of the economic system that creates and relies on poverty.”

    1) What, pray tell, aspect of the economic system relies on poverty?

    2) In a free economic system, do the poor not have some level of responsibility and/or control over whether or not they remain in that state?

    3) Do the poor only advance out of poverty at the expense of the rich?

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 2, 2011 at 10:31 am

      1) One example: our cheap consumer goods rests largely on cheap labor provided by the poor. Many corporations enjoy their excellent profits because they can pay workers so little, thus taking advantage of poverty.
      2) Yes, to a degree. There are, of course, some people who are poor because of their own choices. Other people fall into poverty for other reasons. For example, children who are born into crushing poverty can hardly be blamed if they fail to bootstrap themselves into success. Also, people get fired when companies downsize or are taken over.
      3) Good question. Some folks see the economic pie as a zero sum game: if I get a bigger slice, other folks get less. Marx believed that eventually productivity would be so high that we could all be very well off at the expense of no one. But that is, of course, Marxism.

      • T. J. Babson said, on October 2, 2011 at 11:59 am

        “After all, it would be odd to say that if everyone had the same amount of stuff, we would all be wealthy. Unless, of course, you want to define being wealthy as merely having lots of valuable stuff. In which case, we could all be wealthy.”

        “After all, it would be odd to say that if everyone had the same amount of stuff, we would all be wealthy. Unless, of course, you want to define being wealthy as merely having lots of valuable stuff. In which case, we could all be wealthy.”

        What is the LaBossierian view? Can everyone be wealthy? And is this different from eliminating poverty?

        • T. J. Babson said, on October 2, 2011 at 12:00 pm

          That last post should read:

          “After all, it would be odd to say that if everyone had the same amount of stuff, we would all be wealthy. Unless, of course, you want to define being wealthy as merely having lots of valuable stuff. In which case, we could all be wealthy.”

          Marx believed that eventually productivity would be so high that we could all be very well off at the expense of no one. But that is, of course, Marxism.

          What is the LaBossierian view? Can everyone be wealthy? And is this different from eliminating poverty?

      • WTP said, on October 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm

        1-A) Suppose I have a business and I employ 5 people at $10/hr. I then discover that I can replace those 5 people with a machine, making even more profit on fewer expenses and less headaches. Have I “taken advantage” of their poverty? If so, how?

        1-B) Suppose the same scenario as above, but I find 1 guy who has the skills to do the same amount of work as those other 5 people, so long as I can pay him $30/hr. Again, more profit on fewer expenses and less headaches. Who have I taken advantage of and how?

        1-C) My competition was the company in 1-B. I figure I can reconfigure my business in such a way that I can get 4 people to work for $8/hr and get the same amount of product produced, cut into my own profit, and still stay competitive with the company in 1-B.

        2) I got laid off a few years ago when my company downsized. I found another job paying more money at which I got raises, meanwhile in the last few years my former coworkers haven’t gotten any raises. Who was exploited? How?

        3) Some folks see biology as a result of intelligent design and not evolution. What has what some folks see got to do with reality? See TJ’s point. Then show me where Marxism has had any influence on increasing productivity. Productivity has however, increased with economic freedom.

        • WTP said, on October 2, 2011 at 1:04 pm

          For my questions for 1-C, i.e. Who have I taken advantage of and how? Or would it be preferable that I just go out of business and put all 5 people out of work?

      • WTP said, on October 3, 2011 at 8:23 am

        And here’s another question regarding “taking advantage of poverty”…Don’t left-wing politicos take advantage of poverty and exploit the poor by leading them to believe that they cannot rise out of poverty without the help and support of said left-wing politicos? This in spite of the fact that millions of formerly poor people have risen out of poverty without their help?

        • Michael LaBossiere said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:44 pm

          Yes, some left wing folks (or allegedly left wing folks) do make us of poverty as a political tool. The poor often have the misfortune of being political pawns.

  4. Anonymous said, on October 3, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Unemployment rate by education level:

    http://www.outsidethebeltway.com/unemployment-and-education-2/

  5. magus71 said, on October 3, 2011 at 2:22 am

    Ultimately even the poor should have some self-respect. I’m not rich, but I hope I have enough self-respect to not see there’s few places in the world that offer more chances at success than America and that if I fail, it just may have something to do with some of my actions and choices. The elite sit around enjoying the frisson of talking about the tragedy of the poor. Anyone who’s poor should at least become a person of action–that doesn’t require copious amounts of money.

    Very, very, few people fall under the definition of true poverty in America:

    David Gordon’s paper, “Indicators of Poverty & Hunger”, for the United Nations, further defines absolute poverty as the absence of any two of the following eight basic needs:[8]
    Food: Body Mass Index must be above 16.
    Safe drinking water: Water must not come from solely rivers and ponds, and must be available nearby (less than 15 minutes’ walk each way).
    Sanitation facilities: Toilets or latrines must be accessible in or near the home.
    Health: Treatment must be received for serious illnesses and pregnancy.
    Shelter: Homes must have fewer than four people living in each room. Floors must not be made of dirt, mud, or clay.
    Education: Everyone must attend school or otherwise learn to read.
    Information: Everyone must have access to newspapers, radios, televisions, computers, or telephones at home.
    Access to services: This item is undefined by Gordon, but normally is used to indicate the complete panoply of education, health, legal, social, and financial (credit) services.

    http://www.un.org/esa/socdev/unyin/documents/ydiDavidGordon_poverty.pdf

    • Martin Herrigan said, on May 12, 2012 at 3:05 pm

      Maybe, we should only allow people who have an income of, let’s say, $750.000 have one child, and any one having an income of, let’s say, $1,275,000 be allowed to have two children, and any one worth over $200,000,000 up to five children.. Yeah, that should work…… Then we don’t have to worry about anyone not being able to feed their children. Then us rich people don’t have to share with those low income types… Why not start a war so we can get rid of the poor people.. I mean, if your income or net worth is less than $750,000 you really are the low life and not worth much, so why not pass a law to control you scum…. Have I got it right so far ??

      • magus71 said, on May 13, 2012 at 7:04 am

        I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think the internet is like the Necronomicon: people read it and lose sanity.

        • Martin Herrigan said, on May 13, 2012 at 4:28 pm

          You said; “I think the internet is like the Necronomicon: people read it and lose sanity.”. Do you really believe that?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,085 other followers

%d bloggers like this: