In defense of the productive “1 percent”

David Paul Deavel, a regular contributor to Catholic World Report, has penned an apologia for the oft-discussed “1 percent”:

My wife and I are part of the 1 percent — so we’re used to criticism. We’ve made a bundle — heck, a number of bundles — and while the rest of the nation seems to be in a slump, we’re just making more. We’re part of the false cult of quantity at the expense of quality. Our consumption hurts the environment. Our ridiculous tax breaks reward our selfishness at others’ expense. To give us larger breaks is so ridiculous a suggestion even the Wall Street Journal calls us tax “gangsters.” But we, I reply, are the makers. It’s right that our tax burden is lower, since we ultimately provide the raw material for jobs, innovation and future tax revenue.

Of course, when I say we’re in the top 1 percent, I mean kids. I can’t prove conclusively that we’re 1-percenters, but given that 2010 census data showed that only 1.9 percent of American homes had seven or more members, I think it’s likely. Many seven-plus households are surely multigenerational, and 2012 census data shows the average number of children under 18 per household living with parents was 1.88.

We ended 2012 with five. No. 6, God willing, will emerge from the womb in late summer.

Read his entire column on the site. Deavel writes of the disparaging comments often made to large families. Of course, more than 1.8 kids is now considered “too many” by the supposedly smart set; I have a friend here in Eugene, Oregon, who was called a “breeder” when she was out with her three children. 

Deavel also mentions the new book, What to Expect When Nobody’s Expecting, by Jonathan V. Last, who is also Catholic. In a recent interview with NRO, Last talked to Kathryn Jean Lopez about the serious demographic, cultural, and economic challenges facing the United States:

LOPEZ: Whose fertility do you worry about the most?

LAST: The people who want babies. For all the fashionable talk about how family life has gone out of style and how people don’t want kids anymore, the research is pretty clear: When demographers calculate America’s “ideal fertility rate” — that is, the number of children people say they’d like in a perfect world — that figure has been a pretty constant 2.5 for almost two generations.

Put that 2.5 ideal rate next to our 1.9 actual rate, and what you see is that while many people may not want children — which is fine! we celebrate your choice! — that is not the median American experience.

So what we have here is a persistent, generations-long gap between ideal and achieved fertility. This suggests to me that the solution isn’t arguing or trying to bribe people who don’t want kids — leave those nice folks alone! No, the solution is finding ways to help the people who do want kids achieve the families they desire.

… Look, capitalism is the least bad system of economic organization and it has been responsible — over the long haul — for an amazing array of good outcomes. It has lifted masses of people out of poverty and into freedom and made their lives better in ways that are, literally, innumerable.

But the fact that capitalism has, on balance, good outcomes in the very long term shouldn’t blind us to capitalism’s short-term failures — which are often quite spectacular.

Take parenting, for instance. We have a system right now in which children could reasonably be construed as a marker of social failure. On average, people with higher levels of education and higher incomes have fewer children. And the costs of children — it’ll run you about $1.1 million to raise a middle-class kid through college — are such that to some degree, people become more economically successful by not having them.

If we were all Homo economicus, rational capitalism would never be able to suffice as an argument for having children. Yet, as we said up top, children remain both private and public goods. Here, then, I would suggest, capitalism fails us when it comes to providing right reason for pursuing the particular good of children. To cross that bridge, you need something else. Something I would suggest supersedes even capitalism as a guiding precept.

But then I already told you I was a good Catholic boy, and I don’t want to belabor the point. I’ll just say that there are greater things in heaven and earth than the free market.

Read the entire interview on the NRO site.

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About Carl E. Olson 1233 Articles
Carl E. Olson is editor of Catholic World Report and Ignatius Insight. He is the author of Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead?, Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"?, co-editor/contributor to Called To Be the Children of God, co-author of The Da Vinci Hoax (Ignatius), and author of the "Catholicism" and "Priest Prophet King" Study Guides for Bishop Robert Barron/Word on Fire. His recent books on Lent and Advent—Praying the Our Father in Lent (2021) and Prepare the Way of the Lord (2021)—are published by Catholic Truth Society. He is also a contributor to "Our Sunday Visitor" newspaper, "The Catholic Answer" magazine, "The Imaginative Conservative", "The Catholic Herald", "National Catholic Register", "Chronicles", and other publications. Follow him on Twitter @carleolson.