Get Paid $1,500 to Have a Vasectomy?

A reader from Wadsworth, Ohio, named Tom Morris writes with an idea. He is a lawyer and, he says, and an “occasional acting judge in a small town”:

In my capacity as acting judge, I find myself repeatedly dealing with the same issues. Young adults irresponsibly having kids without any ability, either monetarily or emotionally, to raise them.  These unwanted kids are left unsupervised, and are more likely to commit crimes and have more unwanted kids, which continues this cycle.

While I have not crunched the numbers to support this hypothesis, it is consistent with Dr. Levitt’s study made famous from your first book. Unwanted children are a bad thing. Preventing this “bad thing” would lead to a reduction in crime, reduction in poverty, and a reduction of just about every other social ill I can think of.

As always, solutions tend to reveal themselves by properly [offering] incentives to the situation for the desired results.  To that end, we need an economic plan, not an ad campaign to solve this problem.  Here is my shot, tell me what you think.

Plan: the government offers $1,500 to every 18-year-old male in exchange for them getting a vasectomy provided at no charge.

Advantages:  First, it would help reduce unwanted pregnancy.  So much of the burden falls on the girls to stop the pregnancy as boys tend to become only interested in the sex, and not the byproduct therefrom.

Second, we get to the results of Levitt’s “abortion crime-rate” study, without the need to get into the abortion argument. The unwanted children are never conceived.

Third, those people who would be attracted to the money are probably not in a financial position to be having kids in the first place.

Finally, if a person desires to have children in the future, they could have the procedure reversed (at their own cost).  This barrier of entry to having a child, I would argue, is also a good thing.

Let me know what you think so I can quit the law practice and start work on my doctoral thesis and eventual Nobel Prize.

Tom isn’t alone in thinking along these lines — our WNYC colleagues RadioLab did a story on Project Prevention (data here), which has paid thousands of drug addicts and alcoholics to not have babies. In India, men and women who agree to be sterilized have been offered cash, TVs, and cars. That said, should Tom start writing his Nobel speech?

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  1. Sam_L says:

    It isn’t a new idea. Eugenics was all the rage in the middle of the 20th century. Whether you define that by specific physical traits or socio-economic condition, the ethics of the situation are quite similar.

    If the only moral imperative is to increase the economic prospering of a country, then this is a great idea. If there are other ideals held by the population, expect incredible backlash.

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    • Sam_L says:

      I double checked my history and should have indicated that it was the rage in the early 20th century.

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    • Dan says:

      I think the key idea is giving people a choice in the matter. As long as they can choose to become sterilized, is it really that bad?

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      • Myles Chandler says:

        Depending on which board of ethics you subscribe to…

        The APA guide of ethics has a rule about offering a reward that ultimately takes advantage of certain people (like offering water to people without water to participate in a study). We get into dangerous territory when we hold a lot of power over disadvantaged people. People have a right to have kids (with consent of a mutual party or egg/sperm donor), but to what extent can we “give up” that right?

        Don’t you hate it when there is a discrepancy between “we can” and “we should”? :(

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      • Tiago says:

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      • Jeannie says:

        They don’t understand the rammification? So are we saying people are poor AND stupid? Come on.. at 18 we are old enough to tote a gun and defend our country to the death if needed. A choice. Not having children a choice. Only death isn’t something you can undo down the road. This proposition for preventing unwanted pregnancies is a win win.

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    • Paldo says:

      You are mixing unrelated ideas. This is not eugenics. Eugenics is race engineering — this program is not designed with the idea that some races are superior to others and is targeted indiscriminately to anybody considering it. This is a pretty obvious fact that you seem to be ignoring on purpose. Second the purpose of this is not to create economic prosperity, it is to reduce the crime rate.

      Personally I think it is less racist than the prison system we have in the US.

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      • Liam says:

        Eugenics — literally “good birth” — asserts that it strives for some notion of biological “goodness.” The persecution of some “races” (as in colors) was ostensibly motivated by some eugenicists’ racist assumptions that some such “races” (colors) were biologically superior. But the Nazis tried to kill people in multiple categories that they claimed were inferior — selecting not only by color but also by sexual orientation, lack of disease, etc. We could add “wealth” or “upward mobility” to those and not differ in spirit from the eugenicists’ goal. They seem to be people who are trying to make natural selection less natural and more artificial. This is just another form of “social Darwinism” or, more accurately, biological Malthusianism. (Darwin credited the economist Malthus as an inspiration.)

        /War Against the Weak/ by Edwin Black (author of /IBM and the Holocaust/) is an interesting account of the U.S. eugenics movement, from which Hitler said he drew his inspiration. Eugenics is even scarier, I think, when we find it close to home and carefully couched in language designed to appear reasonable amidst this “melting pot.” It’s not a lot different than 2013 US Republican logic.

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    • James B says:

      I vehemently disagree that, “If there are other ideals held by the population, expect incredible backlash”.

      If the population cares about, say, environmental sustainability — it’s a huge plus.
      If the population cares about the mental and emotional health of the next generation — it’s a huge plus.
      Meanwhile, if the population cares about the economic prospering of a country — it’s probably a bad idea. More people means more demand for goods and services. Children drive the economy in a big way.

      Overall, the present state of the world indicates that it comes down to this:
      If you care about the quality of life of human beings and the continuation of life on this Earth, you should favor reducing the population by peaceful means such as incentives and advocacy unless you have some other objection.

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      • Penguin Monkey says:

        You can increase immigration and have them bring their kids with them, and/or adoption? Make it a requirement that if people want welfare benefits they get a vasectomy.

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  2. Damon says:

    This won’t work. Simple: you’ve effectively provided a government subsidy to people who don’t want to have kids, not to those to whom you effectively want to prevent from having children.

    I predict the unintended consequence will be the takers on this program will treat it as a short term capital loan (see your reversibility clause) OR that the takers will be those not in any danger of impregnating a woman anyway through the traditional means, perhaps by virtue of their sexual orientation or ambivalence. Either way, you’re subsidizing the wrong group.

    Finally, to the extent that potential pregnancy and the cost of those children serve as any deterrent to sexual behavior, discarding said disincentive may in the unintended consequence of spreading STDs. I believe you’d need to couple the sterilizations with immunizations against HPV and any others possible.

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    • MindTheGAAP says:

      I don’t think its that simple. Of course you will subsidize people who simple don’t want kids rather than just people we want to prevent having kids. It doesn’t need to work that way to be effective. This is no different than the government giving out free condoms. Anyone is allowed them, not just low income people. I think this is a much more effective birth control than trying to get people to use condoms.

      I think the idea that this would be used as a short term capital loan is giving far too much credit to people who will take advantage of this. If you don’t have access to a $1,500 line of credit, then I think society would benefit by preventing you from having children. You would need to be pretty desperate to have a vasectomy and a reverse vasectomy (I don’t think either is too painful, but certainly not pleasant) for just a $1,500 loan.

      I believe that all forms of birth control should be accessible to everyone (I would not consider abortion a birth control, that’s a whole other debate…), inevitably, it will reduce the amount of unwanted babies. If part of the cost is also paying people to not have babies who would have willingly paid the cost themselves, I don’t see why that’s a big issue.

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      • Russell says:

        “i would not consider abortion birth control” well it is pure and simple, thought it is not conception control.

        Condoms, iuds, vasectomy etc are all forms of conception control, which are this also forms of birth control.

        I think what you meet is “you don’t consider abortion an appropriate/morally -justifiable form of birth control”. Which i would agree is a whole other debate.

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      • Eric says:

        I suppose infanticide o rforced sterilization, etc. could also be considered birth control also the way Russell defines it.

        OTOH, Mind was really talking about less controversial (or immoral in my examples) forms of birth control that he/she would be willing to subsidize and could reasonable be expected to be used as policy preferences without political firestorm.

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      • Alexis Rodriguez says:

        First of all, its a loan so it has to be paid back (although at probably no interest). Also you people don’t understand how exponential growth works, lets say you prevent 50% of unwanted pregnancies. Lets say thats 1 million people. That means the people who are more likely to get another unwanted pregnancy (the children) is now 1 million. Since we are halving every generation, in 10 generations thats 2^10 or 1024 or only 1 million / 1024 ~= 1000 unwanted pregnancies. Thats a lot of savings, and we can always bring immigrants(who we can select) to replace unskilled workers.

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    • N says:

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    • david says:

      Your premise is that only people (men) having kids are the ones that want to have kids. I would postulate that a high percentage of unwanted pregnancies are unplanned….kids didn’t think when they procreated.

      That being said, your point raises the question if the resources could be targeted better…only spending the money to those folks most likely to have kids…where the $1500 has the greatest impact on fertility. Can you target 10% of the population who are most likely to get women pregnant and get a better bang for your buck?

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  3. Andrew M. says:

    The same kind of incentive project could be done with girls and IUDs (if the thing holding off IUDs in women who haven’t gotten pregnant is FDA lolly-gagging and not actually something clinical).

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  4. Johanna says:

    Or pay women to get an IUD – they’re viable for up to 10 years, and reversible, and you don’t have to think about them at all once they’re inserted – thereby preventing unwanted pregnancies. It still puts the burden on the women to prevent pregnancy, but it still solves the same problem.

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    • Emily says:

      As a young woman with an IUD and no children (yes you can still get one and you’d be wise to do so if possible), I will personally attest to the fact that they are not a silver bullet. While I have had no complications, side effects, or concerns, not all women react well to them, for a variety of reasons. Further, they increase the risk of complication if STIs are introduced, meaning they are recommended for women in committed relationships. Cervical cancer and Pelvic Inflammatory Disease: it is not a joke.

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      • Kevin P. says:

        Yes, IUDs have to likely be prescribed by a physician and likely won’t work for every young girl. They are not one-size fits all, unfortunately.

        For the women for whom they work, they will at least prevent them from early pregnancies, since unfortunately, the women end up holding the baby.

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      • Travis says:

        But Vasectomy isn’t a silver bullet either. Not only do they not always take, but it’s far more invasive, far more expensive to reverse (if possible, often it’s not) and carries risks of persistent testicular / groin pain for those who get a vasectomy.

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      • pawnman says:

        So having an IUD increases the risk of STDs even more than the unprotected sex that is leading to all these unwanted children?

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      • Emily says:

        No, they do not increase risk of contracting an STI. They neither prevent nor promote STI transmission. Condoms protect against most STIs and are the only form of prophylactic to do so. IUDs simply increase risk of complication in the event of STI contraction… particularly if it goes untreated. Big difference.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Actually, pawnman, IUDs do indirectly increase STI exposure. Pregnancy prevention is the primary reason that some people use condoms. Having unprotected sex ten times in a month with an HIV+ man gives a woman about a 6% chance of getting HIV, but about a 75% chance of getting pregnant. If a couple decides that they don’t need to bother with condoms because they (wrongly) believe that both partners are healthy and the IUD will prevent pregnancy, then you will see more STIs.

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  5. Alan P. says:

    Maybe not yet. Deciding who should procreate and who is a burden has a really bad history.

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    • James says:

      Well, nobody is being coerced into anything, which I think is a *huge* difference on both practical and ethical levels. Furthermore, it’s not like substantial profiling is done — they simply offer the incentive, and whoever takes it, takes it. It’s a matter of self-selection, and it makes quite a bit of sense.

      If a person’s ability to have children is worth less than $1500 to them, either due to a lack of desire to have children or desperation, they clearly either don’t want kids or don’t have the resources to care for them properly.

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  6. Bill Garcia says:

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    • RJ says:

      But aren’t drug addicts and alcoholics the people you least want to have children?

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      • ken says:

        We do not need the recipient to be accountable. If they were responsible we would not need to pay for them to get fixed. In fact were counting on the desire of the alcoholic or drug addict to want the money for alcohol or drugs to make the only responsible decision they will probably make in their whole life.get fixed so we stop paying for their mistakes through our welfare program. All children of drug addicts and alcoholic’s are a child of both that is a fact.anyone who opposes paid sterilization, supports child abuse.

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    • pawnman says:

      I don’t really care where the money goes…those people are responsible for their own well-being. By sterilizing them, we now limit their impact on future generations, and through that, on society as a whole.

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  7. Dan says:

    Why not go further? Require sterilization of prisoners (you choose to commit a crime, the penalty is sterilization). One study found that the average British prisoner fathered over twice as many children as the average Brit. How about making sterilization a prerequisite for welfare benefits (again, the individual has a choice)? Or, we could use educational data mining–which predicts with striking accuracy who will drop out of high school–to target individuals for this paid vasectomy.

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    • Tom says:

      This is the kind of plan we have to sneak on to people. If we start out throwing suggestions like that at people, they are going to veto it as a knee-jerk reaction.

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    • Enter your name... says:

      Think about your plan. Now think about this true story: My co-worker’s daughter got married and moved to Colorado around 1990. They had a child. They later decided to have a second child. At the end of that pregnancy, the dad abandoned them. She lost her job due fainting spells they thought were caused by the pregnancy.

      Around the time she gave birth — alone, with her extended family in another state and her husband’s whereabouts unknown — the mother discovered that her fainting spells were due to brain cancer, not normal pregnancy side effects.

      When she got out of the hospital, she applied for temporary welfare assistance to get food and diapers for her children and medical care for her cancer.

      The welfare agent said, “Why did you have that baby? You could have had ‘a surgery’ to prevent that.”

      Do you think this was justified? Should she have magically known in advance that her husband would abandon them and that she would get brain cancer, and thus decided that she shouldn’t have a second child?

      Should she be required to get sterilized just so she could get treatment for cancer and food for her innocent children? What if she had lived and re-married? Should a temporary financial problem that was absolutely no fault of her own have resulted in her second husband needing to either give up having kids, or spend tens of thousands of dollars to restore her fertility?

      This may surprise you, but most people on welfare didn’t have kids for the purpose of getting welfare money, and most people on welfare (except those who are permanently disabled due to injury or disease) aren’t on welfare for years and years. Most of them are people who made reasonable choices and then got hurt by forces beyond their control.

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      • K says:

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      • Caleb B says:

        @Enter Your Name

        “…most people…aren’t on welfare for years and years.”

        Do you have a source for this? I’ve always been interested in knowing what the percentages of habitual welfare recipients vs temporary. Based on personal experience, I would guess 80% of the recipents are multi-year cases.

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      • C says:

        ‘That’s one of the reasons why having kids is stupid. You never know what will happen.’

        Clearly we should all get vasectomies. The future would be much better for our children.

        Oh, wait.

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  8. Sigifredo Badani says:

    I’m not sure if vasovasostomy (Vasectomy reversal) is effective in all cases. You should to solve this situation by increase the government offer to pay the cost of a semen bank to ensure the reversal procedure.

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    • Chris says:

      Easy does it, people. The “having kids is stupid” comment is rather harsh. Yes, one has a point that one does not know what will happen, and in that sense, yes, having children can be rather risky. However, for people who really want to raise a child, they are willing to take those chances. As for the woman who had the unfortunate situations happening, wow, reading that your heart goes out to her and anyone who has gone through such trying circumstances. As for the number of people on welfare; lots of research may have to be done on that for accurate knowledge of how many are multi-year cases.

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