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?