There seems to be a fair amount of discussion of The Dark Night Rises’ politics. Since I’m going to be discussing the movie assuming readers have seen it, this post will be below the fold.
For those still watching this space and who don’t follow on Twitter, here are some PEG-related news which may be of interest:
I have started a market research firm, which is called Noosphere — right now our website is a placeholder where you can sign up for updates (please do!), but over time we will have interesting announcements, I’m sure.
Meanwhile, I am also blogging at Forbes. Here it is. I will be writing not just about technology, but also about economics, general business strategy and global issues.
Because Forbes isn’t the best place to do it, if and when I want to write about culture/philosophy/theology, I may do it here. In the meantime, if that’s what you’re into, you should definitely read this interview of Leah Libresco by Eve Tushnet.
Please bear with me as this is more of a thought experiment than a manifesto… We’re talking equality again. Here’s Bain Capital executive Edward Conrad, putting forth the case for inequality, and here’s TAS Alum and all around genius extraordinaire Jim Manzi, guest-blogging for Friend of the Scene Megan McArdle and arguing that inequality is a bug, not a feature. Conard has set off a firestorm of discussion, and while I’m not sure I agree with him I think he is at least not easily discounted.
With that in mind…
Believe it or not, I’m quite sympathetic to the idea of progressive income taxation. The moral argument according to which, when one earns a lot of money, one should give back more (more proportionally, even), is one which I am wholly untroubled by and even endorse.
Some will point out that progressive taxation is not “giving back” more, it’s “being forced to hand over” more, and to these I say: humbug! Elizabeth Warren’s right: if you become rich in a developed country, you are the beneficiary of the common goods established by a nation (education, enforceable contracts, infrastructure and so on) and financed by taxation, and you are a party to a social contract that says that in exchange for these common goods if you use them to make lots of money you shall hand over lots of it. From a moral and legal perspective, the state is not the same as society, no, but it is a representative of it which is legitimate through elections and the enforcement of the rule of law and certain fundamental rights. It is therefore entitled to as much as your earnings and wealth as it wants until that share shades into expropriation, and while we can argue about where the border to expropriation lies, I don’t think you can straightfacedly argue that it lies westerly of any progressive tax.
I’m even untroubled by the idea that taxation can have moral goals beyond economic policy. As long as you’re not collectivizing the kulaks, it is legitimate (desirable is another question, but legitimate) for a polity to say “Even if we get slightly less economic growth, we think it’s morally right to use redistributive/progressive taxation as a means to reduce income inequality, because we believe income inequality is intrinsically wrong.”
In fact, it seems to me that there is a strong presumption for progressive taxation. From an efficiency perspective, the correlation between low tax rates and prosperity is, at best, unclear. From a moral perspective, the case for progressive taxation, at least the weak case (“If you make lots of money you should give back more”, as opposed to the strong case “Redistribution/high income reduction is desirable in itself”) seems to have a lot going for it.
These long prolegomena as a way of saying that I am not approaching the question of how progressive taxation should be from the perspective of a rabid anti-tax activist.
Now, if we accept that there is a strong presumption for progressive taxation, what could the case for regressive, or at least flat, taxation be?
For such a case to be convincing, one would have to show that the “spillover effects” of great wealth are indeed massive to overcome this presumption.
There are two basic kinds of spillover effects you can argue: there’s “trickle down” effects, and then there’s what I’ll call “the Model T” effect.
Let’s take trickle down first. The very mention of “trickle down” is likely to elicit hilarity since the idea of beneficial “trickle down” wealth is seen to have been ridiculed as a political ploy to redistribute wealth to the rich.
That being said, the case for trickle down effects cannot be wholly dismissed. The basic economic case for wealth trickling down is unassailable: the rich do spend and invest money and that money, in turn creates lots of economic activity. The question is not whether wealth trickles down, it’s how much, and whether this effect is sufficient to overcome a presumption against progressive taxation.
Based purely on anecdotal gut instinct, I’d say that trickle down wealth is pretty awesome. If you look at the great cities of the world, these are cities where there is a lot of concentrated wealth trickling down. From my perspective, New York is a much greater city than London which is a much greater city than Paris, and it is no coincidence that the better cities have large concentrations of rich people. By “better”, I mean with more cultural amenities, better restaurants, nicer neighborhoods, better business and employment opportunities and all the stuff that makes city life worth living.
When I look at Brooklyn, for example, I see a resurgence of a crafts, shop-class-as-soulcraft economy which I view as a great harbinger of the future of the economy, with small-scale, global-reach entrepreneurship displacing conventional employment. While most of the actors of this economy probably view themselves as embarked on a progressive endeavor, it seems obvious to me that this economy could never have seen the light if there wasn’t a high concentration of rich people with plenty of disposable income in New York, willing to pay higher margins for pickles and artisanal cheese. It’s hard for me not to find a very strong correlation between the awesomeness of a place and the number of superwealthy people who live there.
Same with culture and arts: one strong argument in favor of progressive taxation is the idea that rich people with too much money will engage in negative-sum competition to acquire positional luxury goods, and that it’s therefore better to just redistribute that money away. But while it’s hard to make the case for (lavishly subsidized, by the way) multiple megamansions as socially productive positional competition, positional competition among the superrich also takes the form of patronage for the arts, culture and well-being, either through the for-profit market (ie buying fine art or pursuing angel investments) or through non-profit markets (ie donations to various charities). In fact, one might argue that socially wasteful positional competition occurs among the merely rich, while socially productive positional competition occurs among the superrich: while you might impress a fellow multimillionaire with your huge new house, you’re definitely not going to impress a fellow multibillionaire with your private jet—but you might if you fund lots of charity. If indeed moderate wealth leads to socially destructive positional competition but large wealth leads to socially productive positional competition, the counterintuitive solution to socially destructive positional competition among the wealthy might be to cut their taxes even further.
It also seems obvious to me that what is thought of as deleterious effects of concentrated wealth are really deleterious effects of regulation: concentrated wealth drives up New York rents, but the reason why the rents are too damn high is because of regulation rather than just wealth concentration. Another problem with New York wealth is education: mediocre public schools on the one hand, absurdly expensive private schools on the other; but I hope I don’t have to spell out for frequent Scene readers why it’s the gummit that’s to blame here.
This isn’t by itself an argument against progressive taxation. You’d have to find out whether and how much spending by rich people creates these positive externalities, and whether and how much those externalities are countered by the virtues of progressive taxation. And I don’t think there’s a way to “prove” it one way or another, because these things can be measured and modeled in all sorts of different ways. But my strong feeling is that the benefits of trickle-down tend to be severely discounted.
Ok, so that’s trickle down. The other benefit to low taxes on the rich is what I call the “Model T” effect.
I take it after a quote by Silicon Valley investor Paul Graham: “You need rich people in your society not so much because in spending their money they create jobs, but because of what they have to do to get rich. I’m not talking about the trickle-down effect here. I’m not saying that if you let Henry Ford get rich, he’ll hire you as a waiter at his next party. I’m saying that he’ll make you a tractor to replace your horse.”
I think this is a crucial insight. It’s both accepted and misunderstood.
It’s accepted because, as we saw at the death of Steve Jobs, most people will actually not begrudge the wealth of someone who built wonderful products.
We have a model where, in essence, Steve Jobs is like Adam Smith’s baker: we know he’s selfish, and we don’t necessarily like that he’s selfish, but his selfishness has positive spillover effects that make the world a better place, so we should let him be selfish. Okay.
Another point which is important is that this effect happens because of “what people have to do to get rich.” In some societies, like Nigeria or France, the way you get rich is by getting cozy with people in government who will redistribute advantages to you. In other societies, possibly, the way you get rich is by providing useful goods and services to a marketplace and thereby make the world a better place. (I will leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine in which category financial wizardry falls. (Hint: the former, mostly.)) So it’s very important that we have good institutions and the rule of law and so forth. So the case for free market capitalism is, at minimum, a case for good government and the rule of law. It might even be a case for small government, insofar as the less things are controlled by government, the less unjust advantages it can confer. Maybe.
Anyway, the Model T aspect cannot be discounted. You don’t have to fall into John Galt worship to recognize that entrepreneurship, and more generally a vibrant free market economy, creates massive positive externalities in the form of consumer surpluses and products and services that improve people’s lives.
The question is, again, whether and to what extent high taxes deter this activity. Whether high taxes would have deterred Henry Ford.
This dynamic is related to the rise in income inequality around the world. Let’s stipulate this for starters: income inequality has increased around the world because of some combination of technology and globalization, with taxes playing only a marginal role. (Inequality increased in most developed countries; it increased more in the US, arguably because of taxes, but it increased everywhere.)
If this is true that technology and globalization are driving more inequality, and that we don’t want to destroy technology and globalization, what should tax policy be?
One answer, which I’ll call the Yglesias answer, is that precisely because of this effect there should be more progressive taxation. The “excess” gains that our galtian overlords get is not due to their increased talent or winsmanship, but to a global economic context, and so those excess gains can and should be shaved away by taxation.
But there’s another way to look at it: because of technology and globalization, what happens is that entrepreneurial outcomes follow a power-law rule, where the winners win very big, and the “second-best” or “third-best” actually don’t win out that much. Thus Facebook is worth $100 billion, MySpace was worth half a billion, and everyone else is worth zero.
This can be viewed as “unfair” and therefore more argument toward redistributive taxation. But there’s a flip side to that coin: you want these power-law outcomes.
They’re best regarded as a lottery. The rational response to a lottery is to not play, because the statistical value of a lottery ticket will always be negative. But in the power law lottery, we want people to play, and what reality teaches us is that more people play when the gains are truly outsized: witness the success of the recent mega millions lottery.
In theory, the response to a lottery with huge gains and a lottery with ginormous gains should be the same. In practice, it’s not. In practice, you want the possibility of truly outsize gains to motivate people to join the lottery.
And this is not just true of entrepreneurs—again, we shouldn’t become Galt-worshippers—but more importantly of the ecosystem around them, such as angel investors, institutional investors, risk-taking purchasers and so on.
The pro-market case for progressive taxation paints a picture of a world where progressive taxation leads to a “same, but less” world. Sure, well-meaning advocates allow, you might get slightly less innovation and risk-taking at the margin, but on the whole you’re going to get roughly the same. You will still have Jobses and Zuckerbergs, and you will have a better safety net.
Except that if we’re in a power-law world, that risks being much less true. It’s obviously not a Manzi-level controlled experiment, but it’s striking to look at the fates of technological innovation in Europe and in the US. In the US, there are dozens of publicly traded internet companies worth more than one billion dollars. In Europe, there are three, and up until a couple years ago there were zero. It’s a massive difference. None of these European companies has global reach. All three are part of protected markets; one is Betfair, which deals in online gambling where US companies are prohibited from competing and the other two are Yandex and Mail.ru, Russian companies that no one doubts benefit from implicit government protections. Its not “same, but less.” It’s completely different.
And even though Silicon Valley is, at a first approximation, the only place in the world which invests in innovation, you can make an argument that it dramatically under-invests in innovation, as Peter Thiel among others has argued. Institutional venture capital has dramatically failed at its mission.
When we talk about billionaires and Model Ts, it’s striking to note that most of the new space ventures, for example, are by and large funded, not by institutional funds whose job it is to take risks with other people’s money, but by individual billionaires taking risks with their own money. In theory it is the institutionals who should have more incentive to take bigger risks; in practice, they don’t. But it’s not hard to see that Jeff Bezos might not fund so many space companies and robot companies if he was a “mere” billionaire and not a deca-billionaire.
Solving the Model T problem in a power-law world might indeed require regressive or at least flat taxation.
Now I want to reiterate what I’ve said at the outset: my gut moral instinct is to support progressive taxation; I’m not also convinced by this case for low taxes on the rich, though I think that this case is understated and poorly understood.
There are also many devils in the details: for example, the ways in which the tax code subsidizes Big Finance, which is also a big source of inequality. In my preferred financial system, you might see less superrich financiers, or at least for sure less superrich non-entrepreneur financiers.
Another important devil is that if more inequality is indeed desirable, this increases, not decreases, the impetus to “look after” the “losers”, and to design systems where, to coin a phrase, rising tides lift all boats.
France’s technocratic state has created many monsters but one of the great things it did for the world was when a polytechnicien and inspecteur des finances (one of the worst technocratic beasts one might imagine) invented the VAT in the 1950s. Perhaps it is by chauvinism that I like the idea of the VAT.
Uniquely among industrialized economies, the US doesn’t have a VAT. Part of the opposition comes from conservatives, but some conservative wonks frequently make the argument for a VAT, now recently with the esteemable Josh Barro.
In a characteristically clever post, Will Wilkinson responds with the usual conservative argument that a VAT is a “money machine” that would make it hard to “starve the beast.”
(There’s a DC joke that goes something like: “We can’t get a VAT because conservatives think it raises lots of revenue and liberals think it’s regressive; we’ll get a VAT once conservatives realize it’s regressive and liberals realize it raises tons of revenue.”)
I should say at the outset that I do have sympathy for conservative objections to the VAT. I have a soft spot for American exceptionalism (and national exceptionalism in general); generally, to me, the idea that a US policy stands out is a presumption for that policy, not against it. I also strongly agree with the conservative insight that taxes need to, to put it frankly, hurt. It needs to sting to send your money to the taxman, that way (conservative version) you’ll want lower taxes (kindlier, good-government version) you’ll want more accountability out of your dollars.
But this idea that taxes need to hurt, or at least be felt, is connected to another conservative meme which has recently resurfaced: the idea that there is some kind of injustice to the fact that a large number of Americans pay no income tax. If most people aren’t hurt by taxes, they’ll demand ever more taxes on Other People to pay for ever more services that they don’t pay for directly. I have a lot of sympathy for that idea. It’s also one reason why I am such a staunch opponent of payroll taxes (the other being that it’s a tax on jobs).
I remember when I was a teenager and a student, I would argue to family members that taxes are great because they pay for public services and so on. (I think taxes should be low; still, they’re awesome.) The inevitable patronizing response would come: “You’ll see, you’ll feel differently when you have to pay taxes.” This would send me into fits of boiling anger. First of all, was the presumption that I couldn’t—that no one should—differentiate between my own particular situation/interest and the general interest. But most of all, I would scream (inwardly, in most cases), I DO pay taxes! Every day! Twenty cents out of every franc/euro I spend goes to the government in VAT!
And indeed, when Republican politicians opine that lots of people “don’t pay tax”, a lot of wonks would note that most who don’t pay income tax do pay various other taxes, and those that don’t are so poor that it would be cruel (and impractical) to force them to.
What does this all have to do with VAT?
Well, if you want to achieve the conservative policy goal of making most people “feel” taxes and even have them hurt a little bit, you should have a VAT. But you should do it right: along with the VAT, you should mandate that all prices be shown pre-tax (as it already is in most US states for sales tax, I believe), and forbid the showing of post-tax prices.
Whenever someone buys something, they would have to do some basic arithmetic (and forcing all Americans to jog their brains by doing basic arithmetic on a daily basis would certainly be a judicious policy achievement in itself) and think about how much of their money goes to the tax man. It would ingrain in everyone that things have a “real” price, plus money that goes to Uncle Sam that they have to pay on top of it. And that daily reminder would be associated with the minute, but real pain of having to do math in your head, which is unpleasant for the vast majority of people. (Heck, it is for me, and I have a job that requires non-trivial numeracy and involves lots of playing with numbers.)
It’s obviously impossible to be 100% sure (Jim Manzi would have to design an experiment), but I’m inclined to think that in such a context, citizens would be highly attuned to proposed raises in the VAT, since they’d have to compute new numbers several times a day, and more inclined to demand accountability for the newly-raised dollars.
You would also achieve the conservative/good-government goal of making everyone, not just a few, feel/realize that they and everyone else are paying into the Treasury for common goods, instead of a nebulous Other paying for their services.
I’m pretty sure the US educational system is superior to the French one. This is sort of a counterintuitive idea, in part because the narrative the US school reform movement tells itself is based on the idea of OMG US education is THE WORSE EVAR that won’t let us win the future by beating the Chinamen at math.
And there are those international comparisons that look pretty bad (even though they’re generally not normalized by income, family situation and the like).
But here’s another way to look at it. Let’s play a little veil of ignorance game: what can you reasonably expect, as a child, in either country?
Painted with a very broad brush:
Born in the underclass, in the US: You’re pretty much fucked. Your school is a stereotypical rundown den of pathological behavior where unionized, talentless, unmotivated teachers are just punching the clock.
Born in the underclass, in France: You’re pretty much fucked. Your school is a stereotypical rundown den of pathological behavior where unionized, talentless, unmotivated teachers are just punching the clock.
Born in the middle class, in France: Your local public school is mediocre. You will come out with terrible spelling and grammar. You probably won’t be numerate.
If you have any affinities beyond the most narrowly academic, unless you’re very lucky or very determined, you’re fucked. You will be categorized as dumb and put in tracks that will end up with you on the unemployment line.
Want something better, or just different? Tough luck. Maybe there’s a local Catholic school, but it’s a big expense, and anyway private schools must obey government curriculums, which means they won’t really be any different.
Born in the middle class, in the US: Your local public school is mediocre. You will come out with terrible spelling and grammar. You probably won’t be numerate.
But hey, at least you can pick and choose among some of your classes, there’s a school play, there’s probably a sports team, there’s a glee club, and A/V club or whatever. High school is a mean, and cruel scene, but there’s probably a little bit of something for everyone.
If you want something different, however, you’re in luck! It’s not going to be easy, but there’s plenty of options. Private school is expensive (even though there are scholarships—not for everyone, but better than the zero of France). And by now, even the smallest cities in the US have either a magnet school or a charter school, or some weird school that focuses on teaching classics or arts or is a Montessori school. If your parents want to homeschool, there are probably other students and parents near you who are doing it who will help you, and there’s a wealth of resources on the internet.
The point is that things could and should be a heck of a lot better, but there are many more opportunities to do something different.
Born in the upper class, in France: If you enjoy schoolwork, you will come out of high school knowing a lot of math, more than sophomore math majors at all but the top-tier US universities. You will also probably know some history (nothing before 1789), and have read two or three classics of French literature (nothing before 1830). You will vaguely know who Plato, Descartes and Kant are. If your parents are old-fashioned, you will know a few words of Latin. Your odds of having proper spelling and grammar are about 50-50.
If you enjoy extracurricular activities of any sort—programming, or chess, or art, or music, or sports at any sort of advanced or competitive level—sorry, you’re on your own! And anyway you probably shouldn’t have extracurricular activities, because if you want a good shot at life, after high school comes 2-3 years of cram school for the entrance exams to the grandes écoles, where you’re expected to study for 70-80 hours a week.
Born in the upper class, in the US: You have access to schools that are orders of magnitude better than anything else the world has to offer.
Again, painted with a very broad brush, but the core idea, it seems to me, from both anecdotal and statistical evidence, is accurate, that for a given family in a given situation, if you’re in the US, it’s hard to be worse off than in France, and often there are many more possibilities to be better off.
(This post is written at 11pm, so it might not be coherent.)
Bad Religion is an important book that should be read by anyone with interest not just in religion in the American 20th century but by the trends that animate contemporary society and the thinking of our contemporaries.
The first part of the book is a fascinating history of American religion and theology in the 20th century. The second part of the book is an illumination of some of the most pervasive cultural memes that undergird many social trends today.
And the conclusion, which I don’t want to say is the most valuable part of the book but is certainly the one I enjoyed the most, is a very smart and useful clarion call for a renewed Christianity in the West, which as soon as I’m done typing this I will go staple to the foreheads of many people, whether turgid ecclesiastics or la-di-da churchgoers.
It’s an important work that straddles theology, history, sociology, politics and more. Ross borrows some phrases from himself, but they’re good ones.
That’s the sales pitch. If you’re at all interested by any of the stuff we talk about here, go buy the book and read it. Really.
I said to David on Twitter that I’m not sure I would make a good reviewer for the book, as I basically found myself nodding in agreement at every page. But I’ll give my best effort.
One thing I found striking was the parallel with Ross’s previous book, Grand New Party. Both books follow the same structure: they’re basically two books in one, the first part about the past, and the second about the present.
In both, the first part is an intelligent and illuminating reexamination of (what the reader thought was) well-understood 20th century history that it casts in a new and convincing light.
But while in Grand New Party the second part was about how the world could or should be, in Bad Religion the second part is about how the country’s gone to the dogs.
This makes for less bracing reading, but it shouldn’t discourage you from reading it. The heresies that Ross eviscerates are much in need of eviscerating, and he does it not just using the tools of theology, but also uses history, sociology and cultural criticism to analyze these heresies and show their nefarious influences. This makes these examinations valuable even (especially) for non-believers, who either might think that the Gospel According to Oprah (or Joel Osteen) is a footnote in our Weltanschauung instead of important trends, or who might have trouble finding the right framework for understanding and critiquing that contemporary worldview.
(The NYT review faults Ross for spending too much time debunking the lost Gospels industry, but he wrote a very useful primer and crucially, the idea that “the real Jesus” is up for grabs undergirds all the following heresies, and it’s worth understanding the origins—and limits—of that view.)
In particular, as a European Catholic who thinks his Church would do a lot of good in the world if it embraced more libertarian economics, I found that Ross strikes a perfect balance in his critique of the prosperity gospel, showing how orthodox Christianity can and should be highly suspicious of Mammon while remaining compatible with the free markets I hold dear. (My Political Views on Facebook: “John Paul II + Milton Friedman”)
And the chapter on “The God Within” was just a joy, a perfect perforation of perhaps the most pernicious postmodern virus.
One criticism: I wonder if in his rush to highlight the heresies he condemns, Ross didn’t give short thrift to potential inklings of, if not an orthodox revival, then certainly orthodox vitality. I was surprised that someone like Rick Warren only gets passing mentions. Warren may be a Hawaiian shirt-wearing megachurch pastor, but he is, in today’s America, very mainstream for an orthodox Christian, let alone an Evangelical.
While much of evangelicalism seems to have responded to the general culture’s disdain with either political belligerency or withdrawal into a subculture bubble, some evangelicals are trying and not doing too badly at building a sort of proto-neo-orthodoxy. (Indeed, Warren often gets called “the new Billy Graham.”)
If there’s a key to Warren’s success beyond his skills as an ecclesiastical entrepreneur, one which might point a way to a successful 21st century orthodoxy, it’s that he has co-opted the most successful aspects of the heresies Ross denounces—the things that makes them resonate with so many of our contemporaries—, and used them to promote orthodoxy. Like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, the title of his best-seller “The Purpose-Driven Life” hints at a self-help message from a therapeutic God Within, but the book delivers an unambiguously orthodox message, right from the famous first sentence “It’s not about you.” Warren is morally conservative but inclusive and nonpartisan. He likes capitalism and his sermons are friendly to the aspirations of the upwardly-mobile but (as Ross notes) he straightforwardly rejects the prosperity gospel.
Maybe Ross thinks this path and the efforts of Rick Warren and others like him are doomed to fail, and he’d probably have a good case, but I wish he’d made it. (Ross believes, and I agree, that the renewal of orthodoxy must also be aesthetic, and that seems highly unlikely to come from the megachurches…)
That criticism lodged, as I said, the conclusion is the part I enjoyed the most.
While reading the book’s most pessimistic moments, one of my first instinctive responses was that, as a dweller of grey Europe, I’d rather have a nation of heretics than a thoroughly secularized one. I was then planning on writing the following critique: are we doomed? Or might not Bad Religion seem irrelevant in a few years? Aren’t there inklings of a 21st century orthodoxy somewhere? More importantly, what is it that a 21st century orthodoxy could and should look like?
Before I could put fingers to keyboard though, Ross answered all of these questions in his conclusion, which by itself is worth twice the price of admission. He paints a portrait of a 21st century Christianity which (and I hope that’s not the only reason why I love it) matches up with most of my frustrations and aspirations for contemporary Christianity. One which is renewed spiritually and aesthetically, in the world but not of it, equally eager, as Jesus was, to preach eternal truths and to wash the feet of sinners.
As important and worthwhile as the first two parts of the book are, I really hope—and pray—that the conclusion will be read very widely and will prove to have the most lasting influence.
Given that I don’t want to bore our few remaining readers to death, I’ve mostly kept silent to that piece in The New Yorker about breeding to which many on Twitter have alerted me.
(I mostly found it dismaying. The piece gives two-thirds time to the anti-kids perspective and one-third to the pro-kids, and oversimplifies and misrepresents their arguments.)
But, since TAS Overlord Ross decided to chime in, and since this is Easter (a day which, naturally, is even more about birth than Christmas), I wanted to complete what he says.
Ross takes on the most anti-kids philosopher portrayed in the piece but, to my sense, only takes up half the argument.
Here it is (quoth NYer):
Benatar’s case rests on a critical but, in his view, unappreciated asymmetry. Consider two couples, the A’s and the B’s. The A’s are young, healthy, and rich. If they had children, they could give them the best of everything—schools, clothes, electronic gaming devices. Even so, we would not say that the A’s have a moral obligation to reproduce.
The B’s are just as young and rich. But both have a genetic disease, and, were they to have a child together, that child would suffer terribly. We would say, using Benatar’s logic, that the B’s have an ethical obligation not to procreate.
Ross eloquently takes up the argument that, no, we would not (or at least, not so readily) not say that the A’s don’t have an obligation to reproduce. (Enough negatives here?)
But this is only part of the problem with Benatar’s case, and in my view, the least problematic and insidious part. (Ross also does a fine job taking apart breeding philosophers’ “the Repugnant Conclusion”, which to me sounds a lot like “the Awesome Conclusion.”) The most important part is the case of the B’s.
Benatar (and the author, more importantly and tellingly, since she self-consciously represents the Candide point of view on the whole kids debate) casually take it for granted that we would say that the B’s have an ethical obligation not to procreate.
This casual assertion strikes me as extremely widespread, extremely misguided, and, at the end of the day, extremely inhumane.
Why should the genetically diseased not reproduce?
Not because they would sully the gene pool. Surely, we don’t think that. (Do we?)
Ah, it’s because their child would “suffer terribly.” But this is a non-sequitur.
I actually agree with Benatar: all life involves suffering. But this is precisely why it cannot be a criterion for whether a life should be lived (or else you reach Benatar’s conclusion that all human life should be extinguished). All life involves measures of terrible suffering and measures of bliss. And, most importantly, we cannot know ahead of time what the mix will be, for anyone. Including those with a “genetic disease”.
It is the height of arrogance to believe otherwise. It is, in a fundamental sense, inhumane because it entails a lack of real empathy: yes, even the sick, even the handicapped, even the poor, even the downtrodden, have life experiences that are worth living.
If you truly put yourself in others’ shoes—truly, not as “How would I feel if I were…” but truly take others’ perspective, it is impossible not to see this.
It is, of course, an impulse of good intentions that lead us to believe some lives are not worth living. But it is a logically and humanely intenable position.
(And, obviously, the slippery slope is real: once we decide that some lives are more worth living than others—literally, worth more than others—the circle of the blessed keeps ever narrowing. Those who use Rawls’ veil of ignorance to justify redistributive taxation ought to apply it to more areas of life.)
There are, of course, countless examples. Many with genetic diseases lead very happy, productive lives. No one who has met children with Down syndrome would seriously claim that they do not by and large enjoy life immensely. (I can think of, in fact, a couple exactly like the B’s: both of them wheelchair-bound with degenerative diseases, who had a daughter who is lovely and precious, and take care of her very well thank you very much. Since you ask, the girl does not share their disease, though there was a big chance she would have.)
But once we’ve decided that we can determine a priori which lives will be worth living, that some people have a duty not to bring into the world people who are different, then truly we are missing something fundamental.
Do I think the B’s have a duty to reproduce? I don’t think they have more or less of a duty than the A’s, because I think all people are equal in dignity. I do think society has a duty to make it easier for the B’s to lead normal lives, which includes bringing up children should they want to.
It’s kind of amazing that this has to be said.
As I followed—and I confess, participated in—the mini-firestorm on Twitter over John Derbyshire’s vile Taki Magazine post last night, I started wondering what the point was. National Review is severing ties, but has anything been accomplished? Derbyshire is nearly 70 years old, and has apparently been a self-described racist for many years; I highly doubt one more public shaming is going to disabuse him of his views. I also doubt if it’s going to cause anyone in the conservative camp to do much soul-searching; in fact, for those who think Derbyshire-type thoughts, the episode only confirms the alternative-universe narrative that truth-telling white people are always victims of political correctness.
The temptation for liberals would seem to be to use this incident as an example of the deep-seated, thinly-veiled racism many of them believe are driving forces behind conservative politics. But Derbyshire’s racism is so outlandishly crude and bizarre as to be absolutely singular; it doesn’t automatically reveal much about what most conservatives or what most people at National Review think. Stretching it too far would be counterproductive, and the exact sort of thing that hardens certain “victimized” white right-wingers into the kind of ideology that at best tolerates, at worst sympathizes with racist views.
But I think we have to talk about the fact that, as John Podhoretz pointed out on Twitter today, Derbyshire has been writing stuff nearly this vile on The Corner for years, and other NRO writers have sometimes called him out in the same place while National Review’s leadership did nothing about it besides bray about how liberals complain too much about racism. Rich Lowry’s post announcing the separation admits that Derbyshire “has long danced around the line on these issues,” but as Elspeth Reeve helpfully catalogued, that’s putting it mildly. He referred to himself proudly as a mild, tolerant racist and homophobe. He bitched about what political correctness keeps science from “uncovering about human nature,” namely that white people are genetically superior. He joke-complained that Hollywood has indoctrinated kids into thinking God is black. He described post-1960s America as a pact with whites promising blacks handouts in exchange for not being violent criminals, which he dubbed the “slavery tax.” Perhaps worst of all, he wrote in 2006: “I can’t for the life of me see anything wrong, or even unpleasant, in wishing the country to have a certain ethnic mix, and not some other ethnic mix.” Helpfully, he added, “Goodness only knows what ‘racism’ means this week.”
These brazen episodes come in a context—namely National Review’s website—that is steeped in “contrarian” thinking about race that sheds a lot of light on Derbyshire’s long presence there. Just to be clear, I am not calling anyone else at National Review racist. Even if they do protest way too much, many of their observations about vapid media coverage of race are valid. But the kind of stuff you read there is frequently so racially charged, often in such a logically twisted way, that it can only be understood as a a partisan reaction to an issue on which the ‘enemy’ (liberals) is widely seen to have the moral high ground. The 2008 presidential campaign was a constant sideshow of bloggers on The Corner pouncing on anything Obama said that could somehow be twisted into a racial remark and using it to support the ludicrous D’Souza-esque meme that Obama holds white, middle-class America in contempt.
And then there’s Victor Davis Hanson, a one-man blizzard of bristling, line-toeing racial commentary. For example, this incomprehensible essay that accuses Barack Obama of “racial tribalism” and “race-based strategy” and Michelle Obama of being “race-obsessed.” Apparently Hanson is the one who is obsessed: he’s been on these themes for years now, touting the Obama campaign’s “racialist message,” contorting every offhand Obama remark into a statement smoldering with racial subtext and repeating the litany virtually every time he writes about race, which is constantly. He has also charmingly argued that Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Obama, and the Democratic Party “have done more to destroy racial relations than all the David Dukes in the world.”
Outside Hanson’s compulsive accusations of Obama racism, just browsing at random, we find Michelle Malkin hyping the New Black Panthers (a Fox News meme) and an unnamed “liberal writer” who called Herman Cain racist names. In an otherwise relatively sane column, Jonah Goldberg slams America’s “race industry” for its crime of keeping Jim Crow laws too fresh on its mind. Goldberg also writes about racism as consistently as the clock strikes twelve, almost always to mock it as mostly a liberal fantasy.
One more time: don’t read more into this than I’m saying. I am pointing out the type of dialogue that surrounds NRO. It can be described as consistently skeptical that white racism is relevant to contemporary politics despite its own evident fascination with the topic. It shows no reservation about caricaturing/over-interpreting a black president’s statements and policies to paint him as a racial aggressor. It consistently addresses the topic of racism in a glib, dismissive, or superior tone. I cannot recall—and could not find in several hours looking through the NRO archives—one substantial piece of writing that addressed racism in the U.S. as anything besides a minor, unimportant problem. With a big stretch of generosity, one could say National Review treats the subject casually. Even Lowry’s dismissal of Derbyshire had to be archly worded and sweetened with praise.
Keeping a racist on your masthead long after you know he’s a racist goes a long way toward undermining all that hypersensitivity about conservatives being called racist. I can’t really improve on Josh Barro’s line from last week: “Conservatives so often get unfairly pounded on race because, so often, conservatives get fairly pounded on race. And this is the Right’s own fault, because conservatives are not serious about draining the swamp.” NRO took this situation seriously, but only after years and years of not taking it seriously.
Andrew Sullivan has written a cover story for Newsweek (disclosure: where I also work) that I think deserves attention and scrutiny. It could not be more timely, and in many ways more needed. But even as it advances some crucial criticisms of the contemporary monstrosity that presents itself as Christianity, I think there is a lot more to be said. Specifically, I’m not sure Andrew’s political framework is up to the task of diagnosing the real crisis we face as inhabitants of Western democracy. If only things were as easy as putting a mutant political Christianity back in its cage.
I have read Andrew’s bracingly honest writing about his own faith enough to know that his Christianity is deeply considered and deeply sincere. In many ways, I sympathize with where he has ended up as a believer: a follower of Christ who wants his readers to understand the purity of Jesus’ life and moral teachings before the contaminations of worldy movements and interests, even those of Jesus’ own disciples and the early Christians who authored the New Testament. The strange, countercultural liberty of the “religion of unachievement,” is what I think moves Andrew so powerfully. Despite what I’m about to argue, I understand how this can be practiced and understood as apolitical, even anti-political.
Andrew describes Jesus’ ideas as “truly radical,” for example, “love your enemy and forgive those who harm you; give up all material wealth.” His project is to convince us that these “radical” ideas are also “apolitical,” that when salvaged from the tangle of theological and political movements that have distorted them, they are something pure, spiritual and otherworldly. Like a good liberal individualist, he reads all of these virtues as a kind of private interior experience, something I’m not sure Jesus ever intended them to mean. Jesus’ ideas are not anti-worldly in the sense that they help guard one’s inner peace against the chaos of the Internet, but in the sense that they challenge the way most human societies work. This is certainly why Jesus was executed, and why the spread of Christianity was met with bloody resistance: he claimed to have a kingdom, threatened to “destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days,” and preached a kind of forgiveness and self-sacrifice that upended and undermined established Jewish law. It is almost impossible to imagine Jesus “without politics,” as Andrew would have him, or that practicing his “pure” ideas would be anything less than an affront to an established political order—as they are invariably perceived wherever they manifest themselves.
The Wall Street Journal recently ran a mini-symposium on whether or not the sexual revolution was good for women, a massive topic to be addressed in relatively brief op-eds. I think Hanna Rosin did a pretty good job with “yes” side, and was hoping for a thought-provoking view from someone more skeptical. I’ve never heard of Mary Eberstadt before this, but it’s difficult to imagine a “no” response that better evades the central question at play in the debate.
I’ll skip the first three myths Eberstadt lays out, even though I have plenty to argue with about those. (Her contentions, all of which are directed toward demonstrating that the “war on women” is a myth: All women aren’t liberals, lots of Christians besides the Catholic Church care about contraception, and social issues aren’t going away.) The real evasion comes in Myth #4: “The sexual revolution has made women happier.”
It’s possible that this is actually a myth propagated by people on the other side of the question from Eberstadt, but I’ve never heard it from any of the liberal women I read regularly on these issues. They would argue, as Rosin does in her piece, that women are on balance better off than they were before the sexual revolution. But Hanna explicitly wrestles with the fact that women do not seem to be happier now than they were before, and I’ve never heard a prominent feminist defend the sexual revolution on the shallow grounds that it made women happier. It gave them more of a say over their bodies and lives, and freed them to become, as they are now in certain demographics, more educated and higher earners than men. By making the question about “happiness,” Eberstadt has avoided the much more substantive, much more difficult question: overall, are women more free to lead lives they choose and find meaningful than they were before? Are they more able to do so without facing cultural disdain and male harassment? If the answer to those is yes, and it obviously is, I’m much less concerned about whether they are significantly more “happy.”
I don’t believe the happiness question is irrelevant, even if it is thorny. (What is happiness? Are conservative religious women more likely to delude themselves about their choices making them happy? Who says the most satisfying life is necessarily the most traditionally “happy?” Etc, etc.) But there is a reason anti-feminists, conservatives and other traditionalists always jump right away to happiness. Partly because the studies are in their favor, and partly because they don’t want to face the more telling question. Because it’s pretty self-evident that women are better off than they were in 1950. You’re free to think it’s better to have a society where women have less choice about what to do with their lives, less ability to support themselves without a man, and less ability to pursue the education and career opportunities they clearly excel at, but you’d be in a fractional minority of even conservative women.
The reason conservatives don’t want to admit this obvious reality in public is what is behind the profound change, the profound improvement, in women’s standing in such a short period of time: the breaking away from traditional ideas about gender roles and sexual morality. This is in large part thanks to the pill, but it’s much more than that. As Hanna puts it, it is all thanks to “the ability to have temporary, intimate relationships that don’t derail a career. Or to put it more simply, to have sex without getting married.” You cannot have one without the other: if you continue to protest women’s ability to have sex with who they want without getting married or to limit the size of their family so that they are able to do other things with their lives, you have to reject the relational, education, professional and economic benefits as well.
Obviously, the subject of marriage and childbearing is complicated, and there are many factors beyond mores that impact it. But the central question at play here, outside of the complex economic questions involved in the current state of marriage, is whether the gains that came from the decline of traditional gender roles were worth it. And what traditionalists must be pressed to admit is that the positive changes the sexual revolution wrought would not be possible in a world where women must marry the first man they want to have sex with or are at constant risk of becoming pregnant. In that sense, the people who want to keep the gains of the sexual revolution but roll back their conditions of possibility are rightly said to be waging a “war on women.”
My wonderful (for me at least) stint as a guest blogger for Megan is over. I’m glad to find out that one of the new bloggers is TAS alum Noah Millman.
In case you haven’t been following, here’s a rundown of some of my posts over there:
How we can fix the revolving door by paying officials vast sums of money. This seems to me to be a no-brainer. Singapore, which is widely understood to have the most efficiently-run government in the world, also has some of the highest-paid officials.
Some thoughts about the French parenting meme. I may write more as time goes on as this topic really exercises me.
How to fix the banking system through a return of the partnership model and massive deregulation. I’ve been thinking about this for a long while and sharpening it through Twitter arguments and I’m increasingly convinced that this is the right approach. We badly need deregulation of the financial system. We also badly need a framework that solves the agency and scale problems that have plagued the system. I’m looking for a good critique of my plan because I’m afraid I’ve missed something.
French and US healthcare: Twins separated at birth? I am again and again struck by the similarities between French and US healthcare, which are always held up as opposites. My then co-blogger Avik Roy has a great response here. I’ve been consistently awe-struck by Avik’s writing on healthcare and I outsource my thinking on this topic on which I know very little to him.
What Star Wars teaches us about innovation Innovation is not a lone-inventor process. It’s a collaborative process. This has many policy implications.
Sorry if you already read Megan’s blog and are already aware of these posts. And if you’re not—you should really start now. Megan’s assembling some amazing bloggers while she’s on book leave, and I love that she’s poaching from the TAS stable (#TASMafia). I’m a fan of all the new bloggers, not just Noah but also Julian Sanchez and Tim Lee.
Not surprisingly, Evan Osnos nails the context and significance of Mike Daisey’s exaggerated portrait of life at a Foxconn factory, an Apple contractor, in Shenzhen, China:
“He thought that China was so exotic and far away that it was uncheckable; that it was okay to take “a few shortcuts in my passion to be heard,” as he put it in his follow-up interview. But China, it turns out, is not so far away. Daisey’s fiction was predicated on the notion that China is essentially unknowable, that reporters never go to factory gates, that highways exit to nowhere. And he might have gotten away with it twenty years ago. But these days, it’s no longer so far away at all. It’s close enough to make an iPhone today and have it on a U.S. store shelf next week. And it’s closer in another important way as well—in overestimating his own ability, Daisey underestimated a lot of other people.”
The brilliance of this entire episode is that there’s a growing diversity of credible and openly-shared perspectives on what’s happening in China. If you’re in the reality-making business, you’ve now got to contend with a lot of well-informed and credible voices. It’s harder than ever to get away with sloppy China journalism, whether in Chinese or English, and that’s a great thing for the world.
As I noted in an earlier post about Truth in China-journalism, in so far as Western journalists have more credibility as being more truthful, it’s because their ideas and perspectives must stand more on their own merits against unfettered public scrutiny. Remove the environment of debate and you destroy the means for determining credibility. As Richard Rorty put so nicely: take care of freedom and truth will take care of itself.
We should not be terribly concerned by people like Mike Daisey or Jason Russell who use lies (or bend the facts) to tell their version of the truth. What’s most worrisome is environments that permit singular perspectives to survive unchallenged by alternative descriptions. Hopefully both Mr. Russell and Mr. Daisey will now have the humility and pragmatism to welcome — and perhaps even embrace — their critics’ perspectives and open debate, and its ability to exponentially improve awareness and understanding of the critical issues they passionately seek to address.
For the next two weeks I’ll be guest blogging for Megan McArdle over at The Atlantic. My first post is on how innovation happens. I’ll try to post once a day but make no promises as I also have one of them jorbs. I’ll post links here from time to time.
Thus, the longstanding project of Atlantic infiltration by TAS drones continues. MUAHAHAHA!
Revelations surrounding “bounty programs” in the NFL, where players and coaches provide teammates with financial incentives to make game-changing plays or injure opposing players, have elicited broad public disgust; at least for the intent-to-harm part of the equation.
Killing people aside, I typically love performance-based incentives – anything that provides real-time sticks and carrots to help govern decisions and encourage performance. My company generally does a good job of rewarding performance, fortunately, but some days it would be a nice stimulus if my boss would drop by and say, “Hey, I’ll give you fifty bucks if you send me that report by 3pm!”
DJ Gallo writing for ESPN makes an amusing – though not altogether unreasonable – argument that performance-based compensation should be encouraged broadly throughout the league: “Instead of punishing the Saints and opening up a can of worms that might force the NFL to punish every team in the sport, the league should instead embrace bounties.” He then outlines how the lines between real football and fantasy football are getting hazier by the weekend and suggests allowing fans to get in on the action, too.
It’s not difficult to imagine how these bounty programs can give birth to corruption and distorting forces that change the way the game is played. Ultimately, you start to have capital flows making on-the-field decisions, like whether to pass or run or even fumble. It’s like having an infinite number of bosses, each of which exercises control in proportion to the size of her wallet.
It wouldn’t take long before the emergence of negative incentives, such as side betting against positive incentives or as under-the-table payoffs for dives. In short, if officially expanded beyond the locker room, the system would go haywire in no time. Performance-based incentives are only effective if either a) there’s only one agent providing incentives; or b) everyone providing incentives generally agrees on the strategy and objectives. In such a plutocracy, the “coach” would quickly become just another engaged spectator, or a marginal investor, and his players could effectively mutiny. Capt. Bligh would not be pleased.
Wait a minute. Is this really so horrible? Isn’t there another spectator sport that already works this way? A game where hidden influencers provide players financial incentives to behave in certain ways, including attacking opponents, and the players must make decisions to ensure the largest possible return on investment for their shareholders?
We’re willing to permit capital flows — from anywhere and nowhere — to influence government and its players’ behaviors. Why not allow open-game on, you know, games?
Via Dan Drezner, comes news that Star Wars contrarianism isn’t extends beyond first trilogy, and that some people actually argue that Revenge of the Sith (?!?) is a better movie than Jedi. This is ludicrous, and Drezner does a fine job of dismantling that idea.
But while we’re on talking about Star Wars, I just want to gratuitously share some of the best material I’ve seen about the series.
If you have lots of time on your hands, want to laugh and also getting some good film criticism and insight, Red Letter Media’s amazing video takedowns of the prequel trilogy are a must-watch.
Even more intelligently, the Star Wars Origins site is simply one of the most precious artifacts on the internet. The author breaks down all of the influences of the Star Wars trilogy using the “Hero with a Thousand Faces” template that Lucas famously aped. In doing so, Star Wars Origins goes way beyond fanboyish analysis but provides simply the best deconstruction I’ve ever seen of mythical/epic storytelling. If you have any interest at all in storytelling broadly understood, you simply must read the site, and I guarantee you that even if you’re familiar with “Hero with a Thousand Faces” and many of the influences that shaped Star Wars (Flash Gordon, Kurosawa, Lancelot…) you will still learn many things.
Lest ye think that the Scene has become baby central, let’s talk about an equally important topic: Star Wars.
At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum has a great post arguing that (audible gasps in the audience) Return of the Jedi is actually the best movie in the original trilogy. (Via Scene alum Peter Suderman )
Drum lists all of the good things that there are in Jedi, and argues that the movie wasn’t ruined by the much-reviled Ewoks because they’re only incidental to the story and are only there for a couple scenes.
I actually agree with much of Drum’s praise for Jedi, which you should definitely read, but I still reach the same conclusion as most fans: Empire is still the best movie in the trilogy.
Before I explain why, I first need to settle some scores.
Firstly, I’ve never been that pissed off about the Ewoks. It’s probably because I watched the third movie as a kid, not a teenager. Sure, they’re manipulatively cute, and they’re there to sell action figures to kids, but should they really send people into fits of conniption? Everything in Star Wars is there to sell merch (that was Lucas’ business genius): lightsabers, X-wings, Vader’s helmet, yet we adore those iconic things. Disney’s business is based on merch, and that doesn’t mean The Lion King and Toy Story aren’t great movies.
The Ewoks are also there to provide comic relief, which annoys some people, but that’s also what R2 and 3PO do, and people seem to love those fine, too.
It should be noted that the Ewoks also serve as a powerful symbol: the idea that it’s the Hidden Forces in the universe that rise up to defeat the Empire. Those small, backward furballs are dismissed by the almighty empire, but the grain of sand in the gears stops the machines. That’s something to like.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m no fan of the Ewoks. But I don’t think they’re awful either.
Secondly, I’ve always been left cold by one of the most-mooted arguments for Empire: that it’s the “darkest” episode in the trilogy. Yes. So what? Does a movie have to be “dark” to be good? Since when is that a criterion? If you’re older than 16, that shouldn’t figure in your calculations.
Ok, with all that said, and with Drum’s praise for Jedi endorsed, why is Empire still the best movie?
It’s because it’s the movie where the characters are at their most raw, and where the characters undergo the most change.
At the end of the first movie, none of the characters is radically changed. Luke reaches a huge milestone, because uses the Force, but at the end of the movie he is still an idealistic boy who wants to be a fighter for Justice
and the American Way like his father. Han leans to his good side but is still a mercenary rogue at heart. Leia is still a virginal princess who cares only about abstract principle. Vader is still a complete villain.
And during the third movie, with the crucial exception of Vader, every character knows what they have to do. Luke is a world-wise Jedi with scars, literal and otherwise—he has big doubts and big problems, but he is still fundamentally the same person at the beginning of the movie and the end. Han has gone through his transformation from fundamentally selfish to fundamentally selfless, through both his love for Leia and his dedication to a greater ideal. Leia, who was fundamentally a girl in the first movie—virginal and almost fanatically principled—has become a woman, fighting for love as well as abstract ideals.
During the course of Empire, though, every character is thrown through the wringer, salt poured through the still-live scars of their conscience. And as the result they are all fundamentally changed. Luke, obviously, wracked between loyalty to his friends and his desire to train as a Jedi, between the Light Side and the Dark Side. Han and Leia also have to rethink everything: they each have to overcome their fear of love and redefine their life. Even secondary characters: Lando confronts the consequences of his cowardice, and 3PO, who was only a bumbling comic-relief fool, gains a measure of agency.
Between the beginning and the end of Empire, each character has gone through that radical transformation, for the protagonists an entry to adulthood. Luke goes from teenager to man, scars and all. Leia goes from girl to woman. Han also definitively sheds what remained fundamentally a teenage outlook—self-centered, aimlessly rebellious. Even Vader is different at the end of the movie, the seeds of doubt sown by Luke’s stunning rejection.
It’s Screenwriting 101 to say that in your movie your protagonists much reach resolution and that a movie worth watching is one where the protagonist goes through some form of resolution and even redemption. While there are elements of that in each movie (Obi-Wan, Luke in the first; Vader, crucially, in the third, and also Luke), it is in Empire that each character is thrown into the starkest relief, made to confront the biggest choices (again, with the exception of Vader), and reach the most consequential resolution.
So while I agree with all the great things Drum has to say about Jedi, the strength of the character arcs, not “darkness” or Ewoks, is why Empire is still the best movie in the trilogy.
Friend of The Scene (and the artist formerly known as Tony Comstock) David Ryan has a very thoughtful and touching post on our debate of the day at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen. David comes down on my side, though that’s not why his post is touching.
From a policy perspective, the meaty part is this:
What I realized is that whatever problems we face as a species, the answers are going to come out of someone’s head, and it’s very hard to know ahead of time which problem is going to emerge as the most pressing, or who is going to have the answer. And by March of 2005, and with no more stability and normalcy in our lives (less, actually) my wife was pregnant with our second child.
But you should really read the whole thing →
Women’s groups (and other groups!) should raise the money to buy the contraception patents from pharmaceutical companies and release them into the public domain so that all forms of contraception become as cheap as condoms. (Some versions of the Pill are in the public domain, but not all of them and women have different needs/physiologies.)
No one is forced to buy anything. Religious groups have their conscience intact. Women have more access to contraception.