I recently read an article by Steve Sailer that reminded me about something I have been puzzled by for a long time. Relevant paragraphs:

If intellectuals could afford to have a lot of children, we might live in a world where they could sell enough heavyweight books to afford to have a lot of children. But we don’t.

So what should policy be?

In a recent article in the Boston Review, Heckman began, “The accident of birth is a principal source of inequality in America today,” then went on to endorse the usual expensive “interventions” in poor families. Should we perhaps instead strive for a country with fewer accidental births?

All of Heckman’s data suggest that we should aim for fewer—but better—poor children. Encourage poor people to conscientiously concentrate their scant parental resources on one child rather than three or six.

The government has had a policy of dissuading teen births, which have indeed been declining. Why not try to similarly investigate ways to slow down the rate at which impoverished unwed mothers reproduce? For example, why not invest in R&D for better, easier-to-use long-term contraceptives? The FDA’s approval of an injection contraceptive in 1992 appears to have helped bring about both fewer teen births and fewer abortions. Wouldn’t continued improvement—and, just as importantly, continued encouragement of contraceptive use—be a win-win strategy for all of us?

Poor people having fewer children means that the children have more resources available per capita making the children better off. Rich people having more children actually increases equality in society since it reduces the per capita resource advantage their children have. Rich people giving to their children is also one of the few cases where the redistribution of wealth doesn't reduce incentives for wealth creation. Rich people care about their children too.

Since programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy rates do seem to have had some effect, we known something like this is possible without being horrible to the potential parents it targets.

Yet a policy of "poor people should have fewer children, rich people more" sounds heartless despite increasing general welfare both by making poor children better off and by reducing the privilege of rich children thus increasing equality which we seem to think is ceteris paribus a good thing.

Why is that?

Edit: To test the source of the reader's intuiton (assuming he shares it with me), I encourage the consideration of two interesting scenarios that may depart from reality.


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You know, I was going to reply that obviously the answer is that people don't like intervention in evolutionarily ancient processes like who to marry and how many kids to have. Then I remembered that eugenics was hugely popular in the early 1900s, with only the "backwards, ignorant" Church railing against the "progressive, scientific" idea. This suggests that humans are willing to accept such intervention, at least to a similar extent to which they accept wealth redistribution ("I'll do it if I get to tell other people how to do it, too.")

I wonder if the backlash against eugenics means we've permanently poisoned the well with regards to mating and childbirth intervention, from a baseline where we were actually fairly okay with it.

I think a large majority of Westerners are ok with mating intervention.

A better framing is that a large majority of Westerners who can vote and to be elected are ok with intervening in the mating of ones who can't.
We have plenty of those in the modern world. Consider the one child policy or various laws that specifically target abuse in relationships.
It doesn't merely have to be the backlash against Eugenics, in general saying "Group X shouldn't reproduce so much" correlates with saying "group X are bad," which worries us. Historical quibble, was there ever really mass support for Eugenics? Yes it was a fad in the 19th Century upper class/intellectuals but they hardly constituted a majority.
It may depend of which "we" you're talking about. The Chinese seem mostly fine with it.
Yeah, that's a good data point as well: people grumble but don't resist - kind of like how we treat the TSA. Maybe our strong instincts are against regulation of sex, rather than childbearing. The two were tightly coupled in ancient times so we wouldn't need redundant intuitions. I also rather like the alternative hypothesis of "Rich Western cultures are freaking insane."

Maybe our strong instincts are against regulation of sex, rather than childbearing.

But sex is heavily regulated! Just try to have sex with a prostitute, or your sister, or an underage girl, or your employee, or boss, or a mentally retarded person ...

China has a long tradition of collectivism and strong central government. Contrast this with the western (especially Anglo-Saxon) tradition of individualism.
http://lesswrong.com/lw/7wj/get_genotyped_for_free_if_your_iq_is_high_enough/5s85 comes to mind.
The one child policy is far from uncontroversial.
Yet it is sufficiently entrenched that the Chinese government shows few signs of dropping it soon even with the 4-2-1 problem looming.

OCP hasn't been the responsibility of the central government for years. The provinces are, predictably, weakening the policy where politically feasible. From wikipedia:

In response to [4-2-1], all provinces have decided that couples are allowed to have two children if both parents were only children themselves: By 2007, all provinces in the nation except Henan had adopted this new policy; Henan followed in 2011.


People see choosing the number of children they have as a personal "right", so any direct intervention is going to be unpopular because of that. China's approach for instance is quite direct (they're not trying to do quite the same thing with the one-child policy, but there's similarities).

The trick is to be indirect. Policies that help poor people avoid children they don't intend to have (e.g. cheaper contraception) and that help rich people have more children (e.g. parental leave) can help indirectly, and are therefore good. The only thing I'd ... (read more)

"Also note that making children more expensive to raise is also a way to redistribute children towards richer parents" ... and those with poor long term thinking/working on outdated information. ETA: As is pointed out below (in my current sorting scheme)
Which is another part of why it would have the opposite effect. Maybe the clue from this is that the optimal plan is to change the perception of the cost of children to being more expensive, while reducing the actual cost.

I find it interesting nearly everyone thought of the eugenic angle since I didn't explicitly mention the hereditary argument at all. I suspect this is because people here are familiar with the high heritability and usefulness of traits like IQ. But lets assume for the sake of argument humans are blank slates when it comes to traits that affect income.

In that case the policy isn't weakened at all even if its only upbringing and social environments that matter. Increasing the proportion of children raised by rich people means they are more likely to end up... (read more)

An explanation, then a couple thoughts:

We find it justified to take children away from parents who we consider "guilty" - adults who can take on such a serious duty, but who then make decisions which fail to fulfill that duty. Neglect and abuse are considered to be the result of such decisions, while poverty is considered to be (often? always?) the result of bad luck. Teen parents aren't considered candidates for this level of guilt for the same reason that their partners might be considered candidates for statutory rape charges - it's presumed that teens are too young to be making mature decisions about sex.

If you really want to step into all your opponents' shoes, you need to consider that some of their models of the world aren't just "zero meritocracy", they're "moral anti-meritocracy", i.e. "rich people got that way by being more willing to step on poor people".

Specific policy implementation details might be seen as less offensive than the policy they're intended to promote. E.g. a progressive who currently considers you a eugenicist monster might nevertheless already be your ally for a few practical purposes, like subsidized access to birth control, and you might be able to talk them into others, like switching the estate tax exemption level from a per-estate to a per-inheritor amount.

The bigger difference is that neglect and abuse are carried out after children are born, while poverty is usually there before they are born. Prospecitve parents are much likelier to correctly predict they'll be bringing up poor children, than that they'll be bringing up neglected or abused children. And for the same reason, it's much easier for society to predict who'll be a poor parent, and disincentivize them, than it is to predict who'll be a bad parent. So if people really carried about bad decisions vs. bad luck, they would blame poor parents for deciding to have predictably poor children. Instead people seem to reason that both poor and rich people have a right to raise children, which mostly overrides the desire of those children to not have poor parents.
The anti-meritocracy scenario is a third distinct one, good catch. In that scenario one would have to weigh the evilness of rich people and its likely effects on how they treat their children vs. the positive effects of greater material wealth on the children and how the goodness of poor people factors compared to their material deprivation. Also noteworthy is that in an anti-meritocracy wealth may actually corrupt due to social networks. Overall I should emphasise that I'm not promoting the policy, but that I found it an interesting case where it seemed my moral intuitions confliced with both utilitarianism and my virtue ethics. I was more hoping to creating moral thought experiments rather than figuring out which one best describes the real world. Maybe I should have disguised "rich" and "poor" with two other groups and made the utilitarian analysis there, but then I suspect people would just outright accept the utilitarian solution proposed in each of the scenarios. At least that is the impression I got from how the community reacted to more concrete examples of dustspecks vs. torture compared to the abstract case.
Which virtues are you using for your virtue ethics?
I like the eugenic aspects of the policy, I just think they're why it wouldn't be allowed.
Presumably a thinko.

"poor people should have fewer children, rich people more"

This is stated as an imperative on the parents, not as a desired outcome on poor and rich children. State it as, "poor children should have fewer siblings, and rich children more". Doesn't that already feel better? It changes focus from the people controlled by the policy, to the presumed beneficiaries. It hides the gun in the room. How about "Poor children should have fewer siblings so they receive more resources from their parents, and rich children should have more sibli... (read more)

A bit too political for LessWrong in my opinion ...

Yet a policy of "poor people should have fewer [X], rich people more" sounds heartless [...]

Indeed it does, any policy proposing new advantages for the rich and disadvantages for the poor sounds heartless, especially if it sounds like it's intruding in people's private lives (and the decision of whether to have kids is pretty darn private).

(I would probably tend to be in favor of such a policy, though a lot depends on how exactly it's implemented, but it's not very surprising that it sounds heartless; it is, but that doesn't make it automatically wrong)

I find it funny that the the policy seemingly advantages the rich and disadvantages the poor, but at this time both sides are totally free to go the other way and tend not to. You can talk about problems with access to birth control, but the rich could definitely have more children and do not.

I think "new advantages for the rich and disadvantages for the poor" hits on the problem precisely. But note that the policy as stated doesn't actually specify who would be advantaged or hurt by new incentives. The one suggestion that is specified, subsidized contraception, would disadvantage the disproportionately-rich taxpayers and might be a greater advantage to disproportionately-poor users. Yet it's perfectly natural to assume that the unspecified policy implementations would end up on net advantaging the rich and disadvantaging the poor, isn't it? I suspect that even the most anti-libertarian people could give you an intuitive explanation of how regulatory capture works in cases like this.
This might just be it! Imagine a policy that disadvantages poor people and advantages rich people, yet ensures nearly everyone is better off because of it and there is less inequality overall. It seems to be the right choice from a utilitarian perspective, yet sound heartless even on the abstract level. Do other policies of this kind produce similar responses and intuitions?
That's certainly quite a hedge. I think most people are abstractly in favor of protecting people from harm by the actions of violent extremists, but how many folks here, with the benefit of hindsight and accurate information, would pick the War on Terror, or trust the parties responsible for it in similar situations?
I'm not sure what your point is exactly. If you're saying that people tend to approve of vague policy proposals, and then once it's implemented, say "it was obvious that this was going to be a major screw-up!", then yes, I fully agree - hence my hedge! It's still worth saying to help identify in which case there is disagreement about the goal of the policy, or about the implementation details. In this case, I expect most disagreement to be about the goals, not about whether a decent implementation is likely.
What I was saying is "I'm in favor of this, depending on how it's implemented" feels suspicious, as a statement. Not in terms of your particular motives for saying it, but in terms of the underlying thought process (it's a phrasing I've heard, and used, quite a number of times in a variety of similar contexts). I hadn't thought about it quite like that until I saw it in this thread, though: the statement is very nearly meaningless. The hedging doesn't so much seem like a realistic set of qualifications to the statement "I endorse this" because there's no analysis; it looks a lot more like leaving onself a line of argumentative retreat. "I'm for that, unless it becomes so wildly unpopular later that I feel the need to retract the statement for social signalling reasons." The comment about the War on Terror is just me grounding that speculative statement in terms of real, existing means for enacting and enforcing policy in the real world. Those existing means are just loaded with perverse incentives, conflict of interest, signal loss, mission creep and other stuff, such that they can turn even uncontroversial, clearly beneficial goals ("suppress a certain class of risk") into something Orwellian and nightmarish. So saying "I'm for this, depending on how it's implemented" seems to ignore that in any realistic case it's quite likely to be implemented quite badly, which makes the hedge feel more like a line-of-retreat, left instinctively, than a meaningful statement about the limits of your confidence or support for the idea.
I agree that statements of the form "I'm in favor of a policy towards X, though a lot depends of the implementation" can often be pretty hollow - except that in this case I don't expect everybody to recognize X as a worthwhile goal, so it's a way to keep the discussion about abstract goals rather than concrete policies. If people don't agree about the goals, discussing the policies is premature. Nah, eugenics are already quite unpopular (though not particularly among online nerds like us) but I find the principle perfectly reasonable, so I don't think social signaling is playing a huge role here. It's more like "I'm for that, but of course there can be some bad implementations, so I don't need someone to come up and say 'hey but what if there's a bad implementation?'", it wouldn't be a very productive discussion. Couldn't the last bit be said about nearly any policy proposal? Plenty of policies that sound good on paper turn out to be trainwrecks, or at least to have a pretty crappy cost-benefit ratio. There are three basic positions on a policy towards "poor people should have fewer children, rich people more" A: It's a valid goal, why isn't it done already? B: It's a valid goal, but the implementation is going to suck, so no. C: It's not a valid goal, don't do it I expect a large chunk of the public to lean towards C; I lean towards A or B depending of the details, and you seem to lean mostly towards B. I'm vague about A or B not because I want to be able to claim B once it turns out to be unpopular (as far as I can tell, A and B are already unpopular among non-nerds), but because I think the distinction from C is more important, interesting and easy to discuss. Does that make sense? Have I misunderstood or misrepresented you?
In which sense is it private? A person having X kids will have affected the lives of at least X other persons.
I agree that it isn't particularly private, except perhaps in the sense that you technically aren't effecting other people at the time of decision as there aren't those other people yet. But, also, private doesn't mean limited to a solitary individual, or else people wouldn't speak of sex being private. I guess I'd define private as an event that one can limit the involvement (including knowledge of) to those of their choosing. Perhaps possible with raising children but not the norm.
Your definition is near to what I think of when I hear “private”, save that I would add that the event must be consensual for all the people involved. That is: “an activity performed by a set of persons can be considered private only if the direct consequences of the activity are limited to those in the set, and the activity is consensual for all the involved”*. I may be projecting my own moral intuitions, but I think this is the definition that is informally evoked when there is talk of non-intrusion into others’ private lives; in this case, a right for non-intrusion seems morally defensible. However, the problem in my view is that sometimes the meaning of “private” is extended to situations where the right of non-intrusion is no longer so clearly worthy of defense. *Actually, I think I would prefer to include sentients into the definition, but I doubt that is a mainstream view at the moment.
Well, I'm not going to feel qualified to discuss whether the word as is commonly used connotes justified secrecy & non-intrusion or simply the fact of the matter, but it would be useful to have words for both meanings (or else taboo it and spell out the justification for non-intrusion/investigation when debating whether someone's privacy is a suitable excuse).

Why is that?

It sounds like basic "who whom" stuff, as well as status. Saying "rich people should have more children because they're rich" can also seem like a status attack- how dare you assert that rich people are better in any way than poor people!

Until you have a world solution, any local solution that lowers the birth rate for your group simply makes your group less relevant in the future. The world is quite robust to the conclusion that "increasing population means you are winning."

As evidence for the above, consider that the most powerful countries have PILES of poor people (U.S., China, Russia) and the countries with the least amount of poor people are lower in power (Western Europe). Western Europe may be in the early stages of being slowly overrun by more prolific less intellect... (read more)


Why is that?

Because it is historically associated with policies of compulsory sterilization: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compulsory_sterilization

Also because Christian morality is traditional against birth control and in favor of unchecked population growth.

Anyway, several countries, including China and India, currently implement policies of financial incentives/disincentives to limit population growth.

Before discussing possible policies, I would like to have some more information about the territory.

Specifically: Do most poor people actively want a lot of children, or is it rather something that happens to them while having sex? Either because they don't have money to use contraceptives, or are too stupid to use them properly, or simply at the moment of passion they forget to think about any related things... In other words, what exactly is the causal chain which creates most poor children? The answer could be different for different groups of people.

No... (read more)

"A conclusion is the place where one stopped thinking." If the poor have that attitude, why do they have it? If it's the culture, where did the culture come from?
Some poor people are simply people with very low intelligence. Not low enough to be in some institution, but low enough to do stupid things that a) make them poor, and b) make them unlikely to use contraceptives however free and accessible, even in the case they don't really want to have children. Possible solution: Provide free food to people. With contraceptives. Make this fact known. Expect outrage (not from the people who will eat the food, but from people who will use this opportunity to signal their moral superiority over you). Some people have inherited a culture that does not value education and long-term planning. Historically, this culture came to my country centuries ago from a different place (where perhaps, in given time, it was not as disastrous as it is here and now). But looking at individuals, this culture comes from the previous generations. Possible solution: If I had one, I would be going for my Nobel price now, instead of commenting on LessWrong. The solution would have to be not just realistic, but also politically acceptable, which is almost impossible given the connotations. (You know who else proposed solutions? Nazis did.) If we remove the "politically acceptable" part, then a possible solution would be mandatory education for one generation. And by mandatory education I do not mean the usual mandatory school attendance, which we already have, and which is largely without an effect for given groups, because they easily undermine it. The pressure to learn from school would have to be greater than the pressure to not learn from home. Which would require some serious brainwashing and possibly isolation from home for longer periods of time. (Note: The "brainwashing" could be realized gently, e.g. through movies that depict smart and diligent heroes, and stupid contemptible villains.)
Or, perhaps, it's an optimal choice given a bad situation. If you are relatively uncertain that any one child will survive and prosper, and you want to maximize the chance of having grandchildren, you have many children — which means starting early, too. Likewise, if you have limited access to health care, and you want to bear children at the time that it's medically safest for you to do so, late teenage years are preferable over early thirties. Oh — and if it worked for your own parents (and those of others around you), it's evidently an effective strategy. (We tend to overestimate the degree to which people's actions are due to the kind of person they are, and underestimate the degree to which they're due to their situation. To correct for this, when we see people in a particular situation behaving in a particular way, we should try explaining the behavior with the situation before introducing third causes such as that they are unusually stupid or short-sighted people.)
Optimal from evolutionary or psychological viewpoint? Because that's not the same thing. What historically increased the frequency of genes of my ancestors is not always the same thing that makes me most happy now. Even assuming that poor people having many children is best for their genes, it does not automatically mean that it makes them happy, and that they want it.
Nor does it mean that their genes are 'best' for the species to have in our environment, although of course that's unpalatable to say on the whole about anyone.
Good point. But in any event, we shouldn't infer that because someone makes a choice that we think we wouldn't make, that this indicates that they are deficient (in intelligence, self-control, etc.)

Yet a policy of "poor people should have fewer children, rich people more" sounds heartless

To whom?

Well... to me? And my model of the average person.
It doesn't sound heartless to me, and I don't trust my model of the average person enough on this issue. Maybe someone should ask a bunch of random people “Do you think that encouraging rich people to have more children, and poor people to have fewer children, would be a good idea?” I'd expect (i.e. p > 50%) that the fraction of people answering yes would be between 5% and 95%.
Not just generalizing from one example and the typical mind fallacy, I'd be willing to bet that uni educated people are less likely than the general population to consider this a good idea, nearly everyone in my social circles is uni educated.
Why? Does that have to do with the “politically correct” bias I hear is widespread in certain parts of academia?
When phrased like that, it sounds heartless to me too. When phrased as a call to encourage wider availability and use of contraceptives among the poor, it definitely doesn't sound heartless.
Remember wider availability and use of contraceptives isn't the thing that provides much improvement in itself, it is mostly instrumental in "poor people having fewer children, rich people having more". Maybe it is masked by "yay contraception! yay giving stuff to poor people!" memes/heuristics? Indeed under some circumstnaces giving free contraception to poor people could result in more children born to the most irresponsible subset of poor people. If this effect is strong enough it makes the average child of poor parents worse off! If this sounds utterly implausible, pause to consider if lower class norms on not having sex if you aren't materially and socially ready for marriage from the 1950s where stronger or weaker than 2010s lower class norms on using contraception if you aren't materially and socially ready to provide a good life for your children.
Stronger in terms of how many people broke them, or in terms of how much people found to break them were frowned upon?
I think that's exactly what's happening.
Well, I'm not really sure that "poor should have less children" is inherently linked in conceptspace to "the rich / successful / intelligent should have more children". I'm not sure they're even very close to each other with a linking idea like "It is a good thing for the birth rate to be sufficiently large to maintain or increase the population of society" We already penalize those poor who have excessive children in a variety of ways. For example, TANF doesn't provide for an automatic increase simply for having another child. Why wouldn't we wouldn't implement additional penalties to go with our new "Free Contraceptive Shots" program?

While easier, more accessible contraception would help, it wouldn't curb the reproduction of the most irresponsible people - those who don't think this stuff through at all, religious fanatics who believe God demands that they have more children whether or not they can support them etc.

I was raised by parents who had lots of children for religious reasons, and I know quite a few people who have had children for religious reasons. They are smarter and more conscientious than the general population. They often have access to support networks in case things go seriously wrong. I've never met in a kid in these families who was deprived of anything important.
In the short term such groups are pretty minor in Western societies in the long term we are all dead. It depends on which kind of religious fanatics we are talking about. Mormons, Ultra orthodox Jews and Amish on average seem to take good material care of their children, setting them in a middle class trajectory with few if any starving and many of them assimilating as productive secular members into wider society. As long as society as a whole reaches a favourable equilibrium with enough of them assimilating this might not be a long term problem either.
2Paul Crowley
Make abortion free and easily available everywhere, and run a big poster campaign to promote it? Might be just a couple of political problems with that...
I prefer other forms of contraception since abortions are kind of messy and are health risks without antibiotics, which is a reality we may have to face in a few years. Something like giving out money to anyone who takes a contraceptive shot that makes them infertile for a year is more my preferred approach. Most of the people who take such an offer would be people who didn't intend to have children that year anyway. It wouldn't be any more politically workable than your proposal though since it would really strongly hit anti-eugenic heuristics. The advantage of abortion is that there is a set of people who do have abortions yet have high enough time preferences that they don't end up using other kinds of contraception as much.

You can safely make arguments for contraception by talking about having children later, but actively recommending how many children different subsets of people should have smacks of eugenics.


But wait recommending people have children later de facto significantly reduces their total fertility too.

Are we really that hypersensitive to eugenics? I think eugenics is a great idea, yet this feels a strange policy to promote despite this. I think there is something more primal going on with the weak link to eugenics being just a rationalization for it.

Eugenics wasn't considered crazy during its first wave of popularity.

And given that it was associated with the single biggest evil that modern society acknowledges - indeed, the only thing you can straight-facedly call "evil" without seeming really old-fashioned and unsophisticated, wouldn't it make sense that modern culture, having extirpated the offending government root and branch, would then proceed to salt the surrounding memetic ground within a 200 mile radius?

Heck, we now even have "creepy" associations with large well-coordinated military style ceremonies, something that every other country in the world did at the time.

Basically anti-Nazism as a religion with some weird deontology attached. So like I may not believe in God but my moral tastes seem to match Christian tastes suspiciously often due to cultural baggage, I may think eugenics is ok in theory but actual applications hit my inherited anti-Nazi tastes.
For some reason that didn't touch smoking bans.
Lack of knowledge among the opinion makers of today vs. not a central theme of Nazi thought Hard to tell which is more important to explaining your observation - I lean towards the latter, but couldn't explain why in any formal way. Vegetarianism seems to have performed a similar memetic escape.
Well, vegetarianism was a 'quirk' (I'd like a synonym without negative connotations but I can't think of one right now) of Hitler himself which AFAIK he didn't try to enforce on anyone else, so I don't think it counts.
Idiosyncrasy? Affectation? Notion?

It's because when you say "eugenics," most people hear "Nazism." The Nazis are the most mentally available example, and then the affect heuristic kicks in, causing people to despise the whole concept.

Sweden's social-democratic government pursued eugenics policies throughout much of the 20th Century, but that fact has fallen down the Memory Hole because it conflicts with progressives' propaganda in the U.S., based on a blank slate model of human nature, about Sweden as an advanced society and an example for Americans to emulate. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugenics#Sweden So I have to ask: Did Sweden turn out better than average because the government restricted the pool of people who could become the ancestors of the current population?

Obviously not. The number of people mentioned as affected in that article is tiny relative to the population, tens of thousands of people affected over a century in a country with a population of almost ten million today, and millions at the policies' peak. Fluctuations in immigration policy, nutrition, education, pollution, subsidized childcare, and gender equality would collectively dwarf any effect of those policies on Sweden's population composition.

What small effect = no effect? I'm pretty sure that on average their welfare state would have been burdened by those children. Cost wise it was probably a win even with the later paied reparations. Are you willing to take a small effect = no effect position in general for say welfare state policies?
Read advancedatheist's comment. It wasn't about benefits exceeding costs, or the fact that successful Sweden adopted a policy providing Bayesian evidence for the quality of the policy. It explicitly offered the hypothesis that Sweden turned out better than average because of the policy, i.e. that it was a but-for cause rather than a tiny irrelevant effect in that direction. There is no straw-man here, the difference is important. Policies with small maximum benefits are not individually worth huge political efforts or fixed costs. Policies with large benefits can be.
Isn't it as simple as the fact that eugenicist ideas, even obviously good ones, assume the reality of HBD and therefore violate Western Universalist taboos?
Right now, one problem with eugenics is that, well, we don't understand genetics very well; messing around with the human gene pool in ways that we haven't done in the past could have Unintended Consequences.

Our current policies already mess with the human gene pool. A strong case has been made by some experts that humans have been self-domesticating for the better part of the last 10 000 years. You would actually need better knowledge of genetics to craft policies that don't mess with the gene pool than to craft policies that mess with it in likely desirable ways.

You don't really need to understand genetics very well to do eugenics see animal husbandry, the unintended consequences of it have proven to pretty manageable in animals (except in some breeds where targeting a certain appearance rather than temperament, physical ability or intelligence is the primary goal).

The difference is that with animal breeding you have a clear distinction between the people doing the breeding and the animals being bred. Humans breeding humans any attempt at being "scientific" is likely to collapse in the face of the resulting signaling games. I mean look at the current state of social science, do you think it would somehow magically improve if eugenics were to be embraced? In fact, it's likely to get worse since the results of social science would then have even more significance.
The argument that human personality traits have been adapted to local conditions by evolution runs into the difficulty that local conditions don't tend to stay the same for very long. I'm aware of the Ashkenazi intelligence hypothesis but I suspect the results are a combination of random noise and our difficulty in figuring out and testing for the difference between intelligence and competence-in-a-particular-society. Your point about animal husbandry is well taken. But how long did fixation of those traits take? Other than sheep dogs (and some types of horses?), were behavior traits or physical traits what breeders selected for? There are lots of examples of animal husbandry selecting for some other physical characteristic (e.g. larger chicken breasts).
Understanding genetics is not required to recommend that e.g. poor people breed less, because poor people's children are more likely to also be poor (and poorly educated, etc.) for reasons that don't have much to do with genetics. Genetics is a factor, but not a dominant one.
Arguments for eugenics always end up recommending that lower-status people have less children and higher-status people have more children. If you worry that you might be low status (perhaps you're a geek?), you might reasonably worry that you will be discouraged from having kids.
Ok what is so great about having kids? We see from revealed preferences that people who could afford huge families prefer to buy other things and the studies on life time happiness are kind of ambiguous.
This colleague of Robin Hanson thinks it's pretty great. Also, revealed preferences reveal very little in this case, because: (a) even if you don't want kids, you might prefer to make that choice for yourself (b) some well-off people do choose to have kids (c) almost nobody is so well-off that having kids would entail a relatively small financial sacrifice, in part because well-off people are expected to (and do) spend more money on their kids

That's actually a really fascinating observation. Why is it okay to tell groups of people "You should delay childbearing by several years" but not okay to tell them "You should have fewer children"?

I wonder if this is because in near-mode, people model themselves as immortal, so sacrificing a few years is just consmuption-shifting and not an actual opportunity cost.

Also consider that children born to older parents have much higher rates of harmful mutations, developmental disorders, and rates of sickness in general, as well as higher risk to the mother from childbirth.
This has a quiet assumption that poor people don't often grow rich, in our society this probably holds, yet let us imagine a scenario where it doesn't. Would it be acceptable to have the message "don't have kids untill you are rich"? We already have the message "don't have kids until after you get a job and/or married" yet plenty of unmarried and unemployed people are very likely to stay that way.

Distributing free contraceptives, without requiring people to posess or use one, only increases the range of options open to people. From any kind of utilitarian standpoint, this looks like helping people to achieve what they want (if they choose to use contraceptives, they don't want children) while also achieving what you want for them to do, which is a clear win.

Of course, from an American cultural and political point of view, this wouldn't fly, because the permissibility contraceptives is a big point of blue-green politics there. Even if only a minorit... (read more)

Neglecting the cost of the contraceptives and the cost of distributing them.
If they're funded by donations (of people interested in them being used), where is the problem?
That wasn't what the recent controversy was about.
ISTM that condoms aren't that expensive...
In that case why is it so necessary to distribute them for free?
The inconvenience of buying them? (I'm just hypothesizing; I'm not in the mind of people who don't want children but still have unprotected sex, so I don't know why they do.)
Either: not being expensive is a privileged view, and they're far more expensive to poor people and why don't you care about poor people? Or: if they have access to free birth control but still don't use it, we can legitimately start talking about how their culture is the problem without people accusing you of being racist/classist/ etc.
The whole point of making those accusations is that they can't be refuted by evidence, or rather it is the person presenting disconfirming evidence who is accused.

I was thinking about the idea of mandating that everyone above a certain age carry a condom at all times, the way in certain countries it is mandated to carry an identity document. This could help with one-night stands not using condoms due to the trivial inconvenience of getting one. (No idea of how widespread a problem that is, but I can see no obvious downside to this except the reaction of certain religious groups.)

Before implementing policy decisions based on logic, it is worth checking if a similar policy worked elsewhere. Are there countries or regions now or historically where poor people have fewer children than wealthy ones?

One of the hypotheses for the difference between Europe and the rest of the world that led to the industrial revolution was that they (especially Britain) had greater controls on the breeding of the peasant class via their particular implementation of serfdom in combination with the edicts of the church.
The past? People like Genghis Khan who could afford to have hundreds of concubines, etc. had way more kids. This is a pretty poor example to compare to but it's the one that came to mind.
I thought we were all familiar with Gregory Clark's work on this topic?

Given this community's decidedly unfirm grasp on most technical concepts from political science and moral philosophy, I don't think we can assume this. "gwern knows about topic X" is unfortunately not a reliable indicator of the LW knowledge base generally.

Hm... Well, in that case, I'm referring mostly to A Farewell To Alms (available on libgen.info) where he lays out research indicating that in England, Qing China, and Tokugawa Japan, the rich did indeed outreproduce the poor. His recent papers on surname social mobility over centuries in England are interesting but I forget whether they bear on the issue more than AFTA did.
My first impression of the surname mobility research (incidentally, I heard it was reproduced based on university data from other countries) was that it was strong evidence of the heritability of social status / social class, but not necessarily evidence of genetic heritability.
Sure, but the discussion of the question 'do the rich outreproduce the poor' doesn't necessarily entail that either. The surname research could show outreproducing (rich surnames becoming progressively overrepresented over time) but I'm not sure whether this overlaps or is disjunct or identical to the will data used in AFTA.
Comment downvoted for being a lousy version of "This link might be relevant".