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What is the connection between family planning and education in a democratic society?

One test for whether we are living in a true democracy is whether we could assemble the people into a constitutional convention and organize ourselves in that process to make the fundamental rules under which we live. That is a condition of democracy because the power of government derives from the people. 

Now - imagine doing that in the United States today. It’s almost a ridiculous idea. It might not be in smaller countries, like Costa Rica. And that’s not just because of the number of people, but also because of lack of trust, common cores, education, etc.

How did having family planning policies that promoted growth - essentially creating people for shopping malls, rather than town halls - create the scenario just described? They were the direct cause. A goal of family planning policies must be to ensure democracies where the idea of assembling a constitutional convention is feasible, if we really believe in power deriving from the people. We can have freedom or we can have the free money of population-induced economic growth - but we can’t have both. If we are making people for economies because of a “baby bust,” then we are admitting to ourselves that we do not live in democracies, which require fewer and more high-developed citizens, not simply more consumers.

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In short, we have to be constantly and physically “constituting” (def: limiting and decentralizing power.) If we are to take government “by the people” seriously, we have to be constituting a group of people capable of a functional plenary constitutional convention before we can even come up with content for a constitution. In other words we have to know we are constituting - a verb -before we can ever think of a static list of rules, like a constitution, if we take the whole thing seriously. And in that process we would have to start with nature or point zero, the relative absence of human power, and start reducing self-determination as we add each person. That is how we define relative self-determination, and stop counting people. Instead, we start making them count. That is Fair Start, or the ideal family planning policy model, and the key to eventually hitting optimal qualitative, and free, human populations.

Because we have treated family planning as private, (and rules as three dimensional - like provisions in a constitution - rather than four dimensional, in a way that accounts for our dynamic role - over time - in making them,) the prior modeling - family isolation - has now failed. The model that family planning is a private matter was designed to prevent concentrations of wealth and power from paying their due, not to protect women and kids. It was meant to keep wealth concentrated at the top, instead of distributed more broadly into future generations.

If anyone talking about policies - of any sort - cannot explain how the people impacted will be assured freedom in the sense we are discussing here, they are not accounting for freedom. Furthermore, those policies are probably a threat to freedom because they are using the old and failed modeling. This is part of what I refer to in my book as the constitutive fallacy. We are not constituted in the past - we are constantly constituting. Or we ought to be.

The climate crisis is a fine time, albeit late in the game, to change our approach. And the process of Fair Star is not promoting equality at the cost of fairness. Because we are focused on creation, the values align. Beginning at an even start line - relatively free from the head-start other racers have otherwise enjoyed - equality brings freedom.


Note that in this process we are exchanging the noun “population” for the very “constituting.” Because people are dynamic (constantly born or dying,) that concept may be more accurate, And because humans do not live in a value-neutral way, constituting reflects our desire to self-determine relative to other people or “populations.” But unlike the concept of population, which may be focused on quantity, the verb constituting captures the actual complexity 0f the matter - the quantity, quality, and relative positioning to each other and our ecologies. In other words, when we see studies about the disparate impact of the climate crisis on black mothers we might think, “there are too many people emitting too many greenhouse gases.” The more basic consideration is to see that we never defined our species, who we should be, using nature, equity, democracy, etc. so that “we” would not degrade our atmosphere, unfairly impacting some and prohibiting them from triggering changes via the political system to stop the degradation. The problem is existential.

Question: Why does the Fair Start Movement believe that a fair start in life is the first human right - overriding all others?

Anything we might do under the banner of a right - to speak freely, to terminate a pregnancy, to defend our property - those things are preceded by the act of procreation that created us. That act, and whatever right protects it, always comes first. We are before we do. In other words, whatever norm accounts for our creation precedes anything we do, and the subsequent norms that account for those things. And when we start to define the right to procreate - to have children - we immediately see that it’s more interpersonal than personal: it has a profound impact on both the child who is born and the world into which that child is born.

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Arguably then, because the future child has the most at stake, we should orient the right around their interests, making it child-centric. And if we take the value of relative self-determination as a baseline value that we want to promote (a safe assumption given the past 500 years of political struggles,) the right to have children starts to look like something that precedes all other rights, and orients in a child-centric way around giving the child their fair due in terms of: welfare resources relative to other children; an environment not defined by others and things like climate emissions; an influential role in their democracies so they can truly self-determine, etc. We can say this another way: Human rights start with humans, and humans start with the norm that creates them. This is a very different approach from traditional population ethics which is focused exclusively on welfare, and ignores primary organizing systems and how creation determines them.


How would we design that first norm, or right, in a way that is fair to all the stakeholders, that ensures they can self-determine and not be determined by others against their will? Fair Start modeling attempts to do that. Again, imagine a true “we the people” capable of assembling to make the rules under which they will live. Our family planning systems have to make such a thing feasible.

Question: What are the social and ecological benefits of small families?

If we factor in parental readiness, and redistribution to ensure birth equity, (which really includes equity through the age of emancipation,) the positive ecological impacts can be roughly twenty times “downstream” solutions when it comes to restoring thriving and biodiverse ecologies, and over ten times the impact of social outcomes like eliminating the massive gap between rich and poor. There is also the value for democracy discussed above - which is the starting point for all political systems. It’s where we have to begin. COP26 failed because it was top down power dynamics, as usual, instead of empowering future generations, bottom up. And the impacts blow away everything we are trying now. It should be pretty obvious to everyone that our population and family planning models to date have failed. We need new ones.

Question: What are the connections between overpopulation and social justice, eco- justice, and reproductive justice?

True reproductive justice, of the sort that is child-centric and fair (as discussed above,) is the first step for all other forms of justice. We might even think of it as “existential justice,” or something that unifies seemingly disparate values like equity, freedom, nature, democracy, inclusivity, etc. - the relative capacity to self-determine, or to consent to influence others.

Again, we are before we do. So if we create future generations under an ethic of smaller and more equitable families, the other forms of justice flow. How could we possibly do fairness and justice downstream from the creation of actual power relations? In other words, why engage in the farce of equal opportunity when - despite a few exceptions - we know rich kids stay rich, and poor kids stay poor? If we are serious about social justice, we would start at the beginning, with creating a level playing field, using a steeply progressive child tax credit system and massive baby bonds for poor kids, for example. That intervention would allow us to also promote smaller families that actually include people in, and ensure their impactful voice as part of, functional democracies - which would alleviate the injustice of degrading future generations' environment. Eventually it brings us toward qualitatively optimal world populations, a good test for which would be people complying with norms not because of the stick or even the carrot, but because they created those norms.

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Question: Most people still view having children as a very personal concern. How do we encourage more people to see the social and ecological ramifications of the decision to be a parent?

Prospective parents should put themselves in the place of the child they plan to birth and really consider what they would want in that situation. What’s fair? Honestly I don’t think we can ask people to do this themselves. The privacy fallacy/paradigm was created through policy, and policies - like delay and planning incentives - should be used to undo them. Treating Fair Start as the first human right could trigger those policies. And Fair Start would override any property rights the uber-wealthy would claim to the wealth they made by violating the true right to have children and reproductive justice. Those are the goals of

One way to do this is by making a simple demand, directly, of the uber-wealthy and other concentrations of power. This would be “constituting” ourselves, in a very physical way, as free and equal people. Here is an example of this radical discourse. So who do we target? What is crystal clear now is that, in the middle of the Twentieth Century, world leaders chose the model of unsustainable growth - epitomized in the UN’s Cairo Consensus - that created a high arc of population growth, and, by externalizing all costs and ignoring child welfare, equity, ecological, and democratic barriers, ensured a bubble of wealth in the hands of a few. That money was essentially taken from women and children.

It is more than enough money to bend the growth curve and ensure fair starts via things like family planning incentives/entitlements. We have a right, and obligation, to take that wealth to constitute ourselves through the limitation and decentralization of the power others have over us, and to fund bending the population arc. We can divide ourselves between the free people who support taking the correct amount of wealth to fund Fair Start (the costs externalized by converting citizens into consumers over the past fifty or so years), and pre-constitutional people, or precons, who oppose it and threaten our freedom because they ignore how the existential norm blocks relative self-determination. We can use that bubble of wealth to promote freedom, or let it keep driving suffering - there’s really no choice as to what the right move is.