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Planning for a crowded planet.

Sometime in 1987 world population 5 billion. Sometime a little before 2000 it will hit 6 billion. Sometime around 2010.... Obviously, growth like this can't continue indefinitely. We'll run out of parking space for all the cars. We'll run out of flight paths for all the airplanes. We'll eventually run out of essentials like food. A country like Nepal has already run out of firewood.

But how do you stop the relentless increase of humanity, currently proceeding at the rate of almost 2 million a week? Well, the most interesting idea I've heard is to do it with money. More specifically, bank accounts. One for every woman in the world.

Forget the rest of the world for a minute: here is how the plan would work in the United States. Every girl, when she reached puberty, would notify her local population center. (These sunny offices had better be staffed entirely by women-well-paid ones, too.) At that moment a financial clock would start ticking.

If the girl went the next year without a baby, she would get a government check for $500, placed in the bank account the population center now opened for her. She could take it all out and spend it on angora sweaters, if she wanted. She could leave it in as the beginning of a fund for college. Whatever she liked. The next year, if she still hadn't had a baby, the government would increase the sum by a hundred, so that her second check would be for $600. Think of her as about 14. The year after, she would get $700. A young woman reaching the age of 20, and still not having had a child, would receive a check for around $1,200. No fortune, but worth having. Available without any discrimination of any kind. A Miss du Pont, an ordinary kid in Topeka, an intending nun, a teenage prostitute, all would get their checks.

Suppose the young woman wants a child, though. There's nothing to stop her, except a little financial self interest. If at 21 she proceeded to have a baby, fine. Let's have a baby shower. The government payment, however, would abruptly drop to zero. But then, if she did not have another baby the next year, back would come a check for $500. If she went two years, she'd get $600, and so on up the modest pay ladder. A pleasant little extra income for the sex that has historically been underpaid.

Great Bargain

What would all this cost? In the case of women who never do have children, plenty. Start at 13 with a check for $500, and if you reached menopause at 53, you would by then be getting $4,500. To that point, you would have received a total of almost 100,000. A lot of money. But still a bargain. A great bargain. The same hundred thousand is about half the cost of bringing up one abandoned child in New York City. It's less than a fifth the cost of bringing up one psychologically disturbed child in a group home in the District of Columbia. The total cost the first year would be about a billion dollars in payments to girls, maybe 2 or 3 billion to set up the centers. The total cost the fifth year would be around $10 billion. The cost wouldn't level off for about 40 years-and when it did, it would still be less than what we now pay as welfare. And most of the money would flow back out to stores or get turned over to college bursars.

Do I possibly exaggerate when I say that when the plan was in full operation, and every woman in the United States between puberty and menopause receiving her check, the cost would still be less than that of the current welfare system? I don't think I do. Try looking in the Statistical Abstract of the United States. Look at the table called "Social Welfare Expenditures Under Public Programs." The current figure is $770 billion a year-$298 billion in state and local money, $472 billion from the federal government. That table covers many things, including VA hospitals. So turn to a more modest table, the one called Cash and noncash Benefits for Persons with Limited Incomes." Here the total is $114 billion, all federal money.

Or if you want to look from another direction, consider this. If a woman on Medicaid has a baby in 1990, that baby (if it has no problems) is going to cost the taxpayers $5,250 just in its first two years. If the mother is new to Medicaid, it will cost a good deal more-around $8,500. These figures are from the Guttmacher Institute.

Such a plan would be much harder to implement in, say India, where most people don't have bank accounts and where the government would be hard-pressed to find the funds. But it wouldn't be impossible. Such payment could be the first-ever democratic form of foreign aid-putting money directly in the hands of women, rather than in the pockets of businessmen and bureaucrats. Furthermore, India has found ways in the past to pay men to have vasectomies. There is local money too. Why not spend it on the right sex-the one that actually bears the children?

Of course, there are problems with such a plan. Men will object to all this money going to women, money being power. There are bound to be accusations of racism, even though the offer would be voluntary, universal, and totally color-blind. There being no precedent (though there's plenty of precedent for the opposite case: governments paying women to have children), it would be hard to get started. The more stolid type of politician will call the plan impossible, utopian, dreamy, absurd.

But consider the alternatives. One, of course, is to go on exactly as we are-adding a billion people every few years until there is no more tropical forest, no more oxygen-carbon dioxide balance, no more space, and our world collapses in disaster. Another possibility is nuclear war. A third (the likeliest, I expect) is mandatory birth control, starting one country at a time, with all the repression that implies. The repression is already there in China. And with the rigid immigration restrictions imposed by countries that have started early against those that start late. Maybe even with population wars. How much more graceful and life-enhancing to do it all with checks.

What Welfare Costs

Still doubtful that a proposal like this would cost less than welfare?

Then look at a specific comparison. Take a 19-year-old girl in my own state of Vermont. If the payments not to have children existed, and she were accepting them, she would be getting $1,100 that year.

Now look at a real case: a 19-year old mother with two children who lives in Chittenden County, Vermont, is getting welfare. Here is what she will get in 1990:
Grant for Needy Family
 with Children $7,944
Food Stamps 1,440
Fuel Assistance 600
Vt. Property Tax or
 Renter's Rebate 834

Eighty percent of the aid to dependent children in Vermont goes to families consisting of a single mother with one or more children. Many of these single mothers are quite young. Some of them might have liked a choice of a different kind of life.

Now, how big are the numbers? In Vermont right now, there are nearly 21,000 recipients of aid for families with dependent children, and they each receive an average of $441 a month. The figures are much higher in bigger states. For

example: There are 104,000 recipients in Iowa. There are 320,000 in New Jersey. There are 1,709,000 in California. Each of these nearly 2 million Californians gets an average of $532 a month. The annual cost, split between California and the federal government, is around $11 billion.

The purpose of my proposal is to try to save the world from death by overcrowding, not to save taxpayers money. But it would probably do that as well. A
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Title Annotation:paying females not to have children
Author:Perrin, Noel
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1990
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