The Road to Idiocracy

We really are breeding the smarts out of ourselves.

It's not widely known outside certain political circles, but some of our Gentle Readers may have heard of the movie cult classic Idiocracy.  The premise of this movie is no more complex than Darwin's theory of natural selection as applied to people: the sort of people that have lots of offspring will eventually outnumber those who don't.  Those who have fewer children will ultimately vanish from the sands of time.

What sort of people have lots of kids?  Up until welfare and birth control came along, smarter women married smarter men and raised more children to adulthood than stupid women.  Modern society has reversed this equation: birth control takes enough responsibility and forethought that stupid women have more "accidents" than smart women, and welfare means a woman can "support" as many children as she can bear.

So who's multiplying?  Stupid people, welfare moms and the like.  Idiocracy depicts the results after 500 years of reverse selection: a world where people are just about smart enough to push the buttons on the machines built by their forebears, with no clue how they actually work or what's really going on.  The smartest man in the world, by far, is an average person from today who was accidentally frozen in a time-capsule experiment.

The movie is a far-fetched comedy, and yet there's a chilling note of truth.  How many Ivy League power couples have you ever heard of with more than two kids, more generally one?  But we all know poor families and single mothers with as many kids as they can stack in their government-subsidized apartment.  The more kids they have, the bigger apartment they get.

Without necessarily meaning to, recent articles here at Scragged have shed light on this phenomenon in a new and startling way.

Big Risks, Insuring Them...

In pre-technological times, children were a major benefit: they provided additional labor to farm families where work never ended.  A new healthy baby, particularly a boy, was cause for celebration.  Children and adults could drop dead at any time from disease, war, or bad luck, so the prudent parent would crank out as many as possible to hedge their bets.  The parents of 10 kids could probably count on at least one or two surviving to care for them in their old age; parents of only one or two were running a serious risk of old-age penury.

Today, that model is reversed.  Most children neither expect nor intend to take care of their aged relatives; you're expected to provide for your own retirement or fall back on government help.  From the personal investment point of view, there's no return.

On the other hand, the costs of a kid are astronomical and growing every day.  Where once farm children cost little more than the food they ate and clothes they wore, raising a middle-class child now averages a quarter-million dollars.  Is it any wonder that modern first-world children are considered a luxury only the rich can afford, and even the government is advising us to save money by not having any?

Despite what our rulers may think, people aren't stupid; they respond to the incentives offered.  When having kids improved the chances of a better life, they had lots of 'em.  Today, where kids are a monstrously unaffordable expense with little benefit other than perhaps emotional, we should be surprised that there are as many as we still have.  In Europe and Japan, there basically aren't.

As bad as that quarter-million dollar cost sounds, the true situation is considerably worse.  If all goes well, sure, that quarter-million may cover clothes, food, school, college, and health care.

But it doesn't always.  What happens if your kid is the one with multiple sclerosis, early-onset diabetes, or Down's syndrome?  No surprise that so many children with diseases or handicaps end up aborted, but there are still enough around to serve as a frightening cautionary tale to anyone considering starting a family.

As we've explored before, the more wealth you have the greater capacity you have to take risks.  A trust-fund kid can take up acting or start a new magazine because, if it doesn't work, they won't end up out on the street.  There was a time when a solid middle-class job provided a secure foundation which could support starting a side business, but with middle-class jobs now so deeply insecure, that's often one risk too many, just like having one more kid.

A book recently reviewed in Scragged, Profits and the Future of American Society, underscored this point.  Written by two economists, it argues that a traditional job is insurance against business failure.  A worker does not have to worry about whether the particular job he's doing is making money on a day-to-day basis, he gets his wage regardless unless the company fails and he gets laid off - at which point, he just finds another job.  The company owner is the one taking the risk of the work being profitable; he suffers the loss when it isn't, and he reaps the gain when it is.

Under the Obama economy, companies are struggling with a totally unaccustomed level of uncertainty.  How much will it cost to have an employee next year, given the unknown costs of Obamacare?  Might there be a sudden new regulation that flips a profitable factory to unprofitable?  How about a new wave of foreclosures that freezes up consumer spending?

Nobody knows, but we all fear the worst.  Under Mr. Obama, it makes no sense to hire one single soul more than you can absolutely get away with.  Our companies are stockpiling cash and are unwilling to insure the risks of hiring anyone new because they don't know what the risks are.

Thus, with an excess of risk on the employment side, people become less willing to take risks elsewhere - whether it be founding a new business or having more children.

...Or Passing Them Off!

Who doesn't have to worry about these problems?  The rich, yes - but the poor don't either!

Middle class folks have to worry about losing their jobs and the healthcare that goes along with them; the poor have no such concern, because Medicaid will always step in at the bottom.  At least it has beyond living memory.

Food?  Housing?  Clothes?  All provided at government expense, so long as you don't mind doing without the finest and best most of the time.  Why not crank out kids if they don't cost you anything, they're the only thing that belongs to you, and having enough of them gets you bigger digs and even more money?

The rich can afford all the children they please, but there are so few of them that they don't matter.  The great American middle class is so deeply troubled that families are shrinking year on year and generation on generation.

Where are the next generation of kids coming from?  From the ranks of the poor and the morally debauched - and of course from illegals who cross our borders and aren't thrown back.

When the left says America's middle class is dying, they're right, but not for the reason they espouse.  America's middle classes are literally dying - dying off, and not being replaced, because having replacement children has become just too costly and too risky.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
Reader Comments

I understand the point you're making, but I don't think it's true. Your conclusion depends on the assumption that the rich/elite/connected/upper-crust ARE in fact smarter than the average man. I don't think that's so. Harvard, politics, Wall Street - all places that "smart" people are traditionall found - aren't filled with smart people anymore.

Smart people have drifted to the south and midwest, setting up businesses, labs and universities in places never thought of before. Go to Milwaukee, Dallas, Louisville, or Kansas City at some point and you'll be amazed at the tech hubs springing up. Labor is cheaper, value is clearer, fashion/entertainment noise is non-existent. Smart money has moved in.

New England is full of people that THINK they're smarter than everyone else but aren't when tested. None of the Ivy League school produce anything academically superior anymore; they only care about political correctness and social elitism.

It would be more accurate to say that LIBERALS are breeding themselves out of existence. Liberals tend to feel more social guilt because of their ideology. Liberals = elitists, certainly. And positions of power tend to be filled with liberals. But liberal ≠ smarter.

April 27, 2012 10:11 AM

Just so.

Ifon has a good point - that it is liberals who tend to breed themselves out of existence by creating 'career women' and encouraging them to limit their reproductive options, and by aborting the oncoming generation in large numbers. Just the same, the liberals who tend not to breed subsidize rampant breeding in the lazy and stupid. The only possible solution is to begin by withholding voting rights from those who accept government money.

One extra factor of note with regard to the middle class, and thus why we're basically doomed:

* The middle class are where *all* the money is, taken as a whole.
* The very wealthy and the welfare queens are either subsidized or able to absorb the stupidity.
* The middle class are those who do the greatest part of the work.
* They are therefore the ones with real 'skin' in the game: they have *JUST ENOUGH* to know it, and to need to protect it, but not enough to risk it by being revolutionary or by shaking the tree. Thus, the ones with the greatest motivation to sort all this out as well as the means to do it are the ones who stand to lose the most, and so will never do so.

April 27, 2012 10:44 AM

Petrarch's point of Japan and Europe is spot on with his analysis of a country that will disappear with the sands of time. Japan may come back as they are a homogeneous society that reponds to national crisis better than most nations. A call for more children will reverse their trend. Europe is another case. With their self imposed socialism and allowing one vote per person they will be an muslim nation in time. I don't see them or the US having the intestinal fortitude to make hard choices. The example of not being able to vote if you take a government check being the prime example. I would throw in being a property owner and a taxpayer as qualifications to vote also but then again I am a Neanderthal in my thinking.

April 27, 2012 3:43 PM

Poor people have more babies because they don't have the required education to know better. You want to have them stop having so much children? Then educate them. It's a proven correlation; the higher studies someone has, the less babies such person tends to have. So instead of blaming universal health care for causing a dumb nation, work on improving the education. It's like Wilson says in the movie (concerning water, but applies nevertheless). Just try it. If you don't we'll end up like that anyways.

February 16, 2013 1:09 AM


I think you've tied it backwards. Everyone knows where babies come from, and they know how to prevent unwanted pregnancies. No one lacks for education in that respect.

The trouble is that the same pathologies, self-destructiveness, lack of foresight, and stupid behaviour that lead to unwanted pregnancies also lead to piss-poor planning for careers, finance, and other things.

In other words, people do dumb things that put or keep themselves in poverty, and these things include having children too early, out of wedlock, etc.

February 16, 2013 7:59 AM

Well, everyone onviously know where babies come from. But education is important so that these "dumb" people can LEARN the required critical thinking skills that they're lacking. If they're doing stupid crap always, and in all respects, it's because we're allowing them to do so, by not helping them. It's like saying that it's a starving child's fault to be hungry because he just doesn't go get food, even if there isn't any for him to get. Things aren't as simple as "oh, this guy was born smart, so he'll succeed. And this other guy was born dumb, so he'll end up having tons of kids and eventually will screw the world". If social services and universal health care end up causing more dumb people to have even more children, it's because of their lack of ciritcal thinking skills. Which we don't teach them.

February 16, 2013 11:35 AM


Making birth control a condition of taking public assistance would solve the problem. The bureaucracy would fight that to the death because they need the customers. The Democrats would fight it to the death because they need the votes both of the bureaucrats and of the welfare recipients.

But it would solve the problem - welfare would be cut in half each generation instead of doubling.

February 17, 2013 9:21 PM
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