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DeLong Smackdown Watch: Jim Henley's Thoughts on Bryan Caplan

Jim Henley writes:

Second Thoughts on the 2010s § Unqualified Offerings: Brad Delong’s imputation of plain misogyny in Caplan’s enthusiasm for rearing a clone of himself strikes me, on reflection, as wrongheaded. In a hurry this morning, I let his accusation stand without comment because: a) It was good for a joke based on an epigram of Sartre’s. Now that I’m a liberal, such opportunities are irresistible. b) I hadn’t fully articulated to myself quite what was creepy about Caplan’s cloning passage, but knew a creepy pony was in there somewhere. c) I have an Alinskyite mole (don’t ask where), and when it itches I just can’t think straight...


I think DeLong’s argument that it represents sexism rather than a particularly creepy narcissism is weak. But I had to get out the door for the day, so I didn’t have time to find more apposite slams. Now, why creepy? we’re not dealing with just the “defensibility” of cloning as a reproductive strategy. Picador undersells the gains from sexual reproduction, which go some way toward explaining why humans don’t just bud. He also overstates the risks, as they obtain in the present day. But that’s a side issue.

The creepy is Caplan’s confidence that he and his son will share a uniquely “sublime” bond. Yes, the undeniable relative deprecation of the bond he shares with his existing children is part of that. But so is the pressure his avidity puts on someone who would be, if Caplan got his wish, a real person in his own right – and a vulnerable, immature one. I do wonder if Nature has a trick to play yet on clone-clone bonding: incest taboos exist at the chemical level in much of the animal kingdom. Smell plays a major role in it. It may be that Your Clone Baby sends a bunch of wrongness signals in your presence that you might not consciously recognize.

But William Burns has the same reaction that I do:

You can make a pretty strong argument for sexism, if not misogyny, by pointing out that Caplan is talking as if he will raise the child alone, and that if he’s married this is almost certainly not the case, and if his marriage follows the most common sexual division of roles (and I would bet it does) he won’t even be doing most of the parental work. And he doesn’t suggest that the co-parent might have some input into the decision. Even if Caplan is gay and in a same-sex relationship, the other partner would still have the right to be consulted. The only way what he says isn’t selfish is if he’s single and planning to raise mini-Caplan alone.

And I wish to make a counter-protest:

In context with "the 1880s were a glorious age for wimminfreedom" it seems to me I am on pretty solid ground. Growing a child is, after all, something that women are usually involved in at a much deeper and more personal level that cannot be well-modeled as a piece of work that they do that they then don't care about and are willing to trade you for money. Egg-donation and surrogate-motherhood have always seemed to me to raise issues that are not properly disposed of by treating them as arm's-length market exchanges. (But, indeed, I think market exchanges raise "doux commerce" issues that are not properly disposed of by treating them as arm's-length market exchanges either, albeit to a lesser degree.) And to have women simply vanish from the equation of creating and raising one's clone altogether still seems to me, well, misogynistic...