I have a hypothetical idea to help combat the problem of overpopulation: paying people to get sterilized. We already sterilize overpopulated dogs and cats—and consider this to be humane and for the greater good. However, with cats and dogs we do not consider the issue of consent, which we must consider with people. That is why I propose offering people money to get sterilized—because it gives them choice in the matter. The decision then becomes voluntary.
Meanwhile, our Western society presently does the opposite of my proposal: we offer people financial incentives to have children. This happens in some non-Western societies too, and for the same reason: to increase the future workforce. Depending on the country and culture, people with children receive such benefits as tax breaks, paid time off from work, housing opportunities, and in Australia and a few other countries, even direct cash payments, known as the “Baby Bonus.” And people’s children themselves get many benefits at taxpayer expense, such as free or reduced-cost health care, education, travel on public transportation and airlines, etc. And of course there is the financial incentive provided by people’s own families: parents commonly give so much more money to those of their children who procreate than to those who do not. This is considered normal. Society and the family reward parents. And our world’s greater good, and the ecological future of our planet, be damned.
But what would actually happen if governments, or even private foundations, took my hypothetical proposal seriously? I imagine there would be a fair number of people who would jump at the opportunity immediately. To that end, there already is a program in the UK, called Project Prevention, that pays drug addicts a nominal, flat fee to take long-term birth control or get sterilized. Their motivation, however, is largely different from that of this proposal, though their work does shine a light on one unfair aspect of paying people a flat fee: that it’s more likely to attract people in financial distress. Of course, one could argue that people in more financial distress would be less appropriate parents anyway, though I see that as a separate issue.
One way to help neutralize unfair sides of the problem might be to make the financial incentive income-dependent. For example, perhaps people who voluntarily got sterilized would no longer have to pay taxes. Or, if people were to be paid an immediate lump sum for sterilization, they could be paid an amount relative to their income.
I could conceive of other benefits as well. For instance, presently American military veterans receive many benefits—housing and educational opportunities, medical care opportunities, priority airline boarding, free burial services, reduced costs for many other services, etc. What if voluntarily sterilized people received these benefits, and more? In short, hold these sterilized folks up as examples of model citizens—people making a personal sacrifice for the good of the world.
Meanwhile, this proposal would entail other problems. For example, should people be paid a lesser rate if they’d already had children, let’s say, three or four children, and then decided to become sterilized? Would that be fair? Or what about people who were beyond reproductive age? Or people who were already considered infertile? Should these people be excluded from receiving sterilization benefits?
I’m not saying my proposal is a simple idea, or necessary a great one at all, but I do find it an idea worth contemplating…