All Commentary
Saturday, March 1, 1980

How to Produce Human Beings

Dr. Russell, Professor of Management, University of Wisconsin at La Crosse, also gains economic insight from his observation of people and conditions around the world.

A feature of our tour of a collective farm in China was a visit to the home of a worker. To my astonishment, our host had five children.

I wondered if he was aware of the policy of the State Council’s family planning department. The chairwoman, Vice Premier Chen Muhua, summed up that policy in this clear statement: “The planned economy of socialism should make it possible to regulate the reproduction of human beings so that the population growth keeps in step with the growth of material production.”

Five children in one family is not in harmony with the current level of material production in the People’s Republic of China. In fact, the government’s plan to equalize them is based on the production of no more than two children per couple—and one, or even none, is preferred.

At my request, our tour guide put this information into a question to our farmer-host. He listened carefully, smiled proudly, and replied that the official policy on his collective farm of 26,000 members is to permit the production of children until a son is born. He and his wife had produced four daughters before the son arrived. Then both were sterilized.

This policy on the production of human beings in China varies from province to province and, apparently, from collective to collective. Also the “child production allotment” appears to be larger on collective farms than in collective factories. Increasingly, however, the philosophy now followed in rural Guizhou Province is becoming the norm for the nation: “The party organizations at all levels have called on the masses to resolutely deal blows to the criminals . . . [who] have used the masses’ old ideas,” (i.e., more sons, more bliss) to sabotage socialist population control measures.

Traditions die hard, however, in any society. Prime Minister Indira Gandhi also discovered this truth when she encouraged the use of force to sterilize people who refused to comply with her plans to decrease the population in India. Her successor as prime minister, Maraji Desai, once told me that Mrs. Gandhi’s compulsory sterilization policies had far more to do with her political defeat than did the charges of corruption against her administration and family.

Rewards and Penalties

In India and China, a combination of both “carrot and stick” measures are used in the attempt to keep the production of human beings in harmony with state plans. For example, free birth control devices, abortions, and sterilizations are readily available to all. These control measures are always actively promoted and are sometimes even enforced against reluctant participants. In some cities in China, e.g., Peking, the production of a third child may bring a fine of 10 per cent of pay for up to 14 years. One- child and no-child families in China are often rewarded by the government with more housing space and better job opportunities. These cooperating parents may also get special credits added to their retirement pensions.

Similar reward and punishment measures are used (in reverse) in western nations where the production of children is positively encouraged. For example, in Sweden the low birth rate is of great concern to the government. The allocation of scarce housing is one of several ways the government uses to reward the producers of more Swedish babies. During my two visits to Stockholm in the 1960s I found that the waiting time for an apartment was from four to ten years. But a woman could move to the top of the waiting list for scarce and low-rent housing if she became pregnant. That’s a most per suasive production bonus in a society where there’s a housing shortage.

In France with its declining birth rate, a friend of mine in Paris is paid more (directly and indirectly) by the government for his five children than he’s paid (take home) by his employer. He once joked to me that his family is a two-income family; his wife is paid for producing more children while he’s paid for producing more lectures.

In New York City, the payment of various direct and indirect subsidies to families with dependent children usually adds up to considerably more than the parent could earn at any available job. And so on, in every nation of the world, with the government applying both carrot and stick to increase or decrease the production of human beings according to state plans.


There is a strong tendency by most persons in any society to take the job that offers the most material goods and services for the least effort. And quite frequently in various western nations, the government pays more for the production of children than the market pays for the production of goods and services.

This “reward principle” applies to the production of anything and everything, at all times, and in all nations. For example, when the state planners in Russia wanted more food produced, they permitted private farming, market pricing, and high profits. The socialist planners knew with certainty that the Russian farmers would respond to the profit motive in precisely the same way the managers of General Motors respond to the same motive. Both will produce more of the wanted products. In Poland, I observed people standing in line for three hours at the no-profit government stores while other people were getting immediate service in the “private sector” of the economy that operates on the profit motive.

This motivation to increase production, i.e., the basic desire of mankind to accumulate products and services for survival and comfort, is not restricted to any particular economic system. It is an inherent—not an acquired—characteristic. It came with the first human being, and every one of us today was born with it in our genes. Even the persons who use force in an effort to suppress this motivating principle “to get ahead” are them selves thereby trying to get ahead of the rest of us.

This acquisitive characteristic is responsible for all progress, including art by the old masters. The philosopher who argues how the “surplus” production should be distributed seems happily unaware that the surplus was produced by persons who expected to gain something from it personally. What did they expect to gain? Ask any producer, including yourself. While the answers will vary widely, they will all involve self-interest (including self-glorification and immortalization) in one way or another.

As my minister sincerely denounced the “root of all evil” in his sermons, I continued to help him in his search for a larger church that paid its pastor more money. I recommended him because he was a high producer and a good man in every sense of the word. He, too, wanted (and I think, deserved) more of the world’s products and services.

What do you want more of?. Babies? Tobacco? Chrysler cars? The secret of how to get them produced is known to everyone, in Russia as in the United States. Just pay a bigger bonus in one form or another, including the government’s support of prices higher than the market would tolerate.

Leave to the Individual the Choice and Its Consequences

What do you want less of?. Babies? Rental housing and apartments? Investment in machinery? The secret of how to decrease production is also known to everyone, in China as in the United States. Just penalize such production in one way or another, including the government’s setting of prices lower than the market would offer.

Personally, I’m not in favor of our government’s rewarding or penalizing the producers of any product, most especially the producers of human beings. That’s a bit too close to “playing God” for my taste. Perhaps we collectively (through our government) would be well advised neither to reward nor to penalize anyone for having or not having babies. Perhaps that decision should be left with the individuals who are directly concerned, and with no one else.

In retrospect, I just can’t imagine that any government planning agency would have permitted me (unit number 11) to be added to the existing 10 children already produced by a dirt-poor family in the Virginia mountains. Even the worst of the bureaucratic planners couldn’t make such an obvious blunder as that.

I think of that when I take the government-granted income tax deduction for my own children. If I ask the government to reward me with tax rebates (and other subsidies) for producing human beings, I have no moral ground to stand on when the government planners decide to penalize me for it. If they have the right to do the one, then most definitely they have the right to do the other.