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Freeing American Families

Blog Post | Health & Medical Care

Freeing American Families

In their new paper, Vanessa Brown Calder and Chelsea Follett propose reforms to make family life easier and more affordable.

Summary: As fertility rates decline, policymakers are considering costly interventions to boost population growth; however, international evidence suggests that the proposed measures have limited effectiveness in raising fertility rates. This article makes an argument about which sorts of reforms are likely to be counter-productive, and which measures can actually have a positive impact on fertility while also benefiting families in other ways.

Fertility is on the decline in the United States and around the world. Although some commentators celebrate population declines for environmental or other reasons, others fear that below‐​replacement fertility will result in negative economic and social consequences. As a result, many countries are pursuing various policies intended to boost fertility rates, such as baby bonuses, cash benefits for families with kids, paid family leave, and universal childcare. In the United States, members of Congress in both parties favor greater federal intervention to boost fertility rates or to support families more generally.

However, such policies are costly and have limited effects on fertility. International evidence indicates that expensive efforts to subsidize childbearing have failed to raise countries’ fertility to replacement levels and sustain fertility rates there. They typically fail even to meet policymakers’ more modest fertility objectives. Recent estimates suggest that fertility initiatives in the United States would be similarly misguided, with some $250 billion in annual subsidies needed to achieve a modest increase of 0.2 extra children per woman.

Although policymakers should avoid implementing similar initiatives, many other reforms would make family life easier and more affordable. This study proposes reforms to labor laws, child safety policies, tax and trade policy, and health policies that affect birth and conception, in addition to education, housing, and safety policy changes that would reduce the cost of raising children. Evidence suggests that some of these reforms could boost fertility, for instance, by reducing work‐​life tradeoffs or other intensive parenting requirements. However, these reforms are also worthwhile as standalone measures that improve family life.

Read the full paper here.

Telegraph | Human Freedom

Britain Is First Country in Europe to Approve Lab-Grown Meat

“British start-up Meatly has received the green light from UK regulators for its lab-grown meat to be used in pet food, with plans to initially focus on dogs. 

The first batches of pet food which include its cultivated chicken are expected to appear on sale towards the end of the year after taste trials have been conducted among dogs. 

It means the UK will be the first European country where lab-grown pet food is available for people to buy.”

From Telegraph.

Blog Post | Human Freedom

The Global Rise in Censorship | Podcast Highlights

Chelsea Follett interviews David Inserra about the recent attacks on free speech and how censorship can threaten progress.

Listen to the podcast or read the full transcript here.

Today, we’re going to review this piece you wrote on the free speech recession in the democratic world. Tell me what prompted you to write this.

While doing some research of my own, I came across a study by an organization called the Future of Free Speech based at Vanderbilt University that looked at how free speech, both in terms of legal protection and cultural support, is declining worldwide. This study looked at 22 different democracies, the places that are most, in theory, dedicated to giving their citizens the right to express themselves. And in those societies where free expression should be the most protected, the study finds that it’s actually declining. From 2015 to 2022, 78 percent of new speech-related laws, court decisions, and regulations restricted speech. That’s a significant decline in expression in the places we should care most about.

You also note that cultural support for freedom of speech is declining in many democratic countries. Can you talk a bit about that polling?

Yeah. Unfortunately, people increasingly view free expression as harmful. They are concerned about things like hate speech and misinformation. I believe somewhere around a majority of Americans now think that the government should do something to stop misinformation. And misinformation can be harmful. But first of all, it’s not always misinformation. Sometimes, it’s actually the truth that we just haven’t figured out yet. The purpose of free expression is to protect us from the government stepping in to decide what is true and what is false. That’s the purpose of the First Amendment. And if it doesn’t apply to misinformation, then the protection of pretty much any speech can be called into question.

Let’s go over some of the specific examples you cite of freedom of speech declining or being under attack around the world.

One of the first things that I call out is a bill in the Irish Parliament that is dealing with incitement to violence or hatred. Essentially, this bill would make it illegal to communicate or behave in a way that “is likely to incite hatred” without defining what hatred is. Since the bill can’t even define it, it’s going to be up to the current government to decide. That leaves people with a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads because, at any moment, anything that they’ve said could be defined as hatred. If you compare Donald Trump to Hitler, have you trivialized Nazi war crimes? If a Catholic priest in Ireland takes a traditional religious perspective on sexuality, is that hatred? The amount of things that could come under the umbrella of this law is massive.

Another is that at the very end of 2023, the Danish government decided to implement a sacrilege law that said that if you were to burn religious artifacts or books, such as the Quran, you would go to jail for two years. This law was passed and has been implemented. They’re joining ranks with states like Iran and imprisoning people simply for peacefully burning a book. It’s especially sad because Denmark had actually, maybe a decade prior, gotten rid of their blasphemy law, which hadn’t been enforced for decades. Then, they fell right back into it because they were receiving pressure from authoritarian states and terrorists abroad. The fact that they conceded their values to the violent and the authoritarian really speaks to how modern, secular, liberal countries are going backward in their defense of free expression.

Another thing that you cite is the EUs Digital Services Act. Could you talk a bit about that?

Well, the Digital Services Act is massive, so we can’t cover all of it. One of the things it does is give a significant amount of power to EU bureaucrats to crack down on what they view as illegal speech. It especially applies to large social media companies. And it’s notable that pretty much all those companies are American, except for TikTok, which is Chinese. The EU is basically trying to get their hands on things that they didn’t build and control how the expression works.

They now have the power to investigate and demand things from social media companies when they’re not moderating the way the EU thinks they should. If the companies don’t comply, the EU can fine them as much as 6 percent of their global revenue. Twitter, X, is currently in enforcement proceedings for not handling what the EU considers misinformation or hate speech about what’s going on in Gaza and Israel.

You also talk about developments in Australia.

There was a development at the end of 2023 where a bill that was kind of like the Digital Services Act tried to give the Australian government the authority to look into and regulate the way that social media companies moderated content. It was notable that Australia’s own human rights commission said this bill is problematic because anything the government of Australia says could never be considered misinformation. The entire apparatus that they would be creating would only ever be directed at people who disagree with the government.

Can you talk a bit about how freedom affects power dynamics in society?

Whenever there’s something that challenges the authority of whatever organizations or people are in power, elites respond by freaking out. It makes sense, right? Their power is being challenged, and their control over authority and information is being challenged. You can go back literally to the printing press. Almost immediately after the printing press is invented, the Pope says we need regulation to stop the “misuse of the printing press for the distributions of pernicious writings.”

We are seeing this now with social media and the internet writ large, which have probably leveled the playing field more than any other technology. The printing press was limited by the physical ability to get the words on the paper and put it in someone’s hands. Now, you can get your own website for cheap or write your thoughts on Facebook or X for free. Anyone can access your words. That’s why you see so much energy being put into countering misinformation and hate speech, because there’s this elite panic.

Could you talk more about the relationship between progress and freedom of speech?

One of my favorite quotes in this area is by Frederick Douglass, the esteemed abolitionist, who says, “No, right was deemed by the fathers of the government more sacred than the right of speech. It was in their eyes as in the eyes of all thoughtful men, the great moral renovator of society and government.” He’s speaking to people on the verge of civil war. A country in conflict over the issue of whether humans can be property and treated inhumanely and terribly. He addresses that issue by saying that free expression is how we talk about this issue and bring clarity to this great moral issue of our time.

Civil rights advocates have said the same thing: that free expression allowed them to drive their message to the people of America. This has been the consistent theme of history: freedom of expression is not a threat to the minority and the persecuted; it is the tool that the weak have to call out the abuses of the powerful. It’s the ability to make arguments and to change minds. It is a powerful force for good, and that often gets missed in today’s discourse.

It’s also a democratizing force. People who previously would have had very little influence can now speak on issues of great political and social import on social media for free. Before, your best shot was probably to send a letter to the editor of the New York Times or something like that, hoping that, out of the thousands of letters they were receiving, they picked yours to print.

These are all things that we should celebrate. We should remind ourselves of these great advantages because we risk losing them if we do what other nations around the world are doing and limit speech.

There is a prevailing belief that increased government restrictions on speech are necessary. Tell me about that idea.

Various thinkers, like Herbert Marcuse, have developed this idea that certain types of expression are inherently harmful and that it is up to enlightened experts who understand what is good and bad to stop that harmful speech. This is now a prevailing belief in academia, and students are coming out of college believing things like “hate speech isn’t free speech.” It’s really a power grab. They are just saying, “Our side deserves to set the rules for what speech is and isn’t allowed.”

I think that school of thought largely started on the left. But it’s become an ongoing political power struggle where if the left advocates for shutting down voices on the right, then folks on the right respond by saying, “Well, we’re just going to turn this weapon around and use it against you.” So, that idea, while it may have started as an academic fringe theory, has worked its way into a culture that is becoming incapable of tolerating opposing views. The result is that the government can increasingly act on its desire to restrict speech because increasing numbers of people have bought into various ideologies that say it’s okay for us to restrict speech.

If you could make the case to someone skeptical of freedom of speech for it being a powerful force for human progress, how would you do so?

I would make a couple of points. First, the power to restrict and control speech will almost always end up in someone else’s control. Just think about the repercussions of giving that power to your political opponents who can weaponize it against you.

More meaningfully, we should support freedom of expression because it is one of the greatest tools for advancing human progress. Freedom of expression helps us determine what is true and what is false. If you want to understand how someone thinks or someone in history thought, you need uncensored access to that information. If you care about people reaching self-fulfillment, you should want people to have the right to express themselves without fear that they will be shunned or jailed. If you want people to be good participants in democracy and to be informed and engaged, then you need to take the advice of the Athenian author Demosthenes, who says that Athens was a constitution based on speeches. Do you care about peacefully resolving social conflict? Well, it turns out that if people have free expression, they usually don’t have to resort to violence.

For all these reasons, free expression makes people and society better off. Now, speech does have consequences that aren’t positive. The Reformation and Renaissance, for example, weren’t peaceful periods. They were actually very difficult, but they ushered in things like the Industrial Revolution. And so, if you want that kind of advancement, if you want society to flourish, then you want free expression so we can resolve challenges, advance our knowledge, and become a better informed and thoughtful people.

The Human Progress Podcast | Ep. 51

David Inserra: The Global Rise in Censorship

David Inserra, a fellow for free expression and technology at the Cato Institute, joins Chelsea Follett to discuss recent attacks on free speech and how censorship can threaten progress.