A car or a baby?

Given the choice between a car & a baby, which would gentle reader pick? We are supposing, of course, the “right to choose,” & it is your call entirely. Let us try not to be too utilitarian about this, for use is often in the eye of the beholder; let us consider the matter in a much broader way. And please do not be too hasty. Cars may be more expensive than one thinks, & babies less so. The inconvenience of operating cars may be underestimated.

True, babies eat & drink, make a mess sometimes, & while overall they generate less noise than a car, that noise is sometimes painfully concentrated. Moreover, the baby will take time & attention to raise; & while much of this effort may be sloughed off on the State, there may be social or even legal consequences if one fails to collect it after daycare. And, those who have raised a child will know that as it grows, it will cause other headaches. By the time it is seven or so, one may seriously regret what one got oneself into. Whereas, a car might still have some trade-in value, & the State puts fewer obstacles in the way of selling it.

The comparative cost of car & baby depends on the method of accounting, but also on one’s attitude towards them, respectively, so that on the pure money question it is hard to decide. One could easily spend more on either. But to be perfectly Scotch about this, the minimum expenditure for a baby is probably less, for it can be clothed out of the Sally Anne, & fed for as little as, say, a large dog or pampered cat, & kept in as small an area. It is true these costs rise as the child increases in volume, but the smallest car is heavier than the largest child, & there is no way to cut corners when filling the gas tank. From this side, babies start to look economical.

However, thought should also be given to the comparative benefits of car & baby ownership. The consensus of polite dinner-table conversation, we have found, is that the baby will give more emotional feedback, over an extended period. But again, that’s not always a good thing. Against the car, one might argue diminishing returns. It’s a bit of a thrill for the first few days, but afterwards it tends to become just a mode of transport, & a depreciating asset at that.

In either case, one might tire of looking at the thing. Cars, to be fair, may be easier to ignore, or abandon. Indeed, so biased is the State that, in the case of the child, if one fails to kill it before it is born, the law prevents one from killing it after. Whereas, the car can be eliminated at any time, provided that environmental regulations have been observed.

But now we should mention the “overpopulation” problem that we find at the back of many urban minds. The great majority of people living in vast conurbations apparently believe that the world is overcrowded. They live in big cities not so much by choice, as because that is where the jobs are. And one needs one of those to get to the point where one may choose between the car & the baby. Some can afford both, but if one already thinks the world has too many people, the car looks like the better bargain.

Several times we have been told, by some horrified urbanite, that the population of the world has doubled within his or her lifetime, as if this fact settled every argument. Therein, we think, lies the positive enthusiasm for abortion & the various other techniques of “population control” – if not for oneself, then generously subsidized for others. These city folk are usually too distracted by the pace of city life to think anything through; but as a general notion they imagine it would be better if most of the excess population could be put down — in a humanitarian way, of course — to create more elbow room, & less pressure on finite resources.

As a city boy ourself, we have observed that city life is made less pleasant by the 80 percent or so of city dwellers who don’t really want to be here. If they could go to where they’d rather be, it would be better for the rest of us. Yet as we saw above, they may not have alternatives. Though we may find them irritating, & often in our way, we are personally opposed to having them euthanized or, more patiently, sterilized. We are willing to entertain more “optimal” solutions.

For instance, we are told that if all the world’s inhabitants were assembled contiguously at Tokyo density, they would fit into less space than France, or Texas, or may we suggest Afghanistan — thus leaving the rest of the planet clear for outdoorsmen. The people thus moved wouldn’t be any more or less happy than those in Tokyo, or any other conurbation, so what’s holding us back?

In much of the world, rural population is actually declining, so that space may be opening faster than suburbanization can fill it. From this we see the crowding is an illusion, & of choice: for most of the world may be getting less crowded. It must be admitted, however, that as the city folk get money, they buy up the countryside & spread their urban junk around it.

Consider: in the time the human population of the planet completed its last doubling, the number of cars increased more than 15 times; a trend that is continuing. Consider further, that a car occupies a much bigger surface area than a pair of human feet. And that, thanks to cars, what used to fit into one square mile of city is now spread over many square miles of bungalows, front yards, back yards, swimming pools, roadways, shopping malls, & parking lots. And, the people who drive them feel crowded because the cars take them to places where everyone is concentrated at something like the old city densities; & put them through traffic jams along the way. People have the illusion that people are everywhere, when really they are being shifted about by car to glom in just a few over-subscribed places. If they walked, they’d find lots of unoccupied space, albeit somewhat cluttered & despoiled.

There are some moral & spiritual considerations here that we have overlooked. We might wish to recall them briefly, while contemplating our “final solution” — the sanctity of human life, & all that. Granting that the world appears to be crowded (even though it isn’t), what should we do about it? Kill off all our babies?

Or might we focus on killing off the cars, instead?