A Politically Incorrect Blog Post.
I wrote some thoughts about abortion.
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Given the recent Supreme Court news, I wanted to share some thoughts. Yes, this is a finance newsletter. Yes, it's also Saturday. I don't really care. I'll be back on Monday with your regularly scheduled programming.
Right now, a lot of people are angry, scared, and confused. It was important to me to publish this today.
In the 1920s, we had an interesting social experiment known as Prohibition. Prohibition, in theory, was a good idea. Alcohol is an unhealthy substance and a net negative for society. Alcoholism destroys livers and families, and the consumption of alcohol leads to people making poor, and sometimes dangerous, decisions.
So we banned it. Which meant that everyone stopped drinking and the livelihood of all Americans improved, right?
Actually, that didn't happen. In fact, the opposite happened. Banning alcohol didn't stop the consumption of alcohol. It simply changed the means of production and the potency of the product.
Instead of companies selling regulated beer, liquor, and wine, black market bootleggers and mob-controlled speakeasies took over. With the means of production now underground, it was no longer cost-effective to brew massive quantities of weaker beverages such as beer. Alcohol became more potent, as moonshine brewed in the bathtubs of these bootleggers replaced beer as the drink of choice.
Stronger drinks led to more incidents of alcohol poisoning. According to Thomas Coffey, “the death rate from poisoned liquor was appallingly high throughout the country. In 1925 the national toll was 4,154 as compared to 1,064 in 1920. And the increasing number of deaths created a public relations problem for … the drys because they weren’t exactly accidental."
This uptick in poisoned liquor follows Richard Cowan's "Iron Law of Prohibition."
The more intense the law enforcement, the more potent the prohibited substance becomes. When drugs or alcoholic beverages are prohibited, they will become more potent, will have greater variability in potency, will be adulterated with unknown or dangerous substances, and will not be produced and consumed under normal market constraints.
Prohibition was also a financial boon for those willing to operate speakeasies, because there was no competition. Al Capone made $60M annually in the 20s, as the rich and wealthy would pay top dollar to keep the party rolling.
So alcohol grew more dangerous, crime rings grew more powerful, and guess what else? After a brief one-year dip, American alcohol consumption climbed right back to pre-Prohibition levels.
The only differences, of course were that Americans were more likely to die from bad booze, and mob bosses got rich.
The thought process behind Prohibition was simple:
"Alcohol is bad. Let's ban it, and then people won't drink it."
As we can see, that did not work. A ban actually made alcohol more dangerous, empowered bad actors, and failed to meaningfully reduce consumption.
Prohibition is a prime example of policy that was good in theory, but awful in reality. Yes, in a perfect world, no one would have any desire to drink and we would all live productive, sober, fulfilling lives. But worlds are only as perfect as their inhabitants, and we don't exactly have 8 billion Jesus Christs walking around. We live in a world full of normal people with normal problems, and these normal people are going to drink.
If only our politicians could learn from history.
This isn't an article about alcohol. This is an article about abortion. Abortion is at the forefront of everyone's minds right now, and I wanted to share a few thoughts. I do ask, no matter how you feel right now, that you read through this whole piece.
First, let me be quite clear: I hate abortions. I hate everything about them.
I wish we lived in a world where abortions didn't exist. I wish we lived in a world where we could flip a magic fertility switch and choose the specific sexual encounters when we wanted our genetic material to combine to create a little human, and turn it off when we don't.
But we don't live in that world, no matter how badly I wish we did. And we don't get to make laws based on the world we wish we lived in. Our laws need to reflect our reality. The real world.
Here's the real world.
We live in a world where people have pre-marital sex, which shouldn't be all that much of a shock considering we are creatures with a genetic, biological imperative to get intimate as much as possible from our teens through our 30s, while we have simultaneously pushed the average marriage age back to the tail end of this window.
We live in a world where birth control doesn't always control births, where condoms break, where 20-year-old college girls who, on a Wednesday were trying to decide between a marketing degree and a finance degree, find out on a Sunday that their one-night-stand with the cute guy from ECON 101 had more than one night of consequences because their birth control lapsed, or a condom broke, or one of a million other things that were supposed to prevent pregnancy did not, in fact, prevent pregnancy.
We live in a world where this 20-year-old girl who did not at all choose to be pregnant is scared to tell her friends and family about her pregnancy out of shame. Because we live in a world that shames 20-year-old girls who did not at all choose to be pregnant but became pregnant anyway.
This shame isn't a Game of Thrones, Cersei Lannister-style public shaming in the streets of Kings Landing. It is discrete. Quiet. It is hushed whispers of "Can you believe she got knocked up?" It is lingering eyes as she walks down the hall.
We live in a world where this 20-year-old girl feels like her entire world is crashing down and she has nowhere to turn, and out of desperation, she turns to abortion. Head down and ashamed, she goes to a local clinic. She has the procedure done. And this secret weighs on her chest for years.
That is the real world.
But what if we lived in a different world? A world where abortion is outlawed everywhere?
In this different world, that 20-year-old-girl still finds herself pregnant after a one night stand with the cute guy from her ECON 101 class, and she is still ashamed to tell her friends and family about the pregnancy.
And in this different world, that 20-year-old girl who is hopelessly alone while her entire world is crashing down will still turn to abortion. But this time, she doesn't head to a regulated clinic for a safe procedure. She heads to the back alley, unlicensed "doctor," who is willing to perform the procedure for 10x the cost of the clinic. If she lives in the southwest US, she might cross the border to Mexico to have it done in another country. Maybe she takes every pill in her cabinet, hoping the cocktail of chemicals will kill this fetus before it starts to grow. She does all sorts of things to make the problem go away.
The difference between the two worlds isn't that 20-year-old girls that get knocked up by one night stands in the second world no longer have abortions.
The difference is that 20-year-old girls that get knocked up by one night stands will pay more money for unsafe procedures that have a higher chance of injuring or killing them in the process.
Roe v Wade was overturned by a group of judges who desire an America with zero abortions.
I understand the moral argument for outlawing abortion. It's simple: we shouldn't kill unborn children. You will hear this in every pulpit of every church in America this Sunday.
But reality doesn't care about your moral argument, and it's not the responsibility of our judges and politicians to be our preachers and priests.
When you have the power to make decisions that impact the lives of hundreds of millions of people, the real-life, actual outcomes and consequences of your decisions should be more important than the white knight crusade that you believe that you are embarking on.
You probably think banning abortion makes you the good guy, because you're saving so many unborn children's lives.
But an abortion ban won't magically make abortions disappear. It just pushes abortions to the shadows. Those "unborn babies" are still going to be killed. Your ban just increases the chance that the mother dies as well.
And that's the problem with moral, ideological decisions. They ignore reality. These decisions boost the egos and self-righteousness of the decision-makers, while failing to actually improve anything.
Making a decision with good intentions that creates disastrous results doesn't make you a better person. It makes you a reckless leader.
If you are actually Pro-Life, and by that I mean this I mean you actually give a damn about the lives of both mothers and unborn children, you would do everything in your power to limit unplanned pregnancies, because the data is overwhelming that abortions are going to happen, regardless of the legal ramifications.
The goal should be, after all, to actually reduce the number of abortions. Not to simply show the public how much you hate abortions. Banning abortions doesn't reduce the number of abortions. It just hides them.
I think a lot of politicians miss that.
Ironically, taken to its furthest conclusion, Pro-Life actually increases the total number of abortions because it ignores reality.
The Venn Diagram of those who want to outlaw abortion and those who want to limit access to contraceptives and birth control is a circle. Okay, cool. So let's imagine a world where contraceptives, birth control, and abortions are outlawed.
We are creatures with a biological imperative to have sex, a lot, between our late teens and early 30s. Outlawing contraceptives and birth control doesn't override this biological imperative. It does, however, increase the likelihood that our biological imperative leads to new biological creations. So now, thanks to the lack of contraceptives, we have more unplanned pregnancies.
Well guess what? No matter how evil and heinous you think abortions are, a lot of these women, a lot of these 20-year-old college girls, are going to get abortions.
Pro-Life, taken to its furthest conclusion, leads to a society with more unplanned pregnancies and more back alley, dangerous, overpriced abortions.
The end goal, for those who are truly "Pro-Life" should be a reduction in the total number of abortions, not an increase in unsafe abortions. But an abortion ban, while it serves to inflate the egos of those that support it, fails to actually lower the number of abortions.
Ideologies should never be placed before reality, but we see this again and again and again.
The idea is, "Abortion is bad. Let's ban it. Abortion will stop."
The reality is, "Abortion is bad. But scared, unprepared, ashamed often young women will quietly seek out an abortion if they feel wholly unprepared to bear a child, no matter how risky the procedure is."
When we oversimplify complex issues, we miss the nuance and the humanity.
Women who get abortions aren't blood-thirsty, baby-killing machines that take pleasure in destroying the little human inside them.
Women who get abortions are scared. Alone. Depressed. Every single one of us knows someone who's had an abortion, and we don't even realize it. It's probably someone that you would never expect.
Perhaps if we had a little empathy, if we viewed those impacted by these laws as real people with real struggles, we could build solutions that actually help our fellow Americans. Perhaps if we used a little second-order thinking, we could create policies that actually create net positives for our citizens, instead of punishing those that need help the most.
If this was actually about lowering abortions, we would invest in resources and education to reduce unplanned pregnancies.
Instead, despite the mountain of data and countless anecdotes that suggest otherwise, the Pro-Life movement has decided that abstinence-only education, limited contraceptives, and outlawed abortions will magically create a society where everyone abstains til marriage and has exactly as many kids as they want.
I hate to say it, but that's not going to happen.
When ideology is placed before reality, poorly thought-out laws lead to disastrous outcomes. This is one of those outcomes.
I hate abortions. You know who else hates abortions? The women getting abortions.
Perhaps instead of vilifying these women, we should have a little empathy. If we want to make a difference, we strive to create a world where fewer women are forced to make this decision in the first place.
We should work to lower the number of unplanned pregnancies, instead of telling those who end up pregnant to go kick rocks.
But to pass laws that actually help would require us to set our preconceived biases to the side, study the *real* data surrounding these topics, think through the second-order effects of different actions, and have empathy for those affected by our decisions.
Unfortunately, we have a collection of individuals in power who pass laws based on their biases, beliefs, and party lines, with no regard for the realistic outcomes of said laws. We have a collection of individuals in power who are more concerned with winning the negative-sum game of Red vs. Blue and less concerned with actually improving the lives of their constituents.
If your moral compass pushes you to pass a law that leads to more women dying while failing to actually reduce the number of abortions in a meaningful way, then that moral compass is crooked.
So what do I think? What's my opinion?
I'm not a woman, so I can't address how an infringement of reproductive rights affects me individually.
I'm not a theologian, so I can't speak to the moral implications of abortion.
But I am a realist. And as a realist, I think any policy that both fails to actually reduce the number of abortions and puts even more lives in danger, is a terrible policy.
God isn't going to give you a gold star for your "good intentions," especially when those "good intentions" hurt millions and help no one.
Believe it or not, you can be pro-choice and anti-abortion. You can both believe that abortions are a bad thing while also realizing that abortions are an inevitable side effect of unplanned pregnancies.
Again, as a politician, if you are actually concerned with lowering abortion rates, you would craft policies that address the root of the problem. That reduce unplanned pregnancies. You wouldn't support a poorly thought-out ban that will fail to actually make any sort of difference.
Unless, of course, the goal is to show everyone how "anti-abortion" you are, instead of actually working towards a solution that would actually make a difference. Because if the goal is to publicly demonstrate your anti-abortion stance with no regard for actually helping to find a solution, I guess pushing for an abortion ban will help you achieve that.
Are you still with me?
I am, very much, anti-abortion. I am also, very much, a realist. As a realist who doesn't like abortions, I would prefer that we actually work to lower abortion rates by addressing the root of the problem, instead of pushing abortions to the shadows and acting like they don't exist anymore.
So if you are in favor of the ban, ask yourself one question: Are you actually interested in saving lives, or do you just want to support something that sounds like it will save lives, regardless of the actual outcome?
Because this abortion ban? It's not going to save any kids' lives. Those abortions are still going to happen. But a few more moms will likely be killed too.
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