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Jörg Tremmel (2005)

Instruments for Ethical Evaluation of Financial Steering Mechanisms in the Context of Antinatalistic Population Policies: The Four-Fifths Rule in the Discussion*

In: Zeitschrift für Bevölkerungswissenschaft, Vol. 30, 4/2005, p. 455-482, Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, ISSN: 0340-2398

Most states in the world have antinatalistic population policies. The ethical evaluation and judgment of such policies is highly relevant since only by these means can standards be found which determine whether this extremely widespread state activity can be accepted as „justified“, or should be rejected as „unethical“. The main concern of this article is to make clear the individual steps to be taken in an ethical evaluation of antinatalistic population policies. As an introduction, a justification is offered for the view that antinatalistic population policies in democracies cannot be judged as unethical on an across-the-board basis. Then, a detailed study is performed identifying the types of individual fertility related measures which can be ethically legitimated. To this end, all conceivable measures are ordered against a continuum which extends from „volition“ to „coercion“. In this context, the indirect and the appellative population policy approaches are unrestrictedly judged as ethically permissible. Equally clearly, rationing strategies are classified as unethical. Whilst it is easy to judge measures which either permit a considerable number of freedoms, or impose considerable restrictions on them, it is the measures contained in the middle of the continuum which are more difficult to evaluate. When it comes to financial steering mechanisms, it is possible first of all to distinguish whether they are bonus systems, penalty systems or time-limited benefits (only for the first children). Although for a homo oeconomicus all financial steering mechanisms are to be evaluated equally, most people perceive penalty systems as more coercive than bonus systems. Ultimately, however, both with bonuses and with penalties it depends upon their amount as to whether they constitute coercion. It is essential to determine from which time onwards these measures become so drastic as to constitute unreasonable pressure, and de facto the individual is deprived of any freedom to decide. The four-fifths rule is presented in order to lend substance to the core of the problem by providing a rule of thumb. According to this rule, the choice of a number of children not desired by the State may not lead to individuals‘ income falling by more than 20 percent as against the income situation which they would be in if they chose the preferred number of children for which the State awards the most benefits. Finally, the four-fifths rule was defended against objections.

* Original title: Instrumente zur ethischen Beurteilung finanzieller Steuerungsmechanismen im Rahmen antinatalistischer Geburtenpolitiken: Die Vier-Fünftel-Regel in der Diskussion (full text in German only)

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