Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Gene preferences

Last week, I met Bryan Caplan. He's writing a book that advocates that parents might think about having more kids. I've read a draft and it is thought provoking but not everyone (including myself) is going to agree with his conclusions. That said, for the most part, he is careful to accumulate evidence (certainly more careful than I have been). Nonetheless, he is a nice fellow which is not what you would gather if you looked on the Internet today.

Bryan appears to have got himself into a blogging pickle of late and attracted the ire of Brad de Long. The reason is that he has been doing what bloggers often like to do and put forward naked, provocative thoughts that cause them to be tainted with a stereotype or prejudice. Again, they are thoughts that people will disagree with and, in many respects, that is the point. But I've been there with some tough backlash and I have to wonder if all that is helping debate and discussion of the kind that the blogosphere should be about. I think about the fire thrown on the Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids movement in the same light. I guess people have a right to vent but it does have the effect of stifling free discussion. 

Anyhow, Bryan's latest apparent affront to humanity was this statement: 
I confess that I take anti-cloning arguments personally.  Not only do they insult the identical twin sons I already have; they insult a son I hope I live to meet.  Yes, I wish to clone myself and raise the baby as my son.  Seriously.  I want to experience the sublime bond I'm sure we'd share.  I'm confident that he'd be delighted, too, because I would love to be raised by me.  I'm not pushing others to clone themselves.  I'm not asking anyone else to pay for my dream.  I just want government to leave me and the cloning business alone.  Is that too much to ask?
It's a view. I am pretty sure that Bryan is far from alone in actually wanting a child that is a replica rather than a hybrid and I am also pretty sure that his spouse already knows what she married. Tyler Cowen is similarly right that 50% is not necessarily the optimal gene mix. How many of us want various features of a child to take after one parent or the other? For me, there are so many areas where I think a less than 50% pass through of my traits is what I (and society for that matter!) would want. I definitely don't want a clone but I can understand that others might. Indeed, when we were having a second child, I quite like the first, and wouldn't have minded a clone of her. As she moves towards teenagerhood, I guess I am happy for our diversity.
To me the arguments against cloning have more to do with externalities and similar arguments against gender selection than with a problem with individual preferences. To my mind, this pushes us toward caution and restrictions at a first instance and that the cost to individuals from a delayed ability (maybe over a generation or more) to exercise choice is a worthwhile price for caution. That said, I haven't stated what all these are and will have to leave that for another day.