The college wage premium vs the marriage wage premium. In contemporary societies, there is a strong college wage premium. That is to say, people who go to college make more money on average than people who don’t. While a minority of economists (including Cowen) have questioned why this premium should exist, the majority of economists generally take the existence of this college wage premium to mean that college is good and important, that more people should go to college, and that public policy has some role to play in promoting and subsidizing college attendance. I would bet a goodly sum of money that if you picked at random ten tenured economists from top-20 economics departments, and asked them to list what an 18-year-old should do to increase his chances of getting high wages, a majority would say “go to college.”
There also exists a marriage wage premium, which is roughly as significant and as consistent as the college wage premium. To say that the marriage wage premium doesn’t get the same amount of attention is an understatement. Economists recoil at the idea of praising marriage and supporting public policies that increase marriage. They are much more likely to dismiss the marriage wage premium as reflecting selection bias (it’s not that marriage makes people earn more money, it’s that people who would have earned more money anyway tend to get married) or intone that “correlation is not causation”–criticisms that apply equally to analyses of the college wage premium. I would bet a goodly sum of money that if you picked at random ten tenured economists from top-20 economics departments, and asked them to list what an 18-year-old should do to increase his chances of getting high wages, none of them would say “get married and stay married”–even though the data on the marriage wage premium supports this conclusion to the same extent as it does going to college.
Usually if economists acknowledge the population growth problem, their preferred solution is to increase immigration–which aligns perfectly well with the “cosmopolitan perspective” Cowen praises. Leaving aside the fact that it’s a zero-sum proposition (those immigrants have to come from somewhere, and global population growth is slowing), these discussions often take an interesting turn. Even though I genuinely share economists’ enthusiasm for opening borders, when arguing that opening borders makes sense alongside a natalist policy, I have been accused of being against immigration, and possibly even a xenophobe. On its face, this is absurd. But if what we’re dealing with isn’t a public policy debate, but a clash of ideologies, where one ideology views as taboo the idea of public policy having an influence on the private sphere, then anger and accusation are a perfectly understandable reaction.
The pro-immigration view (which, again, I share) is as much a productivity view as a population view. The normal argument for immigration is that more people will allow for more specialization, which should raise productivity as people focus on the things they’re best at and learn from each other. That this is also an argument for increasing the birth rate seems not to occur.
Anyway–we can have all the arguments about increasing population growth we want: whether it is desirable, whether it is even possible, whether it is consistent with a liberal outlook (my answers: yes, let’s try, of course). My point here is that the subject is just completely ignored by the economics profession, and that this can be explained largely by the existence of bias.