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Source link: http://archive.mises.org/5756/margaret-sanger-vs-ludwig-von-mises-on-the-poor/

Margaret Sanger vs. Ludwig von Mises on the Poor

October 15, 2006 by

In Margaret Sanger’s Eugenic Legacy: The Control of Female Fertility feminist scholar Angela Franks presents the evidence that should revolutionize our view of the founder of Planned Parenthood. Far from being motivated by the liberation of women she was in fact a lifelong devotee of that dark 20th century phenomenon: eugenics. A review in Touchstone by Anne Barbeua Gardiner explains:

In this eye-opening and thoroughly documented book (there are a hundred pages of notes), Franks persuades the reader that it is a mistake to describe Sanger as a feminist, since from 1917 to the end of her life [1966], she was utterly devoted to eugenics, and her vision of the “free woman” was in fact that of an “engineered and infertile woman” serving the end of the medical, pharmaceutical, and political establishments.

Sanger railed against the “wickedness of large families” out of fear that the poor would flood the world with “cheap” human beings. She blamed the poor for “creating slums” and filling institutions with dependents.

Such people, she wrote in 1925 in an essay titled “The Need of Birth Control in America,” “have done absolutely nothing to advance the race one iota. Their lives are hopeless repetitions. All that they have said has been said before; all that they have done has been done better before. Such human weeds clog up the path, drain up the energies and the resources of this little earth. We must clear the way for a better world; we must cultivate our garden.”

If this doesn’t make Sanger’s agenda clear, try these words from her 1922 The Pivot of Civilization: “[Birth control] is nothing more or less than the facilitation of the process of weeding out the unfit, of preventing the birth of defectives or of those who will become defectives.”

What is the connection to Mises? First, Mises condemned eugenics in no uncertain terms (thanks to David Gordon for pointing this out):

It is vain for the champions of eugenics to protest that they did not mean what the Nazis executed. Eugenics aims at placing some men, backed by the police power, in complete control of human reproduction. It suggests that the methods applied to domestic animals be applied to men. This is precisely what the Nazis tried to do. The only objection which a consistent eugenist can raise is that his own plan differs from that of the Nazi scholars and that he wants to rear another type of men than the Nazis. As every supporter of economic planning aims at the execution of his own plan only, so every advocate of eugenic planning aims at the execution of his own plan and wants himself to act as the breeder of human stock.

Second, and I think more importantly, Mises had an opposite view of the poor and their relation to the rich. Sanger was influenced by her chief mentor Havelock Ellis who “wanted the ‘lowest social stratum’ — the poor and those receiving public assistance — to use birth control or be sterilized in a program that would be carried out by the ‘very best classes.’” This vision of a dominant and destructive role for the rich was not just theory for Sanger. She was funded by the Rockefeller family beginning in the 1920s who “knew that eugenics and birth control were a package deal.” Franks goes on in her book to describe ultra-rich men devoting their wealth to eugenics, later re-dubbed “population control” to avoid the Nazi association.

Mises, in stark contrast, saw that there was hope for the poor in the market. For example in a section on Poverty in Human Action he writes:

As far as there is unhampered capitalism, there is no longer any question of poverty in the sense in which this term is applied to the conditions of a noncapitalistic society. The increase in population figures does not create supernumerary mouths, but additional hands whose employment produces additional wealth. There are no ablebodied paupers.

Furthermore, Mises’s vision of the unhampered market turns the relation between rich and poor upside down. In their role as the vast majority of consumers, it is the (relatively) poor that are the bosses of the rich:

The direction of all economic affairs is in the market society a task of the entrepreneurs. Theirs is the control of production. They are at the helm and steer the ship. A superficial observer would believe that they are supreme. But they are not. They are bound to obey unconditionally the captain’s orders. The captain is the consumer.

…[consumers] make poor people rich and rich people poor. They determine precisely what should be produced, in what quality, and in what quantities. They are merciless bosses, full of whims and fancies, changeable and unpredictable.

Mises, a contemporary of the socialist Margaret Sanger’s, rejected population control as the “solution” to poverty. He instead laid forth a bright and hopeful vision of how the poor could be “eliminated” by making them no longer poor. His vision is, I dare say, the more progressive one.


David C October 16, 2006 at 1:01 am

If I renember my history correctly, just after WW2 Hong Kong was flooded with a huge influx of desperately poor immigrants (maybe even in the millions). Being a small area of limited resources and infrastructure (at the time) it was a recipie for riots, disease, fammine, starvation, and death everywhere. But a funny thing happened, Hong Kong boomed and is still booming to this day. Hmmmmmmm.

Dain October 16, 2006 at 2:44 am

And to think it’s the free market folks that are accused of being heartless elitists with a taste for eugenics. The way history has been distorted is an epic tragedy.

Jeffrey October 16, 2006 at 7:06 am

Sanger was hardly alone. Many in this entire generation of socialist-progressivist intellectuals favored forced eugenic programs to control population and stop the lower classes from breeding. This attitude and outlook only became unfashionable after the Nazis took it up and pushed it to its final result. Mises also pointed out in Socialism that controlling reproduction through a central plan was a necessary part of the socialist-planning mentality. If every aspect of production is to be planned, so too must reproduction be planned. Otherwise, you end up with a kind of anarchy in the reproductive process, and surely we can’t have that!

Roger M October 16, 2006 at 8:30 am

Check out this article on the euthanasia movement by Michael Chrichton: http://www.crichton-official.com/fear/

Here’s a quote: “Its supporters included Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and Winston Churchill. It was approved by Supreme Court justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis, who ruled in its favor. The famous names who supported it included Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of the telephone; activist Margaret Sanger; botanist Luther Burbank; Leland Stanford, founder of Stanford University; the novelist H. G. Wells; the playwright George Bernard Shaw; and hundreds of others. Nobel Prize winners gave support. Research was backed by the Carnegie and Rockefeller Foundations. The Cold Springs Harbor Institute was built to carry out this research, but important work was also done at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Stanford and Johns Hopkins. Legislation to address the crisis was passed in states from New York to California.”

Chrichton compares global warming hysteria with the eugenics movement, but it’s also a good general warning against politicizing science.

Mark Brabson October 16, 2006 at 9:21 am

Eugenics is alive and prospering these days. You can go down to any lab and get your sperm/eggs prescreened for those qualities that you desire in your child. In the very short future, you will be able to do a checklist of traits you want in your child.

I can see where Eugenics can be attractive. I think at some point in all our lives, we have pointed to somebody and wondered why they were allowed to breed in the first place. But, inevitably, Eugenics will wind up at its logical conclusion, something very similar to the Nazi death camps.

Jim Waddell October 16, 2006 at 5:06 pm
M E Hoffer October 16, 2006 at 5:32 pm


Good digg !~

M E Hoffer October 16, 2006 at 5:45 pm

Jeffrey & RogerM,

The “generation” that you allude to, and the specific Individuals mentioned, were to a letter: “Fabian Socialists”.

And, given the look of this book: http://www.pupress.princeton.edu/chapters/i7499.html

Their offspring, “intellectual” or otherwise, are still bewitching us.

TGGP October 17, 2006 at 2:29 am

In a way we are all private eugenicists because we decline to have offspring with those we do not deem suitable. Is there anything wrong with that? I would not say so. I do think there is a problem when the state takes on that role, which would be, to coin a phrase (although someone probably thought of it earlier) “unnatural selection”.

anonymous March 9, 2010 at 4:05 pm

Anyone interested in this topic of Sanger and Eugenics should get the documentary: Maafa21 Black Genocide in 21st Century America – here- http://www.maafa21.com

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