Published:January 16, 2022


If California is ever going to achieve true equity, the state must require parents to give away their children.

Today’s Californians often hold up equity — the idea of a just society completely free from bias — as our greatest value. Gov. Gavin Newsom says he makes decisions through “an equity lens.” Institutions from dance ensembles to tech companies have publicly pledged themselves to equity, along with diversity and inclusion.

But their promises of newly equitable systems are no match for the power of parents.

Fathers and mothers with greater wealth, education, or other resources are more likely to transfer these advantages to their children, compounding privilege over generations. As a result, children of less advantaged parents face an uphill struggle, social mobility has stalled, and democracy has been corrupted. More Californians are giving up on the dream; a recent Public Policy Institute of California poll found declining belief in the notion that you can get ahead through hard work.

My solution is simple, and while we wait for the legislation to pass, we can act now: the rich should give their children to the poor, and the poor should give their children to the rich. Homeowners might swap children with their homeless neighbors.

Now, I recognize that some naysayers, hopelessly attached to their privilege, will dismiss such a policy as ghastly, even totalitarian. But my proposal is quite modest, a fusion of traditional philosophy and today’s most common political obsessions.

In his “Republic,” Plato adopted Socrates’ sage advice — that children “be possessed in common, so that no parent will know his own offspring or any child his parents” — in order to defeat nepotism, prevent the amassing of great fortunes, and create citizens loyal not to their sons but to society. To replace parents, Plato offered now-familiar ideas, from compulsory education to — millennia before Newsom’s conception-to-college agenda — health regimes for pregnant women and children aged 5 and younger.

Today, universal orphanhood aligns with powerful social trends that point to less interest in family. Californians are slower to marry, and are having fewer children — our state’s birth rate is at an all-time low.

Surveys also suggest many of us are breaking off ties with family members who don’t share our politics. But my proposal would be unifying, fitting hand-in-glove with the most cherished policies of progressives and Trumpians alike.

The left’s introduction of anti-racism and gender identity in schools faces a bitter backlash from parents. Ending parenthood would end the backlash, helping dismantle white supremacy and outdated gender norms.

My proposal also would give Democrats the opportunity to build a new pillar of the social democracy they seek — a system for raising children, called “Foster Care for All.” Under this system, Democrats could stop pretending that they will enact universal preschool or child care, which they’ve promised — and failed to deliver — for a generation.

Over on the right, you’ll see people posing as parent defenders. But Republicans are happy to jettison fathers and mothers to pursue their greatest passions, like violating migrant rights. Once you’ve so far as to separate immigrants from their children and put the kids in border concentration camps, it’s only a short walk to a wholesale separation of all Americans from their progeny.

Then there’s the pro-lifers. The idea of universal orphanhood dovetails nicely with the conservative campaign to end Roe v. Wade and all abortion rights. In fact, a suggestion from Justice Barrett, in a recent Supreme Court hearing on a case that could overturn Roe, inspired me to write this column. She posited that abortion rights are no longer necessary because all 50 states now have “safe haven” laws that allow women to turn their babies over to a fire or police department after birth. My proposal would merely make mandatory such handovers of babies to the state.

Perhaps such coercion sounds dystopian. But just imagine the solidarity that universal orphanhood would create. Wouldn’t children, raised in one system, find it easier to collaborate on climate change and other global problems?

Now, I don’t expect universal support for universal orphanhood. A few contrarians, lost in the empty chasm between American extremes, might object to this rational proposal on emotional grounds. They might argue that pursuing your own conception of family is fundamental to freedom. Or that our differences and biases, for all the damage they can do, also give human life much of its meaning.

They also may suggest that people don’t really want to start or finish at the same point in life. They may even say that what we really desire is what the title orphan of the musical Annie insisted upon: “I didn’t want to be just another orphan, Mr. Warbucks. I wanted to believe I was special.”

But you shouldn’t pay those critics any mind. Because they just can’t see how our relentless pursuit of equity might birth a brave new world.