by Jon Sanders
Research Editor and Senior Fellow, Regulatory Studies, John Locke Foundation
People are rightly horrified by this news out of Virginia that a doctor performed hysterectomies on women without their consent.
But last century, forced involuntary sterilization was official state policy in Virginia, North Carolina, and other states. It was part of the Progressive movement’s sick fascination with eugenics. Buck v. Bell, the case involving a Virginia victim of forced involuntary sterilization, Carrie Buck, resulted in the Supreme Court ruling that “led to 70,000 forced sterilizations.”
With 7,600 sterilizations, North Carolina was third-most in the nation in this terrible category. Read about it all in Daren Bakst’s Policy Report “North Carolina’s Forced-Sterilization Program.” It cites the North Carolina Supreme Court’s atrocious ruling in 1976 In Re Moore that upheld the state sterilization program, declaring:
Acting for the public good, the state, in the exercise of its police power, may impose reasonable restrictions upon the natural and constitutional rights of its citizens. Measured by its injurious effect upon society, the state may limit a class of citizens in its right to bear or beget children with an inherited tendency to mental deficiency, including feeblemindedness, idiocy, or imbecility. It is the function of the Legislature, and its duty as well, to enact appropriate legislation to protect the public and preserve the race from the known effects of the procreation of mentally deficient children by the mentally deficient.
Incidentally, the minimum wage originated from this same toxic ideology and was thought to work in concert with forced sterilization. In a Fall 2005 Journal of Economic Perspectives article on “Eugenics and Economics in the Progressive Era,” Thomas C. Leonard wrote:
Progressive economists, like their neoclassical critics, believed that binding minimum wages would cause job losses. —
Aside: How pathetic and ironic that current “Progressives” still push for a higher minimum wage while believing their predecessors’ propaganda.
— However, the progressive economists also believed that the job loss induced by minimum wages was a social benefit, as it performed the eugenic service ridding the labor force of the “unemployable.” Sidney and Beatrice Webb (1897 , p. 785) put it plainly: “With regard to certain sections of the population [the “unemployable”], this unemployment is not a mark of social disease, but actually of social health.” “[O]f all ways of dealing with these unfortunate parasites,” Sidney Webb (1912, p. 992) opined in the Journal of Political Economy, “the most ruinous to the community is to allow them to unrestrainedly compete as wage earners.” A minimum wage was seen to operate eugenically through two channels: by deterring prospective immigrants (Henderson, 1900) and also by removing from employment the “unemployable,” who, thus identified, could be, for example, segregated in rural communities or sterilized.
Leonard goes on to show how progressives found a “race-suicide” theory to support pricing out “the colored races” from wage competition with white workers with higher living standards:
For these progressives, race determined the standard of living, and the standard of living determined the wage. Thus were immigration restriction and labor legislation, especially minimum wages, justified for their eugenic effects.