A nasty little discussion at Pandagon the other day flashed me back to the late 1970s. At my environmentally conscious workplace, I went out of the way to avoid mentioning that my wife and I were expecting our third child. I just knew that it would lead to some uncomfortable conversations.

Pandagon took this photo of a 16-child Arkansas family and ran it with a rather different caption. The civil version of the message: Women who have lots of kids are suckers.

That’s been a feminist message from the beginning, to various degrees–it was recently stated uncompromisingly by legal scholar Linda Hirshman, whose new book urges educated women to defer or omit kids altogether so they can properly represent their gender and climb their chosen career ladder. “Live and let live” doesn’t seem to be in her vocabulary, or Pandagon’s. But why is it OK to say “If you don’t like abortions, don’t have one” but not OK to say, “If you don’t want three–or sixteen–kids, don’t have ’em”?

Few on the left or anywhere else observe how perfectly this attitude fits in with today’s all-engrossing capitalism. (“Six-time breeder” Leslie Leyland Fields does, just a bit, in Christianity Today.) Jean Bethke Elshtain, now at the University of Chicago Divinity School, pointed this out in the Nation–back when I was keeping the peace by keeping mum–and caught hell for it.

“I wrote that the left should not simply embrace individualism,” Elshtain told me in a Reader story December 6, 1996. “Feminists should not attack the family as such. After all, we criticize the consumer society because it undermines deeper human yearnings. Why should we seek to undermine relations that are noncontractual?”

In other words, if leftists distrust the free market because it breaks communities into isolated individuals who fulfill themselves by shopping (and who have to pay for all the help they need), then why spend so much energy attacking what’s practically only remaining institution not based on cash transactions? Is there such a shortage of real problems?