Baby Bust!

The world is panicking over birthrates. Again.

Dr. Love is struggling. Oh, the business side of things is going well. There’s the couples cruise, the magazine, the singles nights, the self-authored sex ideology he calls “bio-communication.” And the international media still can’t get enough of him: A few years back, seemingly every wire service in the world had a story on the young gynecologist’s forthcoming “super baby making show,” which would pit 10 couples against one another to see who could conceive first in a public assault on Singapore’s shockingly low fertility rate. As a government-backed baby booster for the island city-state, Wei Siang Yu just wants couples to work less and fornicate more. But try as he might, the good doctor can’t seem to coax Singapore’s child-free twentysomethings into bed.

Ask young women about Dr. Love, and you’ll get derisive giggles. Ask for his allegedly widely available pro-sex DVD at the local entertainment megastore, and the seller won’t have a clue. Ask one of the assistants at his home office whether young lovers actually rent out his bally­­-hooed procreation pad, which is dominated by a complicated looking “sex swing” and other accoutrements of venturesome lovemaking, and he’ll change the subject.

Dr. Love’s allies in the war on childlessness have fared no better. The Singaporean government’s official matchmaking agency, the SDU—the initials stand for Social Development Unit, but it’s known to snarky islanders as “Single, Desperate, and Ugly”—is situated just off the city-state’s main shopping thoroughfare, and it doesn’t seem nearly as popular as the nearby Emporio Armani.

These days the official slogan of Singapore’s baby-making campaign is “Three or More.” But Singaporeans of childbearing age grew up listening to an altogether different appeal: “Stop at Two.” As in much of East Asia, the tiny island’s population exploded after World War II—by more than 90 percent between 1957 and 1970 alone. In the Age of Aquarius, billboards and posters warned young couples “the more you have, the less they get” and “girl or boy, two is enough.” Parents who agreed to be sterilized after having two children got priority placement for their kids in elementary school.

Since then, demographic conditions have changed radically, but the state has maintained its intense interest in procreation. Singapore’s “total fertility rate,” a crude prediction of how many children a woman will bear in her lifetime if current patterns persist, is among the lowest in the world at 1.07, but the baby bust is not a future the island faces alone. From Hong Kong (0.98) to Italy (1.29) to Russia (1.39) to Canada (1.61), most of the world’s population will soon live in nations where the fertility rate is below the “replacement” level of 2.1. Governments far less authoritarian than Singapore’s are intruding into childbearing choices. After 200 years of exponential population growth, and just four decades after overpopulation doomsaying began filling the bestseller lists, the First World is suddenly gripped with underpopulation hysteria.

And everyone has an explanation for it.

“Europe is facing a demographic disaster,” said quondam Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in his February concession speech. “That is the inevitable product of weakened faith in the Creator, failed families, disrespect for the sanctity of human life, and eroded morality.”

The late Pope John Paul II agreed with America’s most famous Mormon, speaking of a “crisis of births.” On the liberal side you can find demographic thinkers such as Phillip Longman, author of The Empty Cradle, and the Australian demographer Peter McDonald, who argue that we’re headed for a dark future unless governments begin bestowing mothers with some serious baby shower gifts.

Books like P.D. James’ 1992 novel The Children of Men (made into a bleak film in 2007) join Mark Steyn’s America Alone in depicting a harsh and violent babyless landscape. Even in the United States, where population growth remains uniquely irrepressible among wealthy nations, ideologically driven concerns about demography have crept into the national conversation. They appear in the 2004 science fiction comedy Idiocracy, in which intelligent women and men, by failing to produce children, have doomed the world to collective mental incapacity by the 26th century (when the U.S. president is a porn star and the most popular TV show is Ow! My Balls!). They appear in the hysterical 2008 documentary Demographic Winter, in which we can watch a lone, naked boy shivering in an empty warehouse.

The developed world is experiencing a wave of pro-natalist sentiment that threatens to bully the childless, tax the single, and reorient states toward the production rather than the protection of citizens. In most developed nations with below-replacement fertility, governments are attempting to align incentives so that women will use their bodies for the purpose of childbirth. In the U.S., right-wing religious groups are calling for a rollback of contraceptive freedom and a return to patriarchal arrangements, all in the name of something called “demographic balance.”

It may sound like a movement of sorts, but it is far from cohesive. Although pro-natalists share an obsession with procreation, they are driven to this anxiety by a host of different fears. As a group, they worry that their countries are admitting too many immigrants, and too few; that we have liberated women too much, and not enough; that welfare states are too strong, and too weak. Pick any divisive social issue—a lack of religiosity, say, or an excess of the same—and you can find someone to draw the connection to demographic decline.

Modern fertility panic stems from a desire to reshape polyglot cultures, to regain control over women’s reproductive choices, and to locate a single, easy-to-understand culprit for disparate social problems. As they have for hundreds of years, societies are projecting their deepest anxieties onto empty wombs.

Bye-Bye Baby
If you’re a woman of childbearing age in a developed country, there’s a good chance your government will pay you to reproduce at the currently desirable rate. Russian women who opt for a second child receive a lump sum of 250,000 rubles ($9,200)—not bad compared to Poland’s going rate of a measly 1,000 zloty ($460) per kid. France and Sweden combine pro-natalist incentives with more traditional social welfare schemes. Fecund couples in Sweden, for instance, receive a combined 13 months of parental leave, 11 of which can be taken by one parent, and during which the government provides 80 percent of a parent’s former income. Parents collect 900 euros ($1,410) per year; bosses then must allow their employees to work part time for prorated pay once they become parents.

In May 2004 the Australian government tried to boost its birthrate of 1.76 by announcing that the parents of children born after July 1, 2004, would receive 3,000 Aussie dollars ($2,800). As Australian economists later noticed, pregnant women due in June did not leave it up to nature whether the maternal stipend would come to them; more babies were born on July 1, 2004, than on any day in the previous 30 years.

Singapore’s SDU offers a free government dating adviser who interviews young singles about themselves and their ideal partners. The adviser chooses a match, and the eligible bachelors watch videos of one another before agreeing to the date. Before the big night, both are offered makeovers, and the SDU gives free lectures on personal grooming. “Personal hygiene doesn’t end with a shower and clean clothes,” reads a helpful dating guide. “For close encounters between the sexes, oral hygiene cannot be ignored.…Extreme halitosis may require medical attention.” The largesse extends well past date night. First and second children bring in baby bonuses of 3,000 Singapore dollars ($2,200) each, while third and fourth children garner 6,000 Singapore dollars ($4,400) each. The government also matches parental investment in special children’s savings accounts, which can be used for day care or other child-related expenses, dollar for dollar.

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  • TallDave||

    This topic always reminds me of Apu saying he's "noticed this country is dangerously underpopulated."

    I think Kerry makes a great point about how all this rhetoric just gets used for more social welfare crap. How often do we hear we need more social programs because of "struggling single mothers?"

  • economist||

    My only fear about immigration is that fecund immigrants will force me to subsidize their childbearing. Personally, I think receiving any form of social welfare for more than a year should be contingent on voluntary sterilization.

  • Fluffy||

    I believe the President in Idiocracy was a former Ultimate Fighting champion, not a porn star.

    More on topic, of course the birthrate hysteria is related to Steynian fears of the "Islamic [i.e. brown] peril". The paradox is amusing. They fear that if there aren't enough Caucasians, free societies will fall and liberty will disappear, because those evil brown people out there who are still breeding hate freedom. In response to that fear, they want to end freedom now, to better facilitate the extermination of those evil brown breeders, and to better reconstruct our society along lines where white women will breed more. They have to kill freedom to save it.

  • ||

    I believe the President in Idiocracy was a former Ultimate Fighting champion, not a porn star.



    President Herbert Elizondo Mountain Dew Camacho was both UFC Champion and porn superstar.

  • Fluffy||

    President Herbert Elizondo Mountain Dew Camacho was both UFC Champion and porn superstar.

    Oooooooooooooooooooo, porn superstar.

    I thought that line was "born superstar".

    My bad.

  • shecky||

    Good article. The impulse to influence the fertility of others runs high and is somehow considered a more legitimate use of public coercion than many other areas.

    I wonder, what kind of moron will decide to procreate because the government is willing to grant a few thousand dollars per head?

  • ||

    I wonder, what kind of moron will decide to procreate because the government is willing to grant a few thousand dollars per head?



    I used to know a chick who did exactly that. Got a Pell grant to go to school while she shacked with the baby's father. Finally married him when the kid was about five years old. Cute little kid.

  • ||

    I forgot to add - that same chick is now a public school teacher.

  • Malthus||

    NO, YOU IDIOTS! NOOOOOOO!

  • Arthur||

    story of the past 60 years in the U.S. Shecky.

  • TallDave||

    I wonder, what kind of moron will decide to procreate because the government is willing to grant a few thousand dollars per head?

    I remember that coming up during a political campaign, with a woman angrily telling a candidate "It's my job to have babies and it's your job to pay for them!"

  • New World Dan||

    In a world of finite resources, we neo-malthusians will eventually be vindicated.

    Truthfully, the reason my wife and I only have one child is that raising them by contemporary standards is too damn expensive.

  • ||

    Yes people should be allowed to do what they want with their lives. But I still worry about declining birth rates. What is it about modern society that makes having a child so difficult? As we get richer (because in freer economies we are more productive), we get more and better cars, more dwelling space, bigger and better toys and yet people are choosing to have fewer children. I think it has something to do with the increased opportunity cost of withdrawing from the labour force as well as the demand for higher quality (and therefore more labour intensive) children. And no I don't want any government programs to encourage or further subsidize children. I just wonder if it a change in taste or something more worrisome.

  • economist||

    Paul Geddes,
    It's probably because kids are a pain in the ass.

  • Modern Day Scrooge||

    The day your little $#!^s have a right to my paycheck is the day hell freezes over.

  • Shannon Love||

    The economics of child raising is the ultimate driver of the welfare state. That makes it a matter of key importance to libertarians.

    Economically, children are just the production phase of the economically vital adult. (Without a future generation, nothing else we do matters.) The coming of the industrial age severed the economic linkage between having children and the production of the economic resources needed to raise them. This created a classic free rider problem: people who did not pay for creation of an adult worker nevertheless received the same benefit from that worker as the people who paid for that worker upbringing.

    People always turn to the state to solve free rider problems. Public education was the first major socialized program in the developed world and most subsequent expansion of the state have been predicated on the need to provide resources for the care of children. Unfortunately, the state is very inefficient at economic allocation and the overall cost of the welfare state for parents is larger than the return they get form it so socialism actually suppresses birth rates by making children to expensive.

    The obvious solution is to create a property interest in the future earnings of children when they become adults so that the parents can borrow against those earning to pay the cost of raising a child. With appropriate safeguards, this would be no more onerous than piles of public debt we now heap on children.

    We've really got to think hard about this. People want children and they want those children cared for. If libertarians can't provide a free market solution to pay for children then people will continue to turn to the state.

  • robc||

    New World Dan,

    the reason my wife and I only have one child is that raising them by contemporary standards is too damn expensive.

    You dont HAVE to raise them by contemporary standards.

  • economist||

    Shannon,
    I think this idea is intriguing. How about predicating one's social security on how much his kid(s) pay?
    But what about the parents who raised a bunch of crack-snorting little train wrecks?

  • ||

    You dont HAVE to raise them by contemporary standards.

    Yeah, when I was growing up I didn't have cable TV and I was still playing Atari 2600 in the early '90s.*

    *True story.

  • ||

    Kerry, you do your best work when writing stories dealing with issues abroad and topics dealing with procreation and sex.

    This was a fascinating article.

  • Dagny T.||

    Sad how the sensible options of allowing more immigration and getting rid of faulty entitlement programs are dismissed as politically impossible, but I don't disagree that they are.

    Also, interesting how Kerry links all these fears to the desire to "fix" and control wayward women, who aren't quite capable of making the "right" choices and paying for them themselves.

    All the clamor over sexism in the media right now? If no one had to pay for anyone else's choices, wouldn't a lot of the misogyny and racism become much more of a moot point?

  • Utah resident||

    What is this "baby bust" that you speak of?

    Signed,

    A guy from a state where the McDonalds with playgrounds are packed like Times Square during New Years.

  • MMORPG||

    I have a buddy who immigrated from Turkey to Sweden. He hasn't worked a single day in Sweden, he just sits home and watches Turkish soccer matches via satellite TV and has a baby every year with his wife. The Swedish State pays him lavishly. (He earns 3x the avg Turkish GDP per capita)

    You could blame him for taking advantage of the welfare system or you could think about it a bit and realize its the system that needs to be readjusted.

    I see a number of solutions for Sweden and other European countries in the same situation. The first is to disassemble to welfare state. The second is to create a multi tiered citizenry where only natives are eligible for state benefits, leaving migrants to either work, starve, or go back home. The third choice is to stay on the path today and subsidize the breeding of less educated and culturally inferior migrants.

  • ||

    But what about the parents who raised a bunch of crack-snorting little train wrecks?

    They get less....

  • Shannon Love||

    economist,

    I think this idea is intriguing. How about predicating one's social security on how much his kid(s) pay?

    I don't think so. The purpose isn't to create an economic incentive for parents to have children but rather to route resources to the child before the child becomes a productive adult. A system in which the parents could trade the rights to the child's future income in exchange for payments to schools, doctors, housing etc today would work fine.

    It's basically like college loans today. You loan money to students on the promise they will pay you back when they have jobs.

  • ||

    "People want children and they want those children cared for. If libertarians can't provide a free market solution to pay for children then people will continue to turn to the state."

    What's wrong with people paying for their own children?

  • economist||

    Shannon Love,
    I can see where you're coming from on this in that you think that people who, for example, get treated by a doctor whose parents pushed him to do well in school and helped pay for him to get a better education are reaping undeserved benefits. However, most of these market transactions internalize these benefits for the child himself, so I would say that the best way to deal with this would be to make an existing program (social security) less bad.
    Addition:
    You get to decide where your social security checks go to in your will.

  • Hank R.||

    Dagny T.
    I agree with you completely.
    Let's fuck!

  • ||

    Thank you Kerry for a loooonnnngggg, well researched and cleverly written article. I'll read it later.

    There are > 6 billion goddam people on the planet. They pollute, they go hungry, they die young. Obviously we need to worry about folks not procreating enough. Are these people all dumber than hash browns?

    Megasheesh!

  • ||

    Yeah, when I was growing up I didn't have cable TV and I was still playing Atari 2600 in the early '90s.*

    *True story.


    Technologically deprived childhood duel!

    We had a black and white tv until 1990 when we got color and a vcr. I also remember when the rotary phone was our only phone, but I'm not sure when exactly that ended. I specifically recall using that phone as late as the summer of '89.

  • ||

    The only problem I see with depopulation is that it compromises our ability to pay for the extremely (ridiculously) expensive programs we have for the elderly. Other than that, it is great! Less pollution, less congestion, less strain on petroleum, food, and water resources. I'm all for it!

  • ||

    Even with intensive study, ecologists can't usually understand why a particular species' population rises or falls, sometimes precipitously.

    Is it at all surprising that they hven't yet figured out the forces affecting the reproduction patterns for the notoriously complex primate H. sapiens?

  • economist||

    J sub D,
    Don't you understand, it's not that there's not already too many people, just too many brown people and not enough white people!
    My own preference, of course, is to convince the brown people to adopt the white, low reproduction lifestyle.

  • New World Dan||

    What's wrong with people paying for their own children?

    Children that are educated and taught to be productive will, over the course of their lives, generally pay back that initial investment. Young parents (who produce the healthiest offspring) often lack the finances to pay for quality education and childcare (if they need to work). In that sense, there is definately a state interest in seeing that its future workers are given an opportunity to be productive. A small amount of socialism isn't always bad, though there is a balance and a right and wrong way to implement it.

  • ||

    Curse you Kerry Howley! Thanks to your article, I have the KISS song "Calling Dr. Love" running over and over in my head.

    Gene Simmons, get out of my MIND!!!

  • ||

    I can understand the collective interest in ensuring children receive an education; my problem is with the government running the schools, especially from the federal level. We have food stamps to help poor people pay for food, but the government doesn't run the grocery stores. Social Security can eff off. It's set to go bankrupt the year I turn 60.

  • KenK||

    "This created a classic free rider problem: people who did not pay for creation of an adult worker nevertheless received the same benefit from that worker as the people who paid for that worker upbringing."

    I really fries my bacon when these "free riders" complain about all the tax breaks given to the "breeders". As if all the "tax breaks" even come close to covering the costs of "breeding" the next generation of taxpayers. If these chilless asshats are tax-eaters it makes it even harder to take!

    PS. Tax breaks for breeders make sense as taxpayers are more likely to breed future taxpayers. Did you see the article about the Brits who had 3 generations on the dole and saw no need for any of them to actually work for a living?

  • ||

    We had a black and white tv until 1990 when we got color and a vcr. I also remember when the rotary phone was our only phone, but I'm not sure when exactly that ended. I specifically recall using that phone as late as the summer of '89.

    Damn. We always had color TV, but I seem to remember using that rotary phone through 1995. Also, we got an SNES around '94.

  • MikeB||

    What, no surveys as to why there is a fertility decline. Have the experts not considered asking these people instead of just making stuff up?

    I'm 40, have no kids and never plan to; this is why.

    1) No one stays with me longer than 3 yrs.
    2) I don't want the courts to take 25-33% of my wages when number 1 above occurs.
    3) Despite all your hard work CPS can take your kids with no evidence.
    4) Too lazy and selfish to even take care of a dog.
    5) School green propaganda turning your kids in to constant pests who critisise your non-green lifestyle.

  • ||

    I'm 38, have no kids and never plan to; this is why.

    1) The noises kids make.
    2) The messes kids make.
    3) Babies.
    4) Teenagers.
    5) Cycle touring is a lot less boring and more fun.

  • ||

    Almost any aspect of the welfare state can be construed as encouraging procreation; more to the point, low fertility can be blamed on the lack of any particular social welfare program.

    It can be, but I think that the article ignores an extremely uncontroversial fact among economists-- social insurance programs such as Social Security reduce the birth rate. A large point of children in the past was to provide for you in your old age. This is much less true now; now other people's children provide for you through Social Security as well (and in some cases instead of).

    Modern liberals and liberaltarians can, I think, celebrate the positive liberty that comes from being freed from relying on one's family for support. A robust family social net for most people doesn't help people who don't have a family, or who are disowned or otherwise want to be different or separated from their family. The next effect is that we all collectively pay instead of supporting just our own family.

    However, the free rider issue does have an effect, especially in the long run. If the government expects other people's children to subsidize social welfare and social insurance programs, it's not that surprising that it would try to encourage births as well.

  • ||

    "Almost any aspect of the welfare state can be construed as encouraging procreation; more to the point, low fertility can be blamed on the lack of any particular social welfare program."

    How do you explain low birth rates in Scandinavian countries then? They have extremely generous social programs.

  • ||

    People want children and they want those children cared for.

    Apparently, out of someone else's pocket.

    "This created a classic free rider problem: people who did not pay for creation of an adult worker nevertheless received the same benefit from that worker as the people who paid for that worker upbringing."

    I get no direct economic benefit from anyone else's kids (outside of whatever surplus I capture from contracting with them, of course, which is not a "free rider" benefit).

    The parents get, I'm told, truckloads of intangible benefits from their little crumbcrunchers which it is inherently impossible for anyone else to get a free ride on.

    I get an indirect benefit from other people's kids when/if they grow up to be taxpayers, as it spreads the tax burden wider. That's only a material benefit when you have a massive state with a big tax bill, so I'm not sure that really counts, here.

    So, it seems to me that the only free rider benefit I get is because there is a massive state that needs supporting. But then I'm told that this free rider benefit is why there's a massive state that needs supporting. I don't get it.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "The only problem I see with depopulation is that it compromises our ability to pay for the extremely (ridiculously) expensive programs we have for the elderly."

    This might be good thing too. Hopefully there would come a time sooner rather than later when socialism security collapses and they would have no choice but to go chomp a big fat spoonfull of dog food.

  • Colonel_Angus||

    "As if all the "tax breaks" even come close to covering the costs of "breeding" the next generation of taxpayers."

    So your babies are just a commodity then?

  • ||

    As the proud procreator of two future tax payers, I can honestly say that, in the US at least, there are more than enough tax incentives to have kids. First there is the exemption which for 2008 is $3500 per kid. That subtracts from your taxable income regardless of whether you itemize or take the standard deduction. (It does start disappearing, however, when your joint AGI gets above a certain level on the order of ~$300K). That amounts to anywhere from $350 to $1225 per year per kid in federal tax savings alone.

    Then there is the Child Tax Credit which is currently $1000 per child for joint filers with AGI at or below $120,500 (disappearing entirely at AGI of $150,500). Because a credit subtracts from the tax bill directly, that's up to $1000 per kid per year.

    Finally, there is the Dependent Care account where you can pay for up to $5000/year (that's the total limit whether you have 1 kid or 9) of child care with pretax money. That's a savings of up to $1750 per year (not per kid, though).

    Example:
    A household with AGI of $120K/year and with two kids gets subsidies of ~$5360 per year each year until the kids turn 17. That is federal subsidy alone. There's more depending on the state/locality in which you live.

    ...and that's for working families. If you're of the persuasion in which you and your spouse would rather not work while parenting, then you get lots more. $$$$$$$$

  • Shannon Love||

    R C Dean,

    I get no direct economic benefit from anyone else's kids

    Did you even actually think about what I wrote? It's not about the children, its about the adults they turn into. Do you seriously wish to argue that you would not be worse off if everyone stopped having children tomorrow?

    You need other adults to interact with or you will starve. We need a mechanism for allocating the physical resources necessary to create those adults. Right now, we allocate those resources with socialism and out of what is economically a very expensive and time consuming hobby on the part of the parents.

    It creates a free rider problem because people who never sacrfice to create the next generation's adults receive the same benefits economically from the work of the adults as do those who sacrificed. The best way to get ahead economically is to not have children. Without the current tax structure and other socialized support the difference would be dramatic.

    It's nice to think that people have children out of love but from the perspective of economics, they're just another product that require resources to create. If you can't spend some time thinking about free market mechanisms to do so be prepared to have the state looting you wallet.




  • ||

    MMORPG | June 16, 2008, 2:24pm | #
    The third choice is to stay on the path today and subsidize the breeding of less educated and culturally inferior migrants.


    Ahem. I am gonna call bullshit on this one. You are talking about Sweden, home to Lutfisk and IKEA. Cultured they ain't. Your buddy from Turkey may be less educated than the average Swede but I guarantee his taste in food is better.

  • Paul||

    "States," he concludes tidily, "must be principal players in restoring the social balance."



    This statement, I find, has a nice ring to it, if you say it with the voice of Emperor Palpatine.

  • Chad||

    NAL | June 16, 2008, 4:43pm | #

    As the proud procreator of two future tax payers...That amounts to anywhere from $350 to $1225 per year per kid in federal tax savings alone.


    If you are only spending $1225 per year for each of your two kids, you are one sick mutha. In reality, you are spending more like $20,000 in lost wages, lost career advancement, lost free time, and direct cash outlays on behalf of your kids.

    Population decline is a real issue. It is not some random short-term blip, as the author seems to wish it was. It is a long term trend that results from urbanization, economic development, and birth control (all good things), none of which are going away. All nations should target zero population growth, and enact policies to achieve such. Since NAL is spending $40,000 per year on his kids, I think a tax deduction/rebate on that magnitude sounds fair...to be picked up by those of us, myself included, who are currently childless.

    Having children is just as much a donation to society as paying taxes, and should be regarded as such.

  • ||

    " ... if everyone stopped having children tomorrow?"

    Here is where the argument becomes ridiculous. EVERYONE is never going to stop having kids. I'd be worse off if everyone in the world decided not to be an airline pilot, but that doesn't mean the taxpayers need to subsidize those who choose to become airline pilots.

  • Fluffy||

    The best way to get ahead economically is to not have children. Without the current tax structure and other socialized support the difference would be dramatic.

    The free rider problem you posit only exists because of state economic intervention.

    People used to benefit from having children because their children would care for them when they got old. The childless only had access to their own diminishing resources.

    By using tax dollars to care for the old, now the childless and those without children get equal economic benefit from the next generation's efforts. This is what creates the free rider problem.

    It seems to me that the solution to the free rider problem is to stop using the tax money of the young to care for the old.

    There are lots of reasons why that might not be palatable to many people.

  • Chad||

    R C Dean | June 16, 2008, 3:46pm | #

    I get no direct economic benefit from anyone else's kids (outside of whatever surplus I capture from contracting with them, of course, which is not a "free rider" benefit).


    Yes, it IS a free-rider benefit...you aren't paying the full-cost of your trading partner's existence, as it was heavily subsidized by their parents. Sorry, pay up Dean.

  • Paul||

    I get no direct economic benefit from anyone else's kids (outside of whatever surplus I capture from contracting with them, of course, which is not a "free rider" benefit).

    I get no direct economic benefit from other adults-- or so I could argue.

    I have to assume that you get no direct economic benefit from other people's kids who are under age and/or unemployed?

  • Paul||

    The best way to get ahead economically is to not have children.

    BZZZT!!! Wrong! The best way to get ahead economically is to never get married.

    The shortest path to dividing your personal assets in two is??? Anyone?

    Marriage.

    So if you must get married, please, for the love of god, marry up.

  • Chad||

    Paul | June 16, 2008, 5:41pm | #

    I get no direct economic benefit from other adults-- or so I could argue.


    Only if you are willing to argue that you would be better off living on a desert island all by yourself and with no stuff from the outside world. I think you are doomed on that point. You are fabulously richer than you would be by yourself, thanks the societal network in which you live. It is your job to maintain that network for the future...and that requires people. If you don't want to create people for the future, you can contribute in other ways...but it won't be cheap.

  • MikeB||

    The best way to get ahead economically is to never get married.

    The survey says; Ding, number one answer.

    You can actually mitigate the damage by: buying the house before your marraige, saving all financial statements from the month end immediately prior to the wedding, living in a state with very limited alimony, no kids, ending the marraige sooner than later.

    Despite all that, it is still much cheaper to just say NO. I had forgotten about this major deterent to fertility rates.

  • Paul||

    Only if you are willing to argue that you would be better off living on a desert island all by yourself and with no stuff from the outside world. I think you are doomed on that point.

    Chad, read my whole message. The argument that one gets no 'direct benefit' from other people's kids is a bit wanting. I was making that point that I get no "direct" economic benefit from other adults-- or so I could argue. being my important followup.

    I get indirect benefits a-plenty.

  • Apaulogist||

    We need to repeal child labor laws!
    When kids grew up on farms and had to help out, the birth rate in the U.S. was MUCH higher.

  • Paul||

    When kids grew up on farms and had to help out, the birth rate in the U.S. was MUCH higher.

    Plus it would turn that whole economic benefits argument on its head. Now I'm eating lettuce picked by some 9-year-old... other people's kids.

  • Kolohe||

    Shanon Love @ 5:07

    One word:

    Robots.

    (semi-seriously, it's what the Japanese are doing)

  • Paul||

    Kolohe:

    As I understand it, it will end badly.

  • ||

    In reality, you are spending more like $20,000 in lost wages, lost career advancement, lost free time, and direct cash outlays on behalf of your kids.

    True, but I'm also getting all the intangible benefits of having two kids.

    In addition, my wife and I were discussing all the forced reductions in lifestyle that accompany having kids that save money. For example, except for special occasions, we don't eat out unless the restaurant has a playplace (costing less than $20 each time), we don't pay for cable/satellite (who has time to watch TV?), no going to bars, no recreational drugs, no smoking, no expensive vacations (vacations to us mean staying at grandmas for a week), no expensive toys (sports cars, motorcycles, boats, jet skis, etc.).

    This is not a reduction in lifestyle due to the cost of kids. We happen to be lucky enough that we could afford all those things even while paying for kids if we wanted to, but who would want to waste time/money on any of those things when you have two kids hanging around your ankles. (There are parents who do many or all of those things regardless of whether they can afford them or not, but we call those people not-very-smart-people).

    By the way, we do get away occasionally while paying a baby sitter, but that's trivial in comparison.

  • Chad||

    Paul | June 16, 2008, 6:06pm | #

    I get indirect benefits a-plenty.


    Sorry, I just have a broader concept of "direct" than you do.

    Irregardless, I feel that we all have a responsibility to maintain the social network that provides us with all these (in)direct benefits. One major way to do that is to have children and raise them properly. It is not the ONLY way, of course...but since this is a major contribution to the social network, it should be rewarded accordingly.

    One semi-facetious idea I had once was to make 50% of your Social Security payments come directly from 50% of your children's contributions. Therefore, if you have lots kids AND raised them to be successful, you reap the rewards. Childless people don't need to worry...the money they should have been able to save by not having kids easily should cover the 50% benefit shortfall. Parents who children die before them would receive bonus benefits to make up some or all of the benefits lost. It is somewhat interesting to note that Social Security and similar programs are massive government-based inducements to not have children...essentially a subsidy to the childless.

  • Chad||

    NAL | June 16, 2008, 6:39pm | #

    True, but I'm also getting all the intangible benefits of having two kids.


    I agree, which is why the government wouldn't need to offer the full $20,000 in order to have a stable population. But given the low birth rates seen around the developing world, the current benefits of a few thousand aren't enough. There is some happy mid-point where enough people would chose to have children that population will stablize.

    If more-or-less all nations targeted a zero-native-growth population plan, we would reach about 10 billion people by the end of the century, which will probably be sustainable with whatever technology we have by then. Indeed, we probably have the knowledge now...it just needs to be implemented and the infrastructure built. Beyond that, each generation could fine tune the population, allowing it to grow slowly if technology and resources permit it to do so.

  • Apaulogist||

    I want to see the author's disclosure. If Kerry Howley is bereft of offspring, I believe I can help out. My boys can swim.

  • ||

    Where is Jennifer, when we so need her to help improve the gene pool?

  • Paul||

    It is somewhat interesting to note that Social Security and similar programs are massive government-based inducements to not have children...essentially a subsidy to the childless.

    Actually, put more simply, SS is a Ponzi scheme. It requires an increasing population at the bottom to feed the people at the top. The only way to fix this is to limit benefits to what you put in. Since that will never be the case, we must increase the labor pool at the bottom. In fact, I find the "defense" of social security not being a Ponzi scheme to be amusing to say the least:

    Retirement systems, like Social Security, are not blatantly fraudulent. In a genuine Ponzi scheme, the perpetrators falsely claim that there is some business that generates the promised revenues. In Social Security, people know where the money comes from, and actuaries supply written predictions of future cash in-flows and out-flows.



    Right. Despite it's structure, no one's "lying" to us about the results.

    Retirement systems promise a stipend to the country's retired persons, not the quick and exorbitant profits to current investors that Ponzi schemes invariably offer.



    We're not promising you'll get rich quick on Social Security... phew. I feel better already.

    Retirement systems rely on the taxing power of the state to ensure continuous funding, as opposed to voluntary investor contributions.



    So when the system becomes "upside down", the state has the authority to force continued or increased investment through the taxing authority. A "real" ponzi scheme falls apart because it's voluntary.

    Retirement systems are in many ways insurance rather than investment systems. A person who dies before retirement gets no money back (regardless of what he/she paid in). Someone who lives to a very old age continues to get payments regardless of the amount of money he/she has paid in.



    Exactly. It's a Ponzi scheme that (because it's not fraudulent) suggests that you could make way more than you put in, or way less than you put in. Stayin' healthy?

  • KenK||

    Robots.

    (semi-seriously, it's what the Japanese are doing)

    ***

    It's what the Japanese MUST do given their low fertility and abhorrence of immigration. I guess having a robot taking care of the old people as the population dwindles to nothing is one way to go...

  • ||

    The decision to contracept is so politically interesting to other people for the obvious reason that it vitally effects the future of the society they live in. To populate is to govern.

    Why this is difficult for some of you to understand is beyond me.

    It probably has to do with the math skills of those who think that having two children is enough to keep the population stable when so many people are infertile, don't have children, or just have one child.

    As to the thoughts of those of us with numerous progeny to those of you without or with few, by all means, don't have (more) children. It will leave more of the earth for my own children to inherit and enjoy. To be perfectly blunt and selfish, I'd much rather see my own family - nuclear and extended - expand and prosper than to see yours do so.

  • ||

    "To be perfectly blunt and selfish, I'd much rather see my own family - nuclear and extended - expand and prosper than to see yours do so."

    Well it certainly is refreshing to hear a parent admit to their own selfishness for a change, rather than point strictly to the childfree.

    As to who is contributing to the future and who isn't, suppose I have no children but my neighbor does. My neighbor pours his time and energy into his own offspring, while I pour my time and energy into starting a company. When my neighbor's kid grows up, I give him a job. On the other hand, I could have had a kid of my own who would compete with him for a job.

    I can't call the childfree "free riders" just because they aren't producing future payors into Social Security. (Remember they are not producing future SSI recipients, either.) Social Security is a ripoff and we should all stop having children for a while just so we can hasten its demise.

  • KenK||

    Should we go back to the old ways, where old people with no decendents to care for them just starved if they hadn't saved enough to pay their own care and feeding.

  • ||

    The difference between subsistence welfare for the starving elderly on the one hand and social security on the other is vast. Somewhere between letting people with no resources starve and stealing more of the wages of the working poor and middle class than income taxes do is a far, far better plan.

    Social security is a massive transfer from the poorest age cohort to the richest -- a transfer that pays much less to the eventual recipients than had they simply invested the payroll taxes instead.

  • ||

    I really fries my bacon when these "free riders" complain about all the tax breaks given to the "breeders". As if all the "tax breaks" even come close to covering the costs of "breeding" the next generation of taxpayers. If these chilless asshats are tax-eaters it makes it even harder to take!

    In the US each child receives 13 years of public schooling at taxpayer expense. Couple that with dependent deductions, deductions for child care and this childless free rider says kiss my non reproducing ass.

  • ||

    Massive errors in data: Zimbabwe for example has been undergoing starvation for decades under Mugabe. That's like citing starving Ethiopia as country with both poverty and low birth rates. I note that the author did not cite Yemen, with TFR of 8 !!! and half of all marriages to women/girls 15 or under.

    Algeria, Tunisia, and Iran all have TFR of 1.7, so clearly what is happening is global, in nations that have some measure of economic growth, freedom, and independence for women, even Islamic ones. Once you control for starvation and mis-rule.

    A more likely explanation is that consumerist culture combined with economic and some social freedom for women plus the cheap and reliable and available pill and condom encourage women to search for the perfect Alpha Male until too late to have two or more children.

    The crux of the matter is that women are choosing to have far fewer kids. It's as global as "Global Warming" and of real concern. As a practical matter, low population countries are vulnerable to neighbors with more people, unless you assume that human nature somehow magically changed and everyone is filled puppy dog love and rainbows.

    Libertarians just assume that somehow magically the Third World will produce doctors and other needed experts. The experience in Britain, where these doctors generally end up in a burning car in the Glasgow Airport terminal yelling Allah Akbar! has not been a happy one.

  • ||

    I'm surprised no one has talked about the conflict of
    interested between rulers and ruled on how fertile we
    should be. Roughly speaking, the ruler of a country
    benefits proportionally to its _total_ GDP, while the
    ruled benefit roughly proportionally to _per capita_
    GDP. I don't know what the optimum population to
    maximize per capita GDP is, but I do know that my ruler
    has an incentive to want the population higher than
    that. If he commands more cannon fodder, and squeezes
    more total taxes out of the population, he wins, even
    if we lose.

  • ||

    My favorite line from Steyn's America Alone is "long before the Maldives is submerged in rising sea levels and the spanish coast is flooded, spanish people would have become extinct"
    So if depopulation is the global crisis it sounds like it may be, can we finally stop the endless talk of spending bajillions on carbon credits to fend off the global warming myth?

    I breed not to care for me in old age or to support the economy but because kids are kinda cool. I'd be pretty bored otherwise.

  • ||

    What happened to all the fuss about overpopulation? You'd think that declining birthrates would be a welcome sight to those worrying that the Earth would end up with too many people for it to sustain.

  • ||

    As someone living in Germany now, women don't have kids here since women who are married and have children are discriminated against in the workplace and in most cases not considered for professional positions. I know many professional female lawyers and doctors who do not want to get married in case it will limit their career plans since they know of the active discrimination against married women. Once you do have kids, most school days only go until 11:30 am, and there is no afterschool care so most women can not work since they need to be home when the kids come back from school. Germany thought that by offering up to 80% of a monthly salary to working women for 3 years they would convince them to have babies but that has not been the case since they know they will lose opportunities and income over time. The whole system needs to be reformed and more family friendly if Germany wants to raise its birthrate.

  • ||

    This article is a welcome antidote to "depopulation" hysteria. Many of the pro-growth people seem to believe that technology and human ingenuity will make it possible to have both growing populations and rising standards of living. Why can't human ingenuity also find ways to deal with declining populations?

    And kudos for pointing out the deeply rooted desire to control female fertility inherent in these arguments. Has it ever occurred to some of these people that there have probably always been people who had less of an interest in childbearing and raising, and that birth control just made it possible? People have been trying to avoid pregnancy since the dawn of time. It's only in recent years that they could do so successfully. I seriously doubt that feminism or consumerism or whatever has created the trend towards reduced or no childbearing.

  • ||

    Have you noticed that those who seem most concerned about a wave of (muslim) third-worlders swamping "our" civilization are the same people who have fought for decades against birth control and empowering women?

  • LJ||

    "In the US each child receives 13 years of public schooling at taxpayer expense. Couple that with dependent deductions, deductions for child care and this childless free rider says kiss my non reproducing ass."

    Right, because no one had to pay taxes for your education, and I'm sure your parents didn't take any tax deductions for you, right?.

    It's amazing how the people who snark about breeders and breeders' kids taking money out of their pockets conveniently forget that they were kids once, too. It's the ultimate "I've got mine, now screw everyone else" attitude.

  • anon||

    It's sad to see an educated writer use "fornicate" to mean procreate. The Singapore government likely does not want to see an increase in births to unwed couples.

  • Dave Barnes||

    Want to become more educated about this problem?
    Then http://demographymatters.blogspot.com/ is one answer.
    And also, http://globaleconomydoesmatter.blogspot.com/

  • ||

    Thanks for using "question begging" in its proper sense. I would have written "Of course, his wife dies from a botched abortion" rather than "Naturally,..."
    People seem to overlook that the differences between people of different cultures a generation from now will be less than the difference between any of them and us.

  • jtuf||

    The more relevant question, and the one rarely broached, is whether women who choose not to have children should be forced to subsidize those who do.

    Replace "women" with "people" and I completely agree. Women paying men to ejaculate is so routine these days that no one thinks twice about sperm banks. In the US, paying for eggs or surrogate wombs is almost as accepted. Demeographic concerns only step on libertarian principles when the government gets involved. People who advocate government programs do so because they are too cheap to put their money where their mouths are. Most of those advocates will suddenly change their minds if someone offers to conceive with them and cites a price.

  • ||

    I fail to see, other than for Social Security reasons (which, in a bout of uncharacteristic optimism, I'm betting someone solves), why having a declining birthrate is such a problem. Everything we've been told is that humans consume too much, so why do we need more of ourselves? Shouldn't we concentrate on making lives better, as opposed to more numerous? I don't think the article really supported the idea that the West will become overrun by unEnlightened foreigners. Does anyone really see this as a possibility (except maybe Spanish border guards in the Atlantic and Mediterranean)?

  • ||

    I fail to see, other than for Social Security reasons (which, in a bout of uncharacteristic optimism, I'm betting someone solves), why having a declining birthrate is such a problem. Everything we've been told is that humans consume too much, so why do we need more of ourselves? Shouldn't we concentrate on making lives better, as opposed to more numerous? I don't think the article really supported the idea that the West will become overrun by unEnlightened foreigners. Does anyone really see this as a possibility (except maybe Spanish border guards in the Atlantic and Mediterranean)?

  • ||

    Food shortages, potable water shortages, fuel shortages, droughts; more people will help with these problems?

  • ||

    Food shortages, potable water shortages, fuel shortages, droughts; more people will help with these problems?

    In industrialized countries since 1800 they always have. What has changed that would make that no longer true?

  • ||

    I don't think the article really supported the idea that the West will become overrun by unEnlightened foreigners. Does anyone really see this as a possibility?

    Yes - people who are informed see this as a strong possibility. Don't know about everyone else. The statistical data is well-established.


    Good article. The impulse to influence the fertility of others runs high and is somehow considered a more legitimate use of public coercion than many other areas.

    As opposed to the leftist's decades-long effort to influence us to have far fewer children, or any of the other efforts to change our behavior and thinking in other ways?


    In industrialized countries since 1800 they always have [helped solve shortages]. What has changed that would make that no longer true?

    The fact that we may be reaching diminshing returns in this regard. Many of the easy gains have been made. For example, in the Southwest the biggest gains in saving water have come from simple things like watering lawns at night so the sun doesn't evaporate half of what you sprinkle on it. Where do the next big gains come from? Not having lawns at all? Draining the swimming pools? Showering only once a week? We could sacrifice agriculture - but there's a lot of cultural, sentimental and practical reasons for not wanting to sacrifice that.

    What I really find funny amidst all the opposition to increasing fertility is that the same people who think we're "overpopulated" today will be arguing for open borders because of the benefits of more labor tomorrow, wich is why I love libertarians so. Apparently overpopulating with your own children is bad. Overpopulating with someone else's children is good. Charles Darwin - a man immense Reason-ing skills - would be rolling in his grave.

  • ||

    I like what Bill Alden just wrote: "Apparently overpopulating with your own children is bad. Overpopulating with someone else's children is good." Pure madness.

    Something does indeed need to be done to raise the fertility rates of Whites in Europe, America, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere or else in a few decades Whites/Europeans will begin to become minorities in the countries which they have settled, built, and maintained (or, in the case of Europe, areas which they are native to).

    This means that Whites in America and Europe (who are envied by people the world over for their prosperity, intelligence, and know-how) will basically cede all which they have invented and built in the last few centuries. Whites/Europeans will simply abandon the Western tradition to non-Westerners, which has heretofore been the most advanced in the world BY FAR, including huge advances in technology, medicine, government, agriculture, engineering, economics, transportation, etc., social/cultural/technological advances which are now copied by non-White peoples across the world but which were invented by those of White/European descent.

    This is simply pitiful...Whites in Europe, America, Australia, and other nations just giving up and allowing themselves to be outbred and eventually displaced by a bunch of immigrants and their offspring who have not contributed as much to the advance of humankind as they have.

    How fair is that immigrants move in to White/European majority nations by the millions (and often breed like feral rabbits when they get there) and get to enjoy all of the social/cultural/technological amenities in these societies which they have not settled, built, and maintained?

    Why do you think so many immigrants are flocking to Europe, America, Australia, and other White/European majority nations? It's because the native countries of these immigrants are very often complete hellholes (full of poverty, crime, ineptitude, chaos, pollution, non-governance, etc.) while the White/European majority nations are not! So what do think will happen when these immigrants eventually become the majority in formerly White/European majority nations? I think we all know the answer to that.

  • ||

    Kerry Howley:
    "Every pro-fertility policy is an effort to... ...ossify a current conception of a national culture by freezing the genetic makeup of a nation"

    From Howley's external 'scientific' aspect, the genetic makeup of a nation doesn't matter. But then, nothing matters. She seems totally incapable of looking at it from the internal aspect of a group threatened with extinction - or, alternatively, using its higher reproductive rate to expand. For one thing, she's factually incorrect that it's necessarily about 'ossifying a current conception'. Hamas and Hezbollah don't seek to ossify anything, they see the high Palestinian and Lebanese Shia birth rates as highly dynamic agents of change, as weapons against their less fertile enemies. People have thought like this since pre-history: "Go forth and Multiply".

  • Mr. Smartypants||

    Hamas and Hezbollah don't seek to ossify anything, they see the high Palestinian and Lebanese Shia birth rates as highly dynamic agents of change, as weapons against their less fertile enemies.

    Yup, I'm sure that the Jews in Israel will simply sit back and let their country be overrun by hordes of Shia Muslims. It's not like they have several hundred nukes or that they take the phrase 'Never again' seriously...

  • KenK||

    "In the US each child receives 13 years of public schooling at taxpayer expense. Couple that with dependent deductions, deductions for child care and this childless free rider says kiss my non reproducing ass."

    Yeah, not educating the children would be soooo much cheaper, but maybe only in the short run? Off-shoring procreation may work in the short run, but I think that if most of the old were childless free riders there might be some difficulty in convincing the young to pay any taxes that could benefit said childless free riders. The young may decide to take care of ONLY their own family, kind of like it was for most of human history, eh.

  • ||

    The xenophobic hysteria of the foriegners coming to the US and overpopulating us has been part of our history .. first Germans, then Irish, Italians, Eastern European, Chinnese, Mexicans and now Middle Easterners. Yes, I'm sure there were SOME Irish who wanted the US to become a Catholic Kingdom and there are SOME Mexicans who dream of a Hispanic Country where not hispanics are second class citizens. There is always a lunatic fringe in any group.

    If there is such a thing as reverse xenophobia check out the looney www.Atzlan.net site and a video extoling "anchor babies." It ends with the quote by profesor Jose Angel Guitierrez ... "We have an aging white America. They are not making babies. They are dying. It's a mater of time."

    My response is we do live in a REPUBLIC not a DEMOCRACY. The rights of the minorty be they white, black, Asian, Hispanic or whatever are protected against the whims of a majority. A mjority of Southerners wished to seccede in 1861, something of which a professor in a US college (or for that matter a junior high student) should be familiar.

  • ||

    Funny how the nihilist pig author lumps in the USA with the human-hating Europe. Read today's NYT magazine article, nihilist pig.

    Sorry -- the USA is cranking!

  • Jordan||

    @maven

    Haha - "cranking"

  • Full Documentaries||

    Nihilist?

  • nfl jerseys||

    nyhg

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