Sex and the City: Not an Economics Textbook!

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Kay Hymowitz has a very entertaining, if extremely silly, City Journal piece on how self-indulgent, childless women portend the economic collapse of the world. Buy your it-bags now, ladies, because you'll die poor and your single child will hate you:

…you can find her in cities across Europe, Asia, and North America. Seek out the trendy shoe stores in Shanghai, Berlin, Singapore, Seoul, and Dublin, and you'll see crowds of single young females (SYFs) in their twenties and thirties, who spend their hours working their abs and their careers, sipping cocktails, dancing at clubs, and (yawn) talking about relationships. Sex and the City has gone global; the SYF world is now flat…

With fewer children, the labor force shrinks, and so do tax receipts. Europe today has 35 pensioners for every 100 workers, Longman points out. By 2050, those 100 will be responsible for 75 pensioners; in Spain and Italy, the ratio of workers to pensioners will be a disastrous one-to-one. Adding to the economic threat, seniors with few or no children are more likely to look to the state for support than are elderly people with more children. The final irony is that the ambitious, hardworking SYF will have created a world where her children, should she have them, will need to work even harder in order to support her in her golden years.

Yes, demographic changes are hurtling us toward an economically unstable situation. But the constraints on that situation are not natural and God given; they're institutional and malleable. Hymowitz wants to blame empty wombs, but she really ought to blame the policies that render declining fertility rates problematic: paygo entitlement programs and draconian immigration restrictions. Europe has put itself in a difficult position, but the blame doesn't rest with the "SYF"s; it rests with the architects of unsustainable welfare schemes.

Even barring increased levels of immigration, there is nothing about a declining population in itself that entails a decline of average incomes. If workers continue to become more productive, average incomes will rise even if the GDP falls. Yes, the economic pie may shrink, but individual slices will continue to grow.

Also, having fewer people leads to declining markets, and thus less business investment and formation. Where would you want to expand your cosmetics business: Ireland, where the population continues to renew itself, or Japan, where it is imploding?

Good question! Here's another one: Population is growing faster in Nigeria than in South Korea, so where will you expand your cosmetics business? Nigeria is undergoing a population explosion, but, as it turns out, Nigerians are not projected to be leading the world in terms of facial cream consumption. Increases in demand are tied to rising incomes at least as closely as they are to rising population; there are three times as many Indians as Americans, yet Americans consume more than twice as much.

There's a lot of other weirdness going on here, such as Hymowitz's assumption that the Single Young Female is an inherently American phenomenon being reproduced around the world. Hymowitz's stereotype probably best fits young single Japanese women, who spend far more on luxury goods and have fewer children than American women. And indeed, she does a bang-up job of explaining the Japanese disaffection with family formation:

Peggy Orenstein, writing in the New York Times Magazine in 2001, noted that Japanese women find American-style sentimentality about marriage puzzling. Yoko Harruka, a television personality and author of a book called I Won't Get Married—written after she realized that her then-fiancé expected her to quit her career and serve him tea—says that her countrymen propose with lines like, "I want you to cook miso soup for me for the rest of my life."

Surprise! Most Japanese women between 25 and 54 don't want to tie the knot.

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  1. Single young women are enjoying themselves, making money, buying things, and having casual sex, without children?!?! This is outrageous. How dare they live their lives as they see fit!

    And how dare they not pump out whelps to fund my retirement!

  2. It amazes me that people still think this way. This is not the agrarian society of the past where technology played no role in the ability for you, or your progeny to survive. Gone are the days of 12 children to milk the goats in the morning.

  3. Gone are the days of 12 children to milk the goats in the morning.

    That, and the only reason you had 12 children was because there was a very good chance most of them wouldn’t live to see adolescence.

  4. Peggy Orenstein, writing in the New York Times Magazine in 2001, noted that Japanese women find American-style sentimentality about marriage puzzling. Yoko Harruka, a television personality and author of a book called I Won’t Get Married-written after she realized that her then-fianc? expected her to quit her career and serve him tea-says that her countrymen propose with lines like, “I want you to cook miso soup for me for the rest of my life.”

    Japanese men will catch on. It’ll take a while, but they will. We men should be grateful that most women at least pay lip service to our equality with them.

  5. Yoko Harruka, a television personality and author of a book called I Won’t Get Married-written after she realized that her then-fianc? expected her to quit her career and serve him tea-says that her countrymen propose with lines like, “I want you to cook miso soup for me for the rest of my life.”

    My…. how romantic.

  6. I haven’t read the article, so I don’t know if she mentions this, but won’t the childless single women be more than offset by all the newly married lesbian couples who hire annonymous sperm to knock them up without the bother and stigma and yucky stench of an actual male partner? Pick up the slack, gals, we need the revenue.

  7. With fewer children, the labor force shrinks, and so do tax receipts.

    Gimm and I!

    Gimme an M!

    Gimme another M!

    Gimme another I!

    Gimme a G!

  8. Europe today has 35 pensioners for every 100 workers, Longman points out. By 2050, those 100 will be responsible for 75 pensioners; in Spain and Italy, the ratio of workers to pensioners will be a disastrous one-to-one.

    Oh, if only there was some phenomenon that allowed the value of each worker’s labor to increase as time passed! Maybe something that involved technological advancement?

  9. Europe today has 35 pensioners for every 100 workers, Longman points out. By 2050, those 100 will be responsible for 75 pensioners; in Spain and Italy, the ratio of workers to pensioners will be a disastrous one-to-one.

    This is so easy, terminate medicare and social security, the budget problem disappears. Boys and girls, can you say Ponzi scheme?

  10. “Surprise! Most Japanese women between 25 and 54 don’t want to tie the knot.”

    Based on what I’ve heard about Japanese/Nipponese men, I think that is very rational.

  11. My, women are taking care of themselves, not waiting for a man to take care fo them financially, having sex without expecting a marriage proposal, keeping their bodies fit, dressing nicely… basically doing everything MEN always complained women didnt do enough of. You think men would be happy about this. But nooo, they will find a way to BLAME women for something… Sheesh. Menz.

  12. Oh, joe is correct there. The baby boom retirement bubble will be somewhat offset by increased productivity.

  13. This is so easy, terminate medicare and social security, the budget problem disappears.

    Yes, but increases in the “clean the dead bodies off the street” budget will offset some of that.

  14. Sheesh. Menz.

    Hey, we’re dogs. What else can we say?

  15. My, women are taking care of themselves, not waiting for a man to take care fo them financially, having sex without expecting a marriage proposal, keeping their bodies fit, dressing nicely… basically doing everything MEN always complained women didnt do enough of.

    I did not see paying the bill for dinner and drinks/movies in there.

  16. Dan T. Don’t you understand libertarian philosophy yet? The bodies will be removed by the starving children for sustenance. Don’t you understand libertarian philosophy yet?

  17. Underpopulation is a problem now? In my day we had Captain Planet episodes that warned us of the danger of overpopulation. Specifically, overpopulation in a land of talking mice, so maybe it’s not relevant.

  18. I did not see paying the bill for dinner and drinks/movies in there.

    Some do. As a matter of pride.

  19. You can’t reason with people who fear white population declines.

    Even if the pension schemes were fixed or went away, and even if every last cultural bogeyman associated with immigration went away, there is a type of conservative who would still fear the spectre of a declining population.

    I’m not sure I can fully articulate why. I can kind of describe one small corner of this fear with a shorthand catchall sci-fi explanation: They want Captain Kirk to be white. They carry around an internal vision of the future, and simply can’t replace the people in that internal vision with brown people without deep existential dread.

    Notice that most of them don’t really give a damn about Japanese demographics. Italian or French or English demographics get their panties all in a twist, though.

    The funniest thing is that it doesn’t matter one way or another if the far future belongs to China and India and not Europe and North America. We’ll all be dead by that time anyway. But it still disturbs people and sets them all a-trembling when they think that the protagonist of the story of humanity might not look like them.

  20. Oh, joe is correct there…

    Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!

    La la la la la I can’t heeeaaaaaarrrrrr yoouuuuuuuuuu!!!

  21. “I did not see paying the bill for dinner and drinks/movies in there.”

    Guy,
    Werent you the one complaining in another post today that all the women you have dated wanted you to take care of them financially? And you want to get laid without even paying for a frekin movie and a dinner?! Man, you are one cheap mutherfucker! No wonder your not dating….

  22. Fluffy, did you ever read the National Review piece when the City of New York proposed a Firefighters’ Memorial after 9/11 that included a black guy and an Hispanic guy?

    Mass panic. Grown men curled up under their desks.

    They also think there are too many black actors cast as judges in television shows.

    No, I am not making this up.

  23. They want Captain Kirk to be white.

    But Kirk fucks green women*. Think about that, white-futurers!

    * Kirk fucks everything, but green women are his specialty so let’s go with that.

  24. With fewer children, the labor force shrinks, and so do tax receipts.

    And this is always what it comes down to, isn’t it? Without an increasing base of workers, we can’t prop up our mammoth government programs which are, by definition Ponzi schemes.

    This, gentlemen was one of my biggest epiphanies when I became a libertarian. As a young (more traditional) republican, I sneered at people who lived on their parent’s couches or lived in their grandmother’s basement, never wanting to work. Then one day I realized that with Capitalism, it didn’t matter. The kid living in his mom’s basement, bitching about the evils and alienation of capitalism, quoting Sartre and sipping espresso from tiny little cups is able to do so because of capitalism. That without capitalism, he would have to get off his ass and go to work to support the all-encompassing net of social systems that he advocates. He is by way of ultimate logical conclusion, an authoritarian.

    Oh, if only there was some phenomenon that allowed the value of each worker’s labor to increase as time passed! Maybe something that involved technological advancement?

    Joe, you are 100% correct. Worker productivity goes up. We don’t live in a static environment. See: Global warming, pollution, peak oil, “limited resources”. But… BUT… often in economic systems with heavy top-down planning and large public sectors, worker productivity is (can be) stifled by design. Finding that balance is the key. And really, in my opinion, there is no balance, it’s a constantly swinging pendulum. Times good: increase social services. Economy starts to collapse: cut social services. Economy takes off again, increase social services. Rinse, repeat.

    The ultimate answer is to have as free an economy as possible, and the excess wealth can be used to maintain some kind of social safety-net without strangling your producers.

  25. Here’s the problem that libertarians should be concerned with – as the bourgeois declines in numbers (but continues to concentrate their wealth) in comparison to the proletariat, future elections will doubtless result in more wealth distribution/socialist outcomes. Meaning that the bourgeois will have to either give up some of their not-so-hard-earned money or decide to discontinue the practice of democracy, slashing civil liberties in order to keep the growing poor under control.

    That gated neighborhood you live in is just the beginning…

  26. Obviously having and raising child is vitally important. Unfortunately economics in developed societies has relegated it to the role of a very expensive hobby. This is going to take some time to resolve.

    In the meantime, Europe and other developed countries could gradually raise retirement ages while downscaling social security benefits.

  27. One sentence summary of lengthy article:

    You aren’t doing your part to perpetuate the pyramid scheme you were coerced into joining and I’m jealous.

  28. Then one day I realized that with Capitalism, it didn’t matter. The kid living in his mom’s basement, bitching about the evils and alienation of capitalism, quoting Sartre and sipping espresso from tiny little cups is able to do so because of capitalism. That without capitalism, he would have to get off his ass and go to work to support the all-encompassing net of social systems that he advocates. He is by way of ultimate logical conclusion, an authoritarian.

    Then again, without social programs the capitalist spends a lot of time trying to make sure he doesn’t find himself swinging from the nearest lamppost.

  29. Maybe it is fear of the white population declining. Where I live there are plenty of unwed girls having babies left and right. I guess they are doing there part… Although I cant see how that could be good for the economy either…

  30. Guy,
    Werent you the one complaining in another post today that all the women you have dated wanted you to take care of them financially? And you want to get laid without even paying for a frekin movie and a dinner?! Man, you are one cheap mutherfucker! No wonder your not dating….

    I don’t remember posting quite that, but you are reading my mind and, oh yes, I am dating, just not on an exclusive basis.

  31. You aren’t doing your part to perpetuate the pyramid scheme you were coerced into joining and I’m jealous.

    win

  32. They also think there are too many black actors cast as judges in television shows.

    Everyone knows this, but who cares? When was the last time anyone saw a movie and the judge wasn’t black, female or both? Oh, name a movie in the last ten years where God wasn’t black, female, or both.

    Really, it’s just a tool to needle racist social conservatives and make them write dumb articles about how there are “too many”. I guess they took the bait.

    Is it really any different from the NAACP bean counting the number of black leads on their abacus and writing a strongly worded letter to the motion picture association in protest?

  33. “But Kirk fucks green women*. Think about that, white-futurers!”

    Hehe. Maybe we should be mxing it up a little more…
    There is a song that is almost Venezuela’s “second” national anthem. The lyrics say: “black girl with black boy is like a night without the moon, and white girl with white boy is like milk and foam.” (Im sure something is lost in translation here).

  34. Guy,
    Werent you the one complaining in another post today that all the women you have dated wanted you to take care of them financially? And you want to get laid without even paying for a frekin movie and a dinner?! Man, you are one cheap mutherfucker! No wonder your not dating….

    I don’t remember posting quite that, but you are reading my mind and, oh yes, I am dating, just not on an exclusive basis.

    Guy,
    Good to know. But if you dont pay for dinner, you may not get too many second dates.
    Good luck.

  35. But… BUT… often in economic systems with heavy top-down planning and large public sectors, worker productivity is (can be) stifled by design.

    Based on the last seven decades, and the 90s in particular, I’d have conclude that Social Security falls well short of being large enough to stifle productivity increases.

  36. rana is such a prude sexist.

  37. “rana is such a prude sexist”

    Guy, I’m not exactly sure what you mean by that. Perhaps there is a note of sarcasm Im missing. Either way, at least I’m not cheap.

  38. Then again, without social programs the capitalist spends a lot of time trying to make sure he doesn’t find himself swinging from the nearest lamppost.

    Dan T., what, my 1988 toyota Corolla with the oxidized paint is going to foment a revolution from the masses who drive a blue Stanza?

    Oooohh, I think I get it. In your world, the “Capitalist” walks around in a black Top Hat, probably has a cigar wrapped in money and is really fat. How quaint.

  39. There is a song that is almost Venezuela’s “second” national anthem. The lyrics say: “black girl with black boy is like a night without the moon, and white girl with white boy is like milk and foam.” (Im sure something is lost in translation here).

    Sort of. It says that mixing is better (night with the moon, milk with coffee), but most euphemisms don’t translate well. You should post it in Spanish too.

  40. as the bourgeois declines in numbers (but continues to concentrate their wealth) in comparison to the proletariat, future elections will doubtless result in more wealth distribution/socialist outcomes.

    I like your math there and wish to subscribe to your newsletter. But first explain how a population that is shrinking will be able to use the one-man-one-vote to their greater advantage. Repeat after me, when you let the legislature do the buying and selling, the first thing to be bought and sold will be the legislators.

  41. Episiarch,
    Yes. That’s the idea of the song and it is felt in latin culture (not to say there isn’t racism here, but that is another issue).

    Here are the lyrics in Spanish (maybe someone will understand):

    “Que un negro con una negra es como noche sin luna, y un blanco con una blanca es como leche y espuma”

  42. I’d have conclude that Social Security falls well short of being large enough to stifle productivity increases.

    Well, yeah, but you gave an example of a country and system which doesn’t really fall into the scope of what I was talking about.

    But, for purposes of discussion, no, I don’t believe that FICA taxes in their current incarnation stifle any real meaningful productivity in this country. I also have it on good authority that FICA taxes, nor Social Security payouts are “enough.” I also have it on good authority that Social Security is exactly a Ponzi scheme, and we don’t have a large enough base of workers paying into it to pay the increasing population of people at the top drawing from it. I also have it on good authority that one possible solution to this is to cut benefits. See my pendulum comment above.

  43. rana, your translation was perfect, that’s exactly what it says. Like I said, euphemisms are ususally logically consistent but the ones that we didn’t grow up with aren’t hardwired into our brains and can seem strange.

  44. Episiarch:

    If you do a Google translate, it will undoubtedly say:

    “boy cows give milk in the foamy night without it for not can’t be done it again.”

  45. Holy crap, I was just kidding. Here’s the actual google translation:

    “That a black with a black is like night without moon, and a helicopter with a white is like milk and foam”

  46. “That a black with a black is like night without moon, and a helicopter with a white is like milk and foam”

    Ha, nice. I guess Google doesn’t give a shit about gender. But how did it get helicopter from blanco?

  47. Ha, nice. I guess Google doesn’t give a shit about gender. But how did it get helicopter from blanco?

    I have no idea. I speak a little (tiny) bit of spanish, and google can’t care about gender on a word like negro, or negra because in Spanish, the word can be used as a descriptor or the object itself. “negro” sans context means “black”. In the context of the song, it refers to a black boy. This is one of the reasons why a seemingly obvious and simple task still can’t be performed by a computer. My guess is that the google translator has some kind of contextual bug which mis-translated “white” to “helicopter”.

  48. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bo4v0LwEncU

    I’m positive a better translation goes like this: Brown sugar, How cum you tadte so good?

  49. City Journal is a weird mix of pragmatic, libertarian-leaning public policy pieces (mostly focusing on NYC) and crackpot, NR-style social conservative pieces. I’m an avid reader.

  50. Rana,

    Maybe Guy wants to date “up”?

    I’m down with that. Unfortunately, while society not only applauds… nay, expects women to date up, they still frown on men who do same.

    And believe me, I am the “new man”, the modern, sensitive male who has absolutely no… NO problem with a woman who earns more– way more, preferably– than I do.

    You want me to sit around all day, eat bon-bons and look pretty while you chase down the titans of industry? I’m good… I’m good.

  51. Hmmmm, “blanco” can also mean “target”. But I got no idea how they got “helicopter”.

    I’d like to hear Chavez sing that one on his new CD.

  52. 50 some comments on a extopian oriented blog without mention of the obvious solution..

    Robots!! You don’t need immigrants if you have robots. The government can even supply robots to the growing pool of unemployables that will increase with the sophistication of labor.
    A robot butler and check evry month in exchange for not making life difficult for the ruling class.

  53. How come nobody has yet commented that Kerry Howley will understand this issue better when she starts having children of her own?

    Also, how come no one has yet declared they’d be willing to drag their nakedness across the shattered glass of a Nigerian cosmetics counter just to have Kerry Howley spritz them in the face with Eau De Parfum Spray for Women by CLINIQUE?

  54. The assertions of Ms Hymowitz (whose name interestingly enough loosely translates as ‘life joke’ from yiddish) seem awfully like the peak oiler’s. The irony is that the peak oilers and the peak totters are mostly, but not always, on the oposite side of an ideological divide.

  55. Oooohh, I think I get it. In your world, the “Capitalist” walks around in a black Top Hat, probably has a cigar wrapped in money and is really fat. How quaint.

    Damn! Just one missing detail! I knew I was close. Need to start packing on the pounds.

  56. And believe me, I am the “new man”, the modern, sensitive male who has absolutely no… NO problem with a woman who earns more– way more, preferably– than I do.

    Thank you Senator Kerry.

  57. Yes, but being the American Gigolo cost him the presidency as no feminist would vote for a man who lives off of a women’s trust fund.

  58. The commentary and one blogger provided some economic criticism of the SYF article. The commentary said this:

    Even barring increased levels of immigration, there is nothing about a declining population in itself that entails a decline of average incomes. If workers continue to become more productive, average incomes will rise even if the GDP falls.

    In other words, the fixes for the negative population growth are 1. Increased immigration and 2. increased production

    The blogger added a post-script to solution number 2, increase production by robots.

    I just finished an article on this article myself (“Catholics Save Wall Street!”) and found extensive material describing Japan’s attempts to increase production via more man hours and also via robots, and neither one has worked. One analyst said the population growth was so precipetous that “even the cats would have to work!” for increased productivity alone to solve the problem. Regarding immigration and the US, Mexico’s own population is just hovering above negative and they don’t even have country wide legal abortion yet, just in Mexico City, so we won’t be able to count on them, and India, as a source of population and tech workers, is tapped out–it’s why Dell just left and Dell is only the most recent in a big exodus. They don’t have any more kids from middle class people who will go on to college and fill the tech gap. The people still reproducing in India are the poorest of the poor, and it doesn’t translate into the work needed by a society maintaining–financing– a large non-working elderly population. Some have suggested just moving entire populations from the sub-Sahara to the US. But their average IQ, by a UN group that is trying to measure these things, is 67–due of course to their conditions, their lack of exposure to the assumptions that drive an IQ test. But that will also count against their ability to simply enter a tech society and benefit it in the first generation. And by the second generation, statistics show they will have begun to contracept at exactly the same rate as their new country.

    No, increased productivity and increased, even maintained, immigration won’t cut it. We have to have babies.

  59. So many leftoids swear there is nothing wrong with Social Security – it just “needs to be fixed”. By, of course, raising taxes, or lowering benefits. They have their collective heads in the sand when confronting the reality that the entire scheme is faulty from the start. Either one of those solutions is akin to a dog chasing it’s tail.

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