Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Simple fixes to the fertility gap?

Ten years ago, Candice and I were sitting in a public policy class at Regent University taught by Dr. Hubert Morken. As he addressed a variety of policy challenges, Candice asked a favorite question of hers: "What's the solution?" Dr. Morken's answer caught everyone off guard: "Get married and make babies." His point seemed so crude, but he insisted that regardless of what's going on in the public debate, the people who are having children and raising them consistent with their values tend to have the most impact on future debates. Over the last week, the Wall Street Journal ran two articles reinforcing Dr. Morken's point--specfically the impact of people not having babies.

The first article ("Cash Incentives Aren't Enough to Lift Fertility") covers the impact on the international marketplace. Numerous countries once caught up in concerns about a population boom are now facing the reality of a population bust. Worried they will have a shrinking labor force and consumer base, many are offering cash incentives for their citizens to have more babies. Those incentives, however, haven't created the desired effect and many of those same countries are now looking at the option of loosening their immigration controls--a tactic they know will change the face of their countries.

The second article ("The Fertility Gap") looks at the impact of baby-making on the ballot box. Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University writes, "liberals have a big baby problem" and he isn't talking about infant obesity. He points out a fertility gap of 41% between liberals and conservatives and estimates that by 2020, the current fertility trends alone will push conservatives into the majority in California where liberals currently dominate. He states that all their MTV-esque get-out-the-vote efforts have been in vain because "liberals have been quite successful controlling overpopulation--in the Democratic Party." He ends saying, "Democrat politicians may have no more babies left to kiss."

Articles like these have to be frustrating to both business-centric conservatives and "get out the vote" social liberals. Because while they make it clear that more babies are needed, that reality flies in the face of the anti-natalism that has become ingrained in social liberals as well as many capitalists who have developed a habit of letting what's best for business trump family interests over the years. The reality is that both of these wings of society are now in a position of wanting to have it both ways. The liberals want to maintain their love affair with abortion, homosexuality and other anti-natal positions while also somehow growing their voter base. Many capitalists on the other hand want to keep growing their labor and consumer base while maintaining their worship of the almighty dollar, even when it means promoting anti-family products like pornography, anti-family work environments where only the single and childless can get ahead and consumptive lifestyles where couples are strapped with debt that make starting a family seem like a fantasy.

At the end of the day, neither financial rewards from capitalists or even extreme get -out-the-vote (by getting pregnant) efforts from liberals can have much effect on a decision as important, intimate and life changing as having a baby. After all, how many liberal couples are going to gaze into each other's eyes and say, "let's make a little voter?" or how many capitalists are going to hop in bed motivated by their desire for a little tax deduction? Parenting requires greater vision than that. The latest reports on the fertility gap show that there are no simple solutions for anti-natalists, while there are suprising results for the men and women who--as Sting so poetically put it--"send their love into the future."

2 Comments:

At 4:20 PM, Blogger K said...

Well, we’ve spilled a lot of pixels discussing the difficulties that many of us are facing in the mating department, which, aside from cloning, is an unavoidable prerequisite (for men at least…millions of women are now choosing to children whenever they please, regardless of their relationship status).

What can we do? Fix immigration.

In the 1960’s, virtually every civilized country (except, prudently, Japan and Israel, which has always had a very unique immigration policy) adopted policies, completely against the will of the people, facilitating massive heterogeneous immigration from third-world countries. The US version was the Immigration Reform Act of 1965.

Immigration lowers wages while hurting education, increasing housing costs, and increasing crime. Against this backdrop, having children is neither affordable nor desirable for many people. The effect is strongest in areas of high immigration, which generally have also had the fastest increase in housing costs. I have little doubt that fertility rates for native-born US citizens are indeed higher in states with lower immigration.

Now our future serflords such as the Bush dynasty claim that such immigration is necessary due to the low birthrates across the civilized world, but they’ve missed the direction of causality. In the early 1970’s, someone like James Dobson could purchase a nice house in a safe neighborhood in a good school district in Southern California on one income; current housing-to-income ratios make this unfeasible today even for a psychologist, let alone a lowly accountant or engineer and downright unfathomable for former factory workers who now work at Wal-Mart, or construction workers who compete with illegal immigrants who earn 1/3 of union scale. Third-world immigrants have much lower expected standards for what constitutes acceptable standards of housing, education, healthcare, etc. in which to raise children, and are reproductively out-competing natives across the developed world.

For the international perspective, note that a high-ranking Swedish government official has accepted that Swedes will soon be a minority in their own country, as Muslim immigrants it has accepted since the 1960’s will soon be the majority. Germany took in quite a few Turks, and France’s North African Muslims who have arrived since the same era are certainly “shining lights,” as the news reports of the riots and burning cars demonstrated. And I was almost dehydrated recently on a domestic airline trip, because I was forbidden to carry water aboard due to the “contributions” of the UK’s “Southeast Asian” community.

Here’s a good video presentation on the colossal mass immigration into the US since 1965. Some will disagree with a few of the ideas (particularly that children have environmental impact), but the majority of the presentation, the numerical impact of our recent historically-unprecedented mass immigration binge (and it’s negligible impact on ameliorating third-world poverty), is very relevant to the discussion. As to the environmental sensitivities, in the absence of mass immigration and hyper-fertility among immigrants (Mexican women in the US have more children than even their counterparts who remain in Mexico), even I would not have any environmental guilt about having 2 to 4 children:
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5871651411393887069

History of mass immigration to the UK (written before 9/11, the subway bombings, and failed liquid bomb plot):
http://olimu.com/WebJournalism/Texts/Commentary/UKRaceRiots.htm

Another Brit, K R Housten of Edinburgh, wrote to the Spectator in an article which is no longer available:
"Rod Liddle’s assertion (‘Our overpopulation is a catastrophe’, 12 August) that an ever-growing population fuelled by mass immigration is seriously debilitating our quality of life was spot on. But it also highlights the question of why we ever reached this state of affairs in the first place. When my three children were born between 1977 and 1982 — a period which took in both Labour and Conservative governments — new parents were sent a missive from the local health authority stating that while family size was a matter of personal choice, Britain needed to have a population level that it could ‘sustain’. The underlying message was clear: don’t have too many children. A generation later, we are informed that the economy would collapse without a massive influx of immigrants, even though most of them do not speak English or have any capital to invest, and some of them actually wish to do us harm.
Why, then, was the indigenous population of 25/30 years ago encouraged to limit its families, when it could have made up the shortfall in the current workforce without any of the cost and social unrest that has come with mass immigration? Perhaps a politician with experience of government at the time — your new columnist Lord Hattersley, for example — might care to provide an explanation."

 
At 5:27 PM, Blogger K said...

As to non-governmental encouragements, I can think of two:

1. Lower our standards.
While irresponsible teenagers, welfare queens, and illegal immigrants lacking high-school educations, basic English skills, and health insurance pump out babies with reckless abandon, responsible Christian intellectual types feel that we need to get everything perfect before having children (perfect spouse, home "ownership," college fund, etc.). Maybe somebody needs to say "responsibility is important, but you can be a good parent even if you're not yet a multimillionaire." In the mid twentieth century, it seems that even middle-class white families often were dependent on public education, could not afford braces for their children, and sometimes sewed clothing rather than purchasing it at department stores (probably no longer efficient with today’s inexpensive mass-produced goods).

2. Celebrate culturally interesting families. I have no desire to drive a minivan from a soul-crushingly anonymous job, to an anonymous tract house in a sprawling suburb near an expressway, inhabited by a pasty, overweight denim-jumper-clad wife. But in some Christian subcultures, this is the One True Meaning of “family.” Fortunately, the Europeans continue to make high-performance station wagons, and urban dwellings can be excellent places to raise children (if you have the cash), and some of the mothers in my church didn’t get the message that “true holiness and modesty require you to become physically disgusting to your husband” and choose to remain fit, fashionable, and fun.

Moving from the “Bible Belt” to a university town known for its progressive, hippie, liberal, and yuppie elements has helped me a bit in this regard (not that I was against having children). There is a weekly timeslot on the college radio station that is hosted by a family with school-aged children. Everybody has sort of a “DJ name,” including the kids, and it’s cute when the kids announce the songs or do a station ID or whatever. Sometimes I see people carrying their toddlers on their shoulders during a peace march or something. And one of my friends came from a family where all the kids are essentially amateur rock musicians; I don’t play an instrument, but it’s cool to hear how the siblings (now in their 20’s and 30’s) share instruments and such. And I’ll sometimes see some families from church at a car show or something. Also, I know some cool missionaries in Europe…they even partly home school their children, but they really seem intelligent, sophisticated, and adventurous, and their children have participated in that adventure. Even the fictional Cosby Show was good because it featured intelligent people living in a city (brownstones are sweet, and the children seemed to benefit from using public transit to attend cultural events and such) and still being good parents (though I realize that sustaining two ultra-high-stress careers is very unrealistic). It’s encouraging to see that it’s possible to have a life and identity while raising children, and include children in that life.

In contrast, some couples at church frighten me. They just seem like some sort of child-bearing robots. They seem to have no social skills, like they would respond to any attempt at conversation with some automatic response like “No, I didn’t see the Big Game last night; my wife and I were having Family Night with the children. We have it in Our Home. Our Home is why we have a Mortgage. Having a Mortgage makes us Real Adults; don’t you wish you had a Mortgage?” or “New Woody Allen film? Who is Woody Allen? We watch Veggie Tales with the children. Did I mention we have children? It’s God’s Plan for us to have children.” Creepy.

 

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