Over-valuing Immigrants

January 24, 2013


This above-linked editorial appeared on Reuters a couple of days ago.  The topic of immigration “reform” (liberalization) has picked up a lot of steam since President Obama’s re-election, as Republicans have concluded that they need to out-do Democratic pandering to the Latino demographic (which both parties have stereotyped as valuing the importation of more Latinos over the interests of their newly adopted home) as their pathway back to the white house.  (By the way, I wonder how many Latinos are actually fooled into thinking that this push for immigration reform will actually benefit Latinos instead of opening the flood gates to a tidal wave of Chinese and Indian immigrants?)

The point of the editorial is to argue the merits of giving illegals a sort of “premanent noncitizen resident” status instead of a more difficult “path to citizenship.” 

But that’s not the point of this post.  What caught my eye is found near the beginning of this piece, a relatively new justification for growing our population:

“But first, it is important to understand why the immigration issue is gaining momentum. Back in 2011, J.P. Morgan released a report that found that U.S. households own $70 trillion in physical and financial assets. This same report found that America’s stock of human capital, i.e., the collective education and experience of all U.S. workers, amounted to $700 trillion. Rather than pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into new roads, bridges and housing units, the surest and cheapest strategy for increasing our collective wealth is to import talented workers.”

So J.P. Morgan (one of our nation’s “too big to fail” banks) is saying that each American is actually worth ten times the amount of tangible financial and physical assets they’ve managed to accumulate.  Sure, a tiny fraction of this can actually be measured in terms of the money that’s been spent on their education.  But the vast majority of this intangible “wealth” is obviously arrived at by assigning some dubious value to Americans’ “experiences.” 

If this were true – that each of us is far more valuable to society than our net worth indicates - then why is no one willing to pay for it?  U.S. households’ net worth of $70 trillion works out to about $500,000 per household, a figure that’s about four times as much as the median net worth, giving you some idea of just how much wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top one percent.  But never mind that; let’s say that your net worth is about $500,000.  J.P. Morgan’s report says that your real value to society is about $5 million. 

So why isn’t Canada offering each American $5 million to move there?  Or even $1 million?  I’d happily move there for that much.  Or, for that matter, why isn’t any country making such an offer? 

Why aren’t there corporate “breeding farms” where women can choose to be treated like animal breeding stock in return for being paid millions for each baby they produce?  A repugnant idea, to be sure but, no doubt, there’d be no shortage of women willing to sign up. 

Even if the J.P. Morgan report is correct – that people’s education and experience is worth ten times as much as their net worth – shouldn’t the real conclusion be that money spent on education and experience is largely squandered – that people shouldn’t bother with attaining an education because wages are too low to justify it?  If the 20 million unemployed Americans are worth so much, why is no one willing to hire them?  And why spend good money on an education, only to join their ranks?

The conclusion of this report is blatantly false, yet immigration advocates – those who stand to profit from growing our population – use it to their advantage.  As is true with any such study, one must consider the motivation of those who have funded or produced it.  What is J.P. Morgan’s real motivation for so blatantly over-valuing our collective education and experience?  It’s not the supposed $700 trillion in intangible  value to the economy that they’re interested in.  Rather, like any other bank, it’s the $70 trillion in real assets that they’re after, and they’d like to see that figure grow with the population. 

In 1976, the U.S. population was 218 million and the median family net worth was $113, 000 (in 2010 dollars).  In 2010, the population had grown by nearly 50% to 309 million, yet the median family net worth had fallen to $77,300.  But over the same time frame the average net worth rose from $184,000 to $499,000.  So, during that time frame, while the median American was worse off, the collective net worth (the amount that banks are involved in managing) rose dramatically from about $20 trillion to $70 trillion.  In other words, while the population grew, most Americans grew poorer while the banks grew much richer, especially as the top few percent of people grew much, much richer – profiting from the growth in the economy. 

But the poverty-inducing effect of worsening overpopulation is reaching higher into the ranks of top few percent.  From 2004 to 2010, even the average net worth declined.  That’s because of the Great Recession in 2008 and the plunge in home and stock market values, one might claim.  True, but was that contraction an anomaly or the bursting of a bubble built on debt to maintain an illusion of prosperity?  I’d contend it was the latter. 

To put it in simpler terms, banks – like all other corporations – profit from a growing macroeconomy that accompanies population growth.  But, because of the worsening unemployment and poverty that that growth brings, the fortune of average citizens gets worse.  But, if the banks can convince you and your elected representatives that growing the population faster – and liberalizing immigration is a good way to do it – is in your best interest (as it most certainly is theirs), then so much the better for them.

Poverty Fueled by Population Growth in the U.S.

December 21, 2012


The above-linked story was the feature article on Reuters yesterday.  It caught my eye because, though I now live in Michigan, Indiana was my home state.  The article uses the state of Indiana as a case study in the growth of poverty in the U.S.  It seems that Indiana has the second fastest-growing poverty rate in the country, second only to Nevada.  I suppose that the writers chose Indiana over Nevada for their case study since it better represents middle-class America, as opposed to a state whose economy is built around gambling and entertainment. 

It’s a very long, thorough treatise of the problem of poverty in America, but it’s this one sentence in particular that reall caught my eye:

The number of Americans below the federal poverty level – $22,350 a year for a family of four – hit 48 million in 2011, 17 million more than in 1989.

With this data, we can do a little math.  In 1989, the U.S. population was 247 million people.  At that time, the number of people living in poverty was 31 million (48 million minus 17 million).  That’s a poverty rate of 12.5%.  In 2011, the U.S. population was 310 million, and 48 million lived in poverty.  That’s a rate of 15.5%.

But consider this:  between 2011 and 1989, the U.S. population grew by by 63 million people, and 17 million have been added to the ranks of the poor.  That means that 27% of the people added to our population since 1989 are below the poverty level! 

The theory I presented in Five Short Blasts predicts that a growing population (once some critical level has been breached) will result in rising unemployment and poverty.  This piece of data corroborates that theory, and even I was surprised at just how rapidly it’s fueling the poverty rate. 

And, as the article points out, all of this is in spite of the fact that the federal government spent a record amount in 2011 to combat poverty.  Given the impetus to cut federal spending, what is the likelihood that this effort to hold back the tide of poverty can be sustained?  Only slightly better than the likelihood that it will address the real root cause of the problem.

U.S. Birth Rate Falls to Record Low

December 8, 2012


This story (link provided above) came out while I was traveling last week, so I’m just now getting around to it.  It’s far too important to let pass without comment.  As reported by the Pew Research Center, the birth rate among women of child-bearing years (ages 15-44) fell to 63.2 births per 1,000 women, half the rate of 1957 and the lowest since record-keeping began in 1920.  This is great news for the economy (as I explained in Five Short Blasts and as further explained on this web site), and it’s great news for anyone concerned about the other challenges that overpopulation presents – global warming, resource depletion and environmental degradation.  Of course, this good news can (and likely will) be undone by misguided legislators, following the advice of their economists, by compensating with increased immigration and legislation that encourages a higher birth rate. 

I won’t rehash in this post how a lower birth rate is good news for the economy.  But the story and some reaction to the story do merit comment.  First of all, the final sentence in the above-linked story summarizes well economists’ reaction to such news: 

The Post (The Washington Post) writes that “… A continuing decline would challenge long-held assumptions that births to immigrants will help maintain the U.S. population and provide the taxpaying workforce needed to support the aging Baby Boomer generation.”

Economists believe that each succeeding generation needs to be bigger than the one that preceded it in order to support the older generation in retirement without placing too much burden on the younger generation.  Never mind the fact that economists don’t understand what an overcrowded population does to harm the economy.  The folly of such an approach is obvious to any thinking person who understands that it’s impossible for the population to grow indefinitely and, when it does stop, we’ll be left with the same problem, but on a much larger scale. 

Secondly, the report notes that the decline in the birth rate is led by a sudden plunge among immigrant women – especially among Mexican women – with the onset of the recession a few years ago.  This proves that economics is a major factor for families in deciding how many children to have.  And it proves that the approach I advocated in Five Short Blasts for reducing the birth rate to a level consistent with a stable population – using tax policy to encourage a slightly lower birth rate – would likely work very well.  There’s no need to resort to the clumsy, authoritarian tactics employed in places like China and India.  Just make it a little more expensive to have large families and leave people free to decide for themselves how many children is the right number for them. 

Then there’s this reaction from Reuters columnist Chrystia Freeland.  It begins with the observation of some of the more ridiculous misconceptions about birth rates:

“… for a long time, the United States has watched declining birthrates in places like Western Europe, Russia and even China with an air of superiority. The United States, lusty and fertile, was bucking the demographic trends.”

How exactly is a high birth rate any indication of “superiority?”  Do unborn fetuses decide to migrate to the wombs of mothers in the U.S. because it will be a better place to live?  Not likely.  Equating a high birth rate with any sort of “superiority” flies in the face of the facts.  A high birth rate characterizes the worst hell-holes in the world.  The nations with the top five birth rates are Niger, Mali, Uganda, Burkina Faso and Zambia – among the poorest nations on earth. 

Nevertheless, this is a common attitude.  Every city points with pride to its population growth as some sort of evidence of its superiority to other cities – as evidence that it’s a better place to live.  No one ever notes that nearly every city is growing in population at the same rate and that, if they keep it up, none of them will be a good place to live.

Later in the article, Ms. Freeland notes another prominent attitude toward birth rates:

Kotkin (Joel Kotkin, author of a study of birth rates for the Civil Service College of Singapore), for example, sees the falling birthrate as the central feature of what he calls “post-familialism,” a new form of social organization that prizes liberation, personal happiness and perhaps even a “hip” urban aesthetic over the more traditional values of community and self-sacrifice.

So, somehow, a lower birth rate is associated with selfishness and a turn away from traditional values?  How did overpopulation ever become a “family value?”  Is it not possible for small, one and two-child families to embrace “traditional values” in the same way that they are embraced by larger families? 

Ms. Freeland concludes her piece by arguing in favor of women using their wombs and a lower birth rate as leverage women can use in their quest to become “full members of society.”  (I’m now banging my head on the desk.)

The Population Density Factor in the National Election

September 12, 2012


OK, here’s a fascinating analysis of the electoral map of the United States that you won’t find anywhere else.  When one looks at an electoral college map like the one you’ll find with the above link, you can’t help but be struck by how the vast majority of the U.S., at least in terms of surface area, is solidly in Romney’s camp.  Yet, Obama leads in electoral votes.  How can this be? 

Population density seems to be playing a critical role.  Of the 16 blue states on this map (those Obama is expected to win), the average population density is 928 people per square mile.  Of the 20 red states – those Romney is expected to win, the average population density is only 60.  The average population density of the six states leaning one way or another is 130.  The average population density of the 9 states considered “toss-ups” is 149. 

In other words, those states favoring Obama are 15 times as densely populated (on average) than those states favoring Romney.  The states that are toss-ups or leaning one way or the other fall in between in terms of population density. 

Perhaps this shouldn’t be surprising.  As populations become more crowded, it’s an inescapable fact that government must play an ever-greater role in maintaining an orderly society.  What’s less obvious to most (but not to those who understand the relationship between population density and unemployment) is that the government must play a greater role in providing a social safety net as populations grow more crowded.  I doubt that many people in the blue states really understand this.  But it seems that they sense it.  At the same time, the theme of smaller government plays well in sparsely populated states where people don’t sense the need for more government because they’ve never experienced living in crowded conditions. 

Sadly, this is a bad omen for the Republican Party.  I say “sadly” because all people would be far better off living in less crowded conditions where there is less need for government involvement in our lives.  The Republican philosophy will slowly resonate with fewer and fewer people.  It may explain why President Obama continues to enjoy as much support as he does in spite of the terrible economy and high unemployment.  Only a few decades ago, when the country was less crowded and more prosperous, he’d have been swept out of office in a landslide.  Today, however, a growing number of people sense that the laissez faire capitalism and globalization advocated by Republicans in this ever-more-crowded, dog-eat-dog world actually offers little hope of a better life.  While Democrats advocate the same things, at least they also favor maintaining a strong safety net (but at a cost that can’t be sustained). 

If Republicans want to prevent their electoral map from slowly shrinking as more states grow more crowded, they’d be wise to wake up to the role of population density in driving unemployment and poverty, and to the fact that the population growth they promote as a source of economic growth is actually choking the life out of their party.

August Employment Level Falls 119,000, Unemployment Hits 11%

September 10, 2012

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported on Friday that the economy added 96,000 jobs while unemployment fell to 8.1%. 

The number of jobs added (as reported by the “establishment survey” portion of the report) fell well short of the number need to keep pace with growth in the labor force – about 125,000 per month (thanks primarily to the idiotic practice of importing more workers). 

So we should have seen a rise in unemployment.  Instead, the unemployment rate, which is determined by the “household survey” part of the report, fell by 0.2% to 8.1%.  Why?  Because, as noted broadly throughout the media on Friday, another 368,000 workers mysteriously vanished from the labor force once again.  Since August 2008 (exactly four years ago), the population has grown by nearly 10 million people.  Yet, during that time frame, the size of the civilian labor force actually shrank by 1,000 workers.  Of the ten million people we’ve added in the past four years, not a single one needs to work for a living?  Puh-lease.  No one could be gullible enough to believe this.  Here’s a prediction:  next month (the last report before the election), the labor force will shrink further, enought to bring the unemployment rate down to 7.9% – the level it was at when Obama took office.

But, while the media correctly reported on the supposed-contraction in the labor force as a bogus reason for the lower unemployment rate, amazingly (to me, at least), none reported the fact that the “employment level” from the same household survey – the equivalent of the establishment survey report of the number of jobs created – actually declined by 119,000 jobs. 

Here’s the data from the household survey, which includes a calculation of unemployment that’s more realistic, holding the size of the labor force as a fixed percentage of the population:  Unemployment Calculation

And here’s a chart of the unemployment rates:  Unemployment Chart.  Note the divergence between government myth (U3 and U6) vs. reality (U3a and U6a) since the beginning of the recession, in spite of the fact that they were in perfect agreement before the recession began.  And note how very little progress has been made in reducing real unemployment. 

To underscore the point about the lack of growth in the labor force in spite of growing the population by 10 million, here’s a chart of those two figures, along with the employment level, which fell for the 2nd month in a row:  Labor Force & Employment Level

Per Capita Employment also fell for the 2nd month and it remains near its lowest level of the recession.  This figure is analagous to the BLS’s “labor force participation rate” which, as was also broadly reported in the media on Friday, fell to its lowest level since the 1930s. 

The number of Unemployed Americans rose to its highest level since December of last year – over 17.5 million unemployed.  (And that doesn’t include the under-employed.)

The point here is that unemployment isn’t getting better, and it’s no surprise to anyone who understands that the root causes of our high unemployment – the trade deficit and continued immigration-driven population growth – have been completely ignored by this president, just as it has been for the past two generations.

The Synergism Between Overcrowding and Poverty

September 3, 2012


The above-linked article appeared on CNBC a few days ago.  Every once in a while I see these reports that make me believe that, ever so slowly, the field of economics may emerge from its self-imposed blindness to the real world.  This article reports on a paper written by Northwestern University economist Robert Gordon.  (I tried unsuccessfully to find the paper itself.)  It seems that Gordon predicts that we are headed for a prolonged period – decades – in which growth in per capita consumption, “the main engine of the consumer-based U.S. economy” (the article’s author’s words, not mine), will fall to nearly zero. 

First of all, it’s significant any time any economist takes any notice at all of per capita consumption since, in the field of economics, per capita consumption is one of those givens that is no cause for concern.  It’ll always be there and it’ll always grow.  You don’t need to worry about it. 

Gordon serves up six reasons why that may not be true:

  1. Changing and unfavorable demographics.  (It’s not clear what Gordon means by this.  An aging population, perhaps?)
  2. Rising education costs and poor secondary school performance.
  3. Growing economic inequality.
  4. Increased competition due to globalization.
  5. Energy and environmental costs and challenges.
  6. High levels of consumer and government debt. 

No, he didn’t mention overcrowding or population density, but his reasoning is a step in that direction.  How many of the above factors can be blamed, at least partially, on either overpopulation or trade with overpopulated nations?  All but the first, and maybe that one too, if it was clear what was meant.  Number 6 is the result of the use of debt to mask the effects of worsening overpopulation (and free trade with badly overpopulated nations) for decades.  That tactic is nearly exhausted and now the debt itself has become an impediment to per capita consumption.

Which led me to a realization.  I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of it before – the synergism between overcrowding and poverty in driving down per capita consumption.  When I researched Five Short Blasts, I tried to separate the effects of poverty from the effects of overcrowding in per capita consumption data.  Poor people consume less merely because they are poor.  I was looking for disparities in per capita consumption among nations of roughly comparable wealth so that the population density effect was clear. 

But there’s an obvious feedback loop here that now seems so obvious to me.  As overcrowding drives down per capita consumption, it’s inescapable that it will drive up unemployment.  (And free trade with badly overcrowded nations will have the same effect.)  Worsening unemployment puts downward pressure on wages and begins to fuel a rise in poverty.  And, where the initial effect upon per capita consumption caused by slowly rising population density may have been small, the effect of declining incomes isn’t.  It’s directly proportional.  People who earn 10% less will consume 10% less (once their access to credit has been exhausted).  When people consume 10% less, then more people are thrown out of work and the whole process can begin to spiral out of control. 

It’s obvious then that anything, no matter how small, that tends to erode per capita consumption presents a serious threat to the economy.  As economists like the one reported on in this article begin to ponder that per capita consumption may not be a given after all – that there may be factors that can negatively affect it – they will discover the obvious factors first.  It may take a long time, but perhaps they’ll eventually discover the common thread woven through them all - the very population-driven “economic” growth, beyond some critical level, that all of them have worshipped for centuries.

Slowing Population Growth Boosts Per Capita GDP in 2nd Quarter

August 1, 2012


Things have been a little crazy here lately and I’ve fallen behind once again.  So the news about 2nd quarter GDP, released on Friday (link provided above), is already a little stale.  But there’s a twist in that news that merits comment.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) announced that growth in the nation’s gross domestic product slowed in the 2nd quarter to a very anemic annual rate of 1.5% from a slightly upwardly-revised figure of 2.0% in the first quarter.  So I expected that I’d be writing about a decline in per capita GDP to only 0.5% – very close to a recessionary level.

But that’s not the case.  When I crunched the numbers, per capita GDP actually held steady at an annual rate of about 1.1%.  Upon checking my numbers, I found that growth in the U.S. population, using data taken from the Census Bureau site, has actually slowed dramatically.  Here’s a chart of the percentage change in the U.S. population:   Quarterly U.S. Population Growth Rate

As you can see, although the growth rate in the 2nd quarter typically rises, it actually fell this time, to its lowest level since I started tracking it, with the exception of the correction that took place in the first quarter of last year as a result of the 2010 census.  But this isn’t just a one-quarter blip.  There seems to be an acceleration in the rate of decline in population growth over the past couple of years. 

The result is that there was actually a very slight up-tick in per capita GDP in the 2nd quarter.  In other words, every American is actually slightly richer as a result of fewer-than-expected people sharing the GDP.  Every American got a slightly larger piece of pie in the 2nd quarter because fewer Americans showed up at the table than expected.  Here’s a chart of per capita GDP:  Real Per Capita GDP

What’s going on here?  In my previous post, we learned that the fertility rate has fallen to a 25-year low, approaching the level needed to reach a stable population.  And, if the CDC (center for disease control) ever updates it’s data for death rates and life expectancy, I expect we’ll see that the death rate is actually rising slightly, primarily due to the effects of obesity, but due to the effects of rising poverty as well.  That leaves only immigration to maintain population growth and, so far, it doesn’t seem to be happening.  Has the administration been quietly ratcheting back on immigration too?  I don’t know, but it’s something I’m going to investigate.  More on this later.

In the meantime, the good news here is that slowing population growth is already yielding benefits for every American.

Economic Decline Impacting U.S. Fertility Rate

July 29, 2012


Here’s a piece of news from late last week that I certainly can’t let pass without comment.  As reported in the above-linked article, the U.S. fertility rate has declined from 2.12 in 2007 to 1.87 today, and is projected to decline further to 1.86 next year.  The reason for the decline, according to Demographic Intelligence, the company that gathered the data, is the economy.  Student loan debt and job insecurity makes it impractical for twenty-somethings to consider having children.

It’s an interesting observation.  Prior to the renaissance and the industrial revolution, poverty held the world’s population in check.  In recent centuries, economic development drove down death rates much more quickly than birth rates, fueling a population explosion.  Economic development and population growth became synonymous in the minds of economists.  But they are not synonymous.  They were cause and effect, up to a point – the point where overcrowding becomes an impediment to per capita consumption.  Now, the cause and effect have reversed.  Population growth has strangled economic development, driving up unemployment and poverty.  And now, poverty is resuming its role as the mechanism that will hold the population in check.  Not only is poverty driving up the death rate but, as this article makes clear, it’s reining in the birth rate as well.

A fertility rate of 1.86 is very close to the rate of 1.79 that I calculated as necessary to achieve a stable population.  (See page 178 of Five Short Blasts.)  A rate of 2.0 is what’s considered a “replacement rate,” the rate necessary to replace each previous generation with one of the same size.  But as long as life expectancy increases, then a rate less than 2.0 is required to achieve a stable population.

A declining fertility rate – finally approaching the rate needed to achieve a stable population – is great news.  But what happens now?  Will hand-wringing economists convince policy-makers that a stable population is a threat to macro-economic growth and that we need to flood the country with even more immigrants?  What a mistake that would be.

What is the Purpose of Immigration Policy?

June 19, 2012

Though there’s scarcely been any mention of immigration policy in the 3-1/2 years since President Obama took office, all of that changed on Friday when he announced that he would halt enforcement action on illegal immigrants who were brought to this country by their parents as young children – growing up knowing no other country than the U.S.  Now the news seems to be about nothing else.  Was the president right?  What would Romney have done?  Will he reverse this decision when (not if) he takes office?  There was also talk of the need for “comprehensive immigration reform.”  Perhaps the most incisive question I heard in the wake of Obama’s decision was “How can immigration policy be made to work for us?” 

How indeed, if it can be made to work for us at all?  It begs another question:  what is the purpose of even having an immigration policy?  I think the answer is that immigration serves three purposes:

  1. It fulfills our obligation as a member of the global community to reciprocate when other nations are willing to accept migrants from the United States.
  2. It fulfills our obligation to accept our fair share of refugees fleeing war and persecution. 
  3. Once the above two obligations have been met, additional immigration serves only one other purpose – to grow our population. 

Others may suggest some unquantifiable reasons and purposes – to enrich the diversity of our people, as an example, or to uphold our tradition as a nation built by immigrants.  All such sentiments are rooted in a deeper concern for immigrants than for what’s best for our country.  The fact is this:  that once we have met our obligations to admit as many immigrants as other countries are willing to accept from us – including refugees – the ultimate question is whether it makes sense to grow our population by admitting more.  Here are some critieria that should be applied:

  1. Are we short on labor?  With 18 million Americans unemployed, does it make any sense to import more workers?
  2. Do we have sufficient resources to support a larger population, including food, energy, metals, minerals and lumber and others?  For example, does it make any sense to import more oil consumers when we already must import the majority of oil that we consume?
  3. Is our impact on the environment below a sustainable level, and have we met all of our obligations to reduce our impact?  For example, given that we have committed to an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, does it make sense to import more emitters? 
  4. Given that, beyond a critical level, a rising population density dooms an ever-growing percentage of Americans to unemployment and poverty, does it make any sense to increase our population density with more immigrants?

If the answers to the above questions are “yes,” then by all means, let’s welcome more immigrants.  But can anyone answer yes to even one of those questions with a straight face? 

Every year, America welcomes another 1.5 million immigrants only because that’s what we’ve always done.  No one ever stops to ask whether it makes any sense whatsoever.  We just do it.  We stoke the unemployment lines with unneeded workers.  We drive up the demand for imported oil.  We worsen our impact on the environment and we make life incrementally more miserable for every American. 

Shame on President Obama, not for his action on Friday but for squandering 3-1/2 years of opportunity to inject some common sense into immigration policy.

Thoughts on President Obama’s Contraception Quagmire with the Catholic Church

February 12, 2012


I’ve started to write on this topic a couple of times in the past week or so, but have gotten hung up each time on trying to keep it brief.  It’s just not a subject that lends itself to brevity.  But, together with the fact that my book’s main theme is the need to stabilize and even reduce our population, the events of this morning have me fired up enough to just wade in with my two cents’ worth.  First, while attending mass this morning, some guy felt it his duty to interrupt the service and educate the rest of us with a rant about “Obamacare” and the contraception mandate.  Later, after returning home and switching on the TV, George Stephanopolous’s round table discussion on this topic on “This Week” on ABC pushed me over the edge. 

So the following are some random thoughts on the subject.  First of all, there certainly is a valid concern about treading on the 1st amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom by mandating things that violate a religion’s beliefs.  That said, it seems to me that there’s a lot of political opportunism here.  The president was wrong to mandate that the Catholic Church pay for the cost of insurance coverage that includes contraception.  But that concern was laid to rest when he shifted the burden to insurance companies and mandated that they offer it for free to anyone who wants it.  The Church doesn’t pay for it, and no one takes advantage of it unless they want to.  But that’s not good enough for them.  Now it seems that the Church is over-reaching and is just as eager to trample people’s rights to make their own decisions about the use of contraception as they were eager to complain about their own rights being violated.  Republicans need to be careful here.  If the Church is perceived to be worried less about religious freedom and begins turning this into a fight over contraception, that’s a battle Obama would love to have, because it’s one he can’t lose. 

The federal government has no right to require religious groups to violate their beliefs.  It has every right – and a responsibility - to pass laws that dictate how business is to be conducted.  The problem arises when religious organizations branch out from attending to the spiritual needs of its members and begin operating businesses, like hospitals.  It’s not as though something like this hasn’t occurred before.  Where was all of this indignation when these businesses (like Catholic hospitals) were required to comply with equal opportunity laws that forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation?  Where is the indignation about complying with living wills and other end-of-life directives regarding the termination of life-support for terminally ill patients?  Where is the indignation about religious organizations being required to provide health insurance of any kind if they have more than a certain number of employees?  (I’m thinking here of Christian Science, who doesn’t believe in health care of any kind.)

What happened to all of the indignation about the plight of people who were unable to afford health coverage of any kind prior to the passage of health care reform?  Didn’t the council of American bishops of the Catholic Church eagerly support health care reform?  Where is the indignation with American businesses who have been eagerly slashing health care coverage from their benefits?   

And isn’t it hypocritical for the world’s biggest champion of never-ending population growth to then decry the unemployment and poverty that follows in its wake – to demand that the government do something to provide care for all these people and then piss and moan about the details?  Has it instead volunteered to care for all the poor who can’t afford health coverage?  Oh, sure, they’ll toss them a few crumbs – feed them and provide shelters.  But I’m talking about expensive, life-saving medical care.  Are they willing to provide that? 

That’s why I say that there seems to be just a little opportunism going on here by those anxious to fabricate another reason (something beyond the notion of excessive government intrusion into our lives) to rally opposition against “Obamacare.”  (By the way, I’ll be writing more about the whole issue of “government intrusion into our lives” in another post.) 

Finally, I’ll simply say that the president is right in his philosophy of making contraception free to anyone who wants it.  As anyone who reads this blog knows, I haven’t been a big fan of President Obama lately, but he’s right on this one.  And the Catholic Church is wrong to try to make opposition to contraception (as distinguished from “birth control,” a term which includes abortion) a matter of doctrine.  Just as the president has waded into a quagmire with some clumsy handling of this issue, the Catholic Church just can’t seem to resist wading into every quagmire it encounters.   Deeper and deeper it goes, parsing every issue into every conceivable situation, assigning mortal or venial sin status to every conceivable outcome, until the federal tax code pales in comparison to the book of Catholic doctrine.   Never mind that Christ Himself had nothing to say on the topic of family planning and contraception (since he’d have been greeted with blank stares at a time when the birth rate barely kept pace with the death rate), the Church can always draw upon some Old Testament verse of dubious relevance.   Whatever happened to the main mission of spreading the gospel of love and salvation?

The fact is this:  the vast majority of Catholics practice contraception.  The only reason that the Church continues to oppose contraception is because it has painted itself into a corner.  To now approve the practice would be an admission that prior popes were wrong, calling into question the issue of papal infallibility. 

Looking around the church this morning, there were few young people to be seen.  No wonder.  The longer the Church continues to intrude where it doesn’t belong and drag its feet on admitting to past mistakes, the more its membership and influence will decline.  A pity.


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