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.)