Wretchard riffed recently about the decline in fertility among Western nations in If Tomorrow Comes, with several references to Mark Steyn’s repeated observations about the negative population growth in Europe. Richard, quoting Steyn, blames it on socialism,
The problem as Steyn succinctly puts it, is that socialism not only “runs out of other people’s money”, as Margaret Thatcher once put it. It simply runs out of people. Future historians, if there are any left, will puzzle over how this came about. The economists will have an easier time explaining it. Through some process, socialism has apparently increased the discount rate to the point where the future is consumed for the sake of the present. Not only is investment taxed to feed consumption, tomorrow is hocked to pay for today.
If the fiscal deficit is the direct monetary expression of this high discount rate, the collapsing population is its equivalent demographic expression. Both are saying the same thing, in different terms. In incentives terms, the future is no longer real; so people don’t save up for it nor do they have any incentive to sacrifice for it.
I don’t think it’s quite that simple. Take, for example, Brazil. A recent piece in National Geographic, Brazil’s Girl Power, explores how that nation’s fertility rate dropped precipitously from 6.1 in 1960 to 1.86 in 2009. In Brazil,
where the Roman Catholic Church dominates, abortion is illegal (except in rare cases), and no official government policy has ever promoted birth control
this is a pretty astonishing change over what is essentially just a bit more than two generations. In addition:
And it’s not simply wealthy and professional women who have stopped bearing multiple children in Brazil. There’s a common perception that the countryside and favelas, as Brazilians call urban slums, are still crowded with women having one baby after another—but it isn’t true.
In a working-class neighborhood on the outskirts of Belo Horizonte, an unmarried 18-year-old affectionately watched her toddler son one evening as he roared his toy truck toward us; she loved him very much, the young woman said, but she was finished with childbearing. The expression she used was one I’d heard from Brazilian women before: “A fábrica está fechada.” The factory is closed.
The National Geographic piece concentrates on two primary influences: Television, and culture. Specifically, the effect television has on culture.
An example of the effect:
Encountering women under 35 who’ve already had sterilization surgery is an everyday occurrence in Brazil, and they seem to have no compunctions about discussing it. “I was 18 when the first baby was born—wanted to stop there, but the second came by accident, and I am done,” a 28-year-old crafts shop worker told me in the northeastern city of Recife, as she was showing me how to dance the regional two-step called the forró. She was 26 when she had her tubal ligation, and when I asked why she’d chosen irreversible contraception at such a young age—she’s married, what if she and her husband change their minds?—she reminded me of son number two, the accident. Birth control pills made her fat and sick, she said. And in case I’d missed this part: She was done.
So why two? Why not four? Why not the eight your grandmother had? Always the same answer—”Impossible! Too expensive! Too much work!” With the facial expression, the widened eyes and the startled grin that I came to know well: It’s the 21st century, senhora, are you nuts?
It’s an interesting premise, convincingly presented. Strongly recommended.
Wretchard concludes his piece:
Imagine there’s no countries.
It isn’t hard to do.
Nothing to kill or die for.
And no religion too.
And then the music stopped. This was the silent scene where we came in at the beginning of the screening: the churches closing at the rate of two a week; the factories closing even faster. What Lennon failed to grasp was that any society that had nothing it would sacrifice for would find nothing worth investing in. And so here we are, dragging on the end of our smokes, tipping over any bottles that still might contain some wine. Because the vineyards are barren and will stay that way. The ultimate problem with “living for today” is that tomorrow eventually comes.
With Brazil, and I suspect most, if not all of the Western world, “living for today” is pretty much the basis of the decline in birthrates. Children? “Impossible! Too expensive! Too much work!”
Not worth the investment. It’s an economic choice, not necessarily a socialist one.