Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The crisis of too few babies and what that means for Minnesota. Slower economic growth. And abortion.

Jonathan Last, writer for Weekly Standard, has come out a with a new book on the demographic winter hitting the world and the West in particular.  Here's an excerpt from one of his recent emails talking about his new book, "What to Expect When No One's Expecting...What to Expect."
We aren't having enough babies.

And we're doomed.

That's the short version of my book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting... What to Expect has a pretty simple premise, but the details are, to me at least, fascinating.

Because the story is not as simple as it looks. There are lots of obvious reasons why people don't have as many babies as they used to: Infant mortality, which was once a scourge, has been nearly eliminated. Urbanization and industrialization moved people out of rural farming life (where kids were useful) and into cities (where kids couldn’t work and cost more to raise). When the government started providing Social Security and Medicare benefits, it essentially set up an operation to compete with adult children in the job of caring for aging parents. And as our society accepted—and mastered—contraception (especially the birth control pill), people were able to delay childbearing indefinitely.

Those are the usual suspects.

But what shocked me, as I delved deeper into the data, was the possibility that it wasn’t just this economic change or that logistical shift that was pushing people into having fewer babies. It was that this global baby bust might be a product of modern life itself.

In academic circles, this Grand Unified Theory is called the Theory of the Second Demographic Transition.

SDT theory holds that human beings are evolving into a higher state of being, where their individual desires—for validation and expression and freedom—make having children unnecessary. Think of it as a kind of reverse Darwinism, where the wealthiest, best-educated, highest elites decide that they no longer need to reproduce in order to attain a full life. The final irony, of course, that SDT-type behavior is most pronounced in the cultural groups who are most devoted to "Darwinism," not as an evolutionary precept, but as a theological (or anti-theological, as the case may be) worldview. Go figure.

The effects of this Second Demographic Transition range from the comic to the tragic. Germany, for instance, is perhaps 30 years ahead of America on the road to demographic ruin. Over in Deutschland the field of urban planning has shifted to figuring out how to "right-size" depopulated cities by demolishing abandoned schools and buildings and turning city blocks into parks and "green space."

Japan is a bit further ahead of Germany and is set to lose perhaps half of its population by the end of this century. Last year, the Japanese bought more adult diapers than they did diapers for babies, and by 2040, there will be one Japanese citizen over the age of 100 for every Japanese newborn. All of which has set up clash of the generations, where the young and the elderly are locked in a zero-sum arrangement concerning their futures. Think I’m exaggerating? A few days ago Japan's finance minister said that the country's elderly need to "hurry up and die already."

And he didn't lose his job.

All of which is to say that the old Trotskyite trope is true: You may not be interested in demography, but demography is interested in you...
How is this relevant to Minnesota?  I sat in on a state legislative hearing where Minnesota's economist Tom Stinson talked about the "new normal" for Minnesota and the US's economies.  That new normal is slower economic growth.  Why?  A key reason is an aging population and smaller labor population.  He pointed to numbers from the state demographer showing Minnesota's total labor force barely keeping above zero growth over the next 20 years or so.  Fewer workers, growing welfare system, slower economic growth means big problems.

Where does abortion come in to play?  Nationally there are 55 million fewer Americans because of the number of lives taken by abortion over the past 40 years. That means millions fewer workers to keep our economy chugging along.

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