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The People Have Forfeited the Confidence of the Government



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In a piece taking issue with Douthat’s and Dreher’s contention that Ron Paul’s rise is the result of a failure of conservative elites to address the public’s concerns, David Goldman (a/k/a/ Spengler) says it’s the public that has failed (emphasis is mine):

Worst of all, we are suffering from our collective failure to bear children. Our population is aging as a result, so the demands on working taxpayers to support retirees will rise drastically. Most of the rise in entitlement spending is the mechanical result of demographics.We have the choice of paying more taxes, or getting lower Medicare and Social Security payments, or retiring later, or attracting more working-age skilled immigrants to bear more of the tax burden. Do the math. The main reason the deficit is so intractable is because we as a people preferred other things to raising children. Once again, indolence and hedonism threaten to undo our prosperity. With its fertility rate of 1.3, Italy is a goner; whether it goes bankrupt in 2012 or 2022 is a minor question, for it will go bankrupt sooner or later, as 60% of its population retires by mid-century. We are suffering a milder case of the same disease.

I ordinarily love Goldman’s writing, but the “indolence and hedonism” crack suggests he’s really missing the point. Falling fertility rates are part of human development in the modern age — it’s happening everywhere, regardless of culture, religion, or form of government. It is inextricably part of modernity, like mass literacy and female equality. It’s a step in mankind’s social evolution or, to give a religious tinge to it, part of the unfolding of God’s design for humanity. Look at this graphic that accompanied a recent WaPo story on falling birthrates in Latin America:

Is everyone in Latin America “indolent and hedonistic”? What about Iran, China, Tunisia, Ireland, Thailand, South Korea, Algeria, Australia, Taiwan, all of which have lower fertility rates than native-born Americans? Are indolence and hedonism rife there, too? It’s quite the opposite; only the most backward societies on Earth still have very high fertility; the top five, from the CIA Factbook, are Niger, Uganda, Mali, Somalia, and Burundi. Bemoaning this is worse than wrong — it’s irrelevant.

Even changing some government policies with regard to taxes and the like would make little difference. Smaller families and a rising average age (at least for a time) are things all countries will have to deal with. And increased immigration is a cop-out embraced by spineless politicians, barely making any difference and creating many new problems.

But in the adjustment to this reality, our country is actually in pretty good shape. The drop in fertility shown above, and replicated elsewhere in the world, is so rapid that adjusting to it will be very difficult for these newly modernizing countries. We, on the other hand, eased into that transition, going from rate of 7 children per white woman in 1800 to 2 today. Even for us, the adjustment will be messy and unpleasant, as was urbanization, another inevitable step in social evolution. But for most everyone else, it will be messier and more unpleasant.



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