Saturday, May 18, 2002

The Economics of Birthrates-Anne Wilson's getting a bit testy this morning.
More native British babies, please: Yes, giving tax breaks to parents and outlawing abortion would help, but the fundamental reason for the birth dearth among those with any intelligence is socialism. This is true for the US as well.
Not so fast, ma'am. One of the reasons that the developed world has a lower birth rate is that we are developed. There are a number of factors that lead the developed world to have lower birth rates, and socialism, broadly defined, is but one of them. I'm not quite sure it's the fundamental reason, and my IQ is significantly different that zero, last time I checked. (1) A higher level of education for both males and females keeps people out of breeding mode for longer periods. "Socialist" subsidies of college education could add to this trend, as easier access to education will add to the people in school, but the trend would exist even if the full cost of schooling was paid by the student and/or their parents. (2) The change in paradigm of children being a "production good" to being a "consumer good". In an agrarian culture, you need kids to look after you when you grow old and can help add to the productivity of the farm until then. Post-agrarian economies provide less opportunities for children to help out in the family business, thus making them more expensive to have. Also, such post-agrarian economies provide for financial arrangements where people can save for retirement. Some of that is in the form of Social Security type programs which would fall under Ms. Wilson's socialist banner, but not all. (3a) A lessened emphasis on moral values has weakened the desire to get married and start families. Sex and marriage have been decoupled to a greater degree than in more traditional times, as have sex and procreation. Socialism may have helped in this endeavor to the extent that it undermined moral values, but only to a modest degree. (3b) Access to pharmaceutical contraceptives and abortions have reduced the number of births. These non-abstinence based birth-reduction tools reduce the cost of sex, especially extramarital sex, allowing women to be sexually active and maintain careers. (4) Feminism has added to that decline. The denigration of motherhood and emphasis of female independence has led to a reduction of marriages and of births. Even if modern women are chaste before marriage, they will marry later, as they get more education and pursue careers with more vigor than their mothers did. (5) One area where socialist tendencies have clearly helped lower birth rates is the reduced take-home pay of families due to higher taxes. That means lower disposable income and less money to spend on children, since they are a "consumer good" in the post-agrarian economy. Socialism, if it is defined in purely economic terms, is the driving factor in point 5 and contributes in part on points 1 and 2. If socialism is expanded to cover the contempt for traditional religious values that typically accompanies Marxist thought, then it will be a part of all five points. Thus, if you factor in both the economic and secular biases of modern socialism (American-style liberalism too), it can explain the lion's share of the birth dearth, but it's not quite the no-brainer she makes it out to be.

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