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Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Childless and Clueless

From Slate:

Could these childless women be harbingers of a new world, one in which parenthood is considered an active choice and not simply the default state of adulthood? As the Pew research shows, childlessness was once the domain of the highly educated, but now every other segment of society is catching up. Perhaps future generations will look at phenomena like the Jennifer Aniston tabloid womb obsession and wonder how it was possible that anyone could have once cared so much if some women chose not to have babies.

What future generations? If enough women don't have children now, there wouldn't be much of a future generation to worry about their past, and our present. The above author is correct to point out that child rearing is now, rightly, seen as a choice, and that there are plenty of people who should never be parents. Western society as a whole is still sorting out, in a post-religious and post-Pill age, why people should assume the burdens of parenthood. But I doubt existential angst is the main reason for declining birthrates. Demographics, unfortunately, tends to get a short-shift from serious intellectuals. Witness the guffaws that greet Mark Steyn's population polemics. 

Why? Because population growth has always been taken for granted. Even if you and your spouse don't reproduce, or reproduce less than the demographically desirable 2.1 rug rats, others - i.e. the poor - always will. You don't have to worry about children taking care of you in your old age, they'll always be a large cheaply paid semi-skilled serving class. When that began to run out - about two generations back - they simply imported a serving class from the poorer parts of Europe, and then the rest of the world. It's not that I'm knocking unskilled immigration, just that the demographic myopia of our rulers stems from some long standing assumptions. But like they tell you in the mutual fund ads, past performance is no promise of future returns.

Why women are having less children is a well enough trodden ground. As infant survival rates shot up after the industrial revolution, the need to have so many children - knowing that at least some would survive to adulthood - declined. Pension schemes - both private and public - made children less a necessity than a choice. Modern contraceptives made the whole process simpler. The question is why people are choosing to have less children than the replacement rate. Surveys conducted over the years suggest that most people who do want to have children, believe that between 2-3 is the right number. That would seem to make evolutionary sense, that human beings would seek to reproduce themselves at a rate sufficient to keep the species going. I'm not speaking here of particular individuals, just as a matter of averages. Yet it's not happening. The main culprit, however, is a simple one, it's too damn expensive to have kids.

Let me start with a personal example. My father has four years of formal education, as do most Portuguese people of his class and generation. He left school at the age of eleven to go work in a pulp and paper mill, the mainstay of the village economy. He was sent off to work not because my grandparents were greedy and sadistic, but because they were poor. I don't mean poor as that word is understood in modern Canada, which generally means having fewer toys and gadgets than average, I mean not-knowing-where-your-next-dinner-is-coming-from-poor. 

Publius pere was the fourth of five children, about average in middle of nowhere Portugal in the mid-Salazar era. His father came from a family of eleven, which was tending toward the large by the standards of the time. One of the reasons you could have so many children, and not starve, was the expected cost of raising a child. Feed 'em for about a dozen years, and then they start to earn their keep. By twenty they're out of the house, either with their own children or out in the big-wide world making a go at it. No iPods, no cars, no graduate school, no living at home until thirty because a starter hovel is a quarter of a million anywhere near a large city. My grandfather actually built - with his brothers - the house my father grew up in. Not a practical option in modern Canada for most, though I do know people who've done it. As you can guess the permits are murder.

While children are more expensive, and certainly less remunerative than they once were, parents are also far richer. The richer you are, the more you can invest in long-term capital projects, which is one way - if you're a heartless economist - of viewing children. With two parents working, that should seem to provide ample enough funds to have larger families. It wasn't too long ago, about two generations back, that one income was more than enough to provide a middle class lifestyle for a family of four. That was before about 40% of the average Canadian family's income was taken in taxes. 

Defenders of big government like quoting Oliver Wendell Holmes, the US Supreme Court justice who more than any other enabled the statist subversion of the American constitution. One of Holmes most famous quotes is: "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society." Statists are like the salesman in the suit store saying: "Sir, you have to pay for quality." Up to a point, sure, but not everything pricey is worth the price. Some of that 40% or so we fork over in taxes does provide valuable services, schools, hospitals, roads etc.. Quite a lot of it pays for commissioners of human rights and official bilingualism. Even a lot of the useful stuff is, as the economists say, sub-optimal. 

There is no business that would long survive, except perhaps in niche luxury markets, by putting its clients on months-long waiting lists, but Medicare just past its forty-fifth anniversary. Private schools are booming, despite the fact that parents still have to pay education taxes for the public system, a fact that is as complimentary to the former as it is damning to the latter. Even if its "free" many parents still don't want it. 

Now add all that up. The French language-gender-equity commissars, the roads to nowhere, regional development programs that develop only dependency among a once proud people, the public school teachers who confuse propaganda with history, and what you get is dead weight. Let's be conservative (in the non-political sense) and say that just half of government spending is dead weight, stuff that could be better done by the private sector, or just not done at all. 

Now imagine if tomorrow morning someone gave that half back to you and your family. What could you do with that money? A bigger house? A nicer car? More toys? Sure. But maybe you'd spend that money on something of real value. A mother who can stay home when her children are young. Less time at work, more with the family. Maybe another child. When the welfare state was first being sold to the electorates of the western world, one of the main pitches was how it would help families. Instead it has hurt them, placing a burden that keeps families smaller than they might be, and less happy than they should be. For once I'll agree with that old so-con chant: Won't anyone please think of the children?

Posted by Richard Anderson on July 21, 2010 | Permalink


"What future generations?"

Nuff said.

Posted by: dp | 2010-07-21 8:34:20 AM

I already have two boys, Publius; what's your contribution? For that matter, I would like to know the average number of children per man the scribblers at the Western Standard have. Something tells me it's lower than the national average.

Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2010-07-21 10:28:59 AM

My wife and I had two boys and two girls in that order, not that it was planned to be that way. We raised them on a single income and they have all turned out to be responsible well adjusted professionals as adults. We were denied the tax breaks and advantages given to couples of two highly paid incomes and fewer children, most often only one. Still we have never had a single regret.

I agree that Western society is dying due to being unwilling to maintain even its existing population. As a dying society one sees many symptoms of its terminal illness, such as hatred for its history and traditions, the unwillingness to defend itself; basically the loss of will to survive. The key question is why is it that so many see children solely as a financial burden and restriction of freedom instead of being a blessing and joy. I agree that there are some who are unable to have children and there are others who probably should not have children, but they are a minority.

It is indeed sad but there you have it, and no government program or intervention can turn it around. Only if the general mindset and values of the population change, can it change.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-07-21 11:23:04 AM

Two boys, one girl.

Posted by: set you free | 2010-07-21 1:12:34 PM

I have 2 girls. One of the things which frustrates me the most is when you compare 2 households with an equal income. One home has 2 sources of income and the other one has one 1. The houselhold with 2 sources of income will pay less total income than the household with only 1 source (all other things being equal of course). That is social engineering which penalizes people that don't go along with what our "progressive government masters" want us to do: have both parents work. I suspect (but have no proof) that feminist lobbying was behind this to discourage women from staying at home. Instead of giving women a choice, they're compelled to find employment. Coercing women to stay at home is wrong but doing the opposite is also wrong.

Posted by: Steven | 2010-07-21 2:22:09 PM

I have 3 boys(one set of twins). I've noticed a very encouraging trend in my town. There are plenty of young women pushing baby carriages. Not to be racist, but their complexion leads me to believe they're not recent immigrants. Not to be a bigot, but their dress would suggest the children are not named Mohammed. Not that I give a rat's ass if you call me a bigot.

The trails that I run on used to be overrun with dogs, and guys with mullets. Now, the mothers have taken over, and pushed most of those dipshits out of there. It's very refreshing to see.

Now, if communities were allowed some input on their immigrant quotas, people might feel more comfortable raising kids in a safe, non-confrontational environment. Let them look at other cultures on TV or in National Geographic.

Posted by: dp | 2010-07-21 2:40:09 PM

In my previous post, I meant to say: "The household with 2 sources of income will pay less income TAX than the household with only 1 source (all other things being equal of course)."

Posted by: Steven | 2010-07-21 2:49:42 PM

Steven, you are correct about the system (government) penalising the single income family. That has been the situation since the mid seventies at least and possibly prior to that. It is called social engineering resulting in a population unable/unwilling to replace itself and therefore dependent on massive immigration. In this case the social engineering has worked.

Posted by: Alain | 2010-07-21 4:09:20 PM

Many years ago, I had occasion to comment upon the tax inequity with respect to a single-income family vs a two-income family. I concluded - and this was MANY years ago, that the couple each earning $20,000 would pay as much tax as a man earning $40,000 with a non-'working' wife and 13.5 children under 6 (working in those days with no computer and Alberta rules). True, there was the old 'baby bonus', but I figured that would hardly pay for much-needed help for the beleaguered parents.

That being said, we raised our offsprings on essentially one income ('it costs too much' was a fairly frequent comment) with moi as volunteer all over the place. All the offsprings are productive adults. Note: I would class as 'productive' any adult who - while not on the dole - is bringing up offspirng and/or volunteering in the community. On second thought, someone on the dole who is doing a good job of bringing up offsprings and also contributing to the commiunty is also productive; I remember well one really great woman.

Posted by: Frances | 2010-07-21 11:52:10 PM

"The key question is why is it that so many see children solely as a financial burden and restriction of freedom instead of being a blessing and joy. I agree that there are some who are unable to have children and there are others who probably should not have children, but they are a minority."
Whats all the fuss? Canada has a population of 34 million and their economy is strong The US is ten times their population. Children are a big responsibility and more and more are aware which puts these countries panicking over population. I have no children but not by choice. And who's business is it who wants children? I cant see how it hurts anyone here.

Children should be something you want and not governed by religious fanatics trying to take rights away.
"Instead it has hurt them, placing a burden that keeps families smaller than they might be, and less happy than they should be. "
I am disgusted by all the big family programming on TV. It's like saying you can't be happy without being parents of large broods. What kind of example does this set. Bring as many kids in the world as you can and someone else will take care of it? Too many have children and end up depending on others to raise them. Larger families aren't always happier. You can't sit children on shelves when you get done with them. I would rather raise one or two kids well then ten wondering how I will feed them. Yes choice is the key. Some of us aren't fitted to stay home and raise kids.

Posted by: A.Roddy | 2010-08-03 12:30:45 AM

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