Russell and Duenes

Europe’s Real Crisis: No Babies!

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Megan McArdle, in a brief piece in this month’s The Atlantic, contends that Europe’s “real crisis” is not primarily financial, but demographic. Austerity measures alone cannot bring the kind of economic growth needed to get Europe back on solid footing. She writes, “Unfortunately, growth (or at least the sustainable variety) is typically a long time in the baking, and dependent on two main ingredients: more workers and higher worker productivity. And must of Europe is short on the former.” This kind of assertion in the mouths of conservatives tends to invite derision (see: Mark Steyn, who regularly beats this drum). Yet the demographics are in, and Europe is heading toward the precipice (as the folks over at “Demographic Winter” have so astutely pointed out.).

McArdle takes up Italy as her example: “Soaring growth will be tough to achieve, because more and more Italians are getting too old to work – and fewer and fewer Italians have been having the babies to replace them…As a result, even with some immigration, Italy’s population growth has been very slow. It will soon stall, and eventually go into reverse. And then, one by one, the rest of Europe’s nations will follow. Not one country on the Continent has a fertility rate high enough to replace its current population. Heavy debt and a shrinking population are a very bad combination” (emphasis mine). And yet, doomsday predictions about “overpopulation” are still de rigueur among the “smart” set. We’re treated to the boilerplate refrain by politicians that what’s needed for economic growth is ever more birth and population control so that we can “stimulate” our economy. It doesn’t take a genius to see the wisdom of this proposition.

McArdle analyzes the general reasons for such a decline in fertility among developed nations – reasons which tend to spring from a utilitarian view of parenthood and wealth – before heading into a little thought experiment about the differing trajectories of two imaginary cities: one city where the average age is 28 (“Morningburg”), and the other city where it’s 58 (“Twilight City”). Unsurprisingly, in Twilight City, growth is hard to achieve because even where entrepreneurship can be found, it tends to be in businesses that are slow-growth. Further, government policies aimed at promoting growth in Twilight City are “likely to be fiercely opposed by Twilight City’s citizens, who tend to vote against change, particularly if it threatens their pensions or health care.” Currently, the fertility rate in the United States is holding steady around replacement level. Yet it’s not hard to imagine that our current rate will decline, as Europe’s has, and this at a time when our federal government is ratcheting up entitlement spending exponentially.

McArdle ends with some rather darkening statistics: “The United Nations estimates that by 2030, the number of people older than 60 will be growing more than three times as fast as the general population. By 2050…in the developed world, the proportion [of people over 60] will be more like one in three. Europe (along with Japan) is at the forefront of an unprecedented shift.” It does not seem likely that governments will be able to cope with this problem by incentivizing procreation. According to one story on NPR, “Germany’s very generous paid maternity leave hasn’t produced a baby boom, for example. Women want to work…and many jobs pay more than any government fertility program. Japan is shrinking even after the government has tried to ramp up baby benefits. Same with Southern Europe.” The same is likely true of Russia.

As McArdle intimates, the shift in demographics among developed countries may be explained, on a surface level, by “the invention of birth control and antibiotics” allowing for unprecedented urban and economic growth and higher standards of living while having fewer, healthier children. Yet I contend that there is no necessary link between a nation’s modernized wealth and decreased fertility. Such a demographic decline, in my view, has more to do with the spiritual character of a nation, and more specifically, how that nation views the family. When biblical teachings on marriage, sex, parenthood, and children are cast aside as archaic, discriminatory, and “harmful to the planet,” the results are predictable, if not immediate. On the flip side, “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD” (Psalm 33:12; 144:15).



Written by Michael Duenes

March 18, 2012 at 12:45 pm

One Response

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  1. That’s true. There never can be too many (potential) converts. Even when the earth iis standing room only. Which it won’t be for billions of years. And when places such as Darfur and Kenya are so wonderful people are fighting to get into those locations and nobody is ever short of food.


    March 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm

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