The wages of (non)reproductive sin

Add economic decline to the growing list of modern social pathologies flowing from sexual sin.

The suggestion of causality running from demographic tipping points to major economic crisis is, of course, provocative. But even if there are more proximate causes and explanations, the fingerprints of demographics are indisputable. All periods of rapid economic growth, credit expansion, technological advance and financial euphoria are invariably followed by a sombre hangover. Japan blazed this trail a little earlier, but other Western economies followed in the 1990s and 2000s. These trends were unquestionably driven in part by the so-called demographic dividend, or the phase in which the baby boomers reached the age range associated with a change in savings and consumption behaviour. The demographic dividend has now turned into a drag.

zerohedge.com/news/2013-06-19/demographic-boom-dependency-bust

A prophylactic society is an unjust society.

I see this argument thrown out all the time, but it really isn’t a valid one. The issue has to do more with an irresponsible society in terms of borrowing/spending than anything else. The chart is nice, but it is biased to prove a point. Why not take, say, the top 100 countries in the world with highest fertility rate and include them in the chart. Or, better yet, why was Australia excluded?

The underlying issue is that countries with Ponzi-type economies will fail unless that have an exponentially increasing population. Every talks about fertility rate, yet these same people never talk about restructuring the economy to reflect reality. They obviously don’t want to do that, because that requires change, and people don’t like change.

Without necessarily taking issue with all you say, nor defending everything about the original article, I think the argument has more validity than you grant.

The underlying economic reality is that people are good and this is reflected in economics.

It might be possible to reduce the ill effects of a declining population by avoiding ponzi-type economic arrangements but, at best, this would only make the decline more paletable.

My own view is this: get fertility right and let all else fall into place. Get it wrong and no amount of economic restructuring will succeed.

We will almost certainly see many natural experiments in the coming decades to test the above.

There are plenty of examples in nature of such experiments. Various primitive societies that don’t have modern contraception reached a steady state years ago. They also don’t have Ponzi-type economies.

A growing economy needs population growth. If you want to see the effects of depopulation, visit a Kansas town where all the youth have moved out. That’s happening on a larger scale nationwid. Declining fertility rates will guarantee decades of economic decline and stagnation. The nations with the lowest fertility rates will experience economic depression or rapid immigration to keep the economy going. It’s going to be the global problem that everyone is talking about in a few years.

Exponentially growing economies require exponentially growing populations.

I’ll make a bet that these Kansas towns didn’t adapt their economies to reflect the realities of a shrinking population, at least until they were absolutely forced to. That’s a common theme in areas that depopulation: Planning with an exponentially increase mindset in the reality of a decreasing population. That won’t work.

Population shifts are nothing new. I remember visiting dead and dying gold and oil towns when I was a kid (Detroit is a big version of this). They can be alarming, even depressing for those left behind but when people leave one place to go to others there is always a brighter future elsewhere.

What depopulation implies is that everywhere suffers that fate. Everywhere is depressed and there is no brighter future elsewhere. Japan is becoming this already. Other countries will soon follow. No amount of planning can hide the despair.

I wonder too if countries like Japan will experience a tipping poiint because as people lose hope for the future of their country they will be less likely to marry and have children thus creating a vicious cycle.

On the other hand, it may be the case that those who have faith of another kind will buck the trend. I have heard it said that Christianity may make a comeback in Europe as secularists depopulate themselves and Christians go on having big families. One can hope.

Low fertility rates are spreading worldwide with some exceptions. Soon it will be global. This is a trend that is not yet taken into account in most economic forecasts, but depopulation, which will become an inevitable trend, is economically a deflationary trend. Deflation, precisely what the Federal Reserve has been fighting against every since the 1930’s is the face of the future. Low growth, deflation, aging populations, fewer workers supporting more retirees. social and economic stagnation are what the below replacement-level fertility rates hold for the future.

True, but this is not a biological or environmental phenomenon. It is cultural.

What most fascinates me about this is how easily a subculture can buck the trend and reap the rewards. If, for example, Catholics were to continue to have large families then they would, eventually, become not only the the majority but the dominant culture.

But as you rightly point out, and as the original article suggested, there are economics consequences to low fertility and depopulation.

I don’t know how to argue a secularist into getting married and having children (and not to abort them) but this should be a much simpler task among Catholics.

This is not unprecedented historically. It happened between the early Christians and Romans (though, of course, evangilization played a larger role in the transformation of the Roman empire).

Bucking the secular nonreproductive choice, though, entails not only rejecting the culture of death but also the immediate economic environment because it will surely get worse before it gets better.

Ireland’s population declined substantially over the course of a century, yet they survived. It’s called adaptation.

I wonder too if countries like Japan will experience a tipping poiint because as people lose hope for the future of their country they will be less likely to marry and have children thus creating a vicious cycle.

Japan has passed the tipping point; their debt exceeds 200% of GDP. That’s just unbelievably irresponsible economics. Increasing the population simply will not solve this type of irresponsible behavior. The U.S. is going down that very same path.

Well, to clarify, I am not suggesting that a country with a declining population will sink into the ocean. Of course, people adapt. The question is what exactly does that adaptaion look like.

In the worst case, a people who depopulate themselves will be replaced by another that does not. The land may survive, but the people do not.

The population of Irleand declined as a result of famine. It recovered from that but now suffers the same cultural trends of Europe.

Japan has passed the tipping point; their debt exceeds 200% of GDP. That’s just unbelievably irresponsible economics. Increasing the population simply will not solve this type of irresponsible behavior. The U.S. is going down that very same path.

The interesting question in the case of Japan is which is the root cause. One would expect to see a growing public debt when you have a declining population coupled with a public provision of retirment. It’s hard to imagine any country on the face of the earth that could have been better prepred for a demographic implosion, the Japanese were famous most of all for their high savings rate and positive balance of trade.

The problem, though, it seems to me, is that Catholics are not bucking the trend. In fact, a good part of recent cultural decline can be traced to the effects of the sexual revolution (I never tire of recommending Eberstadt’s “Adam and Eve After the Pill” for documentation in that regard). Widespread acceptance of contraception delinked marriage and procreation and started the family on a path of decline. While Catholics and other Christians decry many parts of the sexual revolution, they still cling to their favorite parts of it.

A simple return to Catholic sexual morality might do a lot to reverse the depopulation trend, but I don’t see a lot of Catholics joining that bandwagon.

Initially that was true, but the famine obviously didn’t last all the way into the 1960s.

The interesting question in the case of Japan is which is the root cause.

It’s a combination of declining population combined with an economic system based on an increasing population. The two are incompatible, and it will correct itself in due course.

The common theme amongst these type of threads is population will solve the problem. That is a completely false assertion. If the economic system is based on a irresponsible behavior, it does not follow that irresponsible behavior will go away with increased population. The reasonable assumption is that irresponsible economic behavior will continue, and if history is any indication, will grow worse until it is restrained.

Sustainability requires responsibility regardless of population levels.

I think we agree on the facts. But may be we disagree on whether this is a lost cause or not.

Clearly modern life has made contraception (and abortion) very easy. You can’t “turn back the clock” on that. Whatever the Church does it will have to do within this cultural and technological context. It cannot rely on making these choices impossible or even difficult. It has to make them undesirable.

I won’t say that’s easy but it seems easier than convinving secularists to have big families. It doesn’t strike me as futile even in the face of modern culture.

(I’m not convinced that “a simple return to Catholic sexual morality” is the best way to think about it.)

A great deal of this is, in fact, linked to our unbelievably irresponsible economic system. If ever increasing sums of money are taken from your pockets to support this Ponzi-type economic system, there will be less money available for you to raise children.

The argument that people are putting forth is backwards: Have more children to solve the economic problems. How about if Catholics take the opposite position: Demand responsible economic policies so that we have more money in our pockets to have more children.

The former argument is obviously the common one, because people can’t stand change and can’t adapt. The latter argument is the common sense one, but it requires adaptation.

I’ll give a simple example of what I’m talking about. People focus on contraception as being a major cause of declining births. But what about in the United States having the world’s most expensive health care systems. How do you propose an uninsured 20-year-old couple have children? If the can’t afford health-care in the first place, then they certainly won’t be able to afford a second-child while taking care of the first one and have a huge hospital bill on top of that. Do that a few times and you’ll have to declare bankruptcy.

I don’t buy this. In fact, there are a host of expenses that are often cited as the cause of choosing to have fewer kids and probably the biggest is college costs.

This argument is fundametnally untennable because it presuposes a golden age that never existed. People did not have more children in the past because they could more easily afford health care insurance or college. Are you aware of the historically high mortality rate for children? (Or the fact that few people went to college until recently?) There are many alternatives to hospitals for childbirth.

That said, I don’t think we can use the past as a reliable guide to the future. Things were different then and though some would like to return to the past it is not a wise choice.

On the other side of the ledger we no longer live in an agricultural society where each new child is a potential farm hand as soon as they can walk. Today parents have little reason to expect children to contribute significantly to the family income. That means that every child born is an almost pure act of genersity.

Then you disagree with young couples who have stated this exact thing on this very forum. A five-figure immediate debt burden most certainly discourages couples just getting by to avoid children in their sexual prime, in the hope getting health-care benefits down the road.

In fact, there are a host of expenses that are often cited as the cause of choosing to have fewer kids and probably the biggest is college costs.

There are many costs associated with having children. The one right up front tends to have more influence than the one 18 years down the road.

This argument is fundametnally untennable because it presuposes a golden age that never existed. People did not have more children in the past because they could more easily afford health care insurance or college. Are you aware of the historically high mortality rate for children? (Or the fact that few people went to college until recently?) There are many alternatives to hospitals for childbirth.

It is true that there are alternatives. Society has to be retrained to use them, along with the risks that go with them. How many people do you know that have children at home nowadays without any medical intervention? This was the norm for the western world during 99.99% of its existence, and is still the norm in the third world.

That said, I don’t think we can use the past as a reliable guide to the future. Things were different then and though some would like to return to the past it is not a wise choice.

The past is an excellent guide to the future. Too bad each generation thinks they can ignore it, and ultimately suffers the consequences.

Yes, I disagree that this explains the choice not to have children.

I do agree that many prospective parents have been misled to believe that they should only bear children when they can afford the best care and support. (Indeed, we see this extended into marriage, another topic, where marriage is postponed for career.)

People offer many excuses for not having children. I’ve heard the college excuse more often than the birthing expense. But you are correct, anyone who adds up the costs of an ideal child rearing experience will find them staggering.

It is true that there are alternatives. Society has to be retrained to use them, along with the risks that go with them. How many people do you know that have children at home nowadays without any medical intervention? This was the norm for the western world during 99.99% of its existence, and is still the norm in the third world.

Actually, it is becoming more popular:
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Home_birth

The past is an excellent guide to the future. Too bad each generation thinks they can ignore it, and ultimately suffers the consequences.

It would take a castraphy of immense proportions to recreate an agricultural society.

It’s certainly true that debt acts as a drag on the economy. For the U.S. and most European nations, national debt has become essentially unsustainable, yet the government relies on daily infusions of debt just to pay daily operating costs. It relies on future generations to repay that debt, and to further provide their own future generations to pay subsequent debt.

But we are at a place now where the future generation simply has failed to show up in sufficient numbers to do what is expected of it as to servicing the debt. Not only that, but they have incurred their own massive student loan debt, a new phenomenon, which is rapidly becoming the next bubble.

What is forgotten in discussions of resources is that human beings are the ultimate resource. Note that the greatest economic growth and the greatest standard of living is found in places within the highest population densities: New York City, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Taiwan, not Wallace Kansas or Holly, Colorado. When declining global fertility rates combine with rising national debt loads, economic stagnation follows.

When individual families get into such situations, bankruptcy is the way to start over. I’m not sure if that applies to nations as well.

As for health care, the wave of the future may well be what is happening in some family practices today. They accept no insurance whatever—no Medicare, no Medicaid, no Blue Cross, no insurance. The patient pays the practice directly, either on a per visit basis, or a monthly retainer basis. Overhead costs are cut in half, there are no coding clerks, no insurance clerks, and prices (cheaper) are posted. This is a growing trend.

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