Friday, August 24, 2007

Not optional - Chapter One

Chapter One of Mark Steyn's America Alone is entitled "The Coming of Age." I ended rather abruptly yesterday - maybe I can be a little more coherent today.

And so. Populations in the developed world are aging. And, in the developed world, old people expect that systems they've been "paying into" for much of if not their entire adult lives will continue to "pay out" at expected rates. And how, pray tell, do we manage this on less and less actual money coming in, given that among these social programs there's not a "lockbox" to be seen? Take the U.S. Social Security system: it's apparently predicated on "30 percent population growth between now and 2075 or so and, even then, expects to be running a deficit after 2017." Yet the U.S. population is at replacement rate, 2.1-ish births per couple. How do we grow by 30 percent in the next seventy years when we're only just replacing ourselves?

Immigration, of course. Right? The trouble is that everyone in the developed world is in the same boat, many nations in far worse shape than we are. Take Spain, now, at 1.1 births per couple. Their population is halving itself in every generation. Can it possibly invite - attract - support enough immigration to replace all the babies not being born there, to pension off its rapidly aging populace? And add to this conundrum the fact that fertility rates are declining all over the world, not just in developed countries; it's just that in the developed world, we've already been close to the edge for some time.

Steyn's point is why I'm calling this portion of this blogpost series "Not optional." You ignore the bare facts of demography at your peril. You, as a society, defer or avoid having children for today's reasons, but tomorrow you'll pay.

His secondary point is that if you're going to rely on immigrants to have the children who will eventually pay your social security, you ought probably to think about how those immigrants and their children will fit in to your social systems, such that they'll be willing to abide by the social contract that compels them to give up (at present) a quarter of what they might otherwise expect to pocket in order to support today's elders. (Yes, I know the percentage that comes out of my paycheck is half that, but if my employer weren't having to pony up the other half, perhaps he might consider increasing my rate of pay. Or not; I'd settle for the extra 13 percent and my own IRA that nobody but me has to fund.)

I was on a demographics blog (yup, there are some) today in which someone was claiming that "family friendly" policies including cash payments until age 18, free day care for all, etc., etc., were the solution to the demographic cliffhanger in which participating. You know, in some ways I almost wish I could believe it. But I have three children; free day care would not have enticed me to work, work, work to support somebody else's grandparents while my kids were babies, and I'm already making "cash payments" for my children until age 18 and beyond; I can't imagine why anyone else would be willing to pay for them too. Any "cash payment" that could make a meaningful difference in the expense of having children for me would be prohibitive. Three kids, each costing a quarter mil or so to raise to adulthood - isn't that the number we hear so often? So society - which, face it, is US, all of us, whether or not we have children, whether or not we have one, two, three, or eight children - would "owe" me $750,000 over eighteen years? And by the same token, I as a worker in society would owe a portion of that amount to some other three-kid family? How on earth do we make those books balance? Talk about robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Social payouts can't be a longterm solution. But the problem must be solved, somehow, or we pass from the earth - we liberal pluralist democrats.


Jeremy Klein said...

All too true. As an interesting extension of the thought, consider this question: SHOULD anyone be concerned with the collapse of 'liberal pluralist democracies'? Why bother? Why not 'eat drink and be merry' today, and for one's lifetime, when, in all likelihood, one will be old or dead by the time society collapses? Do we have some sort of DUTY to care about society's continuance? If so, who assigned us this duty?

You see, the typical secular worldview can not sensibly answer these questions. There is no real duty in that worldview.

The only hope for liberal, pluralist democracies (which are not really, and hopefully will not become, true democracies; we have a republic, if we can keep it) is mass conversion to biblical Christianity, on which basis the political nature of the US was largely founded, the fantasies of anti-Christian revisionist historians notwithstanding. IOW, pray for revival. Preach the Word. Oh, and don't forget to have babies! :-)

Anonymous said...

What do you mean by "biblical" Christianity? If you mean to exclude the Roman Catholic Church, you've lost your best ally in the demographic struggle.

Jamie said...

I'm of two minds, jeremy...

First, yes indeed, I like the republic form way better than pure democracy, and I wonder a lot about why it hasn't been duplicated when it's clearly worked exceptionally well here, been exceptionally stable, is in fact the first example of American exceptionalism. And I acknowledge the very strong Christian underpinnings of the American system from its inception.

But I cling to the belief that Christianity per se is not a prerequisite for a society based on Enlightenment values - any more, at any rate. Possibly I'm deluded about that. But if one has children, one has a stake in the future, regardless of doctrine, and it's so clear that life under a liberal system is just better than under an illiberal one that I have to think parents must be given pause when they contemplate a future in which their children would be substantially less free than they are themselves.