To correspond accurately with its contents, a more honest title for Dr. Phillipï¿½s Longman's book, The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What To Do About It would have been something like: Tsunami: How the Unprecedented Collapse of Birthrates Everywhere Will Destroy Modern Civilization; and Why Nothing Will Prevent That. The New America Foundation, a neo-liberal think-tank founded in 1999, of which Dr. Longman is a senior fellow and which presumably funded research for the book, arguably prefers the more modest title chosen. The book appears to be their try at putting a liberal spin on a crisis first identified by conservatives. That accounts for the interesting, if laughable (as the author himself more or less regularly admits) recommendations in the last 24 pages of this 196-page reflection.
These include raising the gas tax and spending the money raised on "mass transit, bike trails, and sidewalks" instead of "new roads and highways;" a mandate "that all insurers, including Medicare, adjust their premiums on an actuarially fair basis to reward those who can establish regular gym or exercise class attendance [so people can live and stay healthy longer in order to continue working since there won't be many young people to work];" the use of "abandoned railroad right-of-ways to create an interstate bicycle highway system" and so on.
The bookï¿½s first 172 pages made me think of the first Psalm's last line, "the way of the wicked shall perish;" but the "What To Do About It" in those last 24 pages, of the next Psalm's verse, "He that dwelleth in Heaven shall laugh."
What is most striking about these 24 pages of recommendations is their utter failure even to pretend to address what is so devastatingly outlined by the preceding 172; and so all the book really says is, Look! Beyond that, it doesn't provide even the pretense of a think-tank solution.
And yet it's a powerful book. Thatï¿½s despite that Longman's whole thematic pitch from the outset is to warn against the revival and triumph of ï¿½fundamentalismï¿½ over liberal institutions weakened by the decline in secular fertility rates. His vague definition of "fundamentalism" in the one paragraph Preface becomes explicit on pg 165ï¿½near the end of the salient stuffï¿½when he notes that the "response of religious fundamentalists to the population collapse will be to promote traditional family life... while continuing to oppose homosexuality, premarital sex, divorce, abortion, and birth control." That sounds very much like Catholicism to me, since no other religion I know forbids divorce, and few others (not Islam) oppose birth control.
No industrialized nation still produces enough children to sustain its population over time, or to prevent rapid population aging.
Yet somehow, Dr. Longman arguesï¿½in order to protect abortion, sodomy, pornography and all those things our Supreme Court calls "freedom"ï¿½the world must adopt the pro-natalist perspectives that have always animated those detestable fundamentalists. Itï¿½s difficult to believe Longman or anyone seriously believes this could happen. Even so, serious folk, including Catholics, can read the book with much profit, even spiritual profit.
Does the future belong to fundamentalism?" he asks. "It does if the spread of modernity continues to erode individual incentives to invest in children [he means: have kids], while leaving a growing share of the population enfeebled by the chronic diseases of affluence [a national bike highway!] and dependent on unsustainable social benefits [the enormous taxes necessary from the young to support the boomers in Social Security]."
In other words, both those Psalms and Dr. Longman agree where the future is headed, though Longman makes it explicit upon noting the "worldwide drop in birthrates that will, with cruel irony, leave a rising share of the world's population enfeebled by advancing age and without adequate support from the young. If no alternative solution can be found, the future will belong to those who reject markets, reject learning, reject modernity, and reject freedom. This will be the fundamentalist moment." And they will answer: it is we who created markets, learning, freedom and even modernity, and you who have used them to commit suicide.
Consider these facts: "Today global fertility rates are half what they were in 1972. No industrialized nation still produces enough children to sustain its population over time, or to prevent rapid population aging. Germany could easily lose the equivalent of the current population of East Germany over the next half century. Russia's population is already decreasing by three quarters of a million a year. Japan's population meanwhile is expected to fall by as much as one-thirdï¿½a decline equivalent, the demographer Hideo Ibe once noted, to that experienced in medieval Europe during the scourges of the plague," and "never in the pastï¿½not even after the plagues of the 1300's, or the slaughter of the last two world warsï¿½has Europe's ability to renew and sustain its population been more compromised by a dwindling supply of youth... Europe doesn't face the prospect of gradual population decline; it faces the prospect of rapid and compounding loss of population.
"In 2002, the ï¿½crude' birthrate in the United States as a wholeï¿½the number of babies born for every 1000 U.S. residentsï¿½reached a record low, having declined by 17 percent since [the already low stat in] 1990." The "Census Bureau finds that by 2050, one out of every five Americans will be over 65, making the U.S. population as a whole much older than that of Florida today. The elderly will be more numerous than children, with the population 65 and over outnumbering those 14 and younger by more than 13 million... The long-term deficits created by population aging in the United States are staggering. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the combined cost of just three programsï¿½Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid...will be consuming a larger share of the nation's income than the entire federal government does today, including the growing costs of interest on the national debt ...Government economists have recently calculated, for example, that the U.S. Treasury would have to put aside $44.2 trillion today in order to cover the cost of unfunded pension, health care, and other benefits promised to Americans over the next 75 years. This is more than four times the entire annual output of the U.S. economy."
ï¿½Without human capital" ï¿½ by which Dr. Longman means people ï¿½ "money is worthless."
Yet because "of today's low birthrates, there will be fewer workers available in the future to produce the goods and services consumed by each retiree...Money is just a claim on other people's laborï¿½a way to persuade them to do things like serve you food, mow your lawn, or even more to the point, diagnose your cancer or give you your insulin shot each day. Without human capital"ï¿½by which Dr. Longman means people - "money is worthless."
"A nation's gross domestic product is literally the sum of its labor force times the average output per worker," and thus how "does industry achieve new economies of scale when the number of consumers is no longer growing, much less perpetually falling? What sustains the value of your house, or your retirement portfolio, when there are ever fewer younger people to whom you might sell your accumulated assets? How can young people afford to raise and educate children if increasingly more of their wages are garnered to pay for retirees? How can a government meet its obligations to the swelling ranks of the elderly, much less finance proper stewardship of the environment, when there are fewer and fewer workers to tax? How can nations with rapid aging or shrinking populations defend themselves militarily against more youthful competitors? How can poor countries attract the capital they need to develop if the rich nations must run huge deficits just to meet the mounting cost of supporting their elderly?"
Dr. Longman poses these questions, but never answers them. In those 24 pages he even formally recommends the sterility of homosexual marriage as a means to help reverse this tsunami of sterility. But he also notes that in order for immigration to solve the problem it would, according to the United Nations Population Division, "be necessary to absorb an average of 10.8 million immigrants annually" for the next 46 years, whence 73 percent of the U.S. population would be comprised of immigrants or their descendants.
As for neoconservative hopes of global American hegemony, the "technologies the United States currently uses to project its power... are all products of massive and ongoing investments that the United States will not be able to afford if the cost of entitlements continues on its current course... Population does not equal power, but no Great Power has managed to maintain its strength while experiencing the degree of population aging the United States faces over the next several decades," and the collapse of the British Empire was "for the sufficient reason that Britain no longer produced enough people to occupy and rule its teeming colonies."
He notes that with fewï¿½and these patheticï¿½exceptions, the entire fabric of modern society is organized to intensify this self-destruction.
"The prevalence of two-paycheck families...reduces incentives for childbearing... Fear of divorce is another major disincentive," as is "the rising minimum threshold of investment society expects parents to
We are headed toward a future in which only rich people will be able to afford to raise and educate a child, and rich people, generally, are not much interested in the work.
make... in their children's education... The average cost of attending a private 4-year institution during the 2002-2003 school year was $23,751," and means that "many young couples in their prime reproductive years feel compelled to put off having children so that they can complete college or graduate school or pay off student loans." Meantime in "1955, the median American family with one earner paid 17.3 percent of its income in taxes," whereas by 1998 it paid 37.6 percent, 39 percent if a two paycheck family, so that now, and far more with each passing year, the effort involved in raising children "is being taxed away to that point that it makes less and less sense for individuals" to have them, "and so increasingly they don't."
Accordingly, we "are headed toward a future in which only rich people will be able to afford to raise and educate a child, and rich people, generally, are not much interested in the work. If they were, they would not be rich." This "falling birthrate and an aging population [will have] consequences for every member of society that will soon become more and more apparent," and the "critical moment will probably come in the next decade, as millions of baby boomers start crashing past the boundaries of old age, and as today's teenagers find themselves saddled with massive student loans, rising taxes, and growing frustration over the increasing difficulty of forming or affording a family." Ah yes. And Dr. Longman doesn't even touchï¿½except obliquely to defend the carnageï¿½on the tens of millions of unborn lives ground into this machine.
Quite apart from the Moslems and the clash of civilizations, history seems poised on another deluge.