Some posts about declining fertility rates

A little batch of posts in praise of declining fertility rates, for your interest and discussion:

1. Froma Harrop

It is true that Japan is a rapidly aging society, as is ours. The Japanese face the challenge of caring for many elderly people in a country with fewer young workers. Higher retirement ages will deal with some of the labor needs, and more experienced older workers are actually good for an economy.

In America, the usual recommendation for these changing demographics is to admit more immigrants. The Japanese, long hostile to immigration, see automation as the answer. The country’s engineers are developing robots to do much of the nursing home-type work. The Japanese government is investing large amounts in these technologies, turning a challenge into a growth industry.

2. Tom Flynn, who comments approvingly on Harrop’s piece.

experts have been warning of overpopulation since the fifties, so an eventual return to the global population of that time (roughly 2.5 billion) would seem a reasonable goal in order to make humanity long-term sustainable on the only planet we’ve got. Of course getting there would require several consecutive generations of demographic contraction. Far from seeing the state of having fewer workers than elders as a crisis, we need to learn to view it as a challenge to be met — as the price of avoiding a future in which we doom ourselves by our own fecundity. That’s a huge challenge for economists, as today’s economy is essentially a Ponzi scheme that depends on a few percent population growth year after year. I only wish more economists were working on it.

3. Russell Blackford. I comment approvingly on Flynn’s piece.

There may be some serious transitional difficulties. Outmoded attitudes to older people may not change as quickly as desirable, nor may the attitudes of those people themselves, some of whom may not welcome an increasing social expectation that they continue to be productive into their later years. This may influence many policy deliberations.

Still, one point stands out. We should adopt a mindset of embracing the future rather than resisting it. It is pointless suggesting more and more ways to cajole people out of exercising their freedom to put less emphasis on childbearing and rearing. If, for example, we favour policies such as paid maternity leave, our support should be based squarely on arguments relating to the interests of women. The arguments should be about increasing the practical autonomy of those women who choose to become mothers, and particularly their ability to care for their children. They should not be based on a supposed need to increase the fertility rate.

Fertility rates will probably get even lower. So be it. This will create policy challenges, but it is not a tendency that must be reversed by moral exhortations or government actions. On the contrary, despite the policy challenges that it creates, it is the sign of free societies and essentially a development that we should welcome.

Now we just need Harrop to comment approvingly on my post, and we’ll have a tight little circle of mutual admiration. Still, the general position being expressed in these posts is not a common one, at least in mainstream discussion of public policy, where there is much hand-wringing about how to support an ageing population.

So perhaps I can refer readers to some dissenting views on this one-off occasion.

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