Posts Tagged ‘increasing fertility’

The freedom not to breed is the coming demographic challenge

December 26, 2014

Alarmism has its downsides. It is always cowardly since it requires actions (and inactions) to be subservient to fear. The actions proposed by Alarmists are very often coercive in the name of the “common good”. But the Alarmists are nearly always wrong.

For over 40 years we have been brain-washed by the Malthusian alarmism of catastrophic population growth, catastrophic resource consumption (peak oil, peak gas, peak food), catastrophic loss of biodiversity and catastrophic environmental change. The population alarmism was expounded in 1968 in Hardin’s “Tragedy of the Commons”. Garrett Hardin was one of the leading lights of the population doom-sayers. His paper became a classic but is a classic example of the arrogance of the Alarmist, overwhelmed by the fear of doom and looking down at the “Commons” from on high. It was the conclusion of the Hardins of this world that “coercion” was both necessary and acceptable to control breeding which led to the coercive sterilisation programmes and the one-child policy.

Freedom To Breed Is Intolerable. To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.

Unfortunately this is just the course of action that is being pursued by the United Nations. In late 1967, some 30 nations agreed to the following :

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights describes the family as the natural and fundamental unit of society. It follows that any choice and decision with regard to the size of the family must irrevocably rest with the family itself, and cannot be made by anyone else.

It is painful to have to deny categorically the validity of this right; denying it, one feels as uncomfortable as a resident of Salem, Massachusetts, who denied the reality of witches in the 17th century. ……. If we love the truth we must openly deny the validity of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, even though it is promoted by the United Nations. …….. 

The only way we can preserve and nurture other and more precious freedoms is by relinquishing the freedom to breed, and that very soon. “Freedom is the recognition of necessity”–and it is the role of education to reveal to all the necessity of abandoning the freedom to breed. Only so, can we put an end to this aspect of the tragedy of the commons.

As van Dalen and Henkens put it

…… the Malthusian assertion that the earth’s capacity to support mankind is outpaced by population growth. The main proponent of this view was Hardin (1968), who explained this idea more fully in his classic article,
“Tragedy of the Commons.” ……. it is the central thesis behind Al Gore’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Hardin related the tragedy directly to the problem of overpopulation, and his conclusion was therefore quite unequivocal: “Freedom to breed will bring ruin to us all” 

There are numerous political pressure groups in the international arena trying to establish zero or negative population growth in order to prevent a “tragedy of the commons.”

Al Gore like Hardin before him is another example of an arrogant Alarmist.

We are now less than one hundred years away from a general population decline across all countries of the world. It is already a reality in many countries. Development and economic growth and the emancipation of women has achieved far more than forced sterilisation programmes. The Chinese one-child policy has only anticipated by a few years what development would have achieved anyway.

Japan’s population will be down to less than 90 million in 2060 compared to the 128 million today. The replacement fertility rate is 2.1 births/woman in industrialised countries and about 2.3 -2.4 in countries with higher mortality rates. Already (2014) more than half the world’s population has fertility rates below the replacement level. Europe as a whole has a fertility rate of less than 1.6. So has China. Japan is at 1.4 and Singapore is down at 0.8. More than half the states of India are at below the replacement rates and half are just above but declining fast. Countries which have significant immigration from developing countries initially see a boost to their fertility rates but that tends to be short-lived as immigrants are assimilated and also exhibit the rates applying to the country’s level of development. In parts of Asia, Africa and Latin America where fertility rates are higher than the replacement rate, they are declining fast.

Hardin got it quite wrong. As with all Alarmist memes, he was more than just a little condescending of the “Commons” but his worst mistake was allowing his fear to exclude common sense. The freedom to breed is no guarantee that any breeding – let alone uncontrolled breeding – will occur. In fact, it is the freedom not to breed which could make humanity extinct.

Many countries are now seeing population declines in rural areas which are significant enough to affect local tax revenues and cause the deterioration of infrastructure and social services. All over Europe, rural areas see growing needs for health and social services for the elderly and declining demands for children’s services. Skilled craftsmen leave because the client-base is declining. The public sector in rural areas is tending towards being both underfunded due to the loss of tax revenues and over-staffed (and mis-matched) for the declining and ageing population. It is not that planners are not aware of the challenges.

The reality is that fertility is reducing (and subsequently population is peaking), not for lack of resources but because of new technologies and the shift of attitudes that they have brought about. The factors well correlated with a decline of fertility are fairly well established, even if the mechanisms by which these factors affect attitude are not certain. Some of the clearest factors – where many are interlinked – are:

  1. the availability of contraception,
  2. the emancipation of women,
  3. women being an integral part of the labour market,
  4. economic development (GDP)
  5. the decline of infant mortality,
  6. the decline of mortality rates and the increase of longevity
  7. the availability of TV
  8. the availability of safe abortion procedures

Some of the changes of attitude which can also be observed are of couples marrying later (or not marrying), of women having children later and a social acceptance of being childless. It is the spread of the ability and of the freedom not to breed which dominates fertility rate decline.

While we can observe the decline of fertility rates all across the world, we have no clear notion of how fertility rates can be increased. Many countries have tried but few – if any – have succeeded in increasing fertility rates. Russia has tried many times and failed.

In 1944, as Russians were being ground up in the war against Germany, Josef Stalin created the “Motherhood Medal” for women who bore six children. …….. In 1955, Nikita Khrushchev surveyed the nascent Western overpopulation mania and declared it a “cannibalistic theory” invented by “bourgeois ideology.” ……….

None of it worked, then or now. The Soviet Union’s fertility rate—that’s the average number of children a woman bears during her lifetime—declined throughout the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. The only brief period of increase came during the late 1980s. And then it resumed decline.

Putin’s initiatives haven’t fared any better. The Russian government declared demographic victory in 2012 because there was an increase in the crude number of births. “The demographic programs enacted in the past decade are, thank God, working,” Putin said. But most demographers believe this is a statistical ghost—the slight spike in fertility rates during the late ’80s created a relatively fat cohort of women now in their prime childbearing years. So while the number of births has increased thanks to the size of this cohort, Russia’s total fertility rate has remained very low. The CIA World FactBook puts it at 1.61.

Singapore, Spain, Japan and South Korea have all instituted programmes to increase fertility rates but – at best – they have had limited and only temporary success.

Where fertility is increasing, it is often a result of delayed childbearing caused by a long-term shift in childbearing patterns or by marriages delayed by an unfavorable economy. In Sweden, the peak age group of childbearing for women is now 30 to 34, up from 25 to 29 in 2001. In Russia, childbearing below age 25 dropped sharply after 1990 so that women ages 25 to 29 are just as likely to have a birth as those ages 20 to 24. A similar pattern has emerged in Ukraine. …… 

Many governments have moved to address the problem of low fertility and extreme societal aging. In Russia, couples can receive about $9,000, a huge sum, for a second or subsequent child. Child payments are lower in Ukraine, but are still significant. Singapore has introduced beneficial tax packages and lengthened government-subsidized maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks. Spain introduced a 2,500 Euro payment for each birth. Other countries debate ways to encourage childbearing, without reaching a consensus. In Japan, there has been much discussion in government and the media on steps that might be taken but little has actually been done. The very slight rise in births from 2007 to 2008, heralded in the press, was almost entirely due to births to non-Japanese resident in the country.

Iran has shifted from promoting birth control to promoting more children. Ayatollah Khamenei has implemented a 14 point plan to avoid a population implosion but the fertility rate is still stubbornly declining.

Iran has seen its fertility rate reduce from close to 7 children per woman in 1960 to around an implosion level of 1.8 per woman  at the current time. …. Through the 1980’s Iran ran a free contraception program and the birth rate plummeted. So much so that Iran is facing a coming crisis of population implosion. The Ayatollah Khamenei has taken notice and issued a 14 point plan to increase the fertility rate.

The fertility increase programmes around the world generally offer various forms of financial incentives – by way of grants or tax breaks or subsidies – for additional children, but the declining trends have not been arrested.

By 2100 the world population will be between 10 and 11 billion and a fertility rate of -perhaps – about 1.9. To remain at such a level is unsustainable of course, but the real question is what are the behavioural forces which could increase fertility rate. Certainly financial incentives will help but their effect seems weak. An Alarmist of the 22nd century would no doubt suggest coercive and compulsory artificial insemination and ban abortions for convenience. But parents resentful of children they are forced to have seems counter-productive. Better no child than an unwanted child. The social engineering needed to ensure that sufficient breeding takes place – but not too much – will be the challenge of the 21st century.

Maybe it will happen naturally. No doubt children will be given higher value when they are in short supply. But I suspect that behavioural change, leading to the desire to have more children, will only come when there is both an elevation of status and of the financial condition of the mother. I can imagine a time where the social accolades and real benefits for having children are more than sufficient to outweigh the perceived disadvantages. But a woman’s career is also linked to fertility rate and there is an obvious trade-off between caring for a number of children and a woman’s working career. An increase of fertility may be necessarily connected to a reduction of time spent on the labour market. Abortions for convenience may come to be impacted more by social acceptance and social pressures than by any religious or moral considerations. Having children may afford social prestige.

The countries of the former Soviet Union maintain the highest rate of abortions in the world. In 2001, 1.31 million children were born in Russia, while 2.11 million abortions were performed – 62% of all conceptions. Currently about 25% of all conceptions worldwide are aborted. In Japan, the overall abortion rate dropped from 26% to 22% of all conceptions between 1975 and 1995 but these rates are thought to be under-reported. These numbers are not insignificant since a  dangerously low fertility rate of 1.6 – for example – would increase to 2.1 without the 25% abortion of all conceptions. It is conceivable that abortions will come to be permitted only for serious health issues for the mother or for the foetus.

But the bottom line is that every freedom has a corresponding duty. And so does the freedom to breed. There has to be a perceived duty to breed but not to breed indiscriminately.

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