Archive for the ‘ Big Issues ’ Category

What Kind of Natalist Am I?

I regard myself as a natalist, but imagine that some who carry the banner more proudly would doubt me. This is largely because, while I see new humans as net contributors to the world, I don’t fear a moderate stemming of their flow into the population will doom us all.

I imagine these first two sentences will be found puzzling by many, in large part due to natalism, on its face, seeming like a very important issue, yet never being discussed openly. And moreover, the reason for its low profile is that popular political ideologies both right and left are biased against it, but proponents of those ideologies are hardly keen to come out and say “I’m anti-people.” So why am I speaking as though natalists have the high ground over me, a potential apostate?

This is because natalists clearly have the moral high ground, certainly in the conventional sense. What sort of hypocrite parades around decrying the harm of allowing more humans to live while she goes about the business of enjoying her own life? Of course, the anti-natalist has several routes of escape, and being a hypocrite has never made anyone wrong about what they were saying. For one thing, the unborn don’t have a very high valuation of their potential existence, so denying it to them does no immediate harm and there are marginal short-term losses in waste production to be had for those of us who presently value our land resources.

The anti-natalists ultimately lose the intellectual argument (as most politically popular positions seem to) on the grounds that they advocate either unprecedented limitations on reproductive rights or a senseless compensation scheme. The first point should be rather obvious and, the second more so after brief consideration: given human loss-aversion and the very great portion of income willing parents sacrifice to have children, the amount needed to prevent even marginal births would be substantial. Even then, remember that a persistently positive world savings rate is evidence that we can expect people to contribute more to the economy than they consume. If we really wanted to efficiently curtail waste/pollution, we would advocate schemes that make people pay for their marginal degratory* effects so that we might limit them within reason and fund their reparation. The basic insight is that, our environmental problems, like all other problems, are best addressed by human ingenuity and more babies means more geniuses and, more commonly, contributors to the division of labor who allow those geniuses to do their thing.

After making such a compelling case, you may be wondering what sets me apart from some popular natalists. In a speech on his recent book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, Jonathan Last warns of “America’s coming demographic disaster.” Basically arguing that, with America’s birthrate falling below the rate of replacement, the following decline in population bodes incredibly ill, Last draws comparisons to the only other times we’ve seen significant depopulation: after the fall of the Roman Empire (Dark Ages) and during the Black Death, insisting that we have no reason to expect our future population decline to go any better. You may have already spotted a significant difference between our situation and those past: Our decline is being caused by voluntary abstention, the previous ones by calamitous events which were also the sole cause of those periods being particularly worse than any others. I argue that we’ve yet to see any extremely ill effects of depopulation.

Last rightly argues that our “social safety nets” (Social Security/Medicare) which rely on an ever-growing pool of contributors will either dry up, or demand larger contributions from the young, who have historically driven innovation and advancement. For this latter reason, I fear that the popularity of massive wealth transfers from young to old may cause some harm in a shrinking population, but hardly on par with the bubonic plague. In the meantime, we can expect real wages to rise as labor becomes more scarce and immigration restrictions to be relaxed in the West for that reason and to bolster our fledgling social ponzi schemes.

The final effects? Growing income equality, marginally less environmental degradation, a higher tolerance for human beings born abroad, perhaps a dissolution of massive involuntary wealth transfers, and, importantly, a living demonstration that declining GDP and rising standards of living are not at all incompatible…

Apostrophy complete, for now.

*Take up arms and help me see this become a real word!