This week I recommend you to an interesting interview conducted by John Rosen on the Wall Street Journal website with the author of a new book called “What to expect when no one’s expecting”. You can find it here. The author, Jonathan Last, succinctly summarises many of the challenges facing the world as a result of low birth rates. We only have to look like countries like Greece to see that we can’t afford entitlements, for example, without a young working population paying taxes. The article puts it well:
Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff: The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate.
Much of the article reiterates what frequent readers of this blog will already know. However, some of his solutions are unique and it’s interesting to see the tide of public opinion recognising the reality of the‘demographic cliff’ more and more.
While Last says that there are no easy answers given that fertility rates have been declining since the 70’s in nearly every Western country and the prop of immigration can only last so long, he does suggest that family friendly policies could be one solution. He observes that we can’t bribe career women, those that feel they can’t afford children or those that simply don’t want children to have them - but we can encourage those that are willing to have more children by making it easier and more fun to do so.
One idea Last has for America is to reduce the tax burden for people who take on the costs of creating new taxpayers (otherwise known as children). He also suggests reforming unaffordable college costs and the high cost of land which makes it difficult to have the space for a big family in a city which provides a good job to actually support that family.
As an aside, here in New Zealand, our housing prices are very likely encouraging young people to put off having a family – in fact I know people for whom this is the case. We are hitting international headlines at the moment with reports of New Zealand housing being among the most expensive in the world.
We all need to think a bit more about who will be providing hospital care and maintaining a safe and liveable society in the future. However, to put the onus to some extent back on young people themselves, one of Last’s more interesting observations is that people today concentrate too much on their own ‘happiness’ without considering what ‘fulfilment’ really means and how that is different:
High on the list is the idea that "happiness" is the lodestar of a life well-lived. If we're going to reverse this decline, we'll need to reintroduce into American culture the notion that human flourishing ranges wider and deeper than calculations of mere happiness.
Very true. In fact, it is often said that looking for happiness for yourself too hard is the very way to lose it, while things like giving to family creates it.