We just learned that the U.S. birthrate fell for the sixth straight year in 2013 to an all-time low.
Pardon me for sounding a bit alarmist, but this is really bad news for our economy, our society, and all of civilization.
Let's start with the economy. I know a lot of us have been brainwashed into thinking that our natural and manufactured resources are shrinking. We're often told that we have a choice of either radically reducing our consumption or our population or we'll eventually run out of water, energy, and food.
Excuse me, but this is hogwash.
That's because we heard the same thing in 1714, or 1814, and probably the year 10,000 B.C. And they were wrong then too.
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What's the biggest reason that the doomsayers about the end of the world's resources have always been wrong?
The answer is that some members of those growing populations decided not to give up and came up with new ideas, technologies and resources to replace and improve living conditions. I'm talking about the people who have come up with the technologies to desalinate water, terrace mountainsides, drain swamps and fight disease with vaccinations and sewage treatment. I'm talking about the people who came up with kerosene to replace whale blubber, petroleum to replace kerosene, natural gas to replace petroleum, and so on and so on.
All of the above came courtesy of humans. Reduce their number, and you also reduce your chances for the great innovations that make life better for the humans already on the planet and make life more comfortable and possible for billions more to join us.
In short, people are our greatest resource. Economic growth cannot occur without human growth. And this is not a problem that can simply be solved by increasing immigration.
That's because there's a societal price we're paying in this country for having fewer children later in life. Just about every parent I know will tell you that the moment their first child was born was the moment they truly accepted the responsibility of their own adulthood to the fullest. That's a moment I'm willing to delay for teenagers - we generally don't want them becoming parents that young. But when we start seeing more 25- to 45-year-olds who clearly haven't yet grown up yet, I get concerned.
And that's not all. Our growth as a society is stunted when fewer children are around to induce maturity and better behavior in the rest of us - even if we're not parents. Don't we all endeavor to behave a bit better and safer in front of kids? Fewer children means more aimless and purposeless young adults, more violence, and more war. The excellent novel-turned-feature film "Children of Men" featured a chilling portrayal of a world with no birth rate and how it would descend into a nuclear holocaust.
So who is to blame for our falling birthrates in the U.S.? As much as I am alarmed by the "stay young and free" messages in our culture I don't think the mass media is making much of a dent. But I do think the blame falls squarely on the shoulders of our government and corporate structure.
For middle class families, taxes and regulations make parenting more expensive than it should be on many levels. Property taxes are a big culprit, as they serve to discourage people from moving into the larger homes that are most comfortable for families. While much of those property-tax revenues do go to pay for our children's public education, the real costs per child have been soaring for years as more and more of that money is used to pay off pensions and other obligations that have nothing to do with today's children, today's teachers and today's classrooms. In some states, school districts are literally paying for plastic surgery and Viagra treatments for teachers. That's nuts.
Beyond property taxes, the entire entitlement structure of our tax system literally forces responsible parents to take some money away from their children and give it to the children of parents who are less fortunate or in some cases less responsible. Now I'm all for charity, but the American people have never needed the government to be consistently the most charitable people on Earth. Legislated "charity" is not charity at all; it's a politically motivated wealth transfer. Making life more expensive for middle class families while giving a pittance to poor children in return is a bad deal all around.
Yet this isn't all the fault of the public sector by a long shot. Despite all the progress we've seen from Corporate America when it comes to maternity leave, family health coverage, and child-friendly hours, we're still far from where we need to be to give parents the help they need to work and be parents at the same time. But this doesn't mean I think more "family-friendly" legislation is the solution.
Because if you really want to see dysfunction, look at what happens when the government tries to impose family-friendly rules on the private sector. What too many people fail to realize and too many politicians don't seem to care about is this: the more rules you force upon employers when it comes to hiring primary caregiving moms and dads, the more employers will cease hiring primary caregiving active moms and dads. Problem solved for employers, but new problems for everyone else.
Good parents are good and motivated workers. What more private-sector businesses need to realize is that making work more possible for primary care-giving parents would boost profits. Corporate America just needs to come up with some more ideas than just telecommuting, job sharing, and in-house daycare.
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The traditional employers' inadequacies in this area have produced one good result: More parents have started their own businesses so they can make their own hours and priorities. And since small start-up businesses are always the source of most new job growth, that's great. Still it's sad that so many - women especially - who have been forced to drop out of the office and make it on their own.
But just like the employers who respond to imposed family-friendly hiring rules by simply hiring fewer people, more and more individual Americans are responding to the growing costs and challenges of raising children by simply not having them in the first place. Not good.
Because we can't succeed in the future without the people to make it happen.
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