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Would a Baby Boom Redeem Social Security?

Wednesday, 14 September 2005 12:00 AM

Last week your Medicine Men took note of one of the most unexpected and significant developments of recent decades. World population growth is slowing faster than anybody could have predicted. No one fully understands why.

However, two things are clear. First, despite centuries of dire prognostication, catastrophic overpopulation on a global scale has not happened.

And second, we're just beginning to think about how to adapt to the possible effects of stable to declining - and, therefore, aging - populations.

Historically, prosperity and progress have always been associated with rising populations. Eras of declining population - for example, the end of the Roman Empire and the so-called Dark Ages - have never been pleasant to ponder.

Now, it is not our wish to substitute one set of apocalyptic prophecies for another. We do not believe that population stability or decline spells the end of the human adventure. However, it is clear that present-day welfare states do not work very well under these (or any other) conditions.

Consider, as an example, Social Security. The original program was based on the ways and realities of a bygone era when people bred fast and died young. (Not so incidentally, it was never intended to become senior citizens' major support, but only a safety net and retirement enhancer.)

Today, we're doing the reverse, breeding more slowly and dying older.

Now consider the impact of only one of multiple possible factors: abortion on demand. Since Roe v. Wade, over thirty million Social Security cards were never issued because of babies never born. It's enough to make you wish for immediate repeal of that decision.

In any event, there's no long-term choice but to adapt to reality and reform Social Security.

One proposed economic adaptation comes from Phillip Longman, author of "The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity and What to Do About It." Joseph D'Agostino, vice president of the Population Research Institute, explains Longman's proposal as the more children you have, the less you and your employer pay out in Social Security taxes. At retirement, benefits would be computed as though the worker had paid maximum taxes. The premise is that, by putting more kids into the system to pay taxes in the future, you've contributed more than enough to offset your own lower tax payments.

Whether this would work, your Medicine Men cannot predict. However, it's plausible and raises the largely ignored issue of how to encourage people to respect and fulfill their natural inclinations to have children. Having and loving children is part of normal human experience. How many parents have depends on many factors, such as religious beliefs and family economic prospects.

But as economists such as Joseph Schumpeter have pointed out, when the costs of raising children become prohibitive, many people, often sadly, forego the option. Mere tinkering with economic factors, such as tax codes and Social Security rates, won't do the job.

We believe we need cultural as well as economic changes.

If children are part of a full adult life, so is work. Today, most women work. But neither our economy nor our society has yet figured out how to make having children and doing work peacefully co-exist.

Today, many women put off childbearing until they've established their careers. This is doubly nuts. Women leave the work force, at least temporarily, in their thirties or forties, so (1) they quit working just when they know what they're doing, (2) to have children when they're past their physical prime.

Several years ago, in "What Our Mothers Never Told Us," writer Danielle Crittenden suggested one possible change. What if more women started having children in their twenties, and then entered the work world after the kids had started school? At the very least, this would likely mean more kids and more women who, once hired, could stay on the job.

Another woman writer, Erin Solaro, author of "Beyond GI Jane" (forthcoming, Seal Press) offers a more sweeping proposal to recognize a normal "parent phase" of human life: both parents would share and make adjustments, such as leaves of absence from work, to establish their family. This is not "mommy track" or "daddy track." It simply recognizes the fact that most people want children, and that our present system seems almost willfully intent on making it more and more difficult to have them.

Indeed, unless human creativity is totally spent, we believe the future will bring unpredictable and positive change. Even though the future is not totally under our control, we hope and believe the human race will adapt and prosper.

Related Articles: https://www.newsmax.com/archives/articles/2005/9/6/222442.shtml.

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Last week your Medicine Men took note of one of the most unexpected and significant developments of recent decades. World population growth is slowing faster than anybody could have predicted. No one fully understands why. However, two things are clear. First,...
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Wednesday, 14 September 2005 12:00 AM
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