December 05, 2012

Douthat: A new kind of #birther (extensively updated)

So Ross Douthat thinks that America is having too few babies.

Well, there's just two things wrong with this.

One, he proposes nothing to make it easier for American women to have an easier time of it raising children while often still working full time, either by choice or by necessity. No Scandinavian-style, or even French-style, paid maternal (let alone paternal) leave. No true national health care system to help with prenatal and neonatal health, etc. He actually mentions that France is spending more money than us on child-rearing related issues without spelling out all of what it involves.

Two, he doesn't address how a new population boom in the most energy-profligate country in the history of the globe (even as he lauds semi-low-density suburbia and very-low-density exurbia) will negatively impact both climate change/global warming and Peak Oil. 

And, in addressing his critics in a blog post about this column, he still doesn't address the resource consumption issue, or even acknowledge that any critics mention it.

He is also selective on his definition of "emerging powers." Yes, Brazil has a lower birth rate than us. But India has a much higher one, and has Hindu nationalists explicitly urging "birther" policies (in this case, to pass China in total population) of the same sort that Douthat urges here. Argentina and Turkey are two other developing to semi-developed nations with higher birth rates than ours, per Wikipedia, which also notes that some "social democratic" advanced nations, like New Zealand and Iceland, are still above "replacement level" birth rates. In fact, scarily (which Douthat doesn't note) India is still above the world average.

Oh, other than that, there's nothing wrong with what has to be in the running for his most ill-informed column ever.

Beyond that is the open question of whether his "more babies" comment is actually meant for all Americans, or whether this was a dogwhistle to conservative whites. And, not to be too uncharitable, but given that this is the same type of claptrap that the likes of tea partiers and Charles Murray spout, I'd say it could be a dogwhistle. His use of the word "decadence" certainly underscores that.

Besides, contra Douthat's hints and the outright comments of a Murray, aren't squeaky-clean, high-breeding Mormons like the Romneys right enough for Douthat and his ilk? 

Finally, Douthat is wrong in an implication, namely that one must have a "homogenous" society for social democracy. Reality? Canada has two national languages, a larger black population by percentage than any Scandanavian country, and large East and South Indian populations, as well as a growing Hispanic body. France has an Afro-Francian population about as big, by percentage, as African-Americans in the US. 

These factors, all added up, including the fact that Douthat had the chance to address some of them, or even acknowledge their existence, which he didn't, in his follow-up blog post, means that this is indeed, from where I sit, the worst column he's written at the NYT.

And, Bill Moyers? I know that you consider, or have considered, Douthat a "sensible" enough conservative, especially on matters of religion, to have him on your show in the past. Please don't do that again. Repent of the idea if it's in your mind. 

(Megan McArdle has now taken up the cudgels of Douthat's position. She's marginally better, but no more. While she notes the environmental degradation concerns, she passes them off with less than 3 percent of her total content. And, "good" libertarian that she is, she ignores state-funded efforts to help women raise children more easily.


abprosper said...

You have a point there but none of those Social Democratic countries have even close to replacement level fertility.

Yes its slightly higher than the US is now but its still way below 2.1 and that means population aging and decline.

The issue in play is income, too many people have too low pay and now thanks to TV and birth control and all that, they can and do opt out of having kids.

In the short run, no biggy and to some degree, pensions issues aside its a benefit (land gets cheaper) but long term, that a disaster.

Gadfly said...

Not entirely true. Per Wikipedia, and depending on who's ranking you use, a few social democratic countries like New Zealand, Iceland and France have no lower birthrates than the US (which is still at replacement level). And, that in no way negates either of my main points, first that Douthat ignores how this will strain world resources and second that, speaking of social democracy, he offers no ideas on supporting women having more children. And, in the US itself, it's not "way below" 2.1, it's right at it.

abprosper said...

A few is not the majority. Much of Scandinavia, Spain, Germany are much lower.

Also the US is below replacement at least as of Douhat's article.

Since the onset of the recent recession in 2007 (see Figure 1). The U.S. total fertility rate (TFR) stood at 2.0 births per woman in 2009, but preliminary data from the National Center for Health Statistics show that the TFR dropped to 1.9 in 2010—well below the replacement level of 2.1.1 A similar decline—or leveling off—of fertility rates has been reported in Ireland, Italy, Spain, Sweden, and several other European countries.

Via population research bureau

Gadfly said...

Doesn't matter if it's a lot or not. "A few" is more than "none." "One" is more than "none," and that was your original angle — none. Tis true that right now we're below replacement level due to the Great Recession's aftereffects, but Douthat seems to be focusing beyond the immediate.

Is it a "big disaster"? Arguably, it's the opposite. It eventually puts labor, not capital, in the driver's seat. When ppl like me hit retirement age, hopefully, employers still need enough of us to work enough they pay well with decent work conditions for all sorts of jobs.

Oh, and Douthat ignores that angle, too.

abprosper said...

Thanks for the reply. I am rather passionate about this topic.

Point wise I don't disagree with you save a caveat.

The number of people hired won't go up if there is no demand.

The problem Douhat and the others are concerned about is the double whammy of increased elder care expenses and lower overall demand.

Both these can have a strong negative impact on wages and hiring. So yes in theory given enough Truth be known right now we face what Marx called the problem of surplus production. We can pretty easily make enough supply of most goods to outstrip people's ability to get those goods.

Its actually been getting more and more way since the 1930's (roughly) .

Truth be known right now we face what Marx called the problem of surplus production. We can pretty easily make enough supply of most goods to outstrip people's ability to get those goods.

Its actually been getting more and more way since the 1930's (roughly) .

Keeping that in check by forcing distribution was done a lot of economic management (work hours, who works, threat of strikes, who we traded with) but all that management schema is breaking down.

This breakdown (US wages are down by about half since 1973) along with social changes has really hurt birth rates.

Those birth rates will have to rise if the economy is to function at a comfortable level for only the simple reason that a nation shedding population (like say Russia is now ) is going to have fewer people to create demand every single year.

And no, we can't export our way out either. The only places with any growth are very poor and backwards. This is a global issue.

Gadfly said...

I'm definitely with you on your last comment. That said, it would be nice to think a lower birthrate gives labor an edge vs management, speaking of Marx.

Interesting points otherwise on consumer capitalism.

Beyond Douthat sounding a bit like a "lighter" version of Murray, the resource consumption issue, especially as we worry about global warming, concerns me. And, he didn't address it at all, including in his follow-up blog post that I've now linked. If he had addressed it and "argued it away," that would be one thing. But, he didn't even address it, and among his alleged critics that he named, he didn't say that any of them addressed it, either, which is simply not true; the NYT op-ed webpage has a letter to the editor about that issue exactly.