Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Jonathan Last’s False Alarm About an American ‘Baby Bust’

In a recent Wall Street Journal piece (‘America’s Baby Bust’) conservative mouthpiece Jonathan Last, like others before him (Ben Wattenberg in ‘The Birth Dearth’) bellyaches about the fertility rate of the nation, and that it’s dangerously low, see e.g. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323375204578270053387770718.html

He begins by noting China’s one-child policy which led to an effective birth rate of 1.54 children per woman. Then he babbles:

“Here in America, white, college-educated women—a good proxy for the middle class—have a fertility rate of 1.6. America has its very own one-child policy. And we have chosen it for ourselves.”

Yes, indeed, Mr. Last! But WHY? One can enumerate a host of reasons which are all totally rational in the context of a Neoliberal capitalist bastion which professes "family values" and seeking the welfare of women and their children but whose actual laws-actions shows a vile contempt. You dispute it? Then look at the facts:

- 1 in 4 children in hunger because of being unable to get affordable nutrition each day (see also the new documentary, ‘A Place At the Table’)

- Lack of child care centers such as exist in western Europe, which makes working mothers’ lives easier, especially when 2 incomes are needed.

- Lack of adequate child health resources for women, including affordable insurance.

- The cost of raising a child today through college, now estimated at $290,000 per child.

- Exploding costs of college and the ubiquitous college debt now nearly $1 trillion.

Given all these, any normal, rational and reasonably intelligent middle class woman would opt to not have kids, or at most one. The cost is simply too severe, and then….if she lives up to Last’s fertility standards and needs economic support later (e.g. food stamps, Obamacare Health Exchange) , what? The Repukes will tell her: “Too bad! We expect you to demonstrate self-reliance! You have kids, you're on your own! This ain't Europe! Besides we got austerity budgets now!”

Last then goes on to peddle the usual conservo codswallop:

“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.”

Not quite! The root cause of most of our problems is, in fact, the ceaseless yen to start wars (actually occupations) of choice which suck up our surpluses and capital, even as we fail to raise the revenue (via taxes) to pay for the domestic needs such as infrastructure repair and energy diversification. The notion of conservative nabobs that we have “too many old people” and not enough young workers to support them is a hackneyed canard, long past its 'expire' date.

Even Alan Greenspan, Neolib icon that he is, noted as far back as 1983 (after the last payroll tax to cover the cost of the retiring Boomers) that the problem was inadequate revenue. And lo and behold, despite raising the payroll taxes to 6.2% (for employers and employees) to pay for the Boomers' onslaught – we now constantly read that “aren’t enough workers” (Last cites only 3 workers now to every retiree).

But this is bollocks! There would be absolutely NO problem at all, period, had congressional pirates not raided more than $1.7 trillion from Social Security since 1983 – mostly to fund defense spending, wanton occupations (in Iraq, Afghanistan) and tax cuts for the richest. But the lying supply -side conservos will never admit this, but merely do their hand waving to try to distract Americans from the real problem.

Why - in an era with proclaimed "higher efficiencies" do we need more people to support social insurance beneficiaries? The reason is that instead of using capital for job formation it has been used for war making, for speculation in risky markets using risky devices (derivatives) and sending the capital overseas to support foreign jobs instead! Thus, the claim we "need more workers" must be taken with a grain, because the actions of our pols and companies don't support or resonate with that contention.

The other part of the argument that falls apart, is the fact the "more young worker"  promoters don't grasp they are endorsing a Population Pyramid scheme. Because if we push American females to have 15 million more kids - then what will we need to do to support them in their old age? Obviously we will have to massively cut their benefits, or bring in millions of foreign workers. Then...who will support them...or do we just intend to tell them, 'Hasta la vista! You've been useful to helping us, now go home!"

Meanwhile, researchers at the Harvard Public Policy and Health Center have observed the demographic concerns of Last are muted by young workers not being distracted by parenthood – hence enhancing productivity. (Draper, Denver Post, Mar. 11, p1A) They might have mentioned having to care (and pay) for kids' needs and also paying off huge student loans!

In addition, while raising the retirement age is also touted as a demographic bomb "neutralizer", the REAL solution is older people being able to work as long as they want. It’s no use raising the retirement age via congressional legislation if employers won’t hire older workers. (I am reminded here of a corporate white paper, issued by Fortune 500 companies in 1996, asserting that at the age of 55 a worker’s status is one of “diminishing returns”. I.e. FIRE him before his benefits claw too many profits back!)

But too many dummies on the Right continue to harp on “raising the retirement age”, when in fact we need worker protection laws to ensure older workers aren’t laid off on account of age discrimination. Solve THAT and the retirement age emerges as a non-issue.

But Jonathan Last, not content to dissemble about the American fertility rate in relation to retirement support goes on to compound his nonsense by spewing further claptrap about overpopulation:

“For two generations we've been lectured about the dangers of overpopulation. But the conventional wisdom on this issue is wrong, twice. First, global population growth is slowing to a halt and will begin to shrink within 60 years. Second, as the work of economists Esther Boserups and Julian Simon demonstrated, growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation. Think about it: Since 1970, commodity prices have continued to fall and America's environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable—even though our population has increased by more than 50%. Human ingenuity, it turns out, is the most precious resource.”

Well, let’s examine these claims in more detail! First, the dangers of overpopulation have not abated as Last and his think tankers seem to believe, see e.g.

Note also the direct link between population growth and water shortage. (The State of the World Report projects an increase in water stressed population from 470m to 3 billion by 2025). Last claims the world population will “begin to shrink in 60 years”, but in that interim some 4.5 billion more humans will be added – each of them generating more CO2 to add to global warming (likely tipping us into the runaway greenhouse) , drawing down more water, and crowding out the natural world – occupying or exploiting habitat and making more animals, plants extinct.

The citation of previous research to the effect that growing population "leads to more innovation and conservation" is also off. I mean, if  concerted conservation is not visibly evident now, with 7.1 billion, how is it going to be more evident with 4.5 billion more people? It’s nonsense! We are also seeing wholesale eradication of habitat such as in Madagascar and other remote places (Indonesia) to satisfy the global demand for palm oil. In the midst of this hundreds of species have been pushed to extinction. How will it get better with 4.5 billion more humans occupying territory, consuming finite resources etc.? Don't these propagandizers think before they write? Wait, I just answered my own question!

Another lie is that commodity prices have fallen when in fact they have spiked, largely owing to competing demand from China and India. Hence, corn prices have shot up – since the Chinese middle classes are now demanding more pork, corn- fed pork! (The Chinese now import more corn feed in a month than they used to in a year). Adding to the burden is corn being used to make ethanol fuel! Precious metals prices, e.g. silver have also soared. And oil is poised to soar much higher now nearly seven years past the global peak (see the book, ‘A Thousand Barrels A Second’, by Peter Tertzakian, who uses the term "break point" more than "Peak Oil"- but the implications are the same.)

Other lies include that America’s “environment has become cleaner and more sustainable”. Says WHO?

It has become befouled, especially by tens of thousands of fracking wells contaminating vast areas from Texas to Pennsylvania. What is this guy drinking? Monkey-Moonshine like Mikey? (Who can’t even get his facts on the national murder rates right.) Those wells are also adding pollutants to the water resources, on top of the 57% of watersheds already polluted with everything from benzene to PCBs and potassium perchlorate – otherwise known as rocket fuel. See also:


and: http://www.brane-space.blogspot.com/2013/01/how-badly-did-colorado-springs-city.html



The salient fact is we don’t need any more people on this planet, and certainly NOT in the U.S. since every baby born here creates a carbon footprint three times the size of child born in the third world. Already, given the present world population we are consuming an amount of resources equivalent to 1.5 Earths. If we go the way Jonathan Last proposes, where are we going to find the other “Earths” by the end of the 60 -year time frame when his global population begins to shrink (or so he claims)?  There are certainly no plans to colonize any other planets!

Anyone with half a brain ought to be able to spot bullshit when he sees it, and Last’s prescription is full of it, including the implication (brought out in Electa Draper’s article in the Denver Post on him yesterday) that “entitlements have become a substitute for children because in the past, children looked after their elders".

Yeah, well those days are gone, sonny, and I doubt few kids today would display that mindset in any case.
Would Last want to pin his hopes on a kid taking care of him in his old age? A kid - now adult- more glued to the latest video fare or online attraction than his IV? Who knows? Maybe, as Draper insists, he really is dumb enough to believe it, given he believes a much larger population will spell bounty for Earth’s billions as opposed to more hell!

Perhaps the best take on Last's bollocks was in a letter published in today's Denver Post:

"I know of no studies, save for those proposed by crackbrained “scientists,” that suggest having billions of more people on Earth is a good thing. Rather, there are hundreds of studies showing the logistical impossibility of even maintaining our present numbers. Take into account the socio-political problems of an overburdened planet — the have-nots staging unending, violent revolutions to get their piece of the pie, for instance — and this turns into a nightmare for humanity.

If the author of this article thinks it would be much easier to adapt to all the ills associated with overpopulation instead of finding solutions to keep seniors supplied with Medicare drugs and Social Security checks, then I’ve got a box of Soylent Green I’d like to sell him."

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