Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Marxism and Demography

The NYT Magazine has an interesting article about how just about all of Europe but also other countries are seeing birthrates below the replacement rate, and in some cases, breathtakingly so. Not all of the information in the article is new or particularly informative, tho some of it is, especially the part about how the northern European countries have a negative birthrate but the southern ones have a disastrously low one, and why this might be. The thesis: in the north they encourage integration of women into the workplace and encourage men to participate in the work of raising a family, while in the south they encourage the women to work but not the men to contribute at home.

When the article reaches the most significant exception by far, the USA, which still has more births than deaths and totally flies in the face of the international trend, the explanation is that while the US doesn't do much to encourage families to have kids, its flexible work market allows women to drop out and later drop back in.

Israel, probably the most unusual of all, doesn't even get mentioned, but that's OK.

So far so good. What puzzles me most about the article is not what it tells, but what it doesn't. The whole thing is an exercise in (rather hidden) Marxism: the world is run by economic considerations, period. There is no mention whatsoever of the single most important issue, namely what people want. If they feel that having children is important, all the rest will work itself out. If they feel their personal lifestyle is more important, they won't have children. This moves from anecdote to demography when the entire society changes its mind on the matter. Such a decision has to be influenced by many considerations, but ultimately, so it has always seemed to me, the over riding one is how we relate as individuals to the future. Is our world something we inherited in ordered to manage as best as possible so as to transfer it in the best possible condition to our descendants? Or is it the place we spend our allocated years as best as possible, and the future will worry about itself? That rather simple sentence can then be elaborated endlessly, but the essence won't change.

Anecdotal evidence: the segment of society I live in is as modern and as educated as any group, anywhere. Most the people in it have more than the three children we have. I don't remember any of us, ever, not even once, putting financial considerations before the decision to have children. Everybody in my world agrees that having and raising our children is the single most important thing we do in life.

PS. And note that the Germans and the Austrians don't fit into the pattern: tho they're northern in their structures, they're southern n the outcome of not having children. Hint: might this not perhaps indicate the existence of some other consideration, more powerful than anything the Marxists can measure? Now think about it: Germans and Austrians. Austrians and Germans. Hmmm. What might they have about them that makes them different from Norwegians, French, English, etc?

PPS. Also unmentioned, alongside the Israelis, are the Australians. As you know, I just got back from there, and can report that they, also, are still having children. I can explain that, but the NYT couldn't.


kai said...

Fully agree. Though, even in Germany - or wherever - you can live against all statistics and be happy. We and our friends have usually three kids per family, some have more. As you said: it's about values.

Anonymous said...


Oh, hitler changed our world, for sure. But he's left germany in terrible shape. To suffer, ahead, one thousand years.

But going along with this change isn't just the birth rates here and there. Italy once boasted the MOST kids per woman's belly, out there. Mousolini used to give "awards" to women who birthed 17 to 24 kids. Almost never seeing a single period.

And, the Italians were poor! So some of those kids were sacrificed to the Church! You mean you didn't know? When you can't feed all the mouths at the table, guess what? You tell your kids they'll eat better if they become priests and nuns.

Italy was the first to grasp the idea that fewer was better. And, today? Just to show the Catholic Church a thing or two; most Italians opt for one kid, a piece.

The other thing to notice?

Kids used to marry young.

Today? Girls menstruate, but don't even marry in their later teenage years. Postponing births ... till some don't even get pregnant until their 30's.

Minor changes you can fix.

But the major ones? They apply.

And, there seems to be a built-in resistance to larger families these days. While I remember how Detroit, once Americans began driving, built the "station wagon" ... because if you had more than 3 kids ... you couldn't get them all into one vehicle.

Today? Some moms opt for larger cars, because they do the driving ... to and from soccer practice. But in the cars? Not just one's family, anymore.

My own grandma was born in 1872. She had a total of five births. Losing her second child, a son, born in 1898, in 1900. Then, she had 3 more kids. (All in Warsaw. Before the big trip to America.)

She was very proud that her four kids LIVED! Back in the days when people had lots of children, childhood illnesses took a toll.

Where today we have vaccinations. I can remember hot summers, back before 1952, when kids were kept off beaches, because of polio.

The American President, Franklin Delino Roosevelt sat in a wheelchair. Because he got polio when he was 32.

And, where did antibiotics come from? Oddly enough, just as wars push civilizations backward, they also produce the miracles. And, antibiotics was just such a case. Because too many soldiers didn't die of their wounds, but of infections that followed.

By the way, tables turn.

There's a famous American, Jimmy Rodgers (if you liked watching financial news). Who, at the age of 53, back in the late 1980's; decided to "tour the world" and report on its financial variances.

His first stop was Ireland. A backwater, due to the Catholic Church; which was their mafia. Which "blessed" the IRA terrorists. And, of course, the famous "potato famine" that decimated the potato crops back in the late 1800's; causing the BRAIN DRAIN flood out of Ireland; to Boston. And, beyond.

Well, in the late 1980' nothing had changed.

And, Europe is really a backwater of socialism. With all the ills you can see.

But Ireland was wide open. Cheap real estate. And, the big business of technology came in.


That's why I don't panic when I hear "what's ahead for Iran, or Lebanon." Nothing much in their current conditions.

But the internals, when they don't look good, are usually also creating their own dynamics.

Oh, yes. Family sizes can always change. Doesn't mean they will. Or that they'll go in a direction suit-able for what happens ahead.


Just like when the First Temple fell. Just like "the end of the world" that was predicted when it was Rome, herself, that would fall.

No matter how long crazy cults continue ... there comes a time when something "stops."


Something grows.

Following the Holocaust, you see, today, an entirely different type of Jew!

Ya know, at one time, as branches of Judaism grew into 3 definable branches; in today's world this isn't so true. America has more variety than Israel.

And, even the ways that Israel grew; from the Diaspora IN; there's another reality where it can grow from Israel, out, to the rest of the world.

You think the Reform Movement has to trim its sails?

I don't spend time trying to guess the future.

But just like there were adjustments following the destruction of the First Temple, we are on the horizon line of changes that happen into the thousands of years, ahead.