He called for “More Babies, Please.”
“In the eternally recurring debates about whether some rival great power will knock the United States off its global perch, there has always been one excellent reason to bet on a second American century: We have more babies than the competition,” he wrote.
But that’s changing.
“American fertility plunged with the stock market in 2008, and it hasn’t recovered,” he wrote. “Last week, the Pew Research Center reported that U.S. birthrates hit the lowest rate ever recorded in 2011, with just 63 births per 1,000 women of childbearing age. (The rate was 71 per 1,000 in 1990.)”
That’s important, he noted, because “Today’s babies are tomorrow’s taxpayers and workers and entrepreneurs, and relatively youthful populations speed economic growth and keep spending commitments affordable.”
But he offers no real answers to the fertility cliff. He acknowledges “government’s power over fertility rates is limited,” but suggests “a more family-friendly tax code, a push for more flexible work hours, or an effort to reduce the cost of college.”
Amanda Marcotte responded in Slate magazine, “Right-wingers may be busy tallying the number of babies born, but the rest of us are actually worried about taking care of them when they get here. …
In addition, many of us worry about handing over this planet to younger generations, especially in light of … the global warming crisis.”
Added Sarah Sentilles in Religion Dispatches magazine, “I have chosen not to have a biological child because I don’t want to live in a world where every animal of the earth and bird of the air experiences fear and dread at my approach.”
The reactions are as extreme as the column itself was, well, pointless. Douthat’s worry is valid — the burden of the boomer generation will be a heavy one, indeed, and will need lots and lots of workers to support it.
But by failing to offer a solution beyond vague policies to support “families” — meaning ones with children — Douthat shows himself to be a mere alarmist.
We’ve seen what those policies would produce — it’s called the “Life of Julia,” that once-mocked campaign ad in support of President Barack Obama’s vision of government-as-helpmeet.
There are, however, real policy changes that could make a difference. The child tax credit is part of the “fiscal cliff” scenario, and if Congress fails to act, it will revert to $500 per child, down from $1,000. That’s real money in the pockets of real families. It should be saved, and even expanded.
A growing economy would also encourage more couples to have children. That, too, can be achieved, if Congress has the courage.
But don’t worry. People will keep having babies. It’s what they do.