Signs of Hope

Steven Mosher
By Joseph A. D'Agostino
PRI Weekly Briefing
9 June 2006
Vol. 8 / No. 22
Reproduced with Permission

In this space, we often criticize and warn. This time, we will point to some signs of hope and progress, at least in media discourse and people's mentalities, on demographic issues. The crisis of falling birthrates worldwide continues to get more and more attention from pundits and politicians, as does the differentials in birthrates between different demographic groups.

* In most Western European nations, the self-destructive disease of political correctness has long prevented an honest debate about the wisdom of large-scale Muslim immigration into Europe. Now, in the most culturally influential European nation, France, there are signs that an honest debate could soon begin in mainstream society. Les Mosquees de Roissy (The Mosques of Roissy), a book by French nationalist political leader Philippe de Villiers, is currently among the top ten best-selling books in France. Given the high rate of Muslim immigration into the country, the immigrants' high birthrate, and native Frenchmen's low birthrate, de Villiers argues that Christians will one day have oppressed minority "dhimmi" status in a majority-Muslim France. In order to prevent this, he suggests halting immigration and eliminating the automatic granting of citizenship to all children born in France. Of course, these measures would not save France from the coming "white plague" of an aging population, since her native population's birthrate is far below replacement level.

* Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin used a major speech to direct parliament to adopt a ten-year plan to raise the disastrously low Russian birthrate. Russia's population is shrinking at about 700,000 annually, and could go from 143 million today to under 100 million by 2050  and with a much older, less economically productive population. Saying "the situation is critical," Putin wants payments of up to US$9,000 for women who have a second child, longer maternity leaves, and more cash and day-care subsidies for mothers. Since the average monthly income in Russia is about $330, that sum to entice a second child is a considerable one. But as a young Russian woman told the Christian Science Monitor (May 19), "A child is not an easy project, and in this world a woman is expected to get an education, find a job, and make a career." Russia cannot survive if her people continue in such attitudes. "If current trends persist, there will be four dependents for every Russian worker by 2025," says Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovle. "Russia needs a million new workers every year. If we don't get them, we can forget about economic growth." Russia has an 80% divorce rate, making larger families very difficult. The Russian parliament typically does whatever Putin asks, so passage of his proposal is near-certain. Putin labeled demography "Russia's most acute problem today," making him one of the most acute heads of state in the world.

* The government of South Korea has decided to prioritize raising the country's suicidal fertility rate of 1.2 children per woman. It has allocated 33 trillion won (US$35 billion) to spend over the next five years to address the nation's problems of a low birthrate and aging population. The eventual goal is to achieve a birthrate of 1.6 by 2020, still well below the replacement level of 2.1. About 80% of parents will receive some sort of subsidy under the program. Unfortunately, the money for this project will be raised by a special tax, which will increase the burden on South Korea's economy and thus could decrease her birthrate in the long run. And as the Korea Herald noted June 9, "Money alone, however, cannot raise the birthrate. It is necessary for the government to make legal and institutional changes as well if its policy is to bear fruit. It may even have to attempt to change the culture in favor of childbearing."

We can't help saying that the measures promoted above are unlikely to improve the demographic situation much. Government subsidies to raise birthrates have been tried already and found wanting. More radical, systemic changes are needed: An end to the two-career norm and a return to homemaking motherhood, far lower taxes on families with children, and a culture that exalts family rather than denigrates it. However, small efforts or simply discussion now could lead to larger efforts later.