Demographics & Depression
April 28, 2009 12:06 AM   Subscribe

I have heard many explanations of the housing crisis, but First Things, A Journal of Religion, Culture, and Public Life had one that I had never heard: America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. A number of observers have pointed to household formation as a key driver in the current and future housing markets, but no one else I have run across writes things like "the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation".
posted by Adamchik (49 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
A right wing publication with ties to noted neocons says that the lack of a two parent family is the cause of the financial crisis.

Really. Lax accounting laws, wall street miscreants, an administration that looked the other way? Nah, couldn't be. Blame single mothers.
posted by zabuni at 12:31 AM on April 28, 2009 [10 favorites]


reading the piece:

We invest our retirement savings in the formation of new households.

Actually what happened was home valuations shot up due to lower interest rates and new, non-traditional lending programs like zero-down, negative-amortization, pick-a-pay, stated income / stated asset liar loans, and total lack of regulatory oversight as to the borrower's ability to repay.

Once valuations went up, homeowners were able to borrow against their homes, receiving hundreds of billions of dollars per year of borrowed (fake) purchasing power, power that was spent on new SUVs, home decorating, cosmetic surgery, making the mortgage.

The author goes on for some paragraphs to confuse standard of living -- big houses -- with wealth-creation.

What if there really is something wrong with our future—if the next generation fails to appear in sufficient numbers? The answer is that we get poorer.

well, yeah, I think that would be a problem. I think Japan's economic prospects are rather negatory this century due to its diminishing youth base and underwhelming production of wealth-creators; cool robot animes can only take an economy so far.

However, the US does not have this problem. Our demographics are fine, somewhat thanks to immigration keeping us mildly growing even with 2.x lifetime birthrate.

The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses. It is no accident that the housing market—the economic sector most sensitive to demographics—was the epicenter of the economic crisis.

Goddammit, the population didn't shrink from 2000. Prices crashed because lending got totally insane 2003-2006. This is not rocket science, either the author is an idiot or an ideologue (but I repeat myself).

Our children are our wealth. Too few of them are seated around America’s common table, and it is their absence that makes us poor. Not only the absolute count of children, to be sure, but also the shrinking proportion of children raised with the moral material advantages of two-parent families diminishes our prospects.

Again, true to some extent, cf. Japan. But too many children are the death of an economy, cf. India, and China under Mao.

This suggests that nothing economic policy can do will entirely reverse the great wave of wealth destruction

I would hate to break it to here, but debt is not wealth.

Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life, we cannot expect to return to the kind of wealth accumulation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s.

LOL. She's still confusing Big Homes and Rising Land Prices with wealth accumulation.

The graying of the industrial world creates an inexhaustible supply of savings and demand for assets in which to invest them—which is to say, for young people able to borrow and pay loans with interest.

Well, the author's got that right. The older generation does enslave the younger through debt.

To feed the inexhaustible demand for American assets, Wall Street connived with the ratings agencies to turn the sow’s ear of subprime mortgages into silk purses, in the form of supposedly default-proof securities with high credit ratings.

The usual rightwing subprime canard. Once they get hold of a meme, that's all she wrote.

The problem is that the families with children who need to spend never were formed in sufficient numbers to sustain growth.

So what. We have more children now in this country than we ever have had (74M). Try harder, lady David.

America needs to find productive young people to whom to lend. The world abounds in young people, of course, but not young people who can productively use capital and are thus good credit risks. The trouble is to locate young people who are reared to the skill sets, work ethic, and social values required for a modern economy.

Well, the author's got a point, here. Our educational system is not producing sufficient numbers of competent individuals. Hell, 70% of the country doesn't even believe in evolution . . . fat chance these idiots would make good research biologists!

The bottom line is that we can either go for quantity or quality. The author, being an idiot ideologue with a social conservative's pro-life / pro-family axe to grind, prefers throwing more bodies at the problem.

I, being a proper liberal, would prefer to see more investment in better education so the next generation is raised smarter than us.
posted by mrt at 1:03 AM on April 28, 2009 [24 favorites]


Divorce is an even bigger driver of housing expenditure. Do you think they favour it too?
posted by bystander at 1:26 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Our children are our wealth. Too few of them are seated around America’s common table,"

So, out of curiosity, how's the author feel about Head Start programs to make sure kids start school with full belies? About SCHIP, to make sure kids can see a doctor so that asthma doesn't turn into missing too much school? About pollution caps, to prevent asthma? About minimum wage, so that the kids' moms can afford to feed them nutritious meals? About raising taxes to fund schools, education grants and student loans, so those kids can learn enought to compete with Indian and China?
posted by orthogonality at 1:45 AM on April 28, 2009 [7 favorites]


My theory is that gangsta rap brought down the economy. Also better wheelchair access.
posted by creasy boy at 1:48 AM on April 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Novelty is not always a virtue.
posted by creasy boy at 1:51 AM on April 28, 2009


My theory is that gangsta rap brought down the economy.

We can probably pinpoint the beginning of the downfall to the introduction of the word "shawty" in mid-2007. I'm pretty sure Gregory et al are trying to make this point in their videos, at least, in a an typically subtle way.
posted by effbot at 1:58 AM on April 28, 2009


orthogonality, one gets the impression that the author would prefer that the children borrow against their future incomes to pay for these social goods that their parents can't afford.

This provides the return on saved capital that rich, graying America needs for their comfortable retirement.

The Market Will Provide, if we just stand out if its way. Socialism is not the answer, since it is not The Market and interferes with its blessed operation.
posted by mrt at 2:00 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oops, forgot a link: it should have been "to the introduction of the word". When do we get an "edit with 5 minutes" feature on MetaFilter?
posted by effbot at 2:02 AM on April 28, 2009


America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics

Huh?
posted by Avenger at 2:16 AM on April 28, 2009


The problem is that the families with children who need to spend never were formed in sufficient numbers to sustain growth.

Without financial engineering, the crisis would have come sooner and in a milder form. But we would have been just as poor in consequence. The origin of the crisis is demographic, and its solution can only be demographic.

The trouble is to locate young people who are reared to the skill sets, work ethic, and social values required for a modern economy.

A generation of Americans has grown up with the belief that the traditional family is merely one lifestyle choice among many.

The young know that the promise of sexual freedom has brought them nothing but emptiness and anomie. They suffer more than anyone from the breakup of families. They know that abortion has wrought psychic damage that never can be repaired. And they see that their own future was compromised by the poor choices of their parents.

The message that our children are our wealth, and that families are its custodian, might resonate all the more strongly for the manifest failure of the alternatives.

~ ~ ~

It's an interesting, self-consistent argument, but founded on some false premises, foremost being the total avoidance of the issue of the unequal access to societal capital -- good elementary schools, healthcare, business opportunities.

I think it is true that "strong" families aid in intergenerational success. This is partially why the rich have been getting richer over the decades.

And it is true that present-day America is looking like the intro to Idiocracy.
posted by mrt at 2:36 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Divorce is an even bigger driver of housing expenditure. Do you think they favour it too?

Yes, of course, but like almost all conservative personal preferences it comes with the caveat that it is not for other people.
posted by srboisvert at 3:03 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


People people people. There is no mystery as to the source of the financial crisis. Some hippies on the left will talk about robber barons. A few bad apples on the right will talk about single mothers. But I have indisputable proof that the real miscreant is pants made from denim. Also, hats worn backwards.
posted by DU at 4:40 AM on April 28, 2009 [3 favorites]


During the 1980s the baby boomers were in their twenties and thirties, when families are supposed to take on debt; twenty years later, the baby boomers were in their fifties and sixties, when families are supposed to save for retirement.

WTF? There's a stage of family life where the family is "supposed to take on debt"? Where the hell did that come from, and has this ever even happened for young American families except for a wealthy minority near the end of the 20th century?

And furthermore there's a stage of family life where the family is supposed to save for retirement? Retirement is something that didn't even happen at all beyond sixty years ago and even then it happened through pensions, not 401-k-like investment schemes that try to route the life savings of the entire population into the investment industry. Retirement as a normal part of life for anyone except the aristocracy is a novel, late, Socialist development.

And she's got the balls to go from that stuff straight to Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life,!! What the hell does the stuff she's saying have to do with a "traditional family"? She's not talking about any sort of tradition whatsoever, familial or otherwise, she's talking about extremely modern late 20th century household economic behavior that the financial industry orgasmed over when they realized in the 70's and 80's they could inculcate.

Adamchik, you haven't run across any other writing like this about the financial crisis because this piece is not actually about the financial crisis. This is about one of the two political parties engaging in head-in-the-sand navel gazing and sticking their fingers in their ears and shouting, "Lalala! I can't hear you!" in response to the realization that the political center has moved and the party must be redefined relative to it.

This article is a fairy tale that desperately wants to believe that extremely recent conservative partisan ideology, policy, and rhetoric isn't contrivance for the political moment, much less at all a reaction to Socialist practices and policies that assumes and is defined by Socialism, but is actually instead the Ancient Way of The American Ancestors and the vital, eternal, and universal Confucian center of civilization itself. But I have to say that it's so twisted and reality-denying that it really verges on being Orwellian.
posted by XMLicious at 4:43 AM on April 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Unless we restore the traditional family to a central position in American life, we cannot expect to return to the kind of wealth accumulation that characterized the 1980s and 1990s.

Soooo....the plan is to reverse the slide in household income and benefits and start paying workers living wages so that they can actually afford homes for their families? Bonus karma if you take it further and raise worker pay so they can afford that "traditional" one-adult-works-while-the-other-adult-stays-home-with-the-kids dream.

No? Didn't think so.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:59 AM on April 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thanks, I needed my morning wingnut.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 4:59 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


LOLlyingshitsuckingkisstheassofanyreligiousgroupyoucomearcrossjustsolongastheyllvoteforyouvipers.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:15 AM on April 28, 2009


Nonsense. Bill Clinton destroyed the housing market during a Bilderberger orgy at Bohemian Grove. I have pictures!
posted by octobersurprise at 5:37 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


The second link says
More singles are moving in with each other, young adults are returning to live with their parents, and fewer immigrants are entering the country. "For those three reasons, you are seeing a slowdown in the rate of household formation,"

household formation is low right now because the economy sucks, not vice versa. That article badly blends bald assertions of opinion, value, irrelevant fact, and nonexistant expertise. It's horrible.

I flipped to the main page of the magazine, and looked at the ruminations on its future. We must consider a grim prospect. It is possible that all the work since First Things was founded in 1990—all the work since Richard John Neuhaus published his seminal book The Naked Public Square in 1984—will be dismissed as though it never existed. Done. I am completely ignoring the whining legacy of a minister who was sad about no longer having a privileged position over all public discourse. Your vision of culture was never true.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 6:18 AM on April 28, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sounds like total bullshit to me. I could swear the problem was overleveraging, not underwingnutting.

In case anyone's left who still hasn't noticed, a big part of the "economic collapse" is actually "the discovery that the value of an asset is not known until money is exchanged for it." Particularly your McMansion in Laguna Beach. That's not got a lot to do with what kind of family lives in your McMansion, has it now?

Nothing like right-wing tardbuckettery to start my day. Aahhh.
posted by PsychoTherapist at 6:19 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


mrt, I appreciate the rundown you gave of the article. An analysis that concedes what is right about what is being said along side the condemnation of what is wrong is a much more useful way to go about things than simply dismissing everything being stated. For the ultimate answer to this one, I'd turn to you and a bit of Thorzdad - the author never takes into consideration that the way the economy is structured people can't afford families, assuming that more families would be a proper solution at all.
posted by cimbrog at 6:25 AM on April 28, 2009


You know who else was worried about cultural decay?
posted by greensweater at 6:32 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just wait 'till my new article on the federal bailout is published in Orion: A Journal of Astrology, Economics, and Politics.
posted by inoculatedcities at 6:37 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Just wait 'till my new article on the federal bailout is published in Orion: A Journal of Astrology, Economics, and Politics."

I can't wait cause it will make more sense than this article did. We have to have children? Everyone? I resent the hell out of that being a member of a childless couple by choice.

Society is only comprised of the people who exist at the time. Therefore, society has to be organized based on what exists and if there is a basic change in our society then we have to deal with it. We do not just decide that we're wrecked.

This is absurd. Beyond absurd. We have too few resources for the population now, on a global scale.

This is contra everything I learned growing up. Directly contra.
posted by Tena at 7:16 AM on April 28, 2009


There is a clear solution:

Promote adoption rights for gay parents.

Also, totally open up the borders already. The US needs immigrants, or they wouldn't be coming already. Make it all legal, and get them minimum wage and some protections.
posted by jb at 7:17 AM on April 28, 2009


cimbrog, I think you're mistaking dismissal by many of the piece's central thesis and relentlessly-foreshadowed foregone conclusion as dismissal of everything literally said within it.

Do demographic problems exist? Yes, and they are potentially extremely major and deserve actual, honest acknowledgment and confrontation, which this article does not even attempt.

Are demographic problems the cause of the housing crisis or the financial crisis? No. Not even close.

Are the housing crisis and the financial crisis God's punishment for a heterodox attitude towards "family values", just like AIDS is? Not even going to be dignified with a response.
posted by XMLicious at 7:22 AM on April 28, 2009


But I have indisputable proof that the real miscreant is pants made from denim. Also, hats worn backwards.

I agree, pants made from denim are never as long wearing as their thickness seems to imply. We need to get back to some decent really long-lasting canvas trousers.

But hats worn backwards are a boon - they allow for more visibility of the face. As someone who recent taught a classroom full of hats (and who regretted not asking everyone to take off their hats,as I will do in the future), brims are bad for discussions.
posted by jb at 7:22 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


During the 1980s the baby boomers were in their twenties and thirties . . .
twenty years later
, the baby boomers were in their fifties and sixties . . .


How'd they do that, exactly?

And just who are these people who go around booming babies?
posted by Herodios at 7:23 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Only a *slightly* more creative and subtle piece of right-wing historical revisionism than the "the housing market collapsed because the Liberals forced bankers to lend to shiftless Negroes!" lie.

Completely in character for "First Things."

It's still "blame the ordinary people, not the profiteering financial elite," but here the ordinary people are partly exonerated because they are the dupes of the evil liberals.
posted by edheil at 7:34 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


Retirement is something that didn't even happen at all beyond sixty years ago and even then it happened through pensions, not 401-k-like investment schemes that try to route the life savings of the entire population into the investment industry. Retirement as a normal part of life for anyone except the aristocracy is a novel, late, Socialist development.

Retirement has a much longer record; we have court records from the middle ages which discuss retirement arrangements for peasant farmers.

Historically, one typical way to provide for one's retirement might be land or a house or cottage which one could sell or pass on to your children in exchange for them taking care of you. (I've heard an excellent BBC radio program on one woman who did this, but who then fought with her daughter and son-in-law and wanted her property back.)

Depending on the time and place, there may have been some of what we would recognise as pension support, though this was provided locally rather than nationally. In England after 1601, elderly people without enough of their own savings or property to sell, or other familial support, would turn to partial or full support from their parish through the Old Poor Law. Elderly were among those who, along with widows with young children and orphans, were usually considered to be the 'virtous [aka unable to work] poor'; by the 18th century, some elderly people even saw Poor Law support in their old age as their due for paying their poor rates (taxes) while they were prosperous and working. But even then it was often only for partial support - elderly people still saved up (if they could) against their own old age, especially the middling and upper-middle class. Widows in particular, appear to have been both big and small lenders; I've seen it in their probate accounts (for poorer widows) and in the borrowing records of a company selling bonds (invested in by richer women). Having inherited land or something like it, it was easier for a woman to sell it and invest the money than to try to manage it.

It is true that a much smaller percentage of people lived to retirement age (60s, 70s), but those who did provided for themselves by either saving money for lending out or by selling land or houses they had bought or inherited. Those that didn't fell on the social security provided by their local taxes.
posted by jb at 7:39 AM on April 28, 2009 [4 favorites]


I concur that accumulating savings for old age isn't anything new but I was interpreting retirement not as becoming unable to work, but rather planning to intentionally stop working at some point while one is still able to and being able to carry out this plan. Are you saying that is something which has been common historically? (If that's what you are saying, you've always demonstrated more than enough acumen on historical matters that I'd take your word for it jb; I just want to make sure we're talking the same terms.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:04 AM on April 28, 2009


(Speaking of terms, by "aristocracy" I didn't mean to refer just to nobility and royalty but to the bourgeoisie types as well.)
posted by XMLicious at 8:10 AM on April 28, 2009


So our population has grown from 200 million to 300 million people solely by adding older people? These older people somehow skipped being young, and just poofed into existence in our population? Seems to me that if we added 100 million people, many of them had to be children. The premise here seems to be: more children, and a higher population, broken up into nuclear families, is the only way forward for us and anything else is doom and gloom. Well, that's just idiotic. For one thing, maybe we're at an ideal population level NOW, and increasing our numbers might not be good for our nation or our planet. To think that we can just increase our population indefinitely is simply insane. And the author wants to effectively punish those who DON'T have kids? (And presumably reward the hell out of any Octomoms out there.) I want some of what the author's smoking.
posted by jamstigator at 8:36 AM on April 28, 2009


Too funny.

Of course, demographics do play a role for sure, and will certainly be a problem for the future. However to dig up the past and lather a spurious argument on facts that simply don't support it....that is ignorance or politics. Or Both.
posted by Aetius Romulous at 8:42 AM on April 28, 2009


Maybe it's my Catholic CCD training from 8th grade, but I detect more than a whiff of a "natural law" argument in the article. The twist is that the article "naturalizes" the credit cycle. The premises of the argument seem to be: 1. The credit cycle is based on the rhythms of nature. 2. Childless Americans are messing with Mother Nature. 3. Therefore, there is a credit crisis. On the other hand, it's at odds with a lot of the Catholic natural law tradition, because it "naturalizes" completely secular, human laws about banking in a way that completely ignores how Catholic thought has historically been critical of capitalism (e.g., the Christian Democratic parties of Europe, the Catholic support for the New Deal coalition).
posted by jonp72 at 8:45 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I concur that accumulating savings for old age isn't anything new but I was interpreting retirement not as becoming unable to work, but rather planning to intentionally stop working at some point while one is still able to and being able to carry out this plan.

If you are defining it that narrowly, then I would say that a great many people today never retire, but work until they are physically unable to. Many people are in really quite bad health when they hit their 60s and they can begin to access retirement savings or government support; in fact, I don't know the numbers on this myself, but just from watching society I would guess that retirement out of choice and in good health is more of a minority phenomenon than majority. Most people retire when they have to, whether from mandatory retirement, or health reasons, or both. And with people living longer, but morbidity still a problem for many in their 50s and 60s, this retirement out of neccessity can be very long; since you can't come out of this retirement, the financial provision for your poor health old age is all the more important.

But the article is not talking just about voluntary retirement by people who can afford to do so while still in relatively good health; the article is talking about all forms of retirement - that is, people borrowing money when they are young to get their livelihoods started, and then accumulating over time so that when they stop working - whether that is from desire or necessity - but haven't yet died, they can support themselves by lending out what they have accumulated. This is still the meaning of retirement to, well, me and most of my family, and most of our neighbourhood, and this definitely has a long history. I'm not a medievalist, but BBC Radio 4's "The Long View" ran a program based on court records about a woman who signed her house and maybe land too over to her daughter with the expectation that this property would provide for her retirement (sorry, their site doesn't have information on old programs, or I would look up what century. But definitely pre-1500).

My own reading and research has been on the 17th and 18th century, and that's where I have seen widows lending out money and sometimes owning very little else, suggesting they may have lived in a relative's house or rented a room; it seems to me not unreasonable to interpret the estate of a woman who has some £20 lent out (more than a labourer's yearly income) and almost nothing else as being the estate of a retired woman living off of her savings. Research on old age in the early modern finds that many elderly people stopped keeping their own households long before they died, instead moving into a room with a relative or renting one; since households were as much a site of production as consumption (being farms or workshops, even for people doiing piecework), this fits with a retirement from full work. Again, this may have been due to health, but so is modern retirement for most but the lucky well-to-do and/or healthy.

on preview: ooh - don't mix the middling sorts with the aristocracy, or there madness lies. What you may be thinking about are what British historians call the "pseudo-gentry" - the doctors and lawyers and merchants who work for a living, rather than living off estate rents, and thus can't properly be called gentry (aka untitled aristocracy), but who live lifestyles not dissimilar to, and who socialised and intermarried with, the lower gentry. After all, many of these pseudo-gentry were themselves the younger sons or the daughters of gentry families. For British history, "aristocracy" is a term generally restricted to the land-owning gentry and nobility, because land-ownership is also connected with voting rights. Some of the pseudo-gentry, for example, would not have been vote before the reforms of 1832, because they did not own enough land of the right kind. (It wasn't a large amount, but had to be freehold, so some farmers could vote, but lots of doctors or rich bankers or industrialists couldn't).

But I'm talking about middling sorts - shop keepers, bakers, tailors, farmers (big and small - they run the whole spectrum of the middling) - who clearly worked for their livelihoods and in a way that could not be continued into their old age, but also had the potential to accumulate savings and/or property (which is just like savings only solid). The very poor may have been less likely to accumulate savings or property, but may still have had some. Some parishes took pauper inventories of what people owned when they moved into a poorhouse/workhouse (where not all worked) or almshouse, because the parish would sell off many of their belongings to help pay for their maintenance. Second hand furniture, clothes, tools, etc. had a fairly significant value. A regular bed, for example, could be worth about 1/4 - 1/3 of a labourer's yearly income.
posted by jb at 8:49 AM on April 28, 2009 [2 favorites]


XMLicious, I was talking about how I like to see these sorts of articles looked at. Its one thing to simply dismiss with a wave of the hand, but that doesn't help if I ever need to argue against this (and hanging out with lots of Catholics I just might). My mind doesn't really focus any more so while I perceive that something is wrong with the argument, it really helps to have someone come along and point out exactly what's wrong and what's right.
posted by cimbrog at 8:50 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know it's Godwining, but how kinder, kirche, kuche can you get? When all else fails, blame those slutty (but non-procreating*) wimminz and the men who aid and abet them, and pay no attention to the corrupt financial institutions behind the curtain. So sayeth the great and powerful Oz.

*whites only of course. Brown people procreating is A Crisis That We Must Fear.
posted by emjaybee at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


I guess that my idea of what retirement is comes from having met numerous older people who were actually working full time "to keep busy" at a retail job or some other position more humble than what they considered their career to have been, but still regarded themselves as retired. (This is in the U.S., which is also the context in which I was using "aristocracy" - I realize that in nations with better-delineated class history the word would take on more specific meaning than "people who are well-off through wealth or power.")

Also, in the current financial crisis I have repeatedly heard of an older person who takes a job to avoid (further) erosion of savings as having "come out of retirement" even if it's a part-time job. So these things are why I've interpreted retirement not as being about whether you work or how much you work or if you're able to work, but as a matter of whether you can be at a point in your life where you don't feel that you have to work and that's a stable situation.

I would definitely agree that there are certainly a great many people today who never retire in the way I'm describing. But my impression has been that "work until you die unless all your limbs fall off" was pretty well universal among all but the tiniest minority of society until some time after WWII, even in places like the Soviet Union. (Which, although it never got anywhere near to catching up with the economic powerhouse bling of the West, did in the 50's and 60's and 70's have an arc of prosperity where a large segment of the older population could live off their pensions, have a dacha in the country, and take vacations on Black Sea beaches, in stark contrast to Tsarist Russia or even today's Russia believe. And as long as they never said anything negative about the Communist Party, and didn't own or check out from a library the wrong kinds of books, of course.)
posted by XMLicious at 9:40 AM on April 28, 2009


Seriously, this whole problem could be solved but just opening up the border with Mexico. I hear them Catholics like big families. And there you go!

Um, unless this:

The trouble is to locate young people who are reared to the skill sets, work ethic, and social values required for a modern economy.

reads "white only". But with a problem so dire, surely she doesn't really mean it? Parts of Africa the birth rate is still 5 or 6 children for every woman. That would take care of the aging of North American pretty quickly, no?
posted by jokeefe at 10:20 AM on April 28, 2009


Wow, crazy stuff. Of course, even without the crazy, we still have a very real problem as a species:

1) Fewer people consuming less is best for our long-term survival, at least until we get space arks or some such magic-tech.

2) Many parts of our economic system depend on more people consuming more, ad infinitum.

I pick #1 as more important but I'm deeply embedded in a society (the U.S.) that promotes #2, and I depend on #2 in lots of ways even though I'm liberal little monkey.

Now what?
posted by freecellwizard at 12:22 PM on April 28, 2009


Parton my malthusian musings, but what would the author have us do when we run out of space for all the bigger and bigger generations which will keep us rich?
posted by General Tonic at 1:15 PM on April 28, 2009


Uh, make that "Pardon."
posted by General Tonic at 1:22 PM on April 28, 2009


I got as far as the graph illustrated in the article before I quit, because the graph is a perfect example of distorted facts.

For those that haven't seen it: it's a chart showing two lines- one is the percentage of the population 4 and under, the other is the percentage of the population over 65.

The chart starts at 1950, 5 years after WW2 ended and the baby boom was in full swing. OF COURSE we are going to see an abnormally large percentage of the population being 4 and under at this point! By beginning their graph at this year, the author intends to present this state as normal and one that pre-existed the beginning date on the graph.

Secondly, OF COURSE the percentage of the population over 65 grows as we have had tremendous improvements in medicine that have allowed the average lifespan to greatly increase. This is further aggravated by the fact that most of these improvements take years to show up, so you won't see the benefits in the years at the beginning of the cart.

The chart is a carefully calculated lie meant to persuade the reader, not report facts. They weren't even particularly clever about it. I couldn't finish the article.
posted by keep_evolving at 4:12 PM on April 28, 2009


But my impression has been that "work until you die unless all your limbs fall off" was pretty well universal among all but the tiniest minority of society until some time after WWII, even in places like the Soviet Union.

I think we can say "work until you die" may have been true for those who died on the job, or in their working years (as many did, from accidents and infections), but those who did live into their old age did retire from the work of their adulthood, though they may have kept up with other, less intensive work. People did pass on their shops/businesses/farms before they died; older men might, for example, give up their farm to a son and move in with a daughter. This was a kind of retirement - a change in life-stage from working adult to non-full working elder. There is a scholar who has done work on manhood in the seventeenth century, and she's found, for example, that while elderly men were often called upon to testify as to custom (having the longest memory), they weren't seen as authoritative or credit worthy as middle-aged men, because they had retired and were no longer the head of businesses or farms and households. (Apologies if you recognise the work, and I've mis-summarised it; it's been 5 years since I read it - also please correct my summary.)

Few people can "work until you die" - who, after all, would hire them? There is always unemployment, and who would hire a crook backed man with arthritis when there is a strapping young man beside him?

Instead, through time, children have been one very natural retirement savings plan: you support them when young, they support you when old. English poor law officials used to go chasing after adult children to pay for the upkeep of their elderly parents who had fallen on poor relief. A professor of mine also suggested that the main reason for the failure of the one child policy in rural China was the lack of social security; children, mostly boys, were the traditional retirement plan.

So the author of the article does have a point, a bit, but then he should be pushing for immigration to keep the age pyramid of the country more pyramidy without contributing to further world population growth.
posted by jb at 4:32 PM on April 28, 2009


I was thinking in terms of you felt compelled to keep farming or fishing or whatever sort of wheeling and dealing or side jobs you did while younger, even if you've passed the torch somehow and moved in with your children. That seems distinctly different from getting the gold watch and the pension and tipping your hat to the old gang at the office and settling down to the "retired life", perhaps along with moving into a gated community somewhere. Which, again, I'm not saying everyone or even the majority of people are able to do but it's what I think of when I think of retirement and it appears to be a material and marked difference from the way things were in the past, from my totally amateur reading of history.

But you make lots of good points. Certainly, there's always been an attenuation of activity in the winter of life. And I'd especially distrust that my impression of Victorian and earlier England is probably overly influenced by and conflated with Charles Dickens.
posted by XMLicious at 5:35 PM on April 28, 2009


but what would the author have us do when we run out of space for all the bigger and bigger generations which will keep us rich?

War. And it's more effective horse riding cousins, Famine and Pestilence. And Death. The Bible is right in line with those four checks and balances. The first also being very profitable.
posted by tkchrist at 5:43 PM on April 28, 2009


In my experience, most of the wingnuts who push this sort of thinking

a) are racists who are advocating only more WHITE babies

and

b) are themselves childless.

Anybody know this guy's family?
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 6:06 PM on April 28, 2009


But it is among the young that such a conservative message could reverberate the loudest. The young know that the promise of sexual freedom has brought them nothing but emptiness and anomie. They suffer more than anyone from the breakup of families. They know that abortion has wrought psychic damage that never can be repaired. And they see that their own future was compromised by the poor choices of their parents.

The scary thing is that until I got to this paragraph, I found myself tempted to agree with this guy's argument. But this just sent up every red flag I have. The only thing he's missing is "gay marriage destroys families", and it's not hard for the paranoiac in me to believe that particular sentence was deleted in hopes of not immediately alienating people.
posted by spitefulcrow at 12:44 AM on April 29, 2009


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