Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Demographics is Destiny

Hugh Hewitt is urging all his listeners and readers to read Mark Steyn's article that appears in today's OpinionJournal.

This article originally appeared online in the January issue of The New Criterion, and expands on themes Steyn developed in his column on Christmas Day.

Steyn writes:
The design flaw of the secular social-democratic state is that it requires a religious-society birthrate to sustain it. Post-Christian hyperrationalism is, in the objective sense, a lot less rational than Catholicism or Mormonism. Indeed, in its reliance on immigration to ensure its future, the European Union has adopted a 21st-century variation on the strategy of the Shakers*, who were forbidden from reproducing and thus could increase their numbers only by conversion. The problem is that secondary-impulse societies mistake their weaknesses for strengths--or, at any rate, virtues--and that's why they're proving so feeble at dealing with a primal force like Islam.
There are other factors that can drive birth rates, even within secular non-Christian states. When I toured the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union in 1984, I was struck by the difference in their social support networks for children.

China was even then implementing their one-child policy, so each child was cherished. In Shanghai and Beijing, our tourguides informed us that babies could be put into childcare as early as 56 days post-partum, provided by the factory or apartment complex. Since women could retire in their 50s, many families had extra in-laws, aunts and cousins who could also provide childcare for the working parents.

In the Soviet Union, we visited Moscow and Leningrad. Our Leningrad Intourist guide commented to that most of her married friends had no children, a few had a single child, and none had more than one. It was just too hard! Despite the proclaimed desire of the government that its citizens procreate, the realities of unrelated families sharing apartments, a dearth of caretakers, kindergarten only available for about 1/3 of the kids, and children not starting primary school until they turned 7, were tremendous disincentives for having children.

Although both countries boasted Communist governments, their policy decisions, their history, and their underlying cultures created very different outcomes.

* I grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, so learned about the Shakers in school. You can find out more at the Shaker Historical Society.