David Brooks and the Art of Linear Thinking

In The New York Times, David Brookstackles the Fertility Implosion, the fact that , when women have access to reproductive rights and reproductive health services (like general health services but also anticonception) on average, they don’t like to spend their life as baby factories. This seems to lead in every country to a fall in the number of babies, which in the long run (when the last babies of the fertile years become pensioners, so in some 60, in the future probably rather 70 years) leads to a shrinking workforce.

His starting point is the falling fertility in the Arab countries.

Then he moves further to lament the cost of and aging population, the Grey Tsunami coming over us, with as notorious examples the Chinese, European and Indian.

As a final warning he talks about the declining fertility in the US.

I don’t want to write a long post on this, but as this reasoning combines top down planning of the most cherished choices of individuals with a lack of scientific knowledge, I would like to call immediately Godwin’s law and eugenetics. Talking about diminishing fertility rates while only showing it as an issue, not an opportunity is for me an important misrepresentation:

  1. Being the master of your own fertility is a basic human right. Writing, talking about fertility without referring to this right in a tone of “we are in danger” incites to social engineering without respect for this right.
  2. It is not the fertility of women going down, it is the average fertility rate: the number of children they choose on average to have. Biology stops being destiny. Is it ethical to start manipulating the wishes of people?
  3. The major cause and effect of this decline is the empowerment of women. Is there a misogynist agenda here? Instead of having 8 children from the age of 16, woman do sometimes chose to study, take a few years off for children, and with all respect, do with their life what they want including raising children. The women with a good degree will be way more productive than the unschooled from before the empowerment.
  4. Some 16 years after the fertility declines there is a window of opportunity for a booming growth: young people enter the workforce, and there is no need to scale up a lot of services like health and education anymore, just to keep up with population growth. It takes another 40 years or more before they reach retirement. The Asian Tigers fully enjoyed this window. The Arab countries might be there in only a few years. Please include this fact also in your reasoning.
  5. Retirement financing is indeed a problem of adaptation, but not a problem that cannot be tackled. It is rather a problem of planning and saving for a rainy day, than a substantive problem. Indeed, David, planning for it is a good idea.
  6. Linear thinking does not come close to predict the future. The population is not a mass of people all doing exactly the same. Women abused and raped by their husband would have a fighting chance of not bearing child after child in the new world, but the same reproductive health services help loving couples to get the children they want or single women to fulfil their wish to be a mother. Subcultures that are more child friendly, like loving parents, back to earth ecologists or orthodox faiths (not a scientific list), will out-breed the others. Without going into details: when looking into the population in detail, some groups will show a rising fertility, while others a declining fertility rate. Over time this leads to the numbers inching up again, problem solved. Why doesn’t Brooks refer to Sweden?
  7. Perhaps one of the major concerns is how society changes if children are really wanted. When looking at the countries who are further up the curve, like Sweden and other Scandinavian countries, this might not be bad at all. Societies like this seem to attach more importance to the quality of life. The parents want their children to grow up in a nice world. However, this might be due to other factors than only demographics.just think about it: people who don’t like children in a society die out in a society where you get children only when you wan them.

There must be more, but hey, I am angry.

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