Mark Adomanis at Forbes:

...While Douthat is right that the move towards lower fertility has occurred in essentially all wealthy and developed countries, the specifics vary greatly: Sweden‘s 1.98 TFR is pretty low by historical standards, but from the perspective of long-term viability it looks a heck of a lot better than Germany‘s 1.39. Even within supposedly decadent and corrupt Europe, there are very large variations both in fertility patterns and in economic dynamism.

Is it actually true that countries with lower fertility systematically chose “stagnation” over innovation? Are countries with a more robust focus on child-rearing actually more dynamic and innovative?

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and Samuel Goldman at the American Conservative:

...These numbers suggest that changing incentives is insufficient to promote larger families.      Fertility in France and Sweden might be even lower without generous subsidies. Yet those policies haven’t exactly created a baby boom. And Americans continue to reproduce at a relatively high rate even in the absence of generous social policy.

Although it may not be politically helpful to say so, Douthat is mostly right about the underlying reason for these trends. Quite apart from economic incentives, the sexual revolution fundamentally altered the normative order of Western societies.

But Douthat’s wrong to give present comfort such a dominant role in this structure. The master value of the modern West isn’t enjoyment, but personal autonomy. And it’s hard to pursue your own goals in your own way when encumbered by offspring, particularly in the numbers necessary to population growth.

If they are to have even limited success, then, policies intended to remedy declining birthrates must accept this change. In other words, they can and should aim to make it easier for people who want families to have and raise children.

But there’s not much government can do to encourage people who regard children as a burden to produce them. Only a major cultural change could do that. In this respect, the demographic future of Western societies may depend on the fate of their religious traditions much more than on their tax codes. I’m not holding my breath for neo-liberals to acknowledge that.

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Articles by Eve Tushnet

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