God bless the mothers for bringing into the world an expected 80 million new babies in the new year. Even with a world population in excess of 7 billion, countries such as ours are apparently feeling the pinch of a baby shortage. Maybe it’s time to shift the focus of our recession-addled minds from the movement of financial capital to the future of global human capital.
According to a report from the Pew Research Center, birth rates dropped precipitously during the recession. As a result, leaders in the United States, Russia and several other European countries have grown concerned that birth-rate declines could jeopardize the infrastructure and social systems at the center of our societies.
Despite the interminable debates between government leaders, bankers and investors over the future of economies, the people with the greatest power over the long-term stability and prosperity of nations are still in diapers. Without enough of them becoming educated, productive and purposeful citizens, their aging baby boomer grandparents could be facing a bleak old age.
During the recession, women in developed countries apparently decided to put off pregnancies until more auspicious times, while birth rates in other, less developed countries continued to soar. Many of these less-developed countries, such as Afghanistan and Niger, suffer from exceedingly high infant mortality rates, political instability and relatively limited life expectancies. Those young people who can move freely must be looking across borders for more welcoming societies in which to raise their children.
Low birth rates in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union led President Vladimir Putin to propose a $10,000 payment to women to have additional children, reported the Financial Times in December.
Putin also recently drove through a moratorium on the adoption of Russian babies by U.S. citizens.
Why are women reluctant to conceive in the land of the old USSR? Could Russian women be voting with their bodies in a country whose leader just threw the Pussy Riot musical group in the gulag for jamming on the rooftop of the Kremlin?
Maybe the recent shortage isn’t a fertility problem, but an immigration problem. If mothers could raise their children where they want to, we could see surprising demographic shifts. How many daughters of the Taliban would come to America rather than face persecution for going to elementary school? How many mothers in equatorial Africa despair over having children, knowing they could be stolen and trained as boy soldiers? How many Americans would emigrate to Canada for universal health care?
Perhaps leaders should vie for increased births with the rules of attraction, rather than control and promotion. The baby boom happened in the first place because Americans had reason to be optimistic about the future.
An interesting thing happens when women have more opportunities for education and more choice with regard to family planning. They often choose to have fewer children, and have them later in life, yet provide them in turn with greater opportunities. Children who are well cared for grow up to create compassionate societies, leaving positive role models for future generations. These societies in turn become magnets for immigration.
Immigration from south of the U.S. border over the last decade, both legal and illegal, has been a hotly debated topic. Mexican immigrants poured across the U.S. border when jobs were plentiful here, but in recent years one of the sharpest drops in birth rates in the U.S. has been among immigrant Hispanic women, a drop of about 23 percent.
This is troubling for U.S. government leaders who have been looking forward to a surge in revenue from second-generation immigrant sons and daughters, who were expected to work and pay taxes, eventually helping to provide needed revenue for programs like Medicaid and Medicare. The foes of immigration who once wanted to build a wall to keep illegals out of the country may soon need a fence to keep them in.
Civilizations rise and fall for many reasons. Those that nurture citizens thrive, becoming enlightened societies. Others, due to the unpopular choices of its leaders, sometimes wither from within. Which is which today? I say open the borders and let the ladies decide.
Tony Evans: firstname.lastname@example.org