An Extreme Example Of The Progressive Approach To Public Policy

As noted here many times, the key tenets of the Progressive approach to public policy are (1) total aversion to looking up easily available facts and information, and (2) blind faith that all human problems can be solved with the magic elixir of government taxing and spending.  If we believe something is true, then it must be true; and if it is a problem, we will fix it by throwing taxpayer money at it!

There are way more examples of this than I could ever cover, but today's New York Times (where else?) contains an example that is so extreme as to be just completely ridiculous.  The headline is "Birthrates Fall With Fortunes," and the author is Liz Alderman.  The sub-headline is "Greek Austerity Extends Even to the Cradle."

The article reports on the low fertility rates afflicting several of the countries of Southern Europe (Spain, Portugal, Italy), and particularly focuses on Greece.  It seems that after a few years of slight recovery from previously very low levels, the fertility rate in Greece has recently declined again.  Why?  It's the "economic crisis":

As couples grapple with a longer-than-expected stretch of low growth, high unemployment, precarious jobs and financial strain, they are increasingly deciding to have just one child -- or none.

And what's the evidence that the decline in births is caused by economic stagnation and "financial strain"?  Of course, it's anecdotes!  Example:

“People are saying they can’t afford more than one child, or any at all,” Dr. Mastrominas, a director at Embryogenesis, a large in vitro fertilization center, said as videos of gurgling toddlers played in the waiting room. “After eight years of economic stagnation, they’re giving up on their dreams.” . . .  Maria Karaklioumi, 43, a political pollster in Athens, decided to forgo children after concluding she would not be able to offer them the stable future her parents had afforded.

And so forth.  But can we just do a little checking to see if this narrative stands up to even the slightest amount of scrutiny?  Well, not in this article -- remember, it's the New York Times.  However, the spooks at the CIA helpfully provide a country-by-country list of fertility rates for the whole world for 2016.  There's a lot to be learned from just perusing this list for a few minutes.  Examples:

  • Although the correlation is not quite perfect, it is completely obvious that fertility rates have a very strong negative correlation with the overall wealth of the country.  That is, with some modest exceptions, the richer the country the lower the fertility rate, and the poorer the country the higher the fertility rate.  In other words, the facts are exactly the opposite of the Pravda narrative.
  • The fertility rates of the stagnating Southern European countries are indeed low:  Greece - 1.42; Italy - 1.43; Spain - 1.49; Portugal - 1.53.  ("Replacement" level -- the level needed to keep population from declining -- is about 2.1.)  But then there's the richest large country in Europe, Germany.  Its fertility rate is 1.44.  Austria's rate is 1.47.  Super-wealthy Switzerland, at 1.55, is not really distinguishable from Portugal.
  • And what countries in the world have the very, very, very lowest fertility rates?  Yes, it's the richest countries in the world, the Asian city-states.  The lowest rate I can find for any country is Singapore at 0.82.  Hong Kong is not far behind at 1.19.
  • The relatively rich major economies of Asia all have low fertility rates, some even lower than the Southern European countries.  Examples:  South Korea - 1.25; Taiwan - 1.12; Japan - 1.41; Thailand - 1.51.  China is substantially poorer, and has somewhat higher fertility at 1.6.
  • And where should we look for the very highest fertility rates in the world?  To the very poorest countries, of course, most of them located in sub-Saharan Africa.  The contrasts with the wealthy countries are dramatic.  The highest rate I can find is Niger at 6.62.  Other examples:  Burundi - 6.04; Mali - 5.95; Nigeria - 5.13; Zambia - 5.67; Malawi - 5.54; Mozambique - 5.15.  There are plenty of others.
  • And outside of Africa, where will you find the countries with highest fertility rates?  Just look for the very poorest countries.  For example, in Asia, it's Afghanistan (fertility rate: 5.22).  In Latin America, it's Haiti (2.79).

So what is the answer to the problem of low fertility?  This being Pravda, it isn't hard to guess:  tax breaks and subsidies from the state.

The lower birthrates have been aggravated by fiscal pressures that constrained countries from offering robust family support programs. Whereas France offers a monthly family benefit of 130 euros (about $138) per child after the second child, Greece provides just 40 euros. . . .   Italy increased bonuses for having babies and backed labor laws granting more flexible parental leave.  Greece, as the weakest economic link, does not have the same options.  Struggling to manage a recovery after nearly eight years of recession, the government cannot make the fertility drop a top priority. Child tax breaks and subsidies for large families were weakened under Greece’s austerity-linked international financial bailouts.

It really makes you wonder what kind of lavish parental leave and tax breaks they must have in Niger and Burundi!