walkitout (walkitout) wrote,
walkitout
walkitout

_The Baby Bust_, edited by Fred R. Harris

Subtitled Who Will Do the Work? Who Will Pay the Taxes?

Published 2006 by Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Split into two parts, the first parts is made up of dense, demographic analyses of Japan and Europe (and not just northern or western Europe, either). While this portion is slow going, it is well done. The second part is four essays: a historical overview of demography in the United States, an argument against the myth that Social Security is something we need to worry about fiscally and in favor of spending more money on programs for children in poverty as a way to improve the long-term curve of development in the United States, a response to right-wing objections to immigration (especially illegal, but really any Hispanic immigration) around the time this was written/published and finally a straightforwardly Great Society argument in favor of full employment and a wide variety of strategies to improve opportunities for the poor, marginalized, etc.

There are problems with this book. The major obstacle to having more children in a rural context is the lack of economic opportunity. The major obstacle to having more children in an urban context is the expense of housing. The United States has not suffered as large a decline in fertility largely because women in general have been able to figure out ways to have the number of children that they want to have. In other countries, the lack of economic opportunity (re-entry into the workforce, living wages, adequate educational opportunities, etc.) and/or appropriate housing at an affordable price has resulted in large numbers of women delaying having children and/or having fewer than they might have had if their options had been better.

But that’s not the conclusion that any of the authors reach, because they are (a) all men and (b) myopically focused on the datasets that already exist and/or (c) politically attached to either incentive-style solutions (payments, either lump sum or over time) to encourage women to have more children without changing the global environment into which this child-rearing activity will occur or a belief that just pursuing a general purpose Clinton Or Earlier Democratic program will fix everything.

You could argue that this could have been worse, in that the authors could have descended into some hellish argument in favor of shoving mothers back out of work in favor of reinstating a family wage and/or getting rid of reproductive choices so women have more kids whether they want them or not. But I wouldn’t have bought _that_ book.

Next time, I won’t buy this book, either.

There are many interesting observations in this thin book, and occasionally a careful bit of analysis. But the real program with demography is that it attempts to figure out how to get women to have more babies, without actually involving them in the process. Which is only one step removed from straightforward oppression. One step is good; more would be better.

Policy makers have a nasty habit of thinking of jobs as a way to distribute resources (which they are), rather than as artifacts of people who have more useful and effective ideas about making shit people want to pay money for than time/energy/hands/etc. Jobs are both, in our hybrid society, but if we forget their side-effect nature and load them up with stuff designed to move resources around to people who need them, you can cause the people with the ideas to make different economic decisions that result in fewer jobs (more automation, for example, even when their is available labor). If make jobs, you run some other risks which are real but tend to sound like right wing talking points: you can wipe out market sectors by providing government subsidized competitors and that’s really bad if, for example, the government program is then eliminated and now no one is providing the service -- or if the government funded program, while “cheaper” to the paying customer, is not providing what the customer wanted and so forth. This should in no way be construed as an argument _against_ redistribution of resources to those in need, who can make excellent use of them, only an observation that there are a lot of really stupid programs out there and we could probably do better.

Especially if we listen to the customers, which in a demographic, encourage a higher TFR sense, would, presumably _include women_.

Don’t waste your time. I feel bad enough about this already. This is another in the read-or-release project, and I feel like I probably should have stopped after the 5th essay, but I was so close to the end I got sucked into the oh-just-finish-it meme.
Tags: book review, economics, non-fiction, politics
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