Sunday, March 28, 2004

Supporting Families, Sustaining the Nation

Matthew Yglesias, describing me as a "left-traditionalist" (why didn't I think of that? it's perfect!), brings up a subject that he correctly infers I am fairly interested in, and which, as far as I can tell, has practically zero support among his blog's regular readers--the problem of population decline in Western nations. Matt makes the, I think, very reasonable argument that nations--especially relatively successful, democratic and egalitarian ones--concerned with preserving their economy and polity ought to take action to reduce the costs of child-bearing and child-rearing; that is, employing "socialist means" to achieve "conservative ends." He cites this excellent article in the Washington Monthly on the real costs--in terms of social insurance, job growth, tax revenue, and so forth--of allowing a nation's population to actually fall below the replacement rate. I'm glad Matt brought the article to my attention; it's an excellent survey of some economic data that many "lifestyle liberals" would prefer to deny. (Though there's a lot more to the problematic economics of raising children in America today than the article touches on; for instance, it doesn't pay nearly enough attention to consequences of the two-income model of family life having become practically mandatory if one wants to be able to afford a home. See Laura for more details; her suggestions about actively recreating the middle-class "Levittown" communities of the past may seem nostalgic, but actually they fit right into exactly the sort of positive, family-friendly actions which Matt is suggesting we take seriously.)

Most of the comments to Matt's post suggest that the majority of his regular readers think that any concern about national/cultural/economic/political sustainability, and the relation such has to the family and child-rearing, is borderline racist and in any case profoundly conservative. I won't try to pick a fight with any or all of them; I'll just salute Matt's courage and open-mindedness. And then I'll do him a big favor, and associate his post with this article from First Things. (I'll bet that's the first time Matt and FT have ever been linked together.) But seriously--the author of this essay comes, from a thoroughly conservative perspective, to essentially the same conclusion as Matt: there is a real need, and a reasonable one, for society to act collectively on behalf of easing the social and economic costs of child-rearing in the modern world. Read it--and then, read the author's response to the many government-hating traditionalists who wrote in, angry that FT would print anything so "socialist." Strange bedfellows indeed!