Babies and Immigrants and Uncomfortable Things

They have babies; not sure about immigrants...
They have babies; not sure about immigrants…

Ross Douthat’s Op/Ed this weekend advocates for babies, more of them, covering a couple of topics I love because they are overlooked as reasons for why the United States can enjoy being “Amurrica!”

Namely, babies and immigrants.

He begins:

IN the eternally recurring debates about whether some rival great power will knock the United States off its global perch, there has always been one excellent reason to bet on a second American century: We have more babies than the competition.

It’s a near-universal law that modernity reduces fertility. But compared with the swiftly aging nations of East Asia and Western Europe, the American birthrate has proved consistently resilient, hovering around the level required to keep a population stable or growing over the long run.

America’s demographic edge has a variety of sources: our famous religiosity, our vast interior and wide-open spaces (and the four-bedroom detached houses they make possible), our willingness to welcome immigrants (who tend to have higher birthrates than the native-born)

His point is that the U.S. birthrate has remained high, except for a recent downturn that coincides with the 2008 recession, and so he hopes we get, uh, producing and don’t fall prey to the comforts of modernity that keep us from going forth and multiplying. (The latter, when I think about my mother somehow raising six children, rings true when I consider the burden simply taking the dogs out imposes on my lifestyle.)

But I like that he brings up two keys to a society’s success — keys that are pretty divorced from the national pride points of independence and hard work and smarts and all that — that don’t get much attention. They’re demographic and sociological details, not nationalist or patriotic ones.

What’s more, they straddle two of the extremes of our present political and philosophical divide:

Proud and crazy “love it or leave it” nutjob conservatives tend to treat immigrants as an unwelcome menace, all to happy to pretend their lineage comes from immigrants too (immigrants who built the country, incidentally).

On the other hand, navel-gazing and self-righteous home-brewing, coffee-bean-parsing liberals tend to have children with great hesitation (if at all) lest it overpopulate the world and contribute to all the problems that fit on Starbuck’s cups. (Meanwhile, bountifully-producing religious people make them nervous, though it’s quite likely they came from the same stock before liberalizing.)

Finally, one component Douthat mentions — the thought of a child-friendly tax code — could make both sides nervous (the right, for having the nerve to use government to enact social policy; the left, for encouraging babies and babies).

Issues like this are good. It’s good to look at data and reality (*cough* “reality based community” *cough*) rather than let emotion or mythology (“America was built by people like me working all by myself! Government has never done anything for me! Now, why isn’t this park/bridge/road open?!”) get in the way.

Debates are good. Questioning assumptions is good. Reflecting on facts that make us uncomfortable…that’s how we find greater truths and, in theory, conceive (no pun intended) of better policy. In theory.


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