Five Fertility Fails
Here are five ways we might fail to address falling fertility.
First, many say the future more than a few years ahead is just impossible to predict, and so there’s no point in thinking about it. This is proved by a long list of examples of past predictions that didn’t pan out. Thus any forecasts on any topic beyond a few years can be safely ignored. They don’t explain why anyone bothers to go to school, exercise for health, save for retirement, have kids, invest in career skills, to make any investment that take many years to pay out. Apparently, it is fine to assume no social change, just not to predict change.
Second, many people around me think it okay to predict future change, but mainly only to confidently predict full cheap human-level AI in the next few decades, after which human fertility won’t matter as human labor won’t matter. (Alternatively, they predict radical life and fertility extension.) They are not bothered by people like them having made similar dramatic forecasts for over a century, each time pointing to new never-before-seen machine capabilities. And they don’t see a need for a plan B, in case their forecast fails. Yes, the people around me are probably not representative of the larger world.
Third, many accept that we can predict a fertility fall, but note that this trend is tied up with many strong cultural value trends, of which they heartily approve, such as gender equality, intensive parenting, longer school and career prep, capstone not cornerstone marriage, hands-off grandparents, urbanity, atheism, and globalism. They also see promoting fertility as associated with bad people, such as Republicans, men, capitalists, sexists, the religious, dictators, or China. They do not want to give such enemies the satisfaction of admitting they have a point. They’d rather humanity went extinct, if that’s what it takes, than compromise on any treasured value trends.
Fourth, some accept that fertility will fall, and are willing to make some changes to counter that, but perceive small budget policies as not having made much of a dent in fertility lately. They thus infer that big budgets will be required. And they can’t see the issue being important enough to justify big budgets. The arguments that it is more okay to spend big on investments than on consumption, or that compared to consumption it is easier to finance investment via new debt, don’t carry much weight with them. In their mind, there’s a limited budget and the more we spend on one area the less we have to spend on their preferred areas.
Fifth, some are willing to spend big budgets to promote fertility, and even to borrow to pay for that, but shy away from directly paying cash (or other financial assets) to parents. The govt policy world has a long history of addressing problems that could be handled with direct cash payments instead via less cost-effective indirect adjustments, government provision of “in-kind” goods and services, and vouchers tied to many rules and restrictions. Similarly, most recent discussions of how to promote fertility discuss how we might promote housing, inequality, schooling, day-care, etc., but few consider directly paying parents big amounts to have kids. As indirect approaches require us to guess what are the actual main obstacles to fertility, they are more likely to fail.