We Can BUY New Culture
Many have argued that as our fertility problem is caused by cultural changes, we must solve it via cultural actions, such as by gossip, religion, praising, shunning, telling stories, making art, and living exemplary lives. Thus simple changes in tax policy, and other money related policies, such as I’ve proposed, just can’t help.
But this stance seems just ignorant of the history of capitalism, wherein the prospect of money and material gain has often had great influence on culture. For example, most of our travel, art, entertainment, media, schooling, pets, and intellectual stuff is mediated by budget-constrained orgs who can’t consistently lose money, and thus attend to financial incentives. Furthermore, much of the innovation in such things has been initiated and developed by folks who hoped for concrete material and status gains. As an extreme example, many radical cults, religions, and ideologies are created and developed by leaders seeking in part such concrete gains.
Even more important, our worlds of work and consumerism, which make up a huge fraction of our total culture, have long been managed by for-profit orgs, who have also overseen most of our innovations in such things. For example, I recently read the novel Lady’s Paradise by french author Zola, about the first department store. This store embodied many innovative elements of consumer culture that we now take for granted. More recently, profit-driven Walt Disney and Steve Jobs both drove big cultural changes. All of which shows that big cultural changes can be funded and managed by for-profit actors.
My most robust specific proposal is to pay parents big sums, maybe ~$300K per kid. Maybe spread payments out over time to ensure parents complete their job, and maybe pay in units of personal tax assets, to create incentives for higher quality kids. And just as one can more safely borrow on a house to pay for a house addition than for living expenses, nations could safely pay for kid incentives via borrowing.
The plan here is not to induce ordinary people to be more consciously greedy and money-grubbing, or to relate to their kids as they do a penny stock or crypto get rich scheme. The plan is instead to induce a more energetic search in the space of cultural changes.
The money would induce entrepreneurs, families, churches, towns, professions, non-profit orgs, and for-profit orgs to look for ways they could change their local cultures to induce more of that money to flow their way. Money can help all of them to achieve their goals, even when money isn’t their main goal. As usual in capitalism, they’d be searching for new cultural combos that can achieve higher fertility at the smallest perceived cost to the many parties involved, given their prior cultures and preferences.
Most would fail, but some would find new cultural combos that cut or reverse the key social trends now causing fertility fall. Such as:
More gender equality - More equal gender norms, options, & expectations, have contributed to fewer women having kids.
Higher parenting effort - Expectations for how much attention and effort parents give each kid have risen.
Long stiff career paths - The path of school & early career prep til one is established worker is longer & less flexible.
Cap- vs cornerstone marry - Now marrying/kids wait until we fully formed, career established, then find matching mate.
Grandparent less involved - Parents once helped kids choose mates, & helped them raise kids. Now kids more on own.
More urban less rural - People now love in denser urban areas where housing costs more, kids have less space.
Less fundamental religion - Religion once clearly promoted fertility, but we less religious, especially re fundamentalism.
Integrated world culture - We pay less attention to local, and more to global, community comparisons and norms.
Now even without such financial incentives, world population will eventually rise again due to the growth of insular fertile cultures like the Amish and Hassidic Jews. Much as Christians took over the Roman Empire. Yes, as they adapt over time, such groups risk ending their insular fertile status, such as happened to the Mormons. But if not all of their factions will so fail, the value of financial subsidies has to be measured against this baseline scenario.
First, subsidies would plausibly induce an earlier rise in population, from a higher min level. So less scale-dependent tech would be lost during the great innovation pause, and there’d be a lower risk of human extinction. Second, the new rising cultures are more likely to be more like the cultures of the political jurisdictions who offered such subsidies. The future belongs to those who show up, and nations who show up get more votes on future world culture.
I asked some Twitter/X polls on which of the above eight anti-fertility trends people are most willing to reverse to promote fertility. Here are respondents’ relative priorities:
Financial incentives combined with your local cultural constraints can help ensure that the future more reverses your preferred trends, and not the others.