Will Aging Childless Voters Enslave My Future Grandchildren?

Story Stream
recent articles

If demography is destiny, democracy is toast-at least those democracies where citizens can vote themselves a living at someone else's expense. It doesn't take a mathematical genius to see that governments' addiction to intergenerational income redistribution is not sustainable unless someone keeps supplying babies at an accelerating pace.

The root cause of the economic disaster that lies ahead is the kamikaze drive of democratic governments to displace the functions of the family, including the care of relatives in their old age. Since time immemorial, in every human society that ever was, and buttressed by social mores central to every religion ever practiced, children, grandchildren, and kin did what governments the world over now promise to do.

The burdens of providing for the aged used to begin when people could no longer care for themselves. The liabilities were dispersed, unenumerated, and owned by small groups of closely related individuals. These individuals owed their very existence to the elderly dependents who brought them into the world and nurtured them through childhood. The glue of duty, love, and reverence bound families together. Yes, families occasionally broke down, which threw unfortunates onto the mercy of charity. But isolated family failures never threatened to destabilize global economies.

Democracy changed all that. The burdens of providing for the aged are larger than ever thanks to the greater longevity that modernity accords. But the necessity and personal pride that drove the elderly to provide for themselves for as long as they could has been replaced by the invention of a universal "right of retirement" irrespective of an individual's means.

This "right" to stop working for the last 10, 20, or even 30 years of our lives is secured and supported through an electoral system under which politicians promise old-age entitlements in return for votes. The system subsists on coercive taxation, money printing, and borrowing from the future. Ballooning centrally owned liabilities are perched atop a demographic pyramid with a base that must continue growing to avoid Ponzian collapse.

The aggregate U.S. federal and state unfunded liabilities required to pay for all the entitlements promised by politicians past-namely Social Security, Medicare, and defined-benefit pensions for public employees-now exceed $100 trillion. Tomorrow's workers, including those yet unborn, have no particular kinship to the people who will be feasting on their paychecks.

The perpetual pin-the-blame-on-the-donkey circus in Washington proves that politicians will never take responsibility for curtailing entitlements, or even stop inventing new ones. The illusion created inside the Beltway and peddled by our public education system that we have somehow pre-paid for our benefits with money set aside from payroll deductions throughout our working lives makes it impossible to honestly fix the problem.

Now consider the fate of modern democracies as birth rates plummet. Educated, liberated 20- and 30-somethings are increasingly dodging the rigors of marriage and parenthood as they search for self-actualization, zipless hook ups, and ecological consciousness. Growing ranks of childless, single citizens are dealing themselves out of the cycle of life. This has never happened in all of human history. These people have no particular stake in the world they will one day leave behind. And yet they vote, in increasing numbers as they age.

This powerful shift in our cultural foundations is meticulously outlined in a recently released study titled "The Rise of Post Familialism: Humanity's Future." Its many chilling charts and graphs show how country after country across the developed world is hurtling toward population implosion.

It takes a live birth rate of 2.1 children per woman to maintain a stable population. Birth rates across Southern Europe have plunged below 1.5, and are expected to drop even further as Euro Zone economies continue to contract. Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and Japan are converging on birth rates closer to 1.0, literally halving their population each generation. Even the Black Plague didn't do that.

As women increasingly gain financial independence through education and higher workplace participation-the study calls this the New Girl Order-they are increasingly shunning marriage and child rearing. Meanwhile, entire cohorts of emasculated young men have adopted the so-called "herbivore" lifestyle, living a partnerless existence filled with comic books, videogames, pornography, and masturbation.

The trend is slower in countries like the United States that attract large numbers of both legal and illegal immigrants, whose babies fill the gap. But don't get too comfortable. The fertility rate associated with recent immigrants disappears with assimilation. Meanwhile, protracted economic downturns like the present Great Stagnation have stemmed and in some cases reversed the flow of baby makers.

One need only look at our biggest and most politically powerful cities to get a picture of our future. These dense urban centers have become entertainment megaplexes with economies that cater to single professionals. Meanwhile, sky-high rents and deplorable school systems drive families away. A majority of residences in Manhattan are now for "singletons," with Hizzoner Michael Bloomberg pushing to build 300 square foot mini-condos to cram in even more. In Washington, D.C., an eye popping 70 percent of the female population is unmarried, with nearly half of all pregnancies ending in abortion. San Francisco has become a mecca for urban tribes of single, childless hipsters whose behavior and policy preferences further accelerate family flight.

The fatal flaw in this scheme is the skyrocketing dependency ratio. The number of young people entering the workforce (should they be lucky enough to find jobs) is not growing fast enough to support the exploding population of non-working 60, 70, 80, and 90-somethings. Meanwhile, the elderly's over-consumption of health care services threatens to bankrupt an indebted economy to which they've stopped contributing.

Signs and portents of the new reality abound. The government of Singapore has begun begging women to have babies. There are now more adult diapers sold in Japan than baby diapers. In America dogs are the new kids, so much easier and less expensive to train and care for.

Those of us who have or hope to have grandchildren (alas, far fewer than the number enjoyed by our grandparents), have to wonder how many of their working hours will be devoted to paying for the "rights" the aged have voted for themselves. With take-home pay dwindling, will my grandchildren be able to afford families of their own, or will they decide that it's cheaper and easier to join the crowd and resign from the gene pool? Will those that buck the trend be forced to emigrate to escape economic enslavement imposed by a childless, aging majority? And what will happen to Western civilization when the only people left having babies are those who plan to raise them on welfare and food stamps?

The problem with entitlement democracy is that you eventually run out of other people's babies.

Bill Frezza is a fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and a Boston-based venture capitalist. You can find all of his columns, TV, and radio interviews here.  If you would like to have his weekly columns delivered to you by e-mail, click here or follow him on Twitter @BillFrezza.

Show commentsHide Comments

Related Articles