A Flattening Indian Birthrate Further Exposes the Fatuity of 'Low Birthrate' Alarmism
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It is reported by the U.N. that India is presently overtaking China as the world’s most populous country. Where it becomes interesting is in consideration of the growing disparity of birthrates within India.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, one “dotted with factories making cars and iPhones, the average woman will have 1.8 children in her lifetime.” Conversely, in the mostly agriculture-focused Bihar, India’s poorest state, “the average woman will have three.” Which is a statement of the obvious. Or should be.

It brings to mind an old conversation between Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young and his Hall of Fame coach, Bill Walsh. They shared the view that the tale of any football team’s fortunes could be told solely by watching the footwork of the quarterback during the game. The same could be said about birthrates.

If someone could have but one statistic to divine the economic progress of a country, birthrate per female wouldn’t be a bad one. But contra the alarmism of individuals like Nicholas Eberstadt about falling birthrates, logic would dictate that the low birthrate country would be the one progressing, the high birthrate nation in stasis, or more realistically falling behind. India instructs on this subject.

Indeed, as the factories and production of high-value goods in Tamil Nadu imply, the southern state is very much an interconnected part of a global economic whole. As opposed to self-sufficient, autarkic workers, those in Tamil Nadu produce in cooperative fashion with workers around the world. The latter signals enormous productivity per worker, particularly relative to those who farm for a living in Bihar.

Regarding Bihar, once again an agriculture-focused state, it’s no stretch to say that farm work frequently signals less engagement with the rest of the world economically, and as a consequence much less productivity. Farm work in desperately poor Bihar is labor intensive on the way to the creation of a finished product in one location, while the work done by Tamil Nadu’s citizenry is a specialized, collaborative endeavor with individuals from all over the planet. In which case it’s no surprise that birthrates are higher in Bihar. If there’s less productivity-enhancing connectivity with the rest of the world, and much productivity-sapping self-sufficiency, there’s much greater need for more “hands” locally.

From there it’s no reach to say that while childbearing is increasingly a choice in prosperous, globally-connected parts of the world, it’s a necessity in poorer, agriculture-based economies like Bihar. Which is really a statement of the obvious.

Where workers are productive, the necessity of birthing “cheap” family labor for backbreaking work of the farm variety declines. Put another way, when you’re prospering the act of procreation is rooted in joy about bringing a child into the world, not in economic necessity.

Which is why falling birthrates (Tamil Nadu’s more and more resembles that of the U.S. and other developed nations) are such a bullish signal. They plainly point to a lack of desperation just to get by with all proverbial hands on deck, but also a realization that plenty isn’t a consequence of self-sufficiency on the matter of production, but most certainly a consequence of a lack of it.

The simple truth is that prosperous parts of the world are that way because those who populate those locales are working without regard to borders, thus rendering a focus on country birthrates the stuff of small minds. Missed by Eberstadt and all manner of birthrate alarmists like him is that the only “closed economy” is the world economy, and in that closed economy, individuals divide up work in a way that renders those born today the productive equivalent of thousands born in the past. Rest easy that like so many other “crises,” low birthrates aren’t.

John Tamny is editor of RealClearMarkets, Vice President at FreedomWorks, a senior fellow at the Market Institute, and a senior economic adviser to Applied Finance Advisors (www.appliedfinance.com). His latest book is The Money Confusion: How Illiteracy About Currencies and Inflation Sets the Stage For the Crypto Revolution.

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