Two titanic forces drove the turbulent 20th century: nationalism and socialism. Both manifested in varying iterations, conflicting as well as cooperative. Nationalism, rooted in mankind’s blood-and-soil affinities, is forever with us – self-determination for all peoples! Socialism is similarly persistent as the basis for the world’s welfare states – equality for all!
In the West’s oligopolies running on finance (as opposed to productive) capitalism, too much nationalism and/or socialism is problematic, thus deemed “controversial” by the media. These regimes, along with other Global North welfare states, face unprecedented challenges, the most lamentable being that they are running out of people.
That leads to government retirement, health insurance, unemployment and disability programs piling up unsustainable deficits.
Why are we running out of people? Below-replacement fertility. Why below-replacement fertility? Children are not a priority. Why are children not top priority? Because of what people think and believe. Pervasive secularism, preoccupation with “struggle for the legal tender,” consumerism, woke environmentalism and do-your-own-thing individualism reign supreme. Families, in a strictly material sense, are hugely expensive and ruthlessly inconvenient.
Many young wokerati say, why bother?
Does a wonky Asian-American entrepreneur have the solution? In 2016 Andrew Yang ran for president. He didn’t have a prayer of winning but utilized his candidacy to advocate for “universal basic income” (UBI). This was an old idea resurrected. Decades ago, “guaranteed annual income” was floated as a way to help welfare recipients get by. It was shunned as a government giveaway that would kill incentive to find employment. In today’s high-tech age, job displacement from automation is the idea behind Yang’s proposal. But can UBI also boost fertility?
A recent paper says yes. UBI has gained renewed impetus with the just-released study “Examining the Effects of a Universal Cash Transfer on Fertility” by Sarah K. Cowan and Kiara Wyndham-Douds. Appearing in the journal Social Forces, the study posits that the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend, arguably a form of UBI, boosts fertility.
Dividend? Unique among the 50 states, Alaska has a state-regulated stash known as the Alaska Permanent Fund, where a portion of annual oil revenues generated in the state are set aside for the future, presumably for when Alaska runs out of oil. Established in 1976 and funded by the state’s considerable oil revenues, the Fund pays a dividend each year to every Alaska resident. While the amount varies depending on oil revenues and the number of residents, the 2022 payment hit a record $3,284.00 (that included an Energy Relief Payment).
UBI has been tried in other countries, but nothing has worked like the Alaska Permanent Fund. Note: The dividends are “guaranteed” only so along as (1) oil revenues continue and (2) the oil business in Alaska makes a profit. Dividends are derived from and linked to the performance of a profit-making enterprise. That is quite different from tapping a state treasury and scrambling about afterwards figuring out how to finance it. Alaskans like their fossil fuels!
But does this boost fertility? From the above-referenced study:
We examine the effect of the cash transfers [Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend payments] on fertility… We find the payments increase short-term fertility rates 1 and 2 years after disbursement, particularly among socioeconomically disadvantaged populations. Standardized to the 2010 household size distribution, two average payments relative to two minimum payments would result in a predicted fertility rate increase from 80.03 to 86.53 per one thousand women age 15-44. The effect is largest for first births. The payments have no effect on the abortion rate. These results indicate the additional income removes economic constraints to reproductive health and autonomy and reduces reproductive inequality. [Emphasis added].
Study co-author Kiara Wyndham-Douds reiterates this in an interview with NewsNation:
What we found essentially is that there is an increase in fertility one and two years after receiving a payment. The effect of giving people an average payment would have essentially increased the birthrate from 80 births per 1,000 people, women age 15 to 44, to 86.5. So that’s a pretty substantial [8%] increase.
An 8 percent increase is huge.
So tight money makes children more expensive, and so people have fewer children. With more money, children are more affordable, so people have more children. Makes perfect sense if it’s all about money.
But here’s the glitch: in market-driven economies, consumerism takes hold. There is continual innovation, bringing on expensive can’t-live-without gizmos and creature comforts. With rising revenues, governments take an ever-increasing slice of the pie. That doesn’t change in hard times, so the squeeze falls disproportionately on private sector employees who cannot legislate themselves automatic cost-of-living increases. That’s most people. Plus, piling up debt in fiat currencies squeezes folks even more via inflation, about which governments and central banks continually lie. Families are the foremost casualties of this corrupt paradigm.
But the study avers that if more money makes it into the pockets of more families, they’ll have more children. Maybe we’ll eventually just pay folks to have kids. Could we get to a point where money will be the exclusive incentive for family formation?
Is a Brave New World on the horizon? Or will a more traditionalist nationalism (as in Hungary) come roaring back with a family-focused pronatalist agenda?
Wherever we’re headed, if maladroit misrule should lead to yet another depression-cum-world war cycle, all bets are off.