The problem with not having kids

Saving the planet for the next generation by not having a next generation is a bad idea


Anything happen while I was gone?

Oh, yeah. The collapse of the global economy. Armageddon outta here. The ecopalypse is upon us. Down south, President Obama has abandoned the gaseous uplift of “the audacity of hope” and warns we’re on the brink of the abyss. In the old New Deal, FDR warned that “we have nothing to fear but fear itself.” For the new New Deal, President Hopeychangey says we have nothing but fear itself. Get used to it. In Russia, the nation’s wealthiest oligarchs have seen their net worth decline by two-thirds. They can’t steal it as fast as it depreciates. Even yard sales of Soviet nukes to chaps with Waziristani business cards won’t make it up.

The only thing booming is declinism. In Britain, the Baby Boomers are now “Baby Gloomers,” according to the Daily Telegraph’s Elizabeth Grice, who gives the impression she’s working it up into a book proposal for one of those slim volumes of contemporary manners one keeps in the guest “loo,” amusingly illustrated with line drawings of once prosperous middle-class couples reduced to trawling the supermarket shelves for bargain “wine boxes” and microwaveable “Italian-style” focaccia. In the U.S., Steven Kotler thinks this is no time to get hung up on details. The planet is going to hell. So what’s the big picture? The rooty-tootiest root cause of all?

Answer: motherhood and apple pie. If we didn’t have so much motherhood, we wouldn’t have all these people eating apple pies, manufactured in a plant in Guangdong and then shipped on some massive floating carbon footprint all the way to Price Chopper in Cedar Rapids. Motherhood is the root cause. As Mr. Kotler says:

“You don’t need to ask what you need to do for the world. You already know.

“Stop having children. It’s that easy.”

It really is! So he’s calling for a five-year moratorium on having children, planet-wide. The Soviets had five-year plans but Mr. Kotler wants a five-year ban—“because a billion less people is a great place to start.” Key word: “start.” Experts agree that the carrying capacity for the planet is about two billion people. Actually, they don’t agree: some of the earthier-than-thou eco-types say it’s only 300 million. But Mr. Kotler doesn’t want to sound like an extremist or anything, so he’s starting with that best-case scenario. If the planet’s carrying capacity is two billion tops, we need to unload a good 4½ billion. And, while no one outside of Dutch hospitals is arguing for compulsory euthanasia (yet), not adding to the total would be “a great place to start.”

By now, you may be saying: is he nuts? Not at all. He writes for Psychology Today. And I don’t think their handy “Find A Therapist” guide is intended for their writers. Besides, there’s a lot of it about. Sir Jonathon Porritt, the British government’s “sustainable development chair,” opposes “environmentally irresponsible” breeding. The Daily Mail found a group of Englishwomen, at the peak of their reproductive years, who decided to have themselves sterilized to “protect the planet.” As a formerly fecund femme named Toni explained, “Every person who is born uses more food, more water, more land, more fossil fuels, more trees and produces more rubbish, more pollution, more greenhouse gases, and adds to the problem of overpopulation.” The best way to save the planet for the next generation is not to have a next generation.

Rather less high-mindedly, the French author Corinne Maier has a huge bestseller with her book No Kid, and even planted a new word in the language, abbreviating “mère de famille” (i.e., homemaker or “full-time mom”) to merd’euf—or “egg-shitter.”

Mr. Kotler accepts that not everyone will sign on to his plan. But “a grassroots movement of responsible adults” in developed nations will still make a big difference, even if the average Somali, Yemeni and Afghan woman goes on having seven kids each. What he doesn’t seem to have noticed is that, to all intents and purposes, “responsible adults”—i.e., liberal progressive Germans, Italians, Belgians, Japanese and, yes, Canadians—have already all but formally adopted his plans. Even Frenchwomen—who have the least worst birth rates in Continental Europe outside (Muslim) Albania—aren’t shitting that many eggs. Without immigration, the Western world would be in steep population decline. Even with immigration, Germany and Italy are in population decline.

Like so many environmentalists, Mr. Kotler is acting locally and thinking globally. It’s necessary to throw out the babies to save the bathwater. As he says, “The water coming out of the tap doesn’t care if it’s a Persian or a Nigerian who’s drinking it.” So why worry if the net result of his policy is fewer eco-progressives in his part of New Mexico but business as usual in the Somali and Afghan maternity wards?

I don’t think of the globe as a single zip code. It’s striking that, no matter how many British women think globally and sterilize locally, the population of the United Kingdom keeps rising: those London ladies assume they’re saving the planet for Al Gore’s polar bears, and the spotted owl, and the three-toed tree sloth, and the green-cheeked parrot. In fact, they’re saving it for the cultures whose womenfolk don’t get themselves sterilized. Forty per cent of children in London primary schools now speak a language other than English at home. The Muslim population of the United Kingdom is growing 10 times faster than the rest of the population. No matter how frantically the ecochondriacs tie their tubes, their country grows ever more crowded. This is a story not of “overpopulation,” but of population transformation.

I said in my book (don’t worry, I’m not going to plug the title—I don’t want a new “human rights” complaint until at least my third week back) that Europe’s demographically shrivelled liberal progressives had in effect adopted the same strategy as the 19th-century Shakers, who were forbidden to reproduce and so could increase their numbers only by conversion. Result: there aren’t a lot of Shakers around today. At the time, it was just the usual cheap metaphorical crack. But with these tube-tied earth-mothers it’s literally true.

Which brings us back to the economy. Many of the questions re the Jonestown phase of Western civilization are long-term and complex and require addressing socio-cultural issues from which multiculti man instinctively recoils. So be it. But the economy confronts us with the contradictions here and now. The basic assumption behind the multi-trillion-dollar deficits in the U.S. is that there will be a permanently growing population to cover it, eventually. Pace Mr. Kotler, Americans still have kids and grandkids to stick it to. Europeans don’t. Yet Big Government presupposes population growth—that there will be a new generation of workers to keep France’s fiftysomething retirees in the lifestyle to which they’ve become accustomed.

And, in a more basic sense, why did the developed world get clobbered by “toxic assets” in the first place? Well, if you lend beyond the capacity of your economic growth, sooner or later it catches up with you. As the old joke has it, if you owe the bank a thousand dollars, you have a problem; if you owe the bank a million dollars, the bank has a problem. But what happens if thousands of banks are owed bazillions of dollars and there’s no one to shovel the problem on to? Banking is really a kind of demographic shorthand—a means by which old people with capital can lend to young people with energy and ideas. It’s no coincidence that in Japan— the oldest society on earth—the banking sector nosedived just as the demographics headed irreversibly south. Who do you lend to in Germany? Or Scotland? Traditional risk assessment is simply not possible in such circumstances. And what of your “assets”? The value of commercial real estate in, say, Madrid or Hamburg or Milan also presupposed a traditional growth rate that cannot apply when you have a fertility rate of 1.2.

The U.S. and other governments are now trying to re-inflate the global “credit bubble.” I don’t think it can be done. The crisis we face is not “sustainable growth” but sustainable lack of growth. And no society in history has ever pulled that off.