Wednesday, September 05, 2012

SOLVING FOR X


“We've got to persuade people to understand that getting married is important, having children is important.” The words of a conservative Catholic cleric? Some right-wing, pro-life radical? Nope. Those are the words of Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister and Founder of Singapore.


Appearing recently on Singapore TV, the 88 year-old Yew was not giving a lecture in defense of the family, he was decrying the death of the nation he himself had founded. Singapore may have one of the world’s highest standards of living, but it also has the world’s lowest fertility-rate and its population is dramatically imploding.

The fertility-rate is the number of children a woman will have over her lifetime. The minimum necessary for a society to replace itself is 2.1: one for her, one for her mate, and 0.1 to account for infant mortality. Singapore is at 0.75 and the rate has been declining since the 70’s after Yew himself instituted a policy called “Stop at Two” which paid women to get sterilized.  

Because Singapore is a small nation, it didn’t take long for the fertility reduction policy to manifest its effects. At first, it had the desired effect: a reduction in the number of child dependents freed up labor for Singapore’s economic machine. In fact, the economic turnabout was so quick that Singapore became known as the “Asian miracle”.

With few dependents and lots of capital, Singapore’s standard of living soared. But by 1980, Singapore was forced to begin importing migrant labor to keep its economic engine going. There simply were not enough young Singaporese. Yew’s fertility reduction policy had worked well, too well.

In 1980, Yew dropped his “Stop at Two” policy and replaced it with “Three or More”, which, instead of paying women to get sterilized, paid them to have babies. But, as Yew’s recent plea seems to evince, it hasn’t worked. As one commentator put it: the Singaporese seemed to have “acquired a taste for small families and shopping.”

Near tears, Yew further implored his people: "If we go on like that, this place will fold up, because there'll be no original citizens left to form the majority...Do we want to replace ourselves or do we want to shrink and get older and be replaced by migrants...?"

Though the desire to maintain political control through an ethnic majority seems to be at the root of Yew’s comments, the larger issue at some point for the aging Singaporese is simply going to be the need to have someone around to help them get to and from the toilet.

Singapore isn’t alone. A 2007 U.N report noted that the fertility rate is plunging in almost every country in the world (except for a few in sub-Saharan Africa), and warned of the effects of a “graying world” on the world’s health care systems. According to the report, the crisis point for each nation is when the over-65 population surpasses the under-5 population.

One demographer calls it “Solving for X”, X being the point at which the lines representing the two population sectors cross on a graph, foretelling a point, perhaps a generation hence, when there will simply be “too many old people.” Perhaps, this is why many countries whose populations have already reached “X”, particularly in Europe, have begun liberating their euthanasia laws.

“Solving for X” is at the root of the debate over America’s “safety-net” entitlements: Medicare and Social Security. These programs depend on taxing the incomes of the current working generation to pay for the care of retirees. In 1940, when Social Security was instituted, there were 42 workers per retiree. Today there are 2.8.

Recently, Paul Ryan created a stir over his plan to fix Medicare, which is endangered by the collapse of this worker to retiree ratio. His detractors have claimed that Ryan want to “throw Granny over the cliff”. However, the math is clear, Granny is already headed for the cliff, and you, right behind her.

Ironically, our “safety-net” crisis has been wrought by the very generation that will probably suffer most from its collapse. Like the people of Singapore, our own society has “acquired a taste for small families and shopping, not to mention the 50-80 million missing people due to the 2.7 unborn children we have aborted every minute of every day since January 27, 1973 (Roe v Wade).

Amazingly, in the midst of this crisis, President Obama has instituted an anti-fertility policy (HHS Mandate) which will hasten the collapse of the worker to retiree ratio, assuring the destruction of the social-safety net programs he pretends to champion, and setting us on a course for the economic and national melt-down which inevitably follows population implosion. Perhaps he should speak with Mr. Yew.

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