Global Warming Alarmists On the Left, Meet the Birthrate Obsessed On the Right – Forbes
It’s been said that the discovery of something as modernly primitive as coal resulted in major leaps for the typical worker. By one estimate, this form of theoretically “dirty energy” was the equivalent of providing each worker with twenty full-time assistants from a productivity standpoint.
In thinking about the growth impact of something seemingly prosaic as coal, what has the airplane or automobile meant for productivity, or the internet, or the supercomputer that sits in nearly every American pocket? Consider the smartphone from the standpoint of making in-person sales calls. As recently as the 1990s it was the norm for lost-while-driving salesmen to pull off the freeway in search of a payphone, only to phone the person or company being called on in a frantic search for directions. Nowadays, the computer we carry around with us not only gets us where we need to be, but actually navigates us around traffic snarls, road closures, and anything else that might block our path to a sales pitch. The bet here is that the salesmen of today get to knock on quite a few more doors each week.
That same computer technology is also shrinking the world in brilliant fashion. If anyone doubts this, ask your typical computer programmer for a moment of his or her time. It’s increasingly true that a programmer in Sausalito can work “alongside” his colleagues in Spokane, Shanghai, and anywhere else in between. Think about what advances like this mean for productivity. It boggles the mind.
Work divided is the path to staggering productivity gains for individuals. This has been true for centuries. If you’re puzzled, consider the pin factory that Adam Smith described in The Wealth of Nations. One man working alone could maybe – maybe – produce one pin per day. But several specialized workers in that same pin factory could produce tens of thousands of pins per day by working together.
Thinking about robots, and the rapid automation of so much toil, it cannot be stressed enough how exceedingly bright the future is as billions of “hands” join the work force. Figure that robots don’t call in sick, take vacations, nor do they require time off. Assuming 24/7 production from the automated, imagine the awe-inspiring productivity that lies ahead for humans set to be freed from so much unnecessary work. Again, work divided is the path to remarkable gains in output. Always.
Please keep all of this in mind given the rising obsession on the U.S. Right with birthrates. According to an ideology that once looked askance at commentary that trampled on free choice, Americans are improperly choosing to have too few kids. And much like their reliably interventionist opponents on the Left, conservatives want government to save Americans from an allegedly mistaken choice that will supposedly harm the United States, along with the world. No, you can’t make this up. Suffice it to say, the birthrate obsession on the Right will in time join global cooling, acid rain, and other alleged “threats” as a laugh line for future generations with lots of free time (born of amazing productivity leaps) to chuckle about.
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The generally very excellent Ross Douthat is the latest highly talented writer on the Right to throw his hat into an increasingly crowded conservative echo chamber about seemingly thoughtless Americans not having enough babies. So concerned is Douthat that he dedicated his “My Fellow Americans” brief (four Times editorial page columnists put into words the words they would have had Joe Biden read at his State of the Union speech) in the New York Times to the supposed threat.
According to Douthat, a U.S. birthrate that fell to a “recorded low in 2020” is “bad for our future.” Funny about all this is that South Korea presently has the lowest birthrate in the world among developed countries, and it also has the highest suicide rate in the developed world. Yet no news of capital outflows from Korea. Members of the Right properly love markets, but they have a tendency to ignore market signals that reject their alarmist and interventionist ways. In other words, markets don’t wait for the disaster. They respond ahead of time. If Americans not having enough babies were “bad for our future,” the collapse in U.S. equity indices would have begun long ago, and well before Douthat and others discovered a problem.
Douthat adds that low birthrates mean “we have fewer workers for every retiree, it means fewer young people to take risks, dream big, come up with the invention or figure out the big idea that makes the world a better place.” Ok, but it’s not the job of parents to produce kids to support Social Security, as Douthat lightly alludes. Furthermore, as evidenced by yields on U.S. Treasuries, future seeing markets (those pesky markets!) don’t indicate that funding Social Security and these other mistaken creations of the state will be much of a problem.
More broadly, please see above. The ability of those being born today to take risks and innovate now and in the future will be breathtaking in scope. This isn’t a call for less procreation, but it is an assertion that if advances in automation and technology are even a fraction of what’s predicted, the work specialization that the babies of today and tomorrow will enjoy will make the present look 12th century by comparison. In other words, a child being born today will work and produce on a level that hundreds (and realistically thousands) of humans today cannot.
So while Douthat pays lip service to the certain truth that “It’s not the government’s job to tell anyone when or whether to have kids,” that’s the only clue you need to know that he’s certainly calling for government to do something like that. In his case he wants government “to make sure Americans have the support they need to take the plunge into parenthood.” Global warming alarmists on the Left, meet the birthrate-obsessed on the Right. You mirror one another.