- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2009

Part one of two

Catholic observers recently took great satisfaction from an article in which the co-creator of the birth-control pill seemed to say he was sorry for his invention.

“Birth control pill inventor laments demographic ‘catastrophe,’” is how Catholic News Agency described chemist Carl Djerassi’s Dec. 13 commentary in Der Standard, an Austrian newspaper.

“Birth control pill inventor regrets the resulting demographic ‘horror scenario,’” said Blog-by-the-Sea, one of several writers who picked up the theme that the 85-year-old scientist finally had seen the light.

I don’t read German, so I had some linguistically correct friends read Mr. Djerassi’s article for me. In their eyes, Mr. Djerassi did not regret his invention at all.

But he was very, very, very sorry to see that so many young Austrians were deciding not to have children.

Austria’s low childbirth rate — 1.4 children per woman, far below the basic 2.1 replacement rate — is a “demographic catastrophe,” Mr. Djerassi wrote.

Young people want to have sex, but they don’t want to have children, he lamented. They’re “wanting to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it.”

On top of the birth dearth, he wrote, Austrians (like other Europeans) are afraid of immigration.

People have to change their attitudes, and either have more babies or have more immigration, Mr. Djerassi warned. Otherwise, the country’s aging population will be an enormous economic burden for the remaining young people.

The 21st century’s biggest headache is population implosion. Put simply, a population with a healthy number of young people means prosperity and stability for everyone. A shrinking pool of babies, however, means fewer young people, and that means economic stagnancy, disarray and even decline.

Yes, the world’s population is still growing today — new people are arriving; older people are living longer — thus, the folks at Negative Population Growth can honestly bemoan higher population numbers for a while.

But it takes people to beget people, and according to the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), the world’s baby boom peaked 50 years ago.

In 1955, almost 15 percent of the world population was age 4 and younger. It’s been downhill since then, and by 2050, only 6.6 percent of the world population will be babies and toddlers, the UNPD projected in 2006.

Maybe that 6.6 percent doesn’t bother you; after all, aren’t we overpopulated at the moment?

I don’t know. Do you like slavery?

Old people normally are supported by young people, which is not a problem if there are adequate numbers of young people. But UNPD data shows that the over-age-60 population, which in 1955 was 8 percent, is projected to grow to an unprecedented 22 percent in 2050.

That means young people will be supporting multiple retirees, which means both husband and wife must work. Instead of a 20 percent or 30 percent tax bite, think 50 percent or even 60 percent.

Think that’s impossible? Go live in Mr. Djerassi’s Austria, where 45 percent of earnings already go to taxes. Cradle-to-grave social services get even more costly with a ballooning elderly population. And with a paltry 1.4 fertility rate, Austria is going to have fewer Austrian salaries to tax, which means they will just have to take a teensy bit more from each paycheck.

No schnitzels for you.

So I ask again, do you like slavery? Maybe it won’t be on a cotton field or on a sailing ship, but being forced to work long and hard for little or nothing is not a free person’s choice.

Never in human history have our population metrics gone this screwy. How did we get here and what is the next step?


Film casts a chill on family’s future

Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at [email protected]

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