- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Amid the news of Japan’s political leadership change was an interesting item about children. One of the election promises of the

now-victorious Democratic Party of Japan is to boost Japan’s per-child allowance to $275 a month, or $3,300 a year.

It will be interesting to see whether this incentive will encourage Japanese men and women to have more children. The current fertility rate is 1.2 children per woman, well below the normal replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.

Russia, which also has a low fertility rate, has been giving subsidies for children for years, “without significant results,” said film producer Barry McLerran. His films “Demographic Winter” and “Demographic Bomb” warn that falling birthrates in many countries are destabilizing their economies.

What intrigues me is the idea that throwing money at people will cause them to have (or not have) children.

The United States tried this - in reverse - with welfare reform. In the 1990s, many states imposed a “family cap” on families when they entered the welfare system. This meant that if a woman had another baby while she was on welfare, the state would give her extra food stamps and Medicaid for the baby, but it wouldn’t give her a bigger welfare check.

Critics lambasted conservatives for thinking that welfare mothers would or would not have a baby based on an extra $64 a month. Subsequent studies on the “family cap” showed that it did not discourage births among welfare mothers, and several states have quietly jettisoned the policy.

So now we have governments increasing monthly stipends, hoping to encourage couples to have more children. Good luck with that, but I wouldn’t start knitting booties yet.

I think there are better proposals to boost marriage and childbearing in the 2007 “The Natural Family, A Manifesto,” written by Allan Carlson and Paul Mero, who are leaders of conservative think tanks. The manifesto presents a modern family-first vision. It has dozens of recommendations for tax policy, child care, insurance, and housing and zoning laws, all aimed at encouraging marriage and childbearing.

But the manifesto also goes beyond mundane issues such as diaper and child care costs, and discusses why and how deleterious, anti-family cultural messages can be changed. This is where the real work lies.

In his endorsement of the manifesto, Wilfred McClay, a University of Tennessee history professor, said that the world is “living through a period of unprecedented crisis in the very structure of family life.”

“The deepest problem,” he wrote, “is the loss of a generally shared vision, firmly grounded in nature, of what the family is, and why our destiny as individuals and as a society is inseparable from its proper flourishing.”

Struggles over serial divorce, gay marriage and “widespread elective childlessness” would not be happening “if our vision of the family itself were not so confused and wavering,” Mr. McClay wrote.

I was struck by one more thread of Mr. McClay’s endorsement of the manifesto. He directed it to young people who are weary of the “weightlessness of sexual ‘liberation’ and the siren songs of consumerism and vocationalism.”

“This manifesto offers them a countervision: that we are made to be conjugal and connected beings, whose lives are made whole and satisfying not only by the pursuit of our own pleasures, but by a lifetime of love and self-giving and mutuality and duty, commitments that bind us in the most elemental way to things larger than ourselves, and bind us to a past, and a future, that we can only dimly glimpse.

“It is only within the family’s dense web of duties and obligations that our achievements can matter, and our freedom be authentic,” Mr. McClay wrote. “May this manifesto help us recover that insight.”

c Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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