For those of you who like figures, the first article noted that US fertility peaked in 1955 at around 3.5 children per couple and reached its nadir in 1975 at around 1.8 children per couple. Even though the fertility rate has risen to 2.0 in the US, we still rely on immigration to make up the slack. And even with immigration, we still have a declining ratio of workers to retirees (owing to the retirement bulge of the baby boomers -- that would include me around about 2027).
I realize, of course, that only non-Democrats are reading this as Democrats, punished by fate and genetics with a complete lack of understanding and interest in math, stopped reading at the last paragraph. However, since I began the paragraph with the phrase, "For those of you who like figures...", some may have merely skipped the paragraph. C'mon now, kids. Go back and read the paragraph. You won't understand the rest of the essay without it. And do try to stay awake.
The upshot of the fertility argument is that Social Security programs have an innate contradiction, prominently noted by economist Gunnar Myrdal in the 1940s. People used to have big families because they knew that they would need their children to take care of them when they got older. More children = more people obliged to keep you from starving.
But with the advent of Social Security, reliance on one's own children declined. This seems a boon to those unlucky enough to not be able to have children. No longer would the maiden aunt be dependent on staying in the good graces of her more reproductive siblings. For that matter, one need not have as many children since one could rely on one's neighbors to populate the nation with a teeming mass of worker bees. Thus, one can conserve the resources of one's own family, no longer having to split it amongst a larger brood.
It's a kind of freeloading, in a way, although the effects of the freeloading are not apparent until quite a long ways down the road. It is not unpredictable, however, and here is where I begin to lament the inability of Democrats, who insist on forcing socialism down our throats, to grasp fairly simple math concepts. When we have fewer workers per retiree, we cannot provide the same level of benefit to retirees, or we have to place an unduly heavier burden on those workers who fund the system. It is a sad, but inevitable truth.
Of course, one way out of this is to import new workers. And owing to our wonderful way of life (secure property rights; highly functional, albeit imperfect, rule of law; mature economy; highly capitalized businesses; fairly low tax rate; not to mention a host of "quality-of-life" advantages guaranteed by the Bill of Rights), millions of people from just about every country on the planet are very eager to come here. We can import our worker bees to make up for our slacking fertility rate.
The irony, however, is that nearly every worker could easily provide for his own retirement through a forced savings program. The only thing Social Security really secures is a future where the vast majority of workers will remain poor and retire poor. It is really just a means of taxing the people so that politicians can decide how our resources are spent instead of the people themselves. If gov't in its various forms demonstrated honorable frugality, one might not begrudge this taxation. Sadly, it does not. It never has. The temptation to overspend the taxpayers' resources is irresistible to elected lawmakers. Hence, money that you might invest wisely if you were to pay it to a broker or banker instead of to FICA, is loaned without exception to the Federal Gov't at a rate that favors the big spenders and favors Social Security recipients very little. Oh, sure, it's 100% guaranteed by the full faith and bla bla of the US of A -- but it is still a crummy return on investment.
And, as stated earlier, this return is dependent on one of three outcomes:
- a reversal of the current declining ratio of workers to retirees
- a reduction of benefits from their current rather paltry level, or
- an influx of highly productive workers from abroad.
In Georgia, for example, minorities accounted for two-thirds of the population growth between 1990 and 2000. Between 2000 and 2005, they represented 80% of that growth. Yet, only 12% of black fourth-grade students and 17% of Hispanic fourth-graders are proficient in reading, compared with 38% of whites, according to a report by the Center for American Progress, a public policy think tank.The first thing that strikes me about those figures is that 38% is nothing to write home about. As a proud member of the white race, I am rather embarassed that two out of three of the white children attending school with my daughters cannot read all that they are expected to read. If twice that proportion of Hispanic fourth-graders cannot read properly, I am inclined to hope that it is because they come from bi-lingual or Spanish-speaking households and that a part of their difficulty comes from confusion between English and Spanish. As for African-Americans, I don't know what their excuse is. Their ancestors have been in the country long enough to have figured out the language.
Think this is just a problem for so-called dumb Southerners in Georgia? Nope. Turns out California is even worse.
In California, already a majority minority state, 11% of African-American and 9% of Hispanic fourth-graders are proficient in reading, compared with 36% of their white peers.The striking thing about this number is that Hispanics in California score way lower than Hispanics in Georgia. I wonder what is the average per-student cost in Georgia vs. California. Less, I would think. And yet, Californian Hispanics trail way behind their Georgian counterparts. Why?
One guesses that it has something to do with California Hispanics...
- Living amongst a larger population of Spanish speakers
- Having spent a shorter average time in US, having immigrated later
- Having been handicapped by a well-meaning, but misguided attempt at bi-lingual education.
The author of the second article sees this as cause for alarm, since we cannot build a great economy on the backs of people who cannot read. We need architects and doctors, not fruitpickers and construction workers, is her point.
There might be merit in that, but except for the mass migration of British Americans who replaced the indigenous population of North America, the pattern for immigrants coming to America has been to take less skilled jobs. It is the successive generations, the descendants of those immigrants, who have moved up the economic ladder. And this is a rule that has yet to fail -- except in the case of those African Americans who continue to languish, for reasons I cannot fathom, generation after generation (one can blame skin color prejudice for some failure to advance, but that explains nothing of the gap in reading proficiency -- go ahead and call me a racist, but I note this is not a substitute for an explanation).
My take on the immigration problem is that we are not taking in enough immigrants and that those we do take are not those we select. We let people slip in undetected, unselected and demonstrating their willingness to break the law. I know that they are almost universally eager to work. I covet that productivity. But that distinguishes them not a whit. Plenty of people from Russia, China, India or Iran, and a host of other countries, are willing to come in as well. We should let more of these people in and select those we want. For example, we could expand and streamline visa programs such as the H1-B that are geared to bring in highly educated people. But we could also expand the number of visas granted to family members as these people arrive with a built-in network of support.
And as for the solution to Social Security, although immigration would help, there is no reason to allow the pay-as-you-go system to continue stripping us of our savings. We should put an end to the gov't pillaging of the working people through this awful socialist program. In the retirement system, the only roles I would like gov't to take on are:
- to take care of the indigent, who cannot care for themselves (widows, orphans, disabled),
- to force savings so that no one is allowed to become a burden to society through a lack of planning, foresight or wisdom,
- to regulate forced savings so that people do not get ripped off and do not invest overly foolishly, so that we can project a worst case outcome that is better than currently promised benefits.
Making Kids Worthless: Social Security's Contribution to the Fertility Crisis, Oskari Juurikkala, Ludwig Von Mises Institute, Jan 24, 2007
Having Large Families is An 'Eco-Crime', Sarah-Kate Templeton, Times Online, May 6, 2007
The Global Baby Bust, by Philip Longman, Foreign Affairs May/June 2004