Steyn on Money and People

Well, Mark Steyn is not, to my knowledge, on the covers of those magazines (as I realize some might take the headline). Rather, he writes on the topic of demographics and how that relates to the current global financial crisis meltdown apocalypse mess. If you’ve not read him before, try him. If you have read him before, then hang on to enjoy the English language:

Take a “toxic asset”. What would improve its current pitiful value? That’s easy: More demand. Less supply. An asset is only an asset as long as there’s a buyer willing to buy it. If you’ve got 50 houses and 100 would-be homeowners, that’s good for property prices. If you’ve got 100 houses and 50 would-be homeowners, that’s not so good.

Which is the situation much of the developed world is facing. A bank is a kind of demographic shorthand, by which old people with capital lend to young people with ambition and ideas. Unfortunately, the western world is running out of young people. Japan, Germany and Russia are already in net population decline. Fifty per cent of Japanese women born in the Seventies are childless. Between 1990 and 2000, the percentage of Spanish women childless at the age of 30 almost doubled, from just over 30 per cent to just shy of 60 per cent. In Sweden, Finland, Austria, Switzerland, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom, 20 per cent of 40-year old women are childless. In Germany, 30 per cent of all women are childless. In a recent poll, invited to state the “ideal” number of children, 16.6 per cent of Germans answered “None.”

30 percent of all German women are without children. Remarkable.

Whenever I write about demography, I usually get a ton of responses from folks saying: What’s so bad about falling population? Japan, Belgium and the like are pretty congested: Wouldn’t it be nice to have a bit more elbow room? Sure. With the rise of mill towns in the south and the opening up of the west, the population of my small municipality in New Hampshire peaked in the 1820 census, declined till 1940 and still hasn’t caught up to where it was 200 years ago. But it didn’t matter. Because we were a self-contained rural economy with no welfare and no public debt. If Japan and Germany were run like 19th century Granite State townships, they’d be okayish. But they’re not, so they won’t be. You can’t hunker down behind national borders when there aren’t enough young people inside the perimeter with a sufficient level of consumption to grow the economy at the rate necessary to cover existing government obligations.

[emphasis added]

I’m reminded of the song whose lyrics include the following:

Let’s forget about tomorrow
Let’s forget about tomorrow
Let’s forget about tomorrow for tomorrow never comes

Domani, forget domani
Let’s live for now and anyhow who needs domani?
The moonlight, let’s share the moonlight
Perhaps together we will never be again

Am I wrong to think that many have done more than sing that song? That they have internalized it and find such a life to be worth living, not realizing that tomorrow is today for the children they were too selfish/busy to have?

I’m grateful that we may have enough future citizens in the United States to, as one of my history professors used to say, “figure out what to do with the mess which has been left for us.”