Saturday, November 20, 2010

Longman writes about "demographic seasons" in Foreign Policy Magazine, offers suggestions to reverse graying of population

Phillip Longman, author of “The Empty Cradle” in 2004, has a long piece in the November 2010 Foreign Policy, starting on p. 52. The title is “Think Again: Global Aging: A gray tsunami is sweeping the planet – and not just in the places you expect. How did the world get so old, so fast?” The link is here.  (I have a review of Longman's book on the Book Review blog March 28, 2006.)   Also see the review Jan 22, 2009 of "The Graying of the Great Powers" by Richard Jackson, Neil Howe and others.

Longman, as well as Carlson and Mero, have been arguing that society has gone too far in making procreation a matter of personal choice and “responsibility”, making it too costly for many people to even have children. But here Longman, in an article surprisingly gentle in tone, makes the case that populations grow and ebb with trigonometric curves, just as “baby boomers” age, while fewer kids are there to “support” them. Hence the notion of demographic seasons, and what the religious right calls “demographic winter.” Longman is cautious about the ability of longer-living people to work many more years than now, and reports that disability is increasing rapidly with longer lifespans. He may view some of it as inevitable rather than “morally” preventable by better lifestyles as well as medicine.  He also argues that smaller families may make socieites too risk averse and stagnant.

Longman acknowledges that children have a moral and perhaps (in many countries, including the US) legal obligation to support their parents, and toward the end he summarizes the major opportunities. Parent-friendly workplace and government policies in countries like France and Sweden are not all that effective, and we don’t want a fundamentalist moral system (like the Taliban’s) to force everyone into rigid social roles in order to maintain a tribal population (he admits that wouldn’t cut it here). So he suggests returning to the idea of the family enterprise, to build back the notion that children are an economic asset as well as responsibility.

That does certainly invoke the notion of filial responsibility laws, or a cultural norm of “filial piety”. If young adults understand they will be held as responsible for their parents as they are their own kids, they might realize they can’t “afford” to remain childless. That certainly could reverse the moral norm of the past few decades, that family responsibility is chosen merely by having heterosexual intercourse. It could radically change the way we have come to view personal sovereignty. Ironically, depending on how one sees other things, it could support the idea of gay marriage and gay parenting, but, as Jonathan Rauch has written, they would have to “be used” if won legally or politically. It seems that man has becoming less social a creature than he once was, and writers like Longman want to reverse that.

Longman has made specific suggestions about social security: forgive 1/3 of the FICA tax for each child (for a married couple?) up to three children, for making the sacrifices of parenthood. He says this would help women and mothers especially. Ask John Boehner about this suggestion!  (We're broke!  Maybe deny benefits to all non-parents out of 'means tesing'??)

It’s curious that right next to this magazine at Barnes & Noble I saw (and picked up) the current Time Magazine issue (Nov. 29) “Who Needs Marriage?” A Changing Institution (story p 48 by Brenda Luscombe, link based on the Pew Report (previous posting),  But few commentators "connect the big dots" of an aging population and declining interest in marriage. It's pretty easy to imagine what Maggie Gallagher and Jenifier Roback Morse will come up with on this one. CNN: "we build our marriages on quicksand."  Does it take a village?

Correlated post: "Bill on International Issues" blog, Nov. 26, 2010, discusses NYTimes article on dementia epidemic in South Korea.

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