A recent New York Times article looked at the declining population “crisis” in Germany. A recent census indicated that Germany has lost 1.5 million citizens since its peak and could lose another 15 million over the next fifty years.
To a free market advocate, this is a non-issue. Market forces and consumer preferences have led German citizens to choose to have fewer kids. The same thing is occurring throughout most of Europe and Japan. Even in the US, the natural birth rate is higher than in Europe, but not by much. Much of the current US population growth comes from immigrants, rather than native born Americans.
But to the German government and the two authors of the article, a declining population is a crisis which must be fought with government intervention. The German state spends an astounding $265 billion per year (out of a $3.6 trillion economy) on family subsidies to encourage the birth rate. On top of that, married couples get individual tax breaks, and tax payers have to pay allowances to stay-at-home mothers and day care for all children over twelve months old. All of this is done in attempt to “[remake] values, customs and attitudes” towards having children.
What is so bad about people wanting to have fewer children? The article never says anything about such a choice being bad for any single individual. After all, why shouldn’t an individual or couple know what’s best for their own lives?
But the article’s authors, and the German government, do not think in terms of individuals, but in terms of collectives. In this case, lower birth rates are bad for the German nation collective. The article begins with a look at a small German town which has demolished a few housing developments due to a declining population. However, the biggest problem for Germany is that its massive Ponzi-scheme social security program is dependent upon a future work force which is capable of supporting its aging population. If the population declines too much, the wealth necessary to pay seniors their promised benefits may never be created.
This is a perfect example of the welfarist/socialist mentality. To states like Germany, its citizens are not individuals, but assets to be manipulated for the sake of serving the collective. The state collectivized the retirement programs of the vast majority of its population, and now it will act within its power to punish individuals who through perfectly legal and ethical person decisions, may harm this collectivized central plan.
Basically the German government is operating on the same barbaric premises as the People’s Republic of China and its One Child Policy. Admittedly, the German government isn’t as harsh in the sense that it doesn’t force abortions on anyone. But the Chinese government punishes individuals who want children for the sake of those who do not (who represent the majority in the collective). Meanwhile, in Germany, those who want fewer children are punished for the sake of those who want more children in the form of punitive taxation and wealth redistribution.
The same rationale was promoted by Oceania in George Orwell’s 1984. The oppressed citizens were understandably not eager to bring children into their world, and so the government encouraged them to do so by providing extra rations and patriotic encouragement. The citizens of Oceania did not produce children for the sake of themselves, but to give more servants to Big Brother.
The message presented to the German people is to sacrifice. Fortunately, the German government has not gone to 1984 lengths of telling German couples to sacrifice by having children for the sake of the collective, but they have gotten to the point of telling non-children-producing Germans to sacrifice by providing the wealth to incentivize other Germans to produce children. This policy is not only economically nonsensical, but it is ethically horrendous, and speaks volumes about the mentality of the majority of the German population towards their government.
Worse yet, the legitimate potential negative side effects of population decline have an easy cure: immigration. A declining population may indeed create a demand for more labor, especially low skilled labor. Due to nationalism, if not implied racism, the German government would rather throw its citizen’s money into programs to produce more German citizens rather than just open its borders to the Poles, Turks, and other immigrants who would happily fill such economic roles.
The German government is engaging in central planning at its worst: demographic planning. Hundreds of years ago, the central planners worried about the negative effects of increasing populations, even though it only brought prosperity and wealth. Today, the central planners worry about population decline. Both directions of population growth are a result of market forces and voluntary consumer preferences. The bureaucrats of Germany should leave their citizens alone so that they can have as many children as they want for their own sake, not for the sake of the state, the “people,” or the collective.