The Chinese Communist Party recently announced that it will now allow each family to have three children.
That’s interesting for a bunch of reasons. The rulers of China have allowed families to have two children for 20 years, yet the fertility rate in China — the average number of children each Chinese woman has given birth to — has been stuck between 1.6 and 1.7 since 1996. In other words, in the wake of the disastrous one child policy, Chinese families aren’t even having the two children they’re allowed to have.
For context, the replacement rate — the fertility rate that allows a society to stay at its current population level — is 2.1. Below that, population shrinks; above it, population grows.
It was an interesting acknowledgment by the communists in China that the future belongs to those who are there, who exist. People are, apparently, a minimum necessity to be a superpower.
Happily, the communists are too late to save their regime. The terrible reality for them is that the Chinese people will grow old before they grow rich.
The other terrible reality — and larger lesson for everyone — is that once people stop having children, it is difficult for any government to restart the process.
Those of us in the West are familiar with the problem. In the European Union, birth rates are alarmingly low. The overall fertility rate in the EU is 1.5. Some nations — Italy and Spain with fertility rates of 1.3 — are not more than a generation or two from being unable to recover, absent an emphatic and immediate religious resurgence. France is proud that it is leading the pack in Europe with a fertility rate of 1.9.
In the United States, the fertility rate is 1.7, the lowest ever.
Why have people in the “developed” world stopped having children? The obvious and least-mentioned answer is that having children is, for most, a sacrifice and a commitment to a world not yet seen. It is an act of a faith, and consequently, it is performed most frequently by people who have faith.
It is no accident that fertility rates are well above replacement level in nations characterized by strong religious sentiments such as Nigeria (5.2), Uganda (4.6) and Afghanistan (4.5).
Fertility rates fall along with religious belief. Why shouldn’t they? Having children is not an economically savvy proposition, and the act of procreation is usually tangled up with crazy notions of participating in the creation — along with God — of another human. Once all that religious sentimentality is shorn away, it turns out that there are limited reasons to have children.
The United States is no exception. The current fertility rate of 1.7 compares to 2.54 in 1970. Now compare religious belief. In 1970, just 3% Americans said they had no religious affiliation. Last year, 23% said they had no religious affiliation, making them, ironically, the nation’s second largest religious group.
Obviously in the case of the communists, they hate religion, so they doom themselves almost from the outset.
In the West, the ruling philosophy for the last two centuries has been utilitarianism — a cousin of communism — accelerated by the Enlightenment. Both have left us with diminished religious beliefs and a hyper-rational approach towards society (now most clearly seen in the manic pursuit of “data” to inform every decision).
Utilitarianism has failed. It has led to societies that cannot produce the essential building block of civilization — actual humans. In a hyper-rational world, everyone concludes that having children makes no economic sense.
Some think that government cash is the answer. If more cash were the answer, surely the richest societies in the history of the planet would not be suffering from a dearth of children.
It appears that belief in God, pretty much any God, is better than belief in one’s own intellectual capacity to manage the world.
The good news is that, like many things in nature, it is a self-correcting problem. Those societies and peoples that can’t or won’t reproduce — like the Communist Chinese or some in the West — will simply fade into history.
• Michael McKenna, a columnist for The Washington Times, is the president of MWR Strategies. He was most recently a deputy assistant to President Trump and deputy director of the Office of Legislative Affairs at the White House.
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