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On negative population growth

Japanese House of Representatives
Japanese House of Representatives
Photo by Junko Kimura/Getty Images

A few weeks ago (in Liberal Democrats offend women again) we observed that Japan was experiencing negative population growth. We have noted before that falling birth rates lead to economic disaster in modern societies, as aging populations result in a growing proportion of dependent elderly, and work force aged citizens able to support them become fewer. At the moment the problem is mostly, although not entirely, hypothetical in America; it is very real in Japan. Thus if we explore how Japan might counter its falling population, we lay the groundwork for potential future policies to address the problem if it begins to threaten us.

Obviously, it will be necessary to encourage women to become pregnant; that means encouraging them to engage in sexual intercourse with men. It is also necessary to encourage them to carry their children to term, to become mothers, and then we will need a means of raising the child. We could attempt to create massive government nurseries, but these have a very poor track record historically. Mothers will need support--and who better to whom to assign the task than fathers, who have at least a genetic interest in the well-being of their children? So we want a system that encourages men and women to copulate, bear young, and work together to raise the young into contributing members of society.

Democratic governments cannot force people to do this, but what they can do is create incentive programs. If we want employers to hire the disabled, we create tax incentives or support programs specifically benefiting those who do so, such as the Federal Sub-minimum Wage for people with disabilities, the so-called 14(c) exemption to the minimum wage law that encourages employers to hire handicapped individuals to do work within their abilities at below the minimum wage. We could create a special status for human breeding pairs who declare an intention to raise offspring, and give them tax and other advantages. This would then make it economically beneficial, or at least reduce the economic hardship involved, and so encourage the production of offspring, the increase in the population the government desires.

Of course, we already do that--or rather, we did that. We called that special status "married", and while the benefits did not really make it more profitable to raise children than to remain single, they existed to reduce significantly the economic disadvantages of such choices and so to encourage them. We had a system in place designed to encourage the conception, birth, and rearing of children.

However, because some people who have neither the intention nor the ability to produce children felt that they were unfairly excluded from these targeted benefits, the entire system has been undermined.

It would be similar to ruling that it is unfair to employers that they have to pay minimum wage to underperforming but not disabled workers, such that they could file for 14(c) exemptions and pay you less than the minimum wage simply because they do not think you earn more than a qualifying disabled worker. Employers generally believe that their workers are paid more than they are worth, and that their lowest tiered workers are not adequately productive to justify the minimum wage. The 14(c) exemption exists for a reason, to encourage employment of disabled workers in jobs that would make them productive members of society and give them incomes supplementary to their government assistance. To subvert the purpose of the system is to negate the reason for it to exist. If a 14(c) exemption could be applied to an underproductive but not disabled worker, employers would have less incentive to employ the handicapped. If the incentives intended to encourage childbearing couples to commit to conceiving and raising children become applied generally to persons with no such intention or ability, the purpose for the incentives is negated.

Of course, the Japanese can still create more incentives for their women (and their men) to marry and have children. They are not hampered by a culture of equal entitlements.