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“Strong economic growth and affordable housing, for example, are also good predictors of fertility.”

I think this is the most critical root cause. Even wealthy people today experience housing precarity due to the outrageous cost of housing. This makes couples risk averse; fertility naturally (and wisely) drops when people don’t feel confident in their ability to create a stable environment for children.

While we can and should make progress on many other fronts to make parenting easier, none of it will be enough to overcome housing scarcity.

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Indeed, that is the conclusion I came to here: https://www.lianeon.org/p/the-housing-theory-of-everything

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There is no housing scarcity. That idea is a blatant lie. For instance, in the US there are >15 million empty houses and <1 million homeless people. Similar ratios are found everywhere.

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Even if this is true, it really doesn't solve the problem. Housing needs to be of the right kind and in the right locations.

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The common wealth of humanity - those extracted resources and developed technologies not earned by anyone alive today, are well more than sufficient to provide everyone a decent quality of life, without working, forever. ( except medical technologies ). Enclosure was, and remains, a crime against humanity and everyone could have a reasonably safe and secure home from donated or found materials and efforts wherever they are if they were only left alone to do so.

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I think we should treat life extension more seriously too. Low birth rates aren't a problem if people aren't dying and stay healthy. This would exactly allow for gradual slow population increase.

It of course raises other concerns about how this society would work and if forever young people would maintain freshness of the mind and stay productive members of society. Idk, but I wish to find out. Overall it seems to me that we can make this world work.

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Agreed. More generally, investments into healthcare really should targeting aging in general. It's the most cost-effective way to use limited healthcare research dollars.

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May 30Liked by J.K. Lund

If we invested in the several billion people who are subsistence farmers or urban poor, we could more than make up for the overall loss of innovation due to population decline. I also believe we know most of what we need to shift to sustainable development. We don’t need more technical ideas, we need political power. And while food supply has kept up with population growth, what happens when the Oglala aquifer gives out? What happens when water supplies—already at risk around the world—are subject to another 2 degrees plus temperature increase? What about the Midwest losing a third of its topsoil? So much of what our 8 billion depends on is not sustainable. Shall we talk about plastics? Species extinction? I respect your optimism, and I have grown more optimistic reading you, Hannah Ritchie et al, but…

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The hope is that we always stay ahead of our problems by innovating. So far that has worked...and that is exactly why I hear having fewer people. Fewer people mean less innovation (potentially) and increases the risk that we will not be able to solve the above challenges that you note.

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Good article! I live in Sweden where parents get a combined ~18 months of paid parental leave (although it's not alot of money for middle to high income earning people). Many employers also boost the govt provided subsidy with some percentage of a person's income. And fathers are encouraged, even shamed, into taking as much parental leave as possible. In addition, we pay very little for daycare (like $160/month for one child) and children can go from 1 years of age. There are also other minor incentives like a monthly allowance of around $100 per child. Although Sweden's fertility rate is one of the better in Europe (France is high too) it's still not high enough and it seems that the rather generous economic incentives don't move that needle more than a few points of a percent.

The social and economic opportunity costs for young people in their twenties are just too high, and the anti natalist cultural elements too salient. A more fundamental shift must take place. What do you think of some of the more "far out" proposals made by people like Robin Hanson? (Parents get a share of kids future income through taxes etc)

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May 25·edited May 25Author

Those benefits are amazing. There is a non-financial component here that we must recognize. I have not read this by Robert Hanson, I love radical new ideas. I am not sure that this is workable, but its a neat concept. I do wonder if we created a limited UBI, one that was limited only to children (by extension, their parents), if that would work.

Edit: After reading it again, Hansons ideas is actually quite similar to mine.

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I think ruling politicians have recognized the need for pro natalist policies for decades (and the importance of economic growth etc) which is one of the reasons for the high rates of immigration and pro immigration policies of the recent past (although they're often explained as more of a charity than a demographic need). Nevertheless, the idea that declining fertility and demographic changes are very bad hasn't really entered the public consciousness yet as far as I can tell. Most people still believe that there are too many people and that population decline is generally a good thing. Unfortunately.

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The shift in thinking seems to be happening, but its likely coming too late.

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May 23Liked by J.K. Lund

hey this is cool. do you know of any direct cost-benefit analyses of the per-child cost of subsidizing childcare and parental leave against the expected net economic contribution of that child?

(not that fiscal contribution is all people are good for ofc, but seems appropriate to make an apples-to-apples comparison and not get into arbitrary utilitarian population ethics)

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I am not aware of any source that provides this specific data....though it may be out there somewhere.

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May 28Liked by J.K. Lund

got it. anyway thanks for addressing the childcare angle, most similar pieces don't seem to engage this deeply with the actual tradeoffs (as opposed to just rhetoric) that cause people to have fewer or no kids

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Interesting article, thanks. I wonder if there are any more recent examples of pro-natalist policies, South Korea for example? Even examples from the 80's could be quite out-dated now. You may have already seen it but I thought this article was very useful https://brinklindsey.substack.com/p/the-global-fertility-collapse.

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Indeed, I have read several works by Brink. I am always updating essays as I read more, so I am sure I will get more studies into the mix in the coming months.

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By the way The Economist leads on this subject in its latest edition https://www.economist.com/leaders/2024/05/23/why-paying-women-to-have-more-babies-wont-work

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I saw that! Sadly, I lack a subscription :(

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May 23Liked by J.K. Lund

It may take experimenting with some radical ideas to offset declining population.

1) Preferential hiring for prestigious jobs based upon being married and having kids (or adopting)?

2) Social Security payouts heavily weighted by number of children?

3) Subsidized and or free college education for larger families with zero assistance for one-child-onlies?

4) Progressive taxation based inversely on family size?

5) Adoption programs reaching out to other countries?

6) Smart immigration policies, especially for those that speak the language, have college degrees and big families?

7) Liberal immigration for less educated based upon paying double rates toward social security and Medicare?

8) Cash for children that increases with number.

I am absolutely sure some of these ideas are terrible. I am not sure all of them are, and I think some could be jumping off points toward fully baked ideas (consider caveats and tweaks).

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These suggestions are one reason I advocate for pilot zones. In zones or charter cities, we can test different approaches to see what works and what doesnt.

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May 24Liked by J.K. Lund

I strongly agree with your approach.

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Jun 17Liked by J.K. Lund

I doubt strong economic growth will increase fertility. I know it's 2024 so we can't say people are just lazy and don't want the hassle of raising more kids. Instead we need treat them like a nation of victims.

The biggest reason fertility is a problem is because of the pension system. If you get rid of state pensions the ageing population is less of a problem for public finances. If you're against getting rid of pensions, just deny it to people who had less than two kids. If you didn't have kids you should have saved retirement.

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Less people literally means more resources available per person. The only reason you need more people is to continue growth, which is inherently unsustainable.

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If progress and other Good Things are determined by sheer number of human bodies, then we must wonder why the entire modern world came out of Northern Europe, and not, say, India or China.

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The fertility collapse is just one of many consequences of the sickness of our culture. The reason that one gets so much attention from technocratic types is because its the easiest one to measure.

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I agree of course, but it seems like many people aren't willing to just say in a direct manner that childlessness is an indicator of moral decay. Instead they have to come up with some roundabout way of framing it that doesn't offend liberal sensibilities. Doubly ironic when these are people who also claim to be worried about "climate change," given that a population collapse is possibly the only feasible means of putting a serious dent in CO2 emissions without nuking our living standards from orbit.

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Too few people is a rhetorical trick. Less people literally means more resources to go around.

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Historically it has not played out this way. Since the industrial era, the growth of the population has made almost all resource more, not less, abundant.

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