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The assumptions are incorrect

Reader comment on item: Europe is Finished, Predicts Mark Steyn

Submitted by KW (Denmark), Nov 14, 2006 at 17:03

The assumption that it is the welfare state that has produced low birth rates is wrong. Within Western Europe, there is no statistical correlation between the size of the welfare state and fertility rates. Indeed, the Nordic countries, with the most extensive welfare states, and the greatest equality between the sexes, have higher fertility rates than most other countries in Europe, including Germany, Italy, Spain and in some cases the UK (though not as high as France, with its large immigrant population, or Ireland, with its unusual religiosity).

It is also wrong to suggest that the welfare state has created a dependence on imported labour. The initial 'guest workers' were brought in to allow non-inflationary economic growth to continue, by increasing the labour supply. This was clearly a mistake, creating severe problems, but is laregely a relic of the 1950s/60s. Most immigrants to Europe today were not asked to come, and are only allowed to stay because of the fear governments have of turning them away, after the experience of the Second World War (especially the Holocaust). This is already changing in some countries, and if present trends continue, others are likely to follow. In any case, the USA has had much higher levels of immigration than Europe since the Second World War, so if any country depends on imported labour, it's the USA.

The notion that it was dependence on the USA for defence that allowed the welfare state to develop is yet another theory without any solid basis in fact. Welfare statism began well before the Second World War, and thus before this dependence existed. Moreover, defence budgets are relatively small in relation to overall state spending, and could easily be increased to the levels of the USA with only small tax increases, which is to say without threatening welfare states.

The most reasonable thesis I have heard to explain low birth rates is the combination of contraception and lack of religiosity. Those who are not religious see the scientific outlook for our countries and the planet, and it is not a pleasant picture. In simple terms, there are too many people in the world, and the Western economic system is not sustainable. If the outlook for the future is dim, why add so many children to it? The religious (Christian, Muslim or other), on the other hand, have faith in the future, even if the scientific evidence is against it, and often see it as their duty to bring more believers into the world. (This is perhaps one reason why religion is so pervasive in human society -- the nonreligious simply die out through lower fertility rates.)

Within a society where religiosity is low, a strong welfare state is arguably one of the only things that can help maintain birth rates, by allowing women to have children without losing all the benefits of working, by removing some of the financial burden of having children, etc. The challenge is either to return to religiosity (I doubt this is possible, as many of us who are not very religious simply find much of religious doctrine implausible) or to otherwise convince people that it is important to have children. Equally important is to stop allowing so much immigration. Falling populations in densely populated countries (as many here in Europe are) is not a bad thing, unless immigrants make up for it (and more), as they currently do. This is largely a result of Third World fertility rates, which are out of control. If they can be brought down to reasonable levels, these countries will be better able to develop, and there will thus be less pressure for their people to migrate to the West.

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Note: Opinions expressed in comments are those of the authors alone and not necessarily those of Daniel Pipes. Original writing only, please. Comments are screened and in some cases edited before posting. Reasoned disagreement is welcome but not comments that are scurrilous, off-topic, commercial, disparaging religions, or otherwise inappropriate. For complete regulations, see the "Guidelines for Reader Comments".

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