Friday, March 03, 2006

A pish tosh to Nihilism

It strikes me that winstoninabox's analysis of Japanese birthrates is almost blindingly self-evident.

Maybe economics is all important, and culture only has a feeble indirect influence. What does the worldwide correlation between birthrates and female workforce participation look like, O Economist-reading Marco? And are the outliers chiefly countries that have gross income inequality and/or completely socialised everything, enabling affordable child care?

This is not to argue that we should keep women out of the workforce, anymore than the [abortion = less crime] equation is an argument that we should permit abortion, or the [carbon dioxide emissions = global warming] equation is an argument that we should reduce carbon dioxide emissions; it is just something we need to keep in mind and manage.

Ultimately I am sure there will be a simple technological fix, as with most problems. Either a drastic extension of the useful human lifetime or the popularisation of a degenderised human phenotype should be sufficient.


Marco said...

Hmm, a little obvious yes.1) The correlation is high, and 2) Yes, that would sum it up. European countries tend to react to too-low birth rates with ineffective campaigns of encouragement, regulation and subsidy, while the root causes get ignored.

I think economists could perhaps make demographic adjustments for the economic factor that children are a long-term investment cost, while aged care, in contrast is an expense cost and should be considered as luxury expenses are on the balance sheets. This would put a very different spin on countries' growth expectations. Countries currently with very high birth rates, low infant mortality, and a reasonably open economy would have much better economic growth expectations than their current growth would indicate.

Marco said...

This concept of simple technological "fixes" bothers me somewhat. A simple technological fix for an ageing population, or for childhood poverty or unwanted children to me is mis-stating the problem. One could say childhood poverty has been extinguished worldwide if we define poverty as say an income of one cent a decade. We already have the technology for wealth spreading - it's called free trade. Basically, these are economic problems rather than technical. Technologies tend not to bear on problems that are basically economic in nature like these. Since being poor is basically a relative condition, poverty probably can't be wiped out. People investing in new technologies will want a return on their investment. Older workers and prenatal technologies will always be subject to the iron law of diminishing returns.

Dr. Clam said...

On the contrary, technology is the only thing that can make a significant difference to economic problems like these. Legislation and all other forms of social engineering are just tinkering on the edges!
You are forgetting the most important and basic of human drives, which is to use that aspect of our being which is most quintessentially human, the intellect. Wherever people are free to be human, their curiouity will lead them to find out what is possible. Ultimately, given worlds enough and time, whatever is possible will be done. Homo economicus is a sad freak, a historical accident, and social conditions that require 'people investing in new technologies to expect a return on their investment' are historically rare, both in the past, and (I believe) in the future. Per aspera ad astra!

Marco said...

Them's fighting words. At the very least, functioning economics and technology rely on each other for their very survival. Think of any technology that has been usefully applied - It has only happened where the entity paying for this technology is expecting a return. Great ideas in themselves are almost completely useless without funding and an expectation that the idea is in the long run unsustainable if it cannot get a financial return. What use is technology to extend people's post retirement life. People will save up to extend it for as long as they can afford, but the simple truth is, eventually they will run out of money. Technology also necessarily builds on previous technologies given the social, economic and legal structures of the time. An understanding of the links between economy, society, laws and technology will give us a glimpse of what is feasible within our lifetimes and what isn't. Also, some of what drives technology is pure luck. One cannot count on discoveries and insights to go in any particular direction. Portable and high energy density power sources like nuclear, have a capacity both to improve our society and to risk it going backwards with calamity. Any disaster that causes world wide chaos can make some or most of recent technological advances useless.

Dr. Clam said...

Going on the basis that the best defence is a good offence, I will take issue with your claim that the problem we starting talking about is an economic problem at all. All economic and legislative fixed will ignore the root causes, because it is basically a biological problem, and the way to solve it is biological engineering.