The Good News: Millennials and Fertility

I would like to transcend the framing of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s response to The Economist’s story No Sex Please, We’re Millennials — that the magazine is feeding Incel arguments — and point out the potential benefit of one-quarter of young adults not having sex, namely the promise of low fertility rates. 

Cartoon from The Economist, May 2, 2019

As Karl Marx observed, the imperative of capitalism drives demography, its scope and its segmentation (for a length discussion of this see The Urgency of Population Control and Appreciating the Accomplishments of the Developed World). Capitalists seek more workers in order to increase the size and depth of the industrial reserve and drive down wages.

But the empowerment of women has put in capitalism’s way a barrier: stable or lower rates of fertility. Lower fertility rates have thrown a monkey wrench into the capitalist machinery. This is why capitalists are so hot for open borders. In the 1960s they threw open the nation-state to large-scale immigration and offshoring in order to weaken the power of labor. Globalism is a strategy to raise the level of profit over against the standard of living of workers in the developed world. Following the 1960s, wages and compensation where decoupled from productivity. With fertility rates in the developed world plummeting, the globalists have become ever more aggressive in marginalizing populist democratic politics that resists the denationalizing forces threatening the affluent world labor built.

Resisting neoliberalism and globalism have never been more important. The debate over populist versus progressive politics is the pivot. If populism wins, it means a better life for the generations that follow. Lower fertility rates mean slower population growth or, even more desirably, a smaller population – as long as we restrict the number of people coming into our countries. In other words, we have to avoid spoiling zero growth by allowing ourselves to become the pressure value for unsustainable population growth in the developing world. We must lead by example and help the developing work lower its fertility rates. 

Falling rates of fertility mean a potentially smaller ecological footprint while at the same time allowing for a greater standard of living. Fewer workers makes the labor commodity more valuable and this imposes upward wage pressure by raising the value of the labor commodity over against the demand for labor. In other words: a more democratic future means lower unemployment rates, more people gainfully employed (think about, for example, the surplus population capitalists ghettoized during the twentieth century — they’re still there suffering), with higher incomes, as well as greater tax revenues and lower rates of welfare utilization. Put yet another way, in plain Marxist language: flat-growth or smaller population means greater individual and family shares of the social surplus. Rising relative prosperity, if more equitably distributed, would come without raising consumption levels, as shares consumed by future individuals in a growing population become available for concrete individuals in a stable or smaller population. All this is good for our Mother Earth.

All this jazz about the “demographic crisis,” about how the West needs foreign workers to come toil for us and pay taxes to support our aging populations (thus reducing human beings to instruments for Western purposes) is propaganda calculated to trick people into accepting the economic needs of the capitalist elite. Guess what? Foreign workers grow old, too. But before the do, they also have children. And more children enlarge and speed up the treadmill of production destroying the biosphere in which we all must live. We have to jettison this nonsense that population control is eugenicist or racist. Population matters. Ecosystems have carrying capacities. We are exceeding ours.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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