Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is Obama’s economy as good as the mainstream media are telling us?

This article from CNS News was tweeted by GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina.

The economy is not good

This economy is not good (click for larger image)

It says:

The federal government taxed away more money, spent more money and ran a bigger deficit in the first half of fiscal 2015 than it did in the first half of fiscal 2014, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

“The federal government ran a budget deficit of $430 billion for the first half of fiscal year 2015, CBO estimates–$17 billion more than the shortfall recorded in the same span last year,” the CBO said in its Monthly Budget Review for March 2015, which was published April 8. “Both revenues and outlays were about 7 percent higher than the amounts recorded in the first six months of fiscal year 2014.”

Keep in mind that these deficit numbers are for half a year. In 2007, George W. Bush was running a deficit of $160 billion for an entire year.

And we’re being taxed more, too:

The biggest source of additional tax revenue for the federal government was the individual income tax. In the first six months of fiscal 2014, Americans paid the federal government approximately $585,000,000,000 in individual income taxes. In the first six months of fiscal 2015, Americans paid $642,000,000,000 in individual income taxes—an increase of $57 billion (or 9.7 percent) from fiscal 2014.

What’s the long-term forecast?

The Wall Street Journal has it:

Question: “How close are we from seeing entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security come into direct conflict with defense spending priorities? Defense spending is almost 20% of the Fed budget and nearly 60% of discretionary spending. Current cost of health care and an aging population are strong indicators this could happen sooner than later.”

Zumbrun: “I’d say we’re already seeing it now. As Nick noted above, the CBO projects that mandatory spending and spending on interest will climb, but that defense and nondefense discretionary spending will be squeezed. Anyone who doesn’t want to see that happen in the next decade needs some combination of higher revenue, much faster economic growth, or cuts to entitlement programs.

“The budget deal known as sequestration squeezed down both defense and non-defense discretionary spending. If, instead, everyone agreed it was okay to cut entitlements (which they obviously don’t), you wouldn’t have needed to squeeze that down. So I think it’s fair to say these things are already in conflict.”

Question: “Debt as long as partnered with productivity is no problem. From the looks of it, the U.S. might fall as an economy, but is now the time?”

Timiraos: “That’s a good point. One thing that’s a little bit troubling, however, is that estimates of the potential output of the U.S. economy have been revised down. What does that mean exactly? Instead of growing at a 2.7% rate from 2014-18, it now says the economy will grow at a 2.5% rate. That doesn’t sound too bad, but over time, it adds up.”

Question: “The U.S. has so far been capable of keeping its cost of borrowing at a remarkably low level. What about in the long term where it seems likely that servicing the debt will eat up a larger and larger percentage of government expenditures in an age of slowing growth?”

Zumbrun: “There’s actually decent reason to believe that if the economy slows down a lot then interest rates will stay very low. That’s basically the situation in Japan, right? They’re mired in decades of low growth, driven by aging demographics and a central bank that was really timid for a long time, but as a result of their permanently stagnant economy, interest rates are incredibly low. In the U.S., one scenario like this is known as secular stagnation.

Wow, if our economy starts to look like Japan, that will not be good. They have massive deficits, zero economic growth and a looming demographic crisis (few young workers, many older retirees). It’s a very bad situation that’s being masked by low interest rates and massive, massive borrowing.

The Brookings Institute agrees

Lest you think that this is just the conservative take on this, here’s the leftist Brookings Institute, writing about it just last week.

They say:

Debt figures tell part of the story. When the Great Recession hit, the federal debt was equal to about 40 percent of GDP. But to fight the recession, Congress enacted an $800 billion dollar stimulus bill. Stimulus spending, combined with already enacted spending and tax policy, resulted in four years of trillion dollar deficits. As a result, the debt ballooned to 78 percent of GDP in 2013, almost twice the pre-recession level. The annual deficit is now declining at a stately pace, but by 2016 it will begin increasing again, and by 2020 under CBO’s alternative fiscal scenario, we will once again return to annual deficits above a trillion dollars, thereby once again greatly increasing the national debt.

Oh come on – Obama says that he saved the economy, and everyone in the mainstream media agrees.

Did he?

What’s the word for our fiscal situation? Stunning? Shocking? Desperate? In recent testimony before the Senate Budget Committee, Boston University Economics Professor Laurence Kotlikoff, in effect, told the Committee that all of these terms are pathetically inadequate to describe our true fiscal situation. In compelling testimony, Kotlikoff argues that the federal fiscal situation is much worse than the CBO estimates let on. The reason is that CBO’s debt estimates do not take into account the full financial obligations the government is committed to honor, especially for future payments of Social Security, Medicare, and interest on the debt. He asserts that the federal government should help the public understand the nation’s true fiscal situation by using what economists call “the infinite-horizon fiscal gap,” defined as the value of all projected future expenditures minus the value of all projected future receipts using a reasonable discount rate.

If you’re going to be retirement age around 2030, you’d better do two things right now – first, don’t expect any help from the Federal government. I don’t care if you paid into their Ponzi scheme redistribution programs – there is no money for you there. Second, if you’re working till you’re retired, then expect the government to raise taxes even more on you.

Would you expect secularists to care about the next generation when this is the only life they have? I would not. Ideas have consequences.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , ,

After destroying religion and marriage, Europe tries to convince people to make babies

Fertility rates in European countries

Fertility rates in European countries (click for larger image)

This is from the radically leftist New York Times, of all places.

They write:

Recently, Sex and Society, a nonprofit group that provides much of Denmark’s sex education, adjusted its curriculum. The group no longer has a sole emphasis on how to prevent getting pregnant but now also talks about pregnancy in a more positive light.

It is all part of a not-so-subtle push in Europe to encourage people to have more babies. Denmark, like a number of European countries, is growing increasingly anxious about low birthrates. Those concerns have only been intensified by the region’s financial and economic crisis, with high unemployment rates among the young viewed as discouraging potential parents.

The Italian health minister described Italy as a “dying country” in February. Germany has spent heavily on family subsidies but has little to show for it. Greece’s depression hasfurther stalled its birthrate. And in Denmark, the birthrate has been below the so-called replacement rate needed to keep a population from declining — just over two children per woman — since the early 1970s.

“For many, many years, we only talked about safe sex, how to prevent getting pregnant,” said Marianne Lomholt, the national director of Sex and Society. “Suddenly we just thought, maybe we should actually also tell them about how to get pregnant.”

The demographic shift is more pressing in Europe than almost any other major region, save Japan. There are an estimated 28 Europeans 65 or older for every 100 residents ages 20 to 64, almost twice the world average, according to the United Nations, and compared with 24.7 for the United States. By the end of the century, the United Nations expects the European figure to double.

Such trends will transform societies, potentially reducing economic growth and increasing stress on public pension systems and requiring more elder care. Japan already faces existential questions in a country whereadult diaper sales are beginning to eclipse those of baby diapers.

But there is not a consensus about the impact of demographics. Some see a natural maturing of developed societies. Others see disaster ahead, because with fewer workers and more retirees, the active work force faces an increased burden to sustain social programs.

Productivity gains over time, though, can make up for such population stresses. Declining birthrates can also lead to labor shortages, and Germany has faced a gap in skilled labor. But that is hardly an issue now for much of Europe, which is mired in high unemployment.

OK, so it’s a crisis. But how did it happen?

Nicholas Eberstadt explains what’s happening to marriage and parenting, in this Wall Street Journal article.

Why is it happening?

All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

People are rejecting responsibilities, expectations, and obligations because they are selfish.

When he talks about Europe, he offers an explanation for this:

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society). In the schema of the Second Demographic Transition, long, stable marriages are out, and divorce or separation are in, along with serial cohabitation and increasingly contingent liaisons. Not surprisingly, this new environment of perennially conditional, no-fault unions was also seen as ushering in an era of more or less permanent sub-replacement fertility.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium—the birth-land of the scholars who initially detected this Second Transition—the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

“Perenially conditional, no-fault unions”. That means that either party can leave at any time, for any reason.

Basically, people became skeptical of objective morality and the afterlife, and they have decided to follow their hearts and go more the most happiness they can have in this life. And they’ve noticed that relationships with other people – with all the nasty expectations, obligations and responsibilities – get in the way of this self-centeredness. To get married and have children is to embrace responsibility. It means that you are accepting the obligation to learn the needs of other people and care for those needs. Something has gone wrong in European society where these social obligations declined, just as religion declined. And the same thing is being taught to the next generation in our most prestigious universities.

This is a bird’s-eye view. I’ll have a closer look at the problem in my next post.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , , ,

The global shift away from marriage and child-bearing

Nicholas Eberstadt explains what’s happening to marriage and parenting, in this Wall Street Journal article.

I just want to pull out the parts that seem interesting.

Why is it happening?

All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth.

People are rejecting responsibilities, expectations, and obligations because they are selfish.

When he talks about Europe, he offers an explanation for this:

Now consider Europe, where the revolution in the family has gained still more ground. European demographers even have an elegant name for the phenomenon: They call it the Second Demographic Transition (the First being the shift from high birth rates and death rates to low ones that began in Europe in the early industrial era and by now encompasses almost every society). In the schema of the Second Demographic Transition, long, stable marriages are out, and divorce or separation are in, along with serial cohabitation and increasingly contingent liaisons. Not surprisingly, this new environment of perennially conditional, no-fault unions was also seen as ushering in an era of more or less permanent sub-replacement fertility.

According to Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical agency, the probability of marriage before age 50 has been plummeting for European women and men, while the chance of divorce for those who do marry has been soaring. In Belgium—the birth-land of the scholars who initially detected this Second Transition—the likelihood of a first marriage for a woman of reproductive age is now down to 40%, and the likelihood of divorce is over 50%. This means that in Belgium the odds of getting married and staying married are under one in five. A number of other European countries have similar or even lower odds.

Europe has also seen a surge in “child-free” adults—voluntary childlessness. The proportion of childless 40-something women is one in five for Sweden and Switzerland, and one in four for Italy. In Berlin and in the German city-state of Hamburg, it’s nearly one in three, and rising swiftly. Europe’s most rapidly growing family type is the one-person household: the home not only child-free, but partner- and relative-free as well. In Western Europe, nearly one home in three (32%) is already a one-person unit, while in autonomy-prizing Denmark the number exceeds 45%. The rise of the one-person home coincides with population aging. But it is not primarily driven by the graying of European society, at least thus far: Over twice as many Danes under 65 are living alone as those over 65.

“Perenially conditional, no-fault unions”. That means that either party can leave at any time, for any reason.

Who is hurt most when marital stability declines?

Kids:

Our world-wide flight from family constitutes a significant international victory for self-actualization over self-sacrifice, and might even be said to mark a new chapter in humanity’s conscious pursuit of happiness. But these voluntary changes also have unintended consequences. The deleterious impact on the hardly inconsequential numbers of children disadvantaged by the flight from the family is already plain enough. So too the damaging role of divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing in exacerbating income disparities and wealth gaps—for society as a whole, but especially for children. Yes, children are resilient and all that. But the flight from family most assuredly comes at the expense of the vulnerable young.

And the elderly:

That same flight also has unforgiving implications for the vulnerable old. With America’s baby boomers reaching retirement, and a world-wide “gray wave” around the corner, we are about to learn the meaning of those implications firsthand.

In the decades ahead, ever more care and support for seniors will be required, especially for the growing contingent among the elderly who will be victims of dementia, or are childless and socially isolated. Remember, a longevity revolution is also under way. Yet by some cruel cosmic irony, family structures and family members will be less capable, and perhaps also less willing, to provide that care and support than ever before.

I did a quick search for pro-marriage policies and came across an article from USA Today. The author wanted to bash a legislator’s pro-marriage ideas, and to do that she found a single mother to quote who disagrees with pro-marriage policies.

Look:

Indianapolis mother Amanda Louden, 46, has seen parenthood from both married and unmarried standpoints.

She had three sons with her former husband, deciding to marry to be traditional about it and for the convenience of everyone having the same last name. Louden later divorced her husband and had another son with her then-boyfriend.

And she says she doesn’t think marriage made that much of a difference in raising her children.

“It’s really an oversimplification to say that single parenting is bad,” Louden said. “Intact families where both parents are involved in their children’s lives, that’s good. I’m in favor of that. But let’s not demonize families that don’t have that. It’s demonizing people who are doing whatever they can.”

The father of her youngest son didn’t seem ready or interested in a live-in family role, she said. He became less involved and eventually stopped visiting.

Louden is now raising four sons on her own as a single mother. She disagrees that children with married parents are somehow automatically “better” than hers.

If we are serious about marriage, we are going to have to change attitudes like that. We have to get used to responding to people who say that marriage doesn’t matter with real, peer-reviewed evidence. Broken families arise when people think that there are no best practices that should affect their decision making beyond “follow your heart”. Following your heart get no disapproval at all from the culture. Young people often don’t have friends who will challenge them when they are about to make a bad decision. Young people will often seek out peers who agree with them, and avoid parents and other responsible adults who disagree. Peer-approval – that’s how disasters happen. The only way to stop people from messing up their lives is to tell them before they mess up their lives – and that means breaking through “follow your heart” as gently and effectively as possible.

One reason why so many marriages break up is recreational premarital sex.

CNS News explains:

The seeds of this sexual maturity are sown in early childhood, when a child’s married parents model faithful love of each other, guide him or her through modesty to a criteria of selecting a spouse and courting the right young man or woman, eventually leading to marriage and a family of their own. Without this guidance—without married parents who have modeled a healthy, monogamous relationship since the child’s birth—children generally get lost in pre-marital sex, leading to multiple sexual partners before marriage, in turn leading most into cohabitation and later divorce or permanent single parenthood. The culture has lost its sense of sexual morality.

[…][M]ost people do want marriage for themselves and for society; unfortunately, most have severed the connection between premarital chastity and later marriage stability, not knowing that the more sexual partners before marriage the greater the likelihood of divorce.  Ninety-five percent of those whose only sexual partner ever is their spouse are still in their first marriage after five years. This figure drops to 62 percent for women who had one sexual partner other than their husband (before they married), and drops down further to 50 percent for those who had two such sexual partners before marrying their husband.

Therefore, if the nation wants stable marriage, we first must reinvest in shepherding youth to be chaste.  This has become more and more difficult for parents as the sexual principles of radical feminism and sexual autonomy pervades our courts, schools, colleges and media, and sadly, even to some extent in our churches.

Yes, in our churches.

But there’s more to restoring marriage than just confrontation at the one-on-one level. From a policy point of view, we should be voting for policies that promote marriage and child-bearing within marriage. I think we should be giving rewards to married couples who stay together and have children, not to people who want to try any other crazy arrangement that isn’t as good for kids. Not every association of people is as stable and healthy as marriage, and the government shouldn’t be treating these alternatives as we treat the real thing.

You can look over a list of pro-marriage policy ideas here.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , , ,

Arthur Brooks: Europe’s core problems are demographic, not economic

AEI President Arthur C. Brooks writes about Europe’s most pressing problem in the far-left New York Times, of all places.

He writes:

According to the United States Census Bureau’s International Database, nearly one in five Western Europeans was 65 years old or older in 2014. This is hard enough to endure, given the countries’ early retirement ages and pay-as-you-go pension systems. But by 2030, this will have risen to one in four. If history is any guide, aging electorates will direct larger and larger portions of gross domestic product to retirement benefits — and invest less in opportunity for future generations.

Next, look at fertility. According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the last time the countries of the European Union were reproducing at replacement levels (that is, slightly more than two children per woman) was the mid-1970s. In 2014, the average number of children per woman was about 1.6. That’s up a hair from the nadir in 2001, but has been falling again for more than half a decade. Imagine a world where many people have no sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts or uncles. That’s where Europe is heading in the coming decades. On the bright side, at least there will be fewer Christmas presents to buy.

There are some exceptions. France has risen to exactly two children per woman in 2012, from 1.95 in 1980, an increase largely attributed to a system of government payments to parents, not a change in the culture of family life. Is there anything more dystopian than the notion that population decline can be slowed only when states bribe their citizens to reproduce?

Finally, consider employment. Last September, the United States’ labor force participation rate — the percentage of adults who are either working or looking for work — reached a 36-year low of just 62.7 percent.

Yet as bad as that is, the United States looks decent compared with most of Europe. Our friends across the Atlantic like to say that we live to work, while they work to live. That might be compelling if more of them were actually working. According to the most recent data available from the World Bank, the labor force participation rate in the European Union in 2013 was 57.5 percent. In France it was 55.9 percent. In Italy, just 49.1 percent.

[…]It is true that good monetary and fiscal policies are important. But the deeper problems in Europe will not be solved by the European Central Bank. No matter what the money supply and public spending levels, a country or continent will be in decline if it rejects the culture of family, turns its back on work, and closes itself to strivers from the outside.

Either people keep their own money and run their own lives, or bureaucrats take their money and make the decisions about social programs. In America, we used to prefer the former, but Europe has been preferring the latter for decades. Would I get married and have kids in a society run by European bureaucrats? Do I want secular leftist public schools to tell my children what to believe? It doesn’t sound very exciting to me. And I’ll bet it doesn’t sound very exciting to a lot of men in Europe. Men don’t want to be taxed, so that they can be replaced by the state’s social programs. We want to chart our own course, and guide our own families. But that’s not OK with people who want to replace men with government social programs.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , ,

Yale University Press book: fertility rates are in decline worldwide

I saw this article about a Yale University Press book on demographics, posted at Yale University’s web site.

Excerpt:

It’s no surprise that the world’s population is at an all-time high – exceeding 7 billion – although many might not know that it increased by 5 billion during the past century alone, rising from less than 2 billion in 1914. And many people would be surprised – even shocked –  to know that over the past three decades, fertility rates have plummeted in many parts of the world, including China, Japan and even significant regions of India.

These Asian giants have not been alone. In much of Europe, North America, East Asia and elsewhere, the average number of children born to women during the course of their childbearing years has fallen to unprecedentedly low levels.

Our new book, The Global Spread of Fertility Decline: Population, Fear, and Uncertainty (Yale University Press, 2013) analyzes these trends and the demographic, political and economic consequences and uncertainties as low fertility has become a global phenomenon. Like other facets of globalization, low fertility rates are by no means universal: High fertility persists in sub-Saharan Africa and in parts of the Middle East, but elsewhere low fertility is more the rule than the exception. These underlying trends in childbearing mean that in the near future the rate of population growth both in Europe and Asia are likely to decline. The world is not on a path of unrestrained demographic growth, as some believe. People all over the world have hit the brakes.

It’s strange because a lot of people on the secular left are worried about overpopulation, which is one of the factors causing them to push for abortion – and even subsidized abortion.

Filed under: News, , , , , , , , ,

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