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Posts Tagged ‘childlessness’

On Long Term Social, Economic and Cultural Effects of Job Insecurity: 1

December 26, 2017 30 comments

A couple of weeks ago, an older acquaintance casually asked me about whether I intended to “settle down” someday soon. While that question was not unusual coming from somebody of her generation, it got me thinking about what it means to be able to “settle down” in the current era. I have a feeling that many, if not all, of you have been in a similar conversation with somebody a few decades older than yourself. As some of you might also know, well-paying and stable jobs with nice pensions used to be the norm in western countries since the end of WW2 till sometime in the mid-1980s. However the old ways continued for white-collar jobs, such as the one she had, right until the late 1990s-early 2000s.

In other words, career and income stability was the default state of affairs for most of the time since 1945. Now some of you might say that things used to be bad in even earlier eras such as the 1880s-1920s etc. My counterpoint is that there is a reason why life in those eras was so unstable and uncertain for everybody and is ultimately the reason why we had two world wars, multiple bloody revolutions and civil wars in the half century before WW2 ended. That is also why people like Hitler, Mussolini, Franco etc ascended to power and why right-wing militarism was ascendant in countries such as Japan during that era. Let us just say that there is as reason why so many developed countries implement sweeping socialist reforms in the aftermath of WW2.

The point I am trying to make is that previous experiments with laissez-faire capitalism have reproducibly lead to similar results across a number of countries and cultures. To put this in a contemporary perspective, there is a reason why Trump won the presidential election in 2016, the ‘leave’ side won in the 2015 Brexit referendum and so many European countries have seen the resurgence of right-wing nationalist parties. Anybody with more than half a brain can now see that Fukuyama’s “End of History” was just another example of the delusional ivy-league fantasy of power and control. All these warning signs have, however, not had much of an impact on those who are pushing for more neoliberalism. All these visible signs of public dislike for their policies, has if anything, increased their enthusiasm for furthering them.

But how does any of this play out at the level of the individual, family, society, nation-state etc? As many of you know, I have written many posts in the past about issues related to these changes such as spread of social atomization (link 1, link 2), collapse of normal relations between the sexes (link 3), loss of the normal life cycle of people and families (link 4), widespread mercenary attitudes among people (link 5, link 6), loss of public faith in institutions (link 7) etc. Most of what I have written on this topic thus far is, however, mostly about how people react to neoliberalism as state policy and some short and medium scale social changes. What about long-term changes? What would be the potential long-term social, economic and cultural effects of income and career insecurity?

Well.. as you must have realized by now, this is a large topic which cannot be adequately addressed in two or three posts, let alone a single one. Furthermore many potential long-term effects cannot be neatly characterized into distinct categories, since there is a lot of feedback and cross-talk among various aspects of these effects. So let me start by making the most obvious observation about the future of neoliberalism. Based on what I have seen to date, it is unlikely that neoliberalism (in any of its flavors) can be reformed into something gentler and less rapacious. The biggest beneficiaries and supporters of neoliberalism will keep on pushing it till they cease to exist- and you can read that statement in more than one way.

As a corollary, neoliberalism (in any form) is not sustainable beyond the next decade (at most)- but not because of its negative effects on the environment or some similar delusional reason. The real reason behind the unsustainability of that ideology has to do with its effect on society aka the host. Neoliberalism, you see, is a lot like a parasite or cancer in that it requires a host or system which operate on very different principles than itself. However every increase in its numbers and extent of spread compromises the normal functioning of the very system and environment which make its “success” possible.

Let us start by talking about one of the most obvious effects of neoliberalism, but one that is seldom connected to it- extreme sub-replacement fertility. While there has been a consistent worldwide reduction in rates of fertility over the last few decades, even in traditionally high fertility countries, the sub-replacement and still dropping rates of fertility in “developed” countries stand apart from the rest due to a number of factors. Firstly, the rate drop in those countries is due to factors beyond elimination of excessive childhood mortality. To be more precise, financial and career costs of having children combined with negative utility of having them are, by far, the main reasons for persistently sub-replacement fertility rates seen in “developed” countries.

Secondly, and perhaps more significantly, the most significant drops are seen in those who are actively engaged in neoliberal “competition”- either for jobs and career or money. While people with this profile were once the minority, the increase in neoliberal-style “competition” for things as basic as jobs which pay a decent wage and are fairly stable has made this particular type of childlessness very common in younger sections of the population. There is of course, the irony, that those who are most invested in furthering their career through the neoliberal paradigm (and thus its most loyal foot soldiers) often have no children or one token child conceived when they are in their 40s.

While my views on having or not having children are neutral, it is worthwhile to note that part of reason neoliberalism will fail is that its most devout foot-soldiers (credentialed classes, professionals, aspiring types) will be neither truly rich nor capable of producing enough devout new worshipers of that ideology. To put it another way- even without other factors, neoliberalism as an ideology will decline as the number and influence of its most devout followers falls with every passing year. In contrast to this, blue-collar workers and not-so-connected white-collar types have no vested interest in supporting neoliberalism- irrespective of their fertility rates. To make a long story short, neoliberalism (like parasites and other ideologies) cannot survive the demise of their vectors.

In the next part of this series, I will try to focus on a related problem- namely, the fact that all those aspiring and credentialed/professional types who worship neoliberalism will themselves never have a secure livelihood or become truly rich.

What do you think? Comments?

Musings on the Growing Sterility of Suburbia: Apr 29, 2017

April 29, 2017 12 comments

Let me begin this post by telling you that I first considered writing it about 2-3 years ago. However for a number of reasons, it got bumped down the list of what I ended up actually posting. It is based on a peculiar observation I have made over the years. However to explain the context of those observations, I have to first tell you where I live- very vaguely.

I live (rent) in a pretty affluent and nice but somewhat established suburb built in the late-1960s and 1970s. The time of its construction is important for three reasons relevant to this post. Firstly, unlike many suburbs built later on which contain only detached houses, this one does actually have a decent number of condos and apartment buildings. Secondly, it is within walking distance of multiple malls which are still busy and profitable. Thirdly, it has a much more balanced age structure than many other suburbs which are either predominately young or old. It is also worth mentioning that I lived in that area for over a decade.

So, what changes did I notice over those years which led me write this post. Well.. it is an observation about long-term changes in the number (or percentage) of people in that area who have children. It is also about the demographic characteristics of people who still have children.

Ever since the suburb in question was built, it has been one of the more desirable and affordable residential areas of that city. Consequently, it always had a fair number of younger couples with children. I noticed that on moving there almost 12 years ago- largely because of the noise of kids playing outside their houses, which could be a bit too much sometimes. Anyway, the point I am trying to make is that younger couples with children had no problems being able to afford buying houses there from the time it was built up to 2007-2008.

Then something changed.. You see, house prices in that area increased by almost 300% in the 2006-2014 time span. Curiously, rents did not go by anything close to that percentage within the same time span. To make a long story short, it appears that many younger couples with children who owned their houses cashed out and moved further away from downtown. But houses can be sold only if somebody is willing to buy them and this brings me to issue of who bought them. Once again, to keep it brief, these houses were bought by somewhat older people and more affluent but often childless couples. The change in type of people buying houses in that area can account for a part of the decrease in percentage of people with kids in that area- but not most of it.

As I mentioned earlier, the area in question has a pretty decent number of renters- of both houses and condos. Also, many people renting houses and condos in that area had kids. So was there any change there? Well.. no and yes. The percentage of people renting in that area remained very constant, however the newer renters were far less likely to have kids in the first place. But why? Did they have less money than the previous groups of renters? As it turns out, that was not the case and the newer renters were just as affluent or more so than the group they gradually replaced. It is just that they did not have as many, if any, kids.

Curiously, there is an interesting exception to this general trend. It seems that younger non-white families (Asian, Indian, inter-racial etc) in that area still have kids. In other words, the general reduction in the number of kids per couple (if they have any in first place) is largely a white phenomena. To put it another way, over half the children in this relatively affluent and desirable area are now of non-white ancestry. Of course, nobody is having more than two kids but a majority who have any in that area are non-white. So what does that mean for the future? Well.. lets just say that it depends on what you consider desirable.

But coming back to the question of why the “majority” in that area now have far fewer kids than before- even when you adjust for age. In my opinion the answers are as follows: 1] The risk of getting ruined by divorce, alimony and child support is very relevant if you have enough money to lose. 2] Most people who lived in that area used to have stable and well-paying jobs. Now their jobs are just well-paying. 3] Perhaps it is getting even more expensive to raise children? I cannot be sure about that, but it appears to be the case. Let me know if you can think of any more reasons.

What do you think? Comments?