A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a pretty long  piece arguing that Culture beats Policy when it comes to modulating birth rates (and also took the oppor

Ruxandra’s Substack

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2024-03-30 07:30:04

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a pretty long piece arguing that Culture beats Policy when it comes to modulating birth rates (and also took the opportunity to diss Policy more broadly). Since then, two major publications (The Times and The Financial Times, with the latter citing my piece) have covered the topic and I received a fair bunch of comments/criticisms. So I thought I should address all of them in a follow-up.

The basic argument in my piece isn't new, yet most often, it's supported by comparing TFRs and policies in different countries, with a particular focus on those in Europe. I find this pretty convincing, but there are always caveats to this type of analysis that people bring up. So, rather than comparing countries against each other, I turned my focus to historical periods within single nations where extreme versions of cultural or policy shifts occurred. Specifically, I looked at the desecularization that took place in 18th century France and the stringent pro-natalist policies in communist Romania. This approach allowed me to sidestep the common pitfalls of cross-country comparisons — arguments about unique circumstances of each country that might affect the outcome of certain policies. Because they are pretty huge shifts, it also gets around over the argument that pro-family policies are ineffectual because they are too “weak”. I am not saying my argument has zero flaws, but I think it provides pretty compelling evidence for how important Culture is versus specific Policies.

As I mentioned before, the discourse further progressed since my piece was published. To begin with, Robert Colvile at The Times laments the fact that UK is behind most other countries in family-friendly policy. He then goes on to directly link this state of affairs to the decrease in birth rates that UK has been experiencing. I fully agree with policies aimed at making life for young people easier — although what I think is most needed is simply removing policies that actively make it harder. NIMBYism, high taxes on working people (coupled with low salaries), policies like the triple pension lock all contribute to creating an economy that is greatly skewed in favour of the old. As I mentioned in another piece, I think the youth in the UK is completely under the thumb of the older generation and, parenthood stressful as it is, is made even harder by this. But, as my Culture piece makes it clear, I am under no illusion that reversing these policies would cause birth rates to soar. It’s at best a way to maybe prevent further decline or, in a very optimistic scenario, bring them to something like 2012 levels. If you pay close attention, the idea that these policies would massively help birth rates is undermined WITHIN Robert’s article: he brings up the example of Germany as a country with very good family friendly policies that UK should emulate. But UK and Germany have basically identical TFRs! Not to mention Hungary and Italy, the other countries he holds as positive examples, which have even lower TFRs 1 .

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