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CBIn an interview with the Sunday Telegraph the former chief rabbi has asserted that the West is a civilization facing a similar fate to that of ancient Rome. The reasons for its eclipse are complex, but a modern generation which does not want to have children, sits at the top of his list.

When it comes to warning the West about demographic self-destruction, Lord Sacks will find a crowded pulpit. The current Pope, in particular, has lamented the strange death of what he calls “Mother Europe”.

The problem both these figureheads face is that mainstream religious practitioners see family size as a private matter. They consider exhortations to go forth and multiply as irrelevant and patronising at best, environmental vandalism and patriarchal mumbo-jumbo at worst. For the hardcore, it’s different. Large families represent one of the most potent symbols of denominational conviction. That is true regardless of faith. Salafists, Ultra-Orthodox Jews or Mormons all buck the baby bust. But when the Pontiff tells Catholics they should lie back and think of the Vatican, the only response comes from deeply committed adherents of groups like Opus Dei, an organisation with a membership thought to be under 100,000. Globally, that leaves over a billion Catholics with birth rates indistinguishable from the Godless.

So, where the synagogue and St Peter’s fail, might the Treasury succeed?In the UK, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England already have statutory targets they must meet. If Mark Carney lets inflation get too high, he must write an exculpatory note to Number 11. Elsewhere, finance ministers find they now face a legal duty to conform to a range of economic metrics, from rates of growth, to rates of unemployment.

Is it unthinkable that we might arrive at a moment when fertility is treated the same way? A decade ago the idea would have seemed laughable. Since then, demography has been liberated from its academic dreamy spire and transformed into a key component in policy discussions about areas of high public expenditure, the provision of pensions and social care chief amongst them.

I am not a demographer. Nor am I a campaigner. I am a hack not a wonk. But, do it for long enough, and even the most cloth-eared journalist can hear the wind shifting. I don’t think you need to parse too closely the swirling currents of analysis, opinion and, yes, verbiage, to notice a change.

And what I’m left with is an emerging realisation that how we manage average family size is not something which can be left exclusively to the public pronouncements of faith leaders or the stirrings of individual conscience exercised as choice. Only last week, driving to work, I heard the ‘markets guest’ on the BBC Today programme talk about an economy having “fantastic demographics”.

What did he mean?

He was invoking, or, as we must now insist – ‘channelling’ – an image of what is arguably the most important graph of them all; the inverted population pyramid. ‘Healthy’ demographics entails a wide-based data block at the bottom, tapering to a slender peak. The base is made up of lots of young workers, supporting a narrowing phalanx of dependent, non-working and often ailing, oldies. The ‘unhealthy’ demographics graph is the same. Just upside down.

Yet, it’s not just about having enough youthful taxpayers to fund a safety net for aging baby-boomers. It’s also about having enough customers to buy goods and services, sufficient workers to man lathes and call centres.

SUFSIn time, I have a hunch we will also see unbalanced demography as bearing responsibility for damaging changes in our productive capacity. In a book I wrote in 2013 for the think-tank Civitas (okay, I admit, I’ve thought more about this than most media folk), I assayed how shrinking family size might result in dramatic changes to the workplace.

This was not a diatribe aimed at the growth of one-child families. Yes, there is evidence to support the stereotype of the precious, entitled Little Emperors and Empresses. My book, however, was an attempt to remind people of the sheer necessity of sibship; of a child having a sibling, throughout their lifespan, not just their childhood.

At times there is a zero-sum element to this. If you have an only-child, you are, by definition, denying society – and yes the economy – a middle or eldest child. Birth order theory (a dependable branch of child development sociology in spite of all those articles about how eldest children are disproportionately astronauts, presidents, CEO’s and the like) tells us that kids born down the birth order bring something else to the party.

Flip it might sound, but that middle-child does actually tend to be more anarchic and counter-cultural. That’s a nightmare for some parents, but a boon for the creative industries. And imagine all those boardrooms or shop-floors, suddenly filled with only (and therefore eldest) children who have never had to succumb to any of the conforming pressures of birth order subordination. Never had the corners knocked off by abrasive contact with a sibling.

Part of the problem is, quite simply, that – outside of China until recently – the decision to have the size of family we want is seen as beyond the purview of wider society. Certainly, nothing to do with economics or productivity.

I think this is folly and, as I never tire of telling my six children, everyone else will eventually wake up to the fact.




12 Comments on "Make Children – Not War"

  1. If only this were true but the evidence of my neighbours suggests otherwise. Specifically, eleven kids currently screaming in a paddling pool about ten meters from where I’m trying to sit and think. I’m not saying that “demographic self-destruction” is a good thing but, personally speaking, I’m all for it during school holidays and in relation to these rubberised paddling scenarios.

  2. mahatmacoatmabag | 7th June 2016 at 11:45 am | Reply

    I see that its impossible to post any fair comment to Colin Brazier & once again this website has tilted far to the Left from its proclaimed position in the centre.

    • Fair comment is fine. Turning every article into the subject of Israel is irrelevant to the posts.

      • mahatmacoatmabag | 7th June 2016 at 2:49 pm | Reply

        I only mentioned Braziers support of the Palestinians because he wrote several such pieces on Sky’s website. I sincerely doubt if his views have changed over the years since then.

        • I think, in future, we should check with you to ensure that articles and authors meet with your approval. The last thing we’d want to do is publish an article that expresses one of those fiendishly tricky ‘different points of view’.

          • mahatmacoatmabag | 7th June 2016 at 7:09 pm |

            No need to check with me but take down the claim about being in the centre because it simply isn’t true

  3. I’ve got a funny feeling that you’re seeing all this through the rose-coloured prism of your own life, Colin. Wife, beautiful children and even two ponies. A good life in the country. But demographically speaking your world is laughably untypical. Most of the huge population growth coming down the tracks will be in Africa and the Middle East, to poor people who can no longer be supported on the land, and must resettle to the cities, many of them of the mega sort. When their new urban lives become completely unsupportable due to disease and unemployment, millions of them will go on a long journey. Guess where to. And look, it’s already started, so, you down the end, shuffle up a bit.
    As regards production and consumption you seem to be assuming that things will carry on more or less as they are, with a few more oldies needing some care and attention, and diminishing numbers of young people to keep the tills ringing and the call centres manned. However the future will certainly be drastically different from that. What about the forecasts that a large proportion of jobs that exist now – let’s say 40% as an average sort of figure – will disappear very soon? No call centres, no manned factories, no clerks, no administrators, no ticket collectors, no porters, no posties, no barristas, no tax inspectors and so on and so forth. Most manufacturing will take place either in robotic factories or in local workshops with people making their own household items with 3D printers and free downloaded software. And that’s just the start.
    Consequently the capitalist “firms” will largely cease to exist as employers, and with them the salaries, perks and pension schemes.
    However the good news is that we can expect the numbers problems will be mitigated to some extent by pandemics of diseases and infections that no longer have antibiotics to control them. That won’t do much for productivity though.
    And then there’s the money. The funny debt-based money we use now will fairly shortly be shown to be worthless. Personal wealth will be destroyed, including virtually all pension savings. The debt will have to be written off (sorry Saudi Arabia). A house (and surrounding land – good news for some) will become a place to live again, not a financial asset. But householders and landholders will need a way of warding off those determined to seize them, but of course there will one marauder that can’t be resisted – the State.
    I have a funny feeling that in the midst of all this very foreseeable chaos, the least of our worries is going to be the psychological effects of the denied opportunity of our young to have brothers and sisters. But at least those with many siblings have half a chance of having someone to care for them when they’re sick and bury them when they eventually die. If they’re not themselves doing the caring and the burying.
    Shall we leave for another day the consequences of the discovery of genetic ways to enable us (theoretically) to live forever? How do we overcome that demographic bomb do you suppose? Each have ten children from here to eternity? Will that work?
    That’s more than enough demographics for one day, so let’s get the paddling pool out and have a nice splashabout.

  4. All sounds a bit Ceausescuesque to me. If the only way to save ‘western civilisation’ is to coerce or force women to have multiple kiddies then western civilisation can bite the dust as far as I’m concerned. In any case all civilisations fall eventually.

  5. Peter Kennedy | 7th June 2016 at 5:51 pm | Reply

    Mr Brazier sir, welcome to our little band where the company is interesting and the discussions (mostly) civil. I this trend continues we may see more of the Sky News staff joining us.

    I’ve always found the religious attitude to children to be a mixed message. On the one hand they preach the message of ‘go forth and multiply’ but when the little blighters arrive support from men of the cloth are nowhere to be seen. Perhaps if they made a positive and more practical contribution to modern family life the numbers may start to increase again.

    There is one demographic time bomb that not many people mention, the situation in Northern Ireland. Ulster remains as part of the UK because that is what the Protestant majority wish yet their numbers are falling and the Roman Catholic population are having lots of babies. By the end of this century there will be a Catholic majority in the province and I suspect that the subject of a united Ireland will be revisited.

  6. Oh, bring back tribalism – quickly.

    We have a pile of issues revolving around family matters.

    On the one hand, as you say, having lots of siblings is good for the, erm, siblings.

    Also, in our modern economies, we are slaves to growth. We believe that no economy can be worthwhile unless it grows continuously. Growth means more spending, mostly more on luxuries bought on credit, and lost of people to do the spending/creating/manufacturing/ and management.

    So, we increase population size.

    Oh, whoopsy, we are running out of food! Bugger.

    I am not qualified to talk about the economic woes here, other than suspect that our obsession with growth will possibly be our downfall, but I would like to mention something about the family.

    The modern idea (last thousand years or more) is that we each run off with wife/hubby and have our own little family – completely in isolation from everyone else. So, in that situation, having a nice big one makes sense. Plenty of people thought it did and “cities” have grown from populations of 10,000 to several million in the process.

    But that is artificial and it not what the creature called a human is all about. We are tribal. In the most basic sense, we survive well in small, tight communities where we share everything. Labour, resources, food and bringing up the kids. In that situation, the kids have loads of siblings and who gives a damn whether they are blood-related or not. They certainly don’t.

    So, if you want lots of lovely sibling rivalry, but do not want us to outgrow this planet, then start being a tribe again and stop littering our world with big families that we cannot sustain.

    Pass the salt.

  7. Ok, if you receive a hefty salary from Rupert Murdoch you can and should have as many children as you like. If rich people had more children and poor people had fewer children that would be a far more efficient method of redistributing income than our current tax and welfare system. The trouble is those with large families want, and get, other people to support them both directly in terms of welfare benefits – like the single mother of 12 who receives £40,000 from the taxpayer and now wants to have a 13th by NHS-funded artificial insemination. Not only does this leave less money to spend on the elderly, disabled and our infrastructure generally but it is producing its own demographic time-bomb in the form of welfare dependency and social delinquency. No, having children should not be a human right, they are an expensive and time-consuming responsibility that should only be undertaken by mature adults. If you cannot afford to maintain and look after children or are insufficiently mature to raise them to become responsible adults you should not be able to seek recourse from the public purse or expect others, in the form of teachers, social workers, probation officers and law enforcement officials to correct the mistakes of your poor supervision.

    • mahatmacoatmabag | 8th June 2016 at 9:42 am | Reply

      Why pick on a few white welfare scroungers when the real demographic ticking time bomb, the elephant in the room which is not politically correct to talk about, is the fact that Mohammed will be if its not already the most popular boys name in the UK. Our future ever growing welfare dependent section of society is driven by the results of our failed immigration policy for the last 50+ years & this will only get worse if we remain in the EU and unable to secure our borders & halt 3rd world and Eastern European immigration.

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