Social & Domestic Issues

Children: National Treasure or Personal Luxury Item?

The greatest issue facing all Western cultures today is their looming demographic collapse due to low birth rates. Simply put, all European-derived nations are headed for extinction simply because too few children are being born. Yet these nations have done little to nothing to attempt to change things. Apparently the end of the world as we know it is no cause for concern.

The reasons for our lackadaisical attitude toward our own national demise are varied, but include:

  1. The Western intelligentsia’s post-colonial cult of guilty self-loathing, which makes some believe that our demise is quite deserved and well overdue.

  2. The related belief system of “multiculturalism,” which holds that all cultures are equal, but one’s own culture is less equal than others. Again, this implies that the extinction of Western civilization is, at worst, a morally neutral event.
  3. The curious and unsustainable modern belief that a nation is simply a geographically-defined administrative unit, rather than an ethnically or culturally distinct people. Such a belief leads to the conclusion that the decline of a geographic unit’s population is simply an economic supply issue to be addressed by demographic free trade, i.e. open borders. In other words, who needs American motherhood when we can just outsource the production of children? After all, people are simply interchangeable parts in the brave new globalized economy, right?
  4. The political reality that democracies respond to the needs of those who are here now, voting and whining about themselves. Politicians, therefore, plan only for the next election, not for the next generation. Those who have yet to be born, or who will never be born, cannot threaten an incumbent. This explains not only why the certain demographic decline of an entire nation after the next election is apparently acceptable, but also why fetuses have fewer rights than illegal aliens.
  5. The fact that a demographic Armageddon does not suit the propaganda needs of any current political movement. It therefore has no worried prophets bemoaning it today. This is why German Greens, for example, can get very worried that the average temperature of the Earth might rise one degree over the next century, yet seem entirely nonplussed by the thought that there will be no Germans remaining to be one degree warmer.

However, it is still possible that some one or two of the Western nations might one day notice their decline, and find some reason to care about it. The question will then arise: What do we do about our pathological lack of children? After a series of government studies, costing hundreds of millions of dollars and employing scores of retired politicians on “blue ribbon” panels and C-SPAN televised committee hearings, someone may suggest that the answer is: have more children.

A massive expansion of the welfare state will then be proposed, which would have been proposed anyway, but will then be judged even more important since it is “for the children.”  Such an escalation of government has already been the potential response discussed in most countries: government funded “baby bonuses,” more paid maternity leave, free government childcare centers,  more affirmative action for women, and so forth.

I can imagine few means short of massive coercion or a “Deal or No Deal” sized prize purse, though, that can make those who do not already wish to share their lives with children want to have children. I am also not sure of the advisability of encouraging such folks to reproduce. And as our experience with welfare and welfare reform has shown, subsidizing fertility outright does not necessarily lay the groundwork for a healthy and independent culture.

Fortunately, though, there is an alternative approach: government could just stop messing with people that want to have children long enough for them to manage to do so. There are many people who would have more children, or have children sooner, if they could afford to do so.

But everyone who earns enough to have children in our society is being taxed white to pay for blue-ribbon committees, social security, free health care, in-state tuition for illegal aliens, the Robert Byrd Institute for the Study of Human Ego, foreign aid, welfare, agricultural subsidies, the Bridge to Nowhere, rebuilding things in flood plains, enough airport screeners to search everyone not named “Mohammed,” the National Endowment for the Arts, guarding the borders of Iraq, not guarding the borders of America, and the public transportation systems that we don’t want to use.

The simple fact is that government judges taxation to be more important than individual procreation. The proof of this can be found in the treatment of children in the tax code. By one careful estimate of total costs, raising a child through age 17 costs between $180,000 and $250,000—or $10,000 to $14,000 per year. And after that, it gets really expensive if you foolishly decide to send the kid to college. Yet the federal government allows parents to deduct just $3,200 per year per child on their income taxes. Anyone who tried to raise a child on $3,200 per year would be charged with neglect.

When two adults split an income in reality, it is judged in many cases as if the income were split in two for tax purposes (except for those couples trapped into the marriage penalty, another blow to potential fertility). This splitting is logical by the standards of progressive taxation—a single income couple earning $60,000 per year does not have the same proportional wealth as a single person earning $60,000 per year. But when the couple has a child and three people live off that $60,000 per year, it is not considered to be split again. The couple is given a $3,200 exemption and a $1,000 child tax credit.

A negative birth rate is the most important problem the developed world faces—yet America’s tax code treats children as something between a luxury item and a charitable contribution. It’s the taxation equivalent of the 3/5ths compromise—you’ll get some credit for the kid’s existence, but not like they were full citizens or anything.

The $1,000 child tax credit helps, but does not cover the cost deficit fully and is inexplicably phased out for the uppermost middle class. Consider a couple with four children and an adjusted gross income of $149,000. These are exactly the sort of people America needs more of and they will pass their tendency to success onto their children, statistically. They are spending about $15,000 per year to raise each child, meaning they never personally see $60,000 of income. It is spent on other people—their children. Yet they are ineligible for the full child tax credit because they are “rich.” And God forbid that successful, productive, independent people have more children. That’s the government’s apparent logic.

The exemption for children should be $10,000 to $15,000 per year and entirely independent of income. That’s what they cost, after all, and they are somewhat necessary to the next generation. Even better would be to allow parents to file taxes as a “family, filing jointly” and thus split their total income evenly for tax purposes (among themselves and their minor children), much as a couple can do under the “married, filing jointly” provision.

Simply allowing children to receive their rightful share of their family’s income before that income is taxed would do more to facilitate a healthy middle class birth rate than any other act. Yet Congress cannot even eliminate the marriage penalty entirely or permanently for fear that they might not be able to build one more fish hatchery or folk music museum in their home district.

Politicians can justify any expansion of government by saying that is being done for “the children.” However, it cannot, evidently, justify the least contraction of government for that same cause.

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