“Vatican Economist: Recession Caused By Low Birthrate”

Well, that’s the (remarkable) headline and here’s the story:

ROME, FEB. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Bankers are not the cause of the global economic crisis, according to the president of the Institute for the Works of Religion. Rather, the cause is ordinary people who do not “believe in the future” and have few or no children. “The true cause of the crisis is the decline in the birth rate,” Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, said in an interview on Vatican Television’s “Octava Dies.” He noted the Western world’s population growth rate is at 0% — that is, two children per couple — and this, he said, has led to a profound change in the structure of society. “Instead of stimulating families and society to again believe in the future and have children […] we have stopped having children and have created a situation, a negative economic context decrease,” Gotti Tedeschi observed. “And decrease means greater austerity.”

Who knew? Read the whole thing if you feel up to it.

The idea, incidentally, that the birthrate is falling because people have somehow given up on the future is a meme that pops up from time to time in certain parts of the conservative world. While the turn of the economic cycle can indeed affect the birthrate, that’s a lagging, not a leading indicator (thus you saw lower birthrates in quite a few countries during the Great Depression). The broader decline, however (a near-universal phenomenon these days) is largely a by-product of modernity, of female emancipation, of urbanization and, yes, optimism. Thanks to modern medicine, people feel more confident than in the past that their children will survive to adulthood and so they have fewer. That’s a good thing.

H/t: Instapundit.

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12 Responses to “Vatican Economist: Recession Caused By Low Birthrate”

  1. David Hume says:

    i heard joel kotkin on the radio enthusing about the higher birthrates of the USA vis-a-vis europe, china and japan. he said that high birthrates are the “best sign” he “can think of” of economic dynamism. no offense joel, but that’s really dumb. stupid comments like that are the best friends of neo-malthusians.

    (unlike many of my leftish friends i don’t think having zero children if you are a smart “together” person is a meritorious act, so i don’t come at this from an anti-natalist perspective)

  2. Wally says:

    Here is a leap: I attended a course at a local church — a couple in this small group constantly expressed their hatred of abortion. The gentleman remarked that abortion was to blame for economic malaise (this was before the economy tanked). He said more babies produced keeps the economy growing!

  3. John says:

    In the short run, having more children hurts the economy, since the children must be cared for, and don’t produce much. However, in the long run, a country has to have a decent birthrate in order to maintain power. In 1850, Britain was the #1 world power. In 1950, it was the US. By far the most important reason for this was simple demographics.

    Demographics is destiny. That’s why open borders is a really bad idea.

  4. David Hume says:

    your example of britain shows andrew’s point about it being a lagging indicator. britain’s rise, and france’s decline, for example, relative to each other preceded their opposite demographic trajectories leading up to 1800.

    By far the most important reason for this was simple demographics.

    if demographics is a robust predictor britain wouldn’t have whooped china and china wouldn’t have been a non-entity in 1950. all things being equal aside from demographics, well yeah, no shit. but before world war 1 the USA was still a net debtor despite its much larger population vis-a-vis european nations.

    and fwiw, UK = 16.8 million in 1851, USA = 23 million in 1850

    anyway, and it’s complicated, the natalists and you have a point. but it isn’t a simple point, and i find simplifying in this way as vulgar as neo-malthusian fear-mongering.

  5. John says:

    The fact that things other than demographics are important doesn’t detract from my point. Britain could whoop China because it was so far ahead technologically. But Britain had to have decent number of people to do it. A country with a small population can get a lead on a larger one for a while, but once its rival start adopting more sensible policies to encourage growth, their per-capita GDP will catch up, and the total GDP will surpass the smaller country.

    China now has more free-market policies, has begun to catch up to the West in per-capita GDP, and its total economy has surpassed Britain. Portugal enjoyed its moment, but it was too small a nation to rival Spain, France, and Britain in the long run. Crete was once the most advanced part of Europe, but mainland Greece with the larger population, surpassed it. ect., ect.

    Ettore Gotti Tedeschi is not a fool for pointing out that if the West wants to continue having a voice in the world, it needs to have lots of babies. If America values its culture, it needs to make sure that a considerable majority of the people living here think of themselves as Americans first, both in nationality and culture. It should keep immigration to reasonable levels, and do a good job of assimilating those it does let in. To not do this would have terrible consequences. If saying this makes me a fear monger, I plead guilty.

  6. Well, the Vatican’s position on this doesn’t look as silly in light of Bradlaugh’s post on the decline of civilization and the decline of population on this very blog: http://secularright.org/wordpress/?p=3798.

  7. Twain says:

    The Vatican is obsessed with birth control. It seems like that’s all they care about. I guess just about everyone is evil according to them because they use birth control. This is one of many reasons why religion has lost a lot of credibility to me. They can help pay for my kids if they want me to have 5 or 6 and frankly I don’t have much hope in the future, so the guy might be a partly correct, but I don’t think someone is engaging in an “evil” act by using birth control. I couldn’t imagine bringing someone into the this world. This planet isn’t a very pleasant place to live as anyone can see.

  8. Lorenzo says:

    The Vatican might care to explain why Catholic Europe is particularly in a fertility slump. I suggest it has to do with policies which increase the income penalty women suffer from having babies.

  9. Polichinello says:

    I wonder how the housing market and the economy at large will be affected by the passing of the Baby Boom. It’s not just a matter of numbers. The BB was a wealthy, well-educated group. Their descendants are being augmented by less educated immigrant groups.

  10. gene berman says:


    I see you’re one of those incurable optimists!

  11. cynthia.curran says:

    True, the babyboomers had more wealth and voted more for Mccain over Obama. On the other hand gen-y is much more heavy immirgant and favors the liberal dems.

  12. Mary T. says:

    In fairness, I’m adding parts of his comments that were more to the point. Catholicism, after all, is a global religion.

    “In practice,” the economist contended, “this was the origin of the crisis, which eventually led to the so-called ‘sub-prime’ excesses. The financial instrument of debt leverage, the expansion of credit, was used to compensate the lack of growth in the economy caused by the 0% birth rate.”

    “The origin of the crisis is not in the banks or finance,” he affirmed. “The banks and financial firms helped to aggravate the crisis, trying to compensate for problems that were already there, namely, the decline in economic development, which some tried to camouflage through financial instruments.

    “If I might, indeed, be quite polemical, I would say that certain government leaders had more responsibility than the bankers since the former pushed, supported and justified the expansion of credit that was used to sustain a growth rate that was recognized as fictitious.”

    Gotti Tedeschi asserted that debt must be reduced — in governments, households, financial institutions and non-financial institutions and industrial corporations.

    “In developed countries like those of Europe and the United States this debt reduction will take about five to seven years to be re-dimensioned, to return to acceptable criteria,” he theorized.

    Complex times

    The economist further recognized that “the United States, as we know, has also had complex times — we think of Sept. 11, 2001 — having to rebuild an attitude with regard to terrorism, as the great guardians of humanity, probably having to notably increase defense spending too.”

    “Here we see where the demand for growth in the GDP comes in,” he pointed out. “Major defense spending for weapons after Sept. 11, which grew in the succeeding years by a rate of 14% [or] 15% per year, had to be sustained by growth in GDP.

    “And how was the GDP supposed to be increased? Here we have the American habit: leave it to the individual to take care of; he is given the conditions to do it: low and attractive rates to stimulate consumerism.

    “After 10 years the American households became poor, they lost a large portion of their liquid investments, their houses lost a great deal of value — houses that they had not yet paid for, they lost part of their pension — which is notoriously private, they built up debt for two or three years and risked losing their jobs.”

    Now, Gotti Tedeschi confirmed, “the only way to rebuild economic-financial balance is austerity.”

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