It’s hard to be a great power if your population is shriveling. Europe’s birthrates have dropped well below the replacement rate of 2.1 children for each woman of childbearing age. For Western Europe as a whole, the rate is 1.5. It’s 1.4 in Germany and 1.3 in Italy. In a century — if these rates continue — there won’t be many Germans in Germany or Italians in Italy. Even assuming some increase in birthrates and continued immigration, Western Europe’s population grows dramatically grayer, projects the U.S. Census Bureau. Now about one-sixth of the population is 65 and older. By 2030 that would be one-fourth, and by 2050 almost one-third.
No one knows how well modern economies will perform with so many elderly people, heavily dependent on government benefits (read: higher taxes). But Europe’s economy is already faltering. In the 1970s annual growth for the 12 countries now using the euro averaged almost 3 percent; from 2001 to 2004 the annual average was 1.2 percent. In 1974 those countries had unemployment of 2.4 percent; in 2004 the rate was 8.9 percent.
Nearly 1,000 people were on three trains that collided in southern Pakistan Wednesday morning, killing at least 107 people and injuring 800 more. Police now say the death toll is at least 150. One train, the Karachi Express, rammed into the back of another, the stationary Quetta Express, after missing a signal causing several cars to derail. The derailed carriages were then hit almost simultaneously by a third train, the oncoming Tezgam Express, which was taking passengers from Karachi north to Rawalpindi, near the capital of Islamabad. It is well known that Pakistan’s railways are antiquated, and dozens of people have been killed in train accidents in recent years.
Poor infrastructure, coupled with poverty, increases the likelihood that this will happen again. This supports the idea that long-term sustainable economic growth, not permanent international aid or charity, will improve the quality of life as demands for better infrastructure will occur. Having been on the outdated trains in India I can tell you that I’m surprised that this does not happen more often. People are packed in the rail cars like sardines. It’s amazing to see how people can even breathe. Old trains, old technical systems, coupled with increased passenger demands, opens up dangerous possibilities. Countries with the most advanced rail systems have fewer casualities when accidents do happen.
Today is the UN-sponsored World Population Day, which most of us have never heard of, I’m sure. From the name, I cynically (and rightly) assumed that rather than celebrating human life, this day would instead address many of the spurious “crowded planet” concerns put forth most popularly in Paul Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb (first edition 1968).
You won’t see Ehrlich’s name plastered all over World Population Day materials, but I’m convinced that his thesis is what underlies the effort. Instead, the campaign has cloaked itself in the language of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Are we having too many children? One way to address the problem is to acknowledge that “reproductive health and rights – such as the right to decide on the number, timing and spacing of children – are central to women’s empowerment and gender equality, and to women’s enjoyment of other human rights.”
A surface reading of such a statement should be non-controversial. If it means that we are all against forcing women to bear children against their will, so be it. But somehow I think there’s a more insidious meaning beind the “right to decide.”
World Population Day 2005 is a day of measured celebration for those opposed to the expansion of human population. A UN report released in 2004 shows that “because of its low and declining rate of population growth, the population of developed countries as a whole is expected to remain virtually unchanged between 2005 and 2050″ For developed nations, “The primary consequence of fertility decline, especially if combined with increases in life expectancy, is population ageing, whereby the share of older persons in a population increases relative to that of younger persons.”
And there are signs of success even in the developing world, since “in the least developed countries, fertility is 5 children per woman and is expected to drop by about half, to 2.57 children per woman by 2045-2050. In the rest of the developing world, fertility is already moderately low at 2.58 children per woman and is expected to decline further to 1.92 children per woman by mid-century, thus nearly converging to the fertility levels by then typical of the developed world.” (More at the aptly named unpopulation.org)
So if the goal of the UN project is to get the world birth rates to fall below replacement levels (usually averaging 2.1 children per woman), they are well on their way. Developed nations continue to set the pace for non-replacement, where “fertility is currently 1.56 children per woman and is projected to increase slowly to 1.84 children per woman in 2045-2050.”
Rev. Robert Sirico wrote a column in the Detroit News’ Faith and Policy series over the weekend on the Kelo v. New London decision handed down by the US Supreme Court. In “Court reveals conflicting ownership ideas,” Sirico writes,
In the Supreme Court’s “new” ownership society, the very safety and security of God-given, inalienable rights are threatened. Pope Leo XIII was pointing to this when he described private ownership as “a natural right of man” and a right that must be held “sacred and inviolable.” We can only hope the inevitable abuse of this newfound power will not manifest itself before there is a chance to reverse Kelo’s corrupting effects.
Now that Chief Justice William Rehnquist, 80, has cancer, coupled with talk that Justices Sandra Day O’Connor, 75, and John Paul Stevens, 85, might also consider stepping down, there is quite a buzz in the beltway about the Supreme Court. Majority Leader Bill Frist said Tuesday he’s been talking to Democratic leader Harry Reid about nominees for a potential vacancy on the Supreme Court.
Reid later offered what he considered good possibilities: GOP Sens. Mel Martinez of Florida, Mike DeWine of Ohio, Mike Crapo of Idaho and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. They "are people who serve in the Senate now who are Republicans who I think would be outstanding Supreme Court members," Reid said. Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, called on Bush to pick a consensus candidate if a vacancy comes open. "Americans want to be brought together around this decision." What should the President look for in a nominee for the court and who would you nominate?
USAID Administrator Andrew Natsios set the record straight at a U.N. conference when he told the gathering that the United States has "no intention" of committing to a goal for foreign aid pegged to a percentage of gross domestic product. Some countries are pressing for the U.S. to commit to an official development assistance (ODA) goal of 0.7 percent of GDP, a figure that would oblige the United States to spend more than $90 billion annually. The Washington Times reported that Natsios "vigorously defended" the American aid policy, and had this to say about pegging assistance to the U.N.’s or anyone else’s "official" number:
"There is ample evidence that ODA is not generally the limiting factor on nations’ development. Development progress is first and foremost a function of country commitment and political will to rule justly, promote economic freedom and invest in people."
Yet, the U.N. and E.U. continue to push these arbitrary ODA goals. Reminds you of the way that French farmers force feed geese to produce foie gras. Only, with superabundant foreign aid, the only ones getting stuffed are people like Nigeria’s Sani Abacha and his kleptocrat fraternity.
Today brings another bit of news that should give pause to anyone advocating for massive increases in government aid to Africa. From Saturday’s London (UK) Telegraph :
The scale of the task facing Tony Blair in his drive to help Africa was laid bare yesterday when it emerged that Nigeria’s past rulers stole or misused ꌢ0 billion.
That is as much as all the western aid given to Africa in almost four decades. The looting of Africa’s most populous country amounted to a sum equivalent to 300 years of British aid for the continent…
…Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, has spoken of a new Marshall Plan for Africa. But Nigeria’s rulers have already pocketed the equivalent of six Marshall Plans. After that mass theft, two thirds of the country’s 130 million people – one in seven of the total African population – live in abject poverty, a third is illiterate and 40 per cent have no safe water supply…
…The stolen fortune tallies almost exactly with the ꌢ0 billion of western aid given to Africa between 1960 and 1997. That amounted to six times the American help given to post-war Europe under the Marshall Plan.
General Sani Abacha of Nigeria is an example of an African leader who did pretty well for himself at the expense of his nation, stealing “between billion and ਲ਼ billion during his five-year rule.”
The importance of building strong institutions of civil society and establishing the rule of law before dispensing aid cannot be emphasized enough. If debt forgiveness is an appropriate first step for the west to take in assisting Africa, the next step must not be to simply flood the continent with aid once again without preparing it to appropriately use the funds.
At the recent Acton Summer Symposium in Grand Rapids, Michigan, we spoke with Nathan Elawa, a native of Nigeria and a participant in Acton’s Toward a Free and Virtuous Society Conference. He commented on the issue of debt relief and the need for stronger foundations of civil society in Africa. (Click here for video.) For more information, check out Acton’s Aid to Africa special section.
I have to admit that I’ve never been able to get that fired up about the controversies surrounding the various public displays of the Decalogue. It no doubt has to do with my view that it is far more important for the law to be written on our hearts rather than on stone (see for example Jeremiah 31:27-40).
It’s all (on both sides) struck me as a little to much like public posturing, and for the Christian conservatives who support the displays (sometimes rabidly), the zeal seems misplaced. After all, the function of a public display of the Ten Commandments could only at best be as an expression of the “civil” use of the law, “as an external discipline, necessary to restrain those who are not saved (and in some cases those who are saved, because of their remaining temptation to sin).”
But the “external” matters of discipline have overwhelmingly been viewed as relating to the second table of the Decalogue, the laws for relations between neighbors. The relationship between God and the individual person stands outside the realm of the magistrate, as emphasized again and again by the reformers.
No doubt a firestorm will ensue following today’s Supreme Court decisions (No. 03-1500, van Orden v. Perry and No. 03-1693, McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky), which seem only sure to spur more debate on the issues. But no doubt much of the controversy arises because of the explicitness of the first table commands with respect to the identity of God.
For example, Justice John Paul Stevens, dissenting in the Texas case (No. 03-1500, Van Orden v. Perry), which upheld the public display, notes that in large letters the monument proclaims ‘I AM the LORD thy God,’ and argues, “The message transmitted by Texas’ chosen display is quite plain: This state endorses the divine code of the Judeo-Christian God.”
The words of an editorial in this month’s Christianity Today are valuable here, regarding claims by some Christian leaders that we need to reclaim the nation’s Christian foundation:
The not-so-subtle equation of America’s founding with biblical Christianity has been shown time and again to be historically inaccurate. The founding was a unique combination of biblical teaching and Enlightenment rationalism, and most of the founding fathers, as historian Edwin Gaustad, among many others, has noted, were not orthodox Christians, but instead were primarily products of the Enlightenment. The Enlightenment, we should recall, has never been much of a friend of biblical Christianity.
There may be much value in arguing for the implementation of law based on a Christian recognition of the civil use of the Decalogue. But that validity does not carry over into attempts to institute worship, reverence, or adoration for the Christian God into American law. That simply is not the role of the civil magistrate, and the church should jealously guard its role in proclaiming the Gospel. And the church should certainly not petition the government to take over any aspect of this task.
“Winning isn’t everything.” Whatever happened to this slice of wisdom? In Columbus, Ohio, a team of baseball players has been ejected from their league for being “too good”! (Read the story here). The parents of the teams being slaughtered by the better team complained that losing was seriously detrimental to their kids’ self-esteem. Therefore, the league decided to reward the hard work of the winning team with expulsion. Winning isn’t everything, but apparently, losing is.
What this league and the supporting parents are in fact saying into their children is this: “If someone is better than you, they don’t have a right to be around.” Apparently, competition is only a good thing as long as it doesn’t lead to winners and losers. Perhaps the league ought to enact a ‘run subsidy’ program. Everytime the better team scores ten runs, the losing team is spotted ten runs; you know, to stay competitive.
The parents and the league here are undercutting one of the prime values in sports: the experience of humility. Sure, “having fun is what’s important,” but fun is not the only important thing. What about craft, dedication, work ethic, perseverance? But by eliminating the better team from the league, the league has said to all the children involved that the only thing that matters is winning; Instead of kicking out the kids who have worked hard, why doesn’t the league remind everyone that there is more to their league than who wins and who loses? By cultivating a ‘competition-free’ culture, this league has undermined the very lessons sports exists to teach. What happens when this culture works its way into the market? (For a more general discussion of how competition is discouraged in education, see "The Competitive Edge" by Joseph Klesney.)