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To avoid a demographic winter, Europe must understand human dignity

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(Photo credit: Bev Sykes, CC BY 2.0)

Like all of Europe, Poland is suffering from a steep demographic crisis. Despite a relatively large (European) population and an expansive land mass that serves as a bridge between Europe and Asia, Poland has a fertility rate lower than that of China – a nation that only recently relaxed its One-Child Policy. (Beijing now enforces its two-child policy no less ruthlessly.)

Several European (and non-European) nations have tried to incentivize their citizens to have more children through various means: taxpayer subsidies for having one or more children, income support for families, generous paid parental leave, paid child care, and other pro-natalist measures. Marcin Rzegocki, a native of Poland, examines these policies and finds them wanting in a new commentary on Acton’s Religion & Liberty Transatlantic website.

He begins by surveying the extent of the problem:

Between low fertility rate and emigration, Poland’s population is set to decrease by an estimated 5.3 million people by 2050. So far, the efforts taken by successive Polish governments since 1990 – which have focused on economic incentives to have more children – do not seem sufficient to arrest this trend. Most recently, the new Polish conservative government launched a welfare program called “Family 500+’” – an income support program for parents raising children that has been criticized by the liberal Left as well as pro-free market organizations.

But is greater state intervention in the economy the right answer? Would the nation benefit from a less controlled economy that encourages entrepreneurship, business creation, and wealth accumulation? In other words, would a more prosperous Poland be a more populous Poland?

Some hints may be found in Singapore’s attempt to reverse its low total fertility rate (TFR). Despite giving parents an estimated $105,750 (U.S.) in state subsidies before the child reaches his teen years, its birth rate has declined to 1.29. As Joel Kotkin notes, the city-state “projects a population increase of 20% by 2050 due to its liberal and vigorously debated immigration policies.”

Aside from a low birthrate, Rzegocki writes that Poland suffers from a problem of mass emigration to other EU member states, especially the UK. The freer economic climate acts as a magnet for those willing to improve their fortunes by moving abroad. Poland ranks 40th freest economy in the world, according to the Fraser Institute’s most recent report, covering the year 2014; the UK ranks tenth.

The greatest defect of the Polish welfare policy, though, is its insufficient understanding of human nature and human dignity. Rzegocki writes:

The Polish “Family 500+” program seems to be another welfare remedy … [I]t ignores the non-quantitative, cultural and sociological factors that influence attitudes toward child-bearing – factors like religious faith, a cultivated sense of selfless love, altruism, optimism and a belief in the future. This is the time for European governments to embrace a more holistic model that would reflect the entire human person, not just his basic financial needs.

Read the whole commentary here.

(Photo credit: Bev Sykes. CC BY 2.0. This photo has been cropped.)

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Rev. Ben Johnson Rev. Ben Johnson is Senior Editor at the Acton Institute.

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