It has long been known by commentators like Oskari Juurikkala that large welfare states – brought about by the demands of the working classes of the Enriched World to equalise their share of wealth and that of women who labour in order to nurture children – inherently produce very low fertility because children become no asset to support the elderly once payment of the wealthy are appropriated for this purpose. Many Austrian-school economists have shown data that – with considerable accuracy but no consideration of the politics involved – demonstrate how Enriched World fertility declines as soon as welfare states grew.
The popular opinion of Austrian economists is that if the Enriched World’s ruling classes could cut back their welfare states, then lowest-low fertility in the Enriched World would be reversed because children would become the asset they were before welfare states were introduced.
Austrian economists spend little time discussing the political pressure that has prevented any Enriched World ruling class from completely dismantling the welfare state as they would recommend. Austrians do admit that the welfare recipients themselves are a major obstacle to this being done, but understate the point because – as Arthur Brooks has shown and my family’s experience with groups like Socialist Alternative and the Democratic Socialist Party confirms – welfare recipients tend to be far to the left politically and extremely militant. With hindsight this is obvious since if they lost any of their welfare payments recipients would not longer be able to afford what they can, and as it stands they cannot afford all they want. Welfare classes of today will likely remove any Enriched World government that passed bills to dismantle the welfare state by violent force, irrespective of whether or not they could vote it out. Even the poorer classes of the Enriched World who do work do not have the distance from the wealthy to avoid persistent envy and consequently belief in radical equalisation has been a constant among Enriched World working classes since their formation.
However, with ‘Roadblocks on the Road to Grandma’s House: Fertility Consequences of Delayed Retirement’, Erich Battistin, Michele de Nadai and Mario Padula have seemingly put an end to the argument that immediate reduction in welfare by the Enriched World will improve its fertility situation. They show, using the example of Italy, that welfare reform has served to extend the working life of old women and reduced the level of care provided to young children. They article shows how the requirement of labour among grandparents means that children receive less care than they would if grandparents did not have to work.
The most telling means by which this is shown is demonstrating that the most “conservative” parts of Italy actually have the worst problems, although the extent of class struggle in the south means that there is the possibility Italy does not constitute anything like the range of political views in the so-called “developed” world (the north of Italy has had perhaps the most intense class war anywhere in the world). Battistin, de Nadai and Padula show that fertility in southern Italy was much higher than in the socialist North for cohorts born before 1970, but is now even lower.
It is however certain that even in Southern Italy – quite unlike Australia – the working masses are extremely resistant to ending the welfare state. No reflection exists on how the welfare state will prove economically and socially costly: envy undoubtedly maintains desire for wealth accumulation amongst both the poor and rich of the Enriched World, as Battistin, de Nadai and Padula show no differences between poor and rich families regarding grandparental requirements.
The radical individualism of the Enriched World certainly disrupts family ties as workers fail to accept mundane low-paying jobs even if it might mean lower prices and greater purchasing power in the long term. As this tendency grows, doing something to halt the decline of the Enriched World’s importance may become impossible before it is noticed.