Can We Rely on American Exceptionalism?
[Reihan] Nicholas Eberstadt has written a wonderful look at America's demographic exceptionalism. But I take exception to a very small part of it.
What accounts for Anglo America's unexpectedly high and stable propensity to reproduce? Carefully tailored pro-natalist government policies certainly cannot explain it: The United States has none. By the same token, U.S. labor patterns do not seem especially "family-friendly." Americans work longer hours and enjoy less vacation time than any of their European friends across the Atlantic, and none of the economic or policy explanations for the growing fertility gap between U.S. Anglos and west Europeans offers a satisfying explanation.
Eberstadt, of course, knows this subject inside and out, and I'm wary of contradicting him. But I wonder if "carefully tailored pro-natalist government policies" in Europe (which, by the way, work pretty well) are best understood as a means of compensating not only for the "values gap" but for the fact that the broad structure of our economy is, if you will, objectively pro-natalist.
Our high-cost metropolitan areas, for example, increasingly resemble metropolitan Europe in terms of fertility rates, etc. But we also have a vast "hinterland," a relatively low-cost suburban frontier, that is likely to expand at a rapid clip in coming years. The frontier is built in part of tax subsidies, cheap food, and cheap gas. As we slowly move away from overgenerous tax subsidies and cheap gas (I'm guessing food will remain cheap), it might make sense to use carefully tailored instruments to mimic the pro-natalist effects of the old regime.
I'm just sayin' ...