Recently I read a very peculiar news item reporting that the Spanish government has appointed what the media are calling a “Sex Tsar.” It is officially a “commissioner for the demographic challenge,” whose job is to persuade the people of Spain to have more sex, and, by extension, more children.
Are Europe’s governments just being cute? Or do they have another reason?
The Spanish are not alone. In 2016, the Italian government ran a “Fertility Day” campaign to get people to have more babies. The Swedish government has initiated a study into the sex lives of its citizens, to find ways to increase the amount of sex Swedes have.
If that was all there was to the story, we could chalk it up to politicians being their usual ridiculous selves and have a good laugh about it. But this nonsense has serious economic causes and potentially far-reaching consequences.
The Ponzi Welfare State
In each of the three cases, the main reason governments wanted more children was to save the welfare state. The welfare state is the biggest Ponzi scheme on Earth, as the great economist Milton Friedman explained.
As long as there are more taxpayers (young, working people) than those who are receiving the benefits of the welfare state, the whole operation runs fine.
The problem starts when people have fewer babies, as in Europe. This will result in a larger number of old people depending on the government, which will have to tax a smaller and smaller working population to finance the benefits. Without new fools to con, the Ponzi scheme will collapse. Even Paul Krugman understands this elementary fact about welfare schemes like Social Security.
Immigrants could compensate for the shrinking population in Europe and increase the tax base for governments. But the governments have closed borders to refugees from Syria and other countries (due to political compulsions), making immigration more difficult precisely when they need more people. If they cannot get more taxpayers through migration, the only alternative is to get their citizens to have more children.
Precedent in History
In 1807, the United States Congress outlawed the import of slaves, economically akin to the immigration controls in modern Europe. Because slave masters could not get more slaves from Africa, they established “breeding farms,” as Ned and Constance Sublette describe in their book, “The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry.”
On these breeding farms, there were far more women and children than men. Slaves were encouraged to have stable family lives. As economic historian and Nobel laureate Robert Fogel explained in his book “Time on the Cross: The Economics of American Slavery,” most slaves were sold with their entire families, or, when a slave wished to separate from his family, separately. In fact, as distinguished economists Thomas Sowell and Walter Williams have pointed out so often, more black children were raised in two-parent families during slavery than are today.
Did slave owners keep their slave families together out of love? Not at all. They simply wanted to maximize profits by encouraging their slaves to have more children.
Was this because slave owners had any love for their slaves? Not by any stretch of the imagination. The slave owners simply wanted to maximize profits by encouraging their slaves to have more children. They gave rewards to women for having children, similar to the tax benefits or payments offered by a welfare state. Just as politicians can stay in the welfare business only if citizens have more and more children, the slave owners could stay in business only if slaves had more and more children. They knew that, and acted purely in their selfish interests – just like politicians.
Next, Fogel pointed out that living standards for slaves in the South were comparable to those of free workers in industry. The master ensured the welfare of his slaves, just like the modern welfare state does with its citizens.
There is yet another striking parallel between the welfare state and slavery. People such as George Washington and Thomas Jefferson believed that slavery was a terrible thing – Jefferson called it a “great political and moral evil” – yet they continued to hold slaves. They justified it by saying slaves were not capable of taking care of themselves. In the event that they set the slaves free, they argued, the slaves would fall into destitution and suffering.
This argument made by Washington and Jefferson is exactly the same as that made by proponents of a welfare state. History is bound to repeat itself if people don’t pay attention the first time around.
People in countries with a growing population, such as the US, or developing countries like India, should learn the lesson before it is too late, and take steps to roll back the welfare state while there is still time, or else end up slaves to the state.
Jairaj Devadiga is an economist who illustrates the importance of property rights and freedom through some interesting real-world cases.
This article was originally published on FEE.org. Read the original article.