2016/09/29

Two and a Half Children

Just listened to a radio documentary about Japan's aging population, and the reasons behind it, so had a bunch of thoughts regarding that.

However, before I start, I'd just like to note that this isn't the "fault" of any individual or couple. There has been a thing in the past where the state moralises having children (Lie back and think of England, various dictators, uh... Others), which I guess is a way of trying to solve the problem albeit a heavy handed and kind of sleazy one.

This isn't really about Japan, but generally first world countries with aging populations. Arguably, Japan has one of the worst and certainly most public cases. So, let's go to work. Metaphorically.

Aging Population, bad.:
So, in a way, an aging population is usually indicative of the country having a very good run. However, having an aging population means a bunch of things economically and politically. Namely, aging populations typically have very high pension and medical costs associated with keeping old people around, and those old people provide a very powerful and overly conservative voting bloc. Retirees are not productive. They were, but they're not now. This may or may not be a problem for you, but it's also important to note that any solutions implemented will pay dividends perhaps a generation down the track, well outside the concerns of our standard four to six year election cycles in the West.

However, coming from the opposite end, having a large population of drooling idiots (babies) is also very costly. Schools, lost productivity, daycare, specialty products and so on make having a high proportion of under-working-age children in the population a rather costly endeavour. Of course, if the whole state and population are in agreement to make that sacrifice (rare), then they can go ahead and do that. But they should also be prepared for a lot of negative side effects of a stagnant economy.

So, one wants to have a balance. Enough new working age citizens in proportion to the non-working-age citizens. BUT HOW!?

Immigration vs Birthrate:
It's fairly obvious to anyone with an internet connection or at least two friends that some people have a problem with immigration. Some say this is "subtle" racism, since they don't care about the Anglosphere immigrating about, but let's just take the statement at face value.

Immigration is cheaper than having children. Particularly skilled immigration, people with degrees and capital. Some people may or may not have a problem with that (I'm sure some do), but for the continuation of the state and as an economic boost, a large number of skilled immigrants is very effective; see the USA during and after the Second World War. Certainly, other than language barriers, skilled immigrants can get to work almost immediately after arriving, unlike babies, who can't even make sandwiches. Not in this economy.

However, this is ultimately reliant on how attractive your country is to skilled immigration, which is something you (as citizen Prime) cannot guarantee. Political instability, resource economics, speculative bubbles, and I'm sure many other things outside of a state's control (however much they try) affect how attractive a country is.

So a country should at least have a steady birthrate that promotes at least population maintenance, if not growth.

Of course, how sustainable an amount of growth is is up for debate. Only the most die-hard environmentalists would suggest an active culling of the human population, but many do advocate a lowering of birthrates. The countries with the highest birthrates are not what we're talking about, but on a global scale it is a valid point.

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to be using a rough ideal figure of 2.5 children per couple, partly for the old joke about the nuclear family, but also for 2 people per couple plus change for population shock (wars, natural disasters, mass emigration, the plague). This isn't advocating demonising people who have no babies or few babies either (by choice or by inability), but rather about promoting a culture in that roughly that many children is "easy" to have.

Also, I dislike mum culture, but that's just me and has little to do with this.

Work/Life Balance:
So, a primary reason for wealthy first world countries having aging populations is that during a generation's most fertile years, there is a massive focus on establishing a career. Even with the historical victories of feminism, there is this perception that taking time out for having children will damage one's career. Enough has been written about that (and this isn't an indictment of feminism, but rather the reactions of work culture around it), so switching tacks.
Personally, I want to get into the games development industry (specifically design). However, there is this fairly pervasive culture that if you're not spending 15 hours a day at the office, especially during crunch time, then you're not being a "team player". While it is an extreme example, such work cultures exist in abundance particularly where worker protection is fairly weak (say, the USA or Japan). The expectation that young people cannot both have a child and work on their careers (due to competition) drops the birthrate during the early stage of adulthood.

A lot of countries have worker protections for parenthood and pregnancy, which is a step in the right direction. Having children shouldn't be in direct competition with career growth, but allowing businesses to entirely make that decision directly results in precisely that.

School and Daycare:
Its educational purpose aside, the K-12 schooling system also functions as a daycare, and a lot of child rearing is done there. It suits the state if schools are a place children want to be; belligerent children are more expensive both down the line as well as immediately in disciplinary costs. The whole school problem especially in impoverished regions of first world countries is not one I would attempt to solve here, but defunding schools and public education is likely not the answer. Part of parenting should be done at home, but it's pretty stupid to reject the idea that schools do not provide at least a part of parenting there. Both need to work in concert as problems from one can bleed into the other, both broadly and culturally, and when just considering the individual.

The standard schooling "day" is shorter than the working day, which means that some focus should also be given to daycare (or some other structure should be used?).

Individualism:
I've noted before that internet culture (as a broad thing, there are smaller cultures within it) is extremely individualistic, even compared to Western culture (again, an overarching culture, just go with it). This fairly obviously reduces childbirth rates as you don't owe your child anything, any expectation otherwise is "entitlement" on the part of the child. People just find it simpler not to have children.

Obviously, this is well outside a state's control, and cultural changes are fairly slow to begin with, so let's move on.

Financial Cost:
Raising a child from birth costs a lot of money. More than MANY cars. Again, this doesn't stop all parents, but it stops a decent number. The state should subsidise the childcare costs, especially as digital methods of achieving intimacy become more prevalent. Indeed, one could envision where all costs of childcare (within reason) would be covered by the state. However, such a subsidy should have diminishing returns, such that the cost "evens out" around 2.5 children. This is a fairly less hamfisted method of population growth management than China's one child policy.

Cultural Shifts:
Talked about this above, but in Japan the combination of rising feminine equality and the existing "family" culture and work culture all clash to conspire to reduce the birthrate significantly. Personally, I agree with Feminism's goals, but its sudden (comparatively) rise next to the fairly stable ideas of a family unit have reduced birthrates. Again, this is a cultural thing and not something the state can influence directly, but by limiting a worker's participation in the workforce (say, to 8 hours a day, 5 days a week), it both benefits the worker and the future of the country a generation down the line, while keeping in line with progressive cultural shifts clashing with older ideas about gender roles in society.

Communal Living:
This sort of relates to the individualism above, but specifically an area that the state can encourage (though by no means enforce). It appears in the west we want to live by ourselves. Studio apartments, single family units, and so on all suggest this. However, it is fairly obvious to anyone who's been through the grinder that living with friends is cheaper. Historically, families lived in the same house, thus allowing a child to have more than two "parents", in the sense that not just the biological (or legal) parents raise the child, but the grandparents, aunts, and uncles all help raise the child.
I do wonder if such a situation could work with friends instead of families. Say, three couples in one house, all doing a bit of the housework and picking up slack in child-rearing if, say, one of the parents has a really long work day. This is, of course, the most out there idea I'm proposing in this blog post. Something that would encourage this softly is by addressing tax and welfare on the individual rather than the household, as this would encourage bulk purchasing of groceries and cheaper rent.

Anyway, I write all this out as someone who doesn't really like kids. Apparently I'm passable at babysitting though. That's probably irrelevant.

Also, it would be noted that I talk about the state and the country a lot. Population stability is important for a country, but in subtler ways than direct economic concerns, and typically has a turnaround of one generation or so.

2016/09/22

Thoughts on the Qualities of Power

Idle thoughts about how power (as in, the ability to coerce or influence people) arises very naturally in social situations, and consequently any system in which people interact with each other. I would like to try to avoid ascribing moral opinion to this. It's just a thing that I apparently think happens.

Thought 1: Power structures are inevitable.
People are different. Not just physically, but mentally. They hold different beliefs, have different personalities, differing amounts of mental fortitude, forcefulness, charisma and so on. This means that some people are inevitably going to be more popular/personable/domineering than others. Such people have more opportunities to get more friends, learn to be more confident, practice socialising and so on.
In the context of power, they simply have more of it. And social clout such as this tends to feed on itself. Someone with this sort of soft power is less likely to be ignored by other people, and is much more likely to be a trendsetter or decision maker in the group. This should all feel very high school, and one can definitely see formations of cliques using these patterns.

Social systems like friend groups or community clubs tend to be anarchic, but this sort of social power is inevitable even in very official or "grown-up" systems. Dick Cheney was, during the 2000-2008 Bush Junior (BuJu!) administration, more personally powerful and forceful than George W. Bush.

Thought 2: Power structures are unstable
When people are in positions of power, they will be able to promote their beliefs and their personality through that power. Sometimes they don't, but really, if you believe something, you'd rather other people believed it also. Conscientiously, it is the "right" thing to do.

However, the powerful person's personality is magnified, and any flaws are increasingly highlighted. This causes resentment, and also gives a target for other would-be powerful people to attack. But the community as a whole splinters as people "grow out" of the community, without directly attacking the powerful person. This removal of their power base doesn't necessarily mean that their power has collapsed, but it does move around a bit.

After a very long time, people die. In the case of sociopathic leaders, they usually don't place rules of succession in place (caring for neither their family nor their community, thanks Ghengis). But even without death, there is this constant cycle of shifting power structures, which makes George Orwell's party in 1984 relatively short lived, in spite of its claims.

Plying power is also exhausting for most people.

Quite often, attempting to keep one's power structure stable results in increased instability later on, as though dividends were paid in full. Repression, historically, may have worked briefly, but would require more and more repression later until it became unsustainable.

I'm not entirely sure what the point of all this is. I have a decent number of friends who'd want an abolishing of all systems (weirdly, both libertarian and communist), or see inefficiencies in this bureaucracy or that. I suppose I'd tell them that if they were going to come up with a set of moral rules (or their own system), they should be aware of these two thoughts. Power can be used responsibly, for good, for personal gain, or for a lot of other things. But a large number of political system's failings can be boiled down to not understanding people (or being unwilling to admit the existence of soft power), and that even if you have good people in power NOW, that doesn't mean tomorrow's leaders will be good. Power checks are necessary.

2016/09/15

The Lonely Academic Left

Perhaps the greatest victory of conservative politics in the West was convincing the working classes to vote against their own interests. The reasons for this vary significantly, but the point of mentioning in this is to contrast it with the left, in particular the educated left.

Universities have been a place for progressive thought for quite a long time, even if the political activity there waxes and wanes around it. The political views of students and staff wobble around in a (comparatively) tiny melting pot, and from there shape the political landscape a generation down the track. Economists tend to be fairly right-leaning, but are typically not as extreme as their political or pundit counter-parts. Engineers are apparently prone to extremism. No real thoughts on that last one.

The relationship between the powerful people in politics and the people that put them there is rather convoluted. Even in a representative democracy, there is almost always a political class that does not have much osmosis with the population at large (usually, is in bed with law and economics, which to be fair is what politicians spend most of their time legislating). Behaviours like pork-barreling and public relations seek to address this.

The Academic Left (if you'll forgive the rather broad brush) tends to want to be sincere. Even after their philosophising is successful, there will tend to be a split as the more politically minded groups are more comfortable with lying or black-bagging or whatever else.

Asking "What have labour unions ever done for you? Why are you paying that $2 per week?" isn't lying, per se, but the motivation is tremendously insincere, however effective it is. I won't defend every action of labour unions in the history of such unions, but they have had a fairly large hand in combating massive inequalities in power and wealth.

The Academic Left is a far cry from the people they claim to support. Assuming their claims are sincere, they are still from a much wealthier background and are much more educated than the working classes. Even today, with our relatively high social mobility, there is still a (metaphorical) wall there.

This is not new. A case study can be made from the Narodniks of the mid-19th century. Attempting to hold themselves to a higher moral code, the Narodniks made the mistake of romanticising the peasantry. The peasants were hardworking. Loyal. Rugged. Honest. Not machiavellian, but not stupid. The Narodnik strategies were based around these assumptions, and found themselves arguing with clannish, simple, illiterate people who didn't really understand the Narodnik philosophy, let alone find themselves agreeing with it.

The opposite case can be viewed at the moment, with a combination of the Academic Left and internet culture. Those on the left are condescending and act divisively towards reactionary conservative groups (say, MRAs, libertarians, whoever). This is done without the goal that such people might one day change such beliefs, or if it is fails to use tactics that would convert belligerents (e.g. "educate yourself" is satisfying to say, especially after having been asked the same question repeatedly, but on its own doesn't actually encourage anyone to educated themselves).

Both strategies alienate their target audience, namely people who the Academic Left want to change their beliefs. Perhaps this could be seen as an extreme group form of the idea that neither belligerence nor idealisation will make a person like you more. The opposite faction, the Academic Right (for what its worth) has taken public relations much more to heart.

I can definitely see some people refusing to cheapen their own values to promote their causes, but ultimately cultural changes are driven by such promotion. Be it yourself or someone else, someone has to do that "dirty work".

I don't know how to fix this. But it might resonate with some people. Haven't posted in a while. I have a pile of ideas but very little follow through at the moment.