1.3 Trillion Dollars. That’s the estimate of this year’s (2012) deficit spending in the US. It’s the fourth consecutive year of trillion-dollar-plus deficits. Here’s the numbers for the last four years, courtesy of FRED, the database kept by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis:
2009: $1.4 trillion
2010: $1.29 trillion
2011: $1.3 trillion
2012: $1.3 trillion (estimate)
Yet, it seems neither the President, nor his presumed opponent in the impending election, has anything better to talk about than whether or not the Federal Government should sanction same-sex marriage. Of course, the federal deficit and social-welfare benefits, a category into which same-sex marriage falls, are related. The Federal Government depends for its continuation, support and relevance on doling out benefits to its citizenry, whether the benefit is legal sanction for same-sex marriages, health care for seniors, or any number of a host of others. The nanny state must continually ratchet up the benefits she offers, else its charges might wish to simply grow up and out of need for her.
But the gig will soon enough be up. The gravy train is running dry. Deficits of seven and eight percent of GDP can’t continue indefinitely, and especially not when there is no way to grow out of them. Like the rest of the developed, and some of the less-developed, world, the US’s population is growing old and is not reproducing at a rate sufficient to replace itself. An old and declining population base dispels any hope that the collective obligations of the population will grow cheaper per capita to repay over time. Besides, the federal government’s borrowing binge is not directed at any end other than keeping itself (and its political class) relevant. There is no great investment to which the money is directed, such as defeating an existential foe (e.g., WWII, the Cold War) in order to expand the empire of influence. For all the good it’s doing, the money might as well be gathered into a pile and burned.
Even the Facebook and Apple phenomenon, where one company is losing customers even as it pushes its IPO range into the stratosphere, and the other seems destined, if its stock price continues to climb, to one day be a stock market index all its own, indicate an utter weakness in economic fundamentals that portends no escaping the avalanche of debt when it starts crashing down. It is a dearth of growth opportunities that make Facebook and Apple so attractive to speculators investors now, and growth is the only hope for the continued viability of an economic system bingeing on debt.
There is no shortage of investment dollars, as the Federal Reserve is running a corollary program of money printing madness to complement the fiscal madness of the Federal Government. But there is nowhere for the money to go, except into companies like Facebook, which is not much more than a teenager/young adult time-wasting device, and Apple, which has managed to position its devices as the coolest means to access time-wasting venues like Facebook. Cool and efficient time-wasting seems a rather ephemeral quality upon which to stake one’s economic fortunes.
There is no shortage of silly commentary accompanying the raging same-sex issue. A pair of Bloomberg View contributors, each of whom practice the dark art of economic analysis in their day jobs at Wharton, posited that allowing same-sex marriage would enhance economic growth opportunities. Apparently they don’t get that economic growth opportunities depend on growth, and growth depends, on well, growing things, like people, to consume goods and services in the economy, and same-sex couples are quite less likely to give birth than diverse-sex couples. One type of same-sex couple is anatomically barred from the possibility, the other must seek help in the matter, artificial or otherwise.
One commentator, a former director of Mitt Romney’s firm, Bain Capital, wrote a book (excerpted here) in which he proposed that the landmark Supreme Court decision, Roe v. Wade, which read into the penumbra of rights contained in the Constitution a legal right, up until the third trimester, for a woman to end a pregnancy through aborting her fetus, actually goes a long way in explaining why the economy so robustly grew for three decades after the decision, until falling off a cliff in 2008 or so, from which it hasn’t fully recovered. His theory is that Roe v. Wade re-juggled the political landscape sufficiently that evangelicals, deeply opposed to Roe, allied with investment types, to seize political power, and the resulting policies (as the investment types got what they wanted) explains the difference in economic performance between, say, Japan and the US, or the US and Western Europe, never mind that abortion was more or less treated the same in those places.
Here’s an alternative narrative—Japan’s population bust, i.e., when it stopped have enough babies to replace itself yet refused to allow immigration, is the root cause of its economic doldrums. It was the first among developed economic systems to enter the bust that demographics foretold, then came Europe, where it has not yet been as severe as in Japan, mainly because of more liberal immigration policies. Then came the US, which, because it had even more liberal immigration policies than most European states, took longer for the demographic demise to have its full effect. And Roe v. Wade did not cause the declining fertility rates, but was an effect of them. Women in developed countries found ways other than their wombs in order to secure their economic survival, and acted accordingly.
As the Wall Street Journal recently reported, the economic opportunities available to women have opened up domestic opportunities for men. Super Dads–guys who make the bacon, then cook it, and clean up afterwards—have become all the rage. Or, at least they have for the women to whom they are married. The Journal article marveled at the phenomenon, thinking that men were undergoing some profound evolution. I know better. Men are doing it simply because they have to. It is the inflated price of having a wife and family. Inflation, insidious in its effects as ever, has invaded the marital relation. Besides, evolution doesn’t happen that quickly. Men are still pigs. But even a pig can be taught how to be a good companion. And if that doesn’t work, they are always tasty.
I can personally attest that when my wife decided to return to work full-time a few years back, leaving all the family and child-rearing chores to me, along with the continued management of my law practice in which I was conveniently (for her) able to mostly work from home, there was no sense that I was poised on the cusp of a great opportunity; more like I was getting screwed, but without getting kissed. Including my wife, I had more female bosses (most of my clients happened to be female) than a wedding planner. To ameliorate the confusion of priorities, I quit my day job. After all, I had busted my ass enough as a Super Dad, working hard, both around the house and in my career, that we really didn’t need two incomes. I showed her, right? In short order after quitting to concentrate on being a househusband, I was presented the wonderful parenting opportunity of shepherding my son through a bone marrow transplant. Sigh.
But to get back to the same-sex marriage debate, consider this: If the individuals and households comprising the actors in the economic system believe that they exist in order to serve the greater good of economic growth, then it stands to reason they would also believe same-sex marriage, with its near-zero fertility, and abortion, with its negative impact on fertility, to be egregiously bad. Economic growth depends on population growth, especially for populations that are already rich, and both same-sex marriage and abortion decrease the growth capacity of the population. Since evangelicals are so adamantly opposed to both, they must believe, so far as their place in the economic order is concerned, that their individual economic existence is meaningless—that everything they do is for the greater good of economic growth.
If, on the other hand, aggregate economic growth does not hold particular relevance for an economic actor; if instead, personal economic growth, or at least survival, is of greater importance to the individual actor than the aggregate performance of the economic system, then neither same-sex marriage nor abortion should be of much concern to them. In other words, to put it in terms evangelicals might understand, if salvation, economic, theological or otherwise, is personal and individual, then it shouldn’t be a concern that two men might want to marry each other. Thus, the evangelical position against abortion and same-sex marriage assumes, so far as the economy is concerned, that the economic system is a collective effort. Evangelicals, though they would vehemently object, are effectively communists when it comes to the intersection of economics and sexual politics.
Personally, I don’t care whether two men, or two women, or a man and a monkey, or a woman and a lion, or whatever coupling one might imagine, get married. It does, however, completely befuddle me as to why they would wish to. Don’t gays get that most people (men, at least), get married because that’s practically the only option society presents for securing a reliable conjugal companion and for raising kids (some rogue Mormon sects to the contrary)? And given that marriage is hardly a prerequisite for pregnancy, it’s getting more and more a mystery as to why women, who can now provide for themselves, would ever bother with marriage, and particularly so, when considering the oppressive duty of continued servicing of their mate’s sexual needs long after their mate’s sexual utility drops nearly to zero so far as they are concerned.
Neither do I much care, though I find it personally repugnant, that women now have the option of imposing death upon a fetus as a birth control method.
But, if the US keeps borrowing money, all these babies its citizens aren’t having, at least partly due to same-sex marriages and abortion, will soon enough extinguish any hope of future economic growth. Collective debt apportioned amongst fewer people means more debt per person. If the present trajectory continues, instead of same-sex marriages flourishing, where two gay guys can open a muffin shop or something and live happily ever after, it’ll be wretched poverty for all.
But, that doesn’t mean we should ban same-sex marriages, or for that matter, abortions. Don’t try to solve the problem by tinkering with the population growth side of the economic equation. Solve the problem by reigning in the voracious appetite of the federal government, the 1.3 trillion dollar reason why the same-sex marriage debate is a trifling thing.