We are entering a population crisis. The naked eye won’t discern it, because the population of England and Wales is at an all-time high of nearly 60 milioni. But look more closely, and you’ll see that all the gains are in the 70-74 age bracket, closely followed by the over-90s. The birthrate is dropping off, which you might not notice now, but the you who needs your bin emptied in 20 years’ time might.
The demographer Paul Morland spelled this out for readers of the Sunday Times, and initially it was manageable news: would it be preferable if the political horizon stretched to encompass these matters, rather than lurching in fortnightly cycles from one tawdry scandal to another? Bene, sì. And if every new baby, per Hannah Arendt, embodies infinite potential, infinite joy, then no question, the more of those critters the better.
To anyone sensible, the cause of the low birthrate is obvious: 12 years of governments that prioritise the retired over the working-aged have created a society in which nobody can afford a house, landlords hold ever more of the cards, and renters are insecure. Add in workplace discrimination against the pregnant and unaffordable childcare, and the fact that the nation itself has become an inhospitable environment for raising children that you can also feed. The result, as astonishing as it may sound, is fewer children.
But why talk about politics or equality, when you could go somewhere more questionable? It was better, Morland said, to adopt a “grow our own” policy that aims “to provide most of the population growth from births within our racially and ethnically diverse country rather than immigration”. quando, one wonders, does a person qualify as “our own”? How is it not enough to live here? Why does she have to have been born here? Does sua mother have to have been born here? Despite Morland acknowledging “there will always be a place for some immigration”, and his concern that “many of the countries we might get immigrants from are suffering from the same shortage of working-age people”, one can only observe very quietly how similar some of this language sounds to the great replacement theory of neo-fascists; that when western civilisations are overturned, it won’t be with violence, it will be due to a throng of migrants, reproducing faster than “our own” could ever hope to keep up with – the wrong babies born to the wrong people. I guess we just have to pretend that resonance doesn’t exist.
Cosa fare, poi, to spur “our own” into reproductive action? Morland’s ideas ranged from the asinine to the inhumane. What if the Queen could send a telegram to any couple that produced a third child? The wheeze missed out a few details, chief among them: would this be instead of the child benefit, rescinded as part of the two-child cap of 2017, which has now affected 1.1 million children? Or would the telegram come with a bag of gold coins?
The most controversial idea was for a “negative child benefit”, which is to say, childless couples paying more tax, to atone for their failure to provide the next generation of bin collectors. Ancora, I’d want to know more before I could properly adjudicate: what if they were involuntarily childless? What if they had been parents, but had been bereaved? How to explain to people who are already contributing more than the value of what they take out of the system that actually they should contribute even more? How to sidestep the implications for homosexuals, who are likely to have fewer, or zero, bambini? All those questions can be distilled to one: what fresh hell is this? Is it not enough that we’re supposed to be constantly at war, generation against generation, region against region, but now we have to do breeders v the rest?
It’s been quite a wild ride. One minute we reshaped the political landscape so that all we could talk about was immigration, bagging up migrants and measuring them by their inputs and outputs, all while telling them to go home. Then wham: six short years later, we’re trying to debate demographics on the basis of who belongs and who doesn’t, who among us is breeding responsibly and who isn’t.