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Abortion brochure-largeThe George Bailey Effect:
and the Implications for
America’s Economic Future
The George Bailey Effect
“Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches somany other lives, and when he isn’t around heleaves an awful hole, doesn’t he?” I’m sure you remember the classic film, It’s a Wonderful Life, starring Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey. In one scene, George makes a rash request: “I wish I’d never been born.” Instantly, the angelClarence makes it so.
Bit by bit, George discovers that because he never existed, everything in his hometown has changed. Without the life of George Bailey, the life of just one person, nothing is the same.
I thought of George Bailey recently when I saw this headline in USA Today: “Abortion Altered America’s Future; Without Abortion, the USA Would Be a Vastly Different Place.”1 The story did notconcern the significant moral or constitutional questions surrounding abortion-on-demand; rather, itconcerned the demographic impact. In other words, it tells how America is different now and how itwill be different in the future, because of legalized abortion.
This is an aspect of the abortion issue that, largely, has been ignored over the past 25 years. But the economic and public policy implications are so serious—and unavoidable—that we can’t afford toignore these demographic consequences any longer.
TOO MANY OLD—OR TOO FEW YOUNG?
Consider what social researchers call the “graying of America,” a term used to describe the social and economic impact of the aging of the post-World War II baby boom generation—those born between1943 and 1960. The challenges presented by the graying of America are created not so much by babyboomers getting older but by a marked slowdown in the population growth of young people. Theresult is that within 30 years there will beas many Americans of “retirement age” as The Young and the Old
and the young is at the heart of the demo- graphic challenges that face Medicare and Social Security. Incredible as it may seem,by the time the peak of the baby boom number of abortions since the SupremeCourt’s Roe v. Wade decision will equal the Population in Millions
only one-third of those who have beenaborted were available to start work on their 18th birthday,” speculated USA Today, YOUNG (ages 20-34)
OLD (ages 65 & over)
“the demise of Social Security would beput off for decades.”2 Source: Population Projections of the United States by Age, Sex, Race, and Hispanic Origin: 1995 to 2050 (Middle Series),
Bureau of the Census, February 1996.
Indeed, it is largely because of abortion-on-demand that by the year 2030 the ratio of workers to Social Security beneficiaries will be reduced to only 2-to-1, according to a projection from the SocialSecurity Board of Trustees.3 In other words, two workers will be supporting one retiree. (When theprogram began in the 1930s, 42 workers supported each retiree.) Workers per Beneficiary
extend far beyond government socialprograms, however. Consider the world’s fastest-growing economy,Japan is “now the world’s most Number of W
Times, Japan is heading toward a 21st YEAR 1945
Source: 1996 Annual Report of the Board of Trustees of the Federal Old-Age and Survivors Insurance and
Disability Insurance Trust Funds, p. 122.
dren.” The nation’s economy will be“groaning under the weight of heavy taxes; its population [will be] shrinking, and the government’s reserve of Social Security funds [will]run dry.”5 How has Japan, once the economic envy of the world, come to this? The sequence of events is instructive, since the U.S. is following much the same pattern. The main difference is that the Japaneseexperienced their big baby boom just prior to World War II (the U.S. boom was after the war) andlegalized abortion in 1948 (the U.S. legalized abortion-on-demand in 1973).
Now, the Japanese boomers are retiring and not enough young people exist to take their places.
‘[T]he number of Japanese reaching the end of their [economically]productive lives overwhelms the small expansion of twenty- Immigration and
something Japanese,” writes one observer. “If anything can explain Abortion Numbers
why the Japanese stock market roared during the 1970s and early1980s, but has been moribund since then, it is the simple fact that their once vigorous population is running out of creative steam.”6 Will America, having lost some 35 million lives to abortion, experience a Japanese-like fall as our baby boom generation retires?We can only wait and see.
We do know that for the past 25 years the total the U.S.
fertility rate, despite huge strides in fertility technology, has re- Millions
mained below the “replacement rate” of 2.1 children per woman.7In other words, since abortion-on-demand became legal in 1973 the U.S. population has stopped replacing itself. If this trend continues,our nation is inevitably headed toward long-term population andeconomic decline.
That decline will be mitigated somewhat by immigration, of IMMIGRANTS (1970-1997)
course. However, cumulative immigration since 1971 has replacedonly about half of those Americans who were not allowed to be ABORTIONS (1973-1997)
Source: USA Today, 1/21/98
George: “This should be Bailey Park. But
where are the houses?”
Clarence: “You weren’t here to build them.”
POPULATION AND PROSPERITY
I realize that from the days of Thomas Malthus onward some population watchers have claimed that growing numbers of people actually are a drag on society, leading not to prosperity but to povertyand misery. But such a view seems inconsistent with the facts of history, especially in free societies.
As social researcher Allan Carlson points out, in the U.S. “population and per-capita wealth grew together at unprecedented rates between 1850 and 1950. Moreover, the ‘baby boom’ of the 1950s wasaccompanied by an economic boom that defied . . . gloomy prognostications”8 (italics added).
This pattern has been repeated in other parts of the world. In East Asia and the Pacific, where population growth has been especially strong in recent decades, incomes are more than five times whatthey were in 1965.9 By contrast, countries in which poverty has accompanied population growth havetended to be nations which have suffered from political repression, civil wars, and natural disasters.10 The view that population growth leads to poverty is rooted in the assertion that people consume more than they produce. This assertion may be true for the early years of life, at least in cold economicterms. But even young children, because their consumption of diapers, toys, and the like, are engines ofeconomic activity. Their consumption generates production. Indeed, “[e]xpanding families are netconsumers, and consumption stimulates economic growth.”11 In this sense, abortion-on-demand already has produced a negative economic effect. In his book, The Cost of Abortion, researcher Lawrence Roberge correlates the legalization of abortion with a slow-down in the production and sales of child-related items. He also estimates that the loss of millions ofchildren to abortion thus far has precluded creation of between 950,000 to 1.2 million teaching jobs.12 Over the long run, however, the loss created by these “economic ghosts”13 isn’t restricted solely to the cycle of production/consumption. As the late Julian Simon noted, the most positive economiceffects of additional people “happen in the long run and are cumulative.”14 These effects occur as newideas, products, and processes are conceived by the human mind and then put into use.
I believe the major reason social researchers are projecting a notable shortage of “human capital” in the 21st century is due to the large numbers of people lost to abortion. According the HudsonInstitute’s Workforce 2020 report, for example, slow population growth, combined with the retirement ofmany baby boomers from the workforce, is likely to create “a tight labor pool, particularly for highskilled jobs.”15 Indeed, if current trends continue, “many high-skilled manufacturing and service jobs will go begging in the U.S.”16 These jobs will not simply go unfilled, however, but likely they will be exportedto other nations, resulting in a steady erosion of U.S. economic competitiveness.
Some people will argue, of course, that since many of the children aborted in the U.S. would be part of what we call “the underclass,” they wouldn’t be economically productive anyway. Several yearsago, the Philadelphia Inquirer made this very argument—in the context of contraception, not specificallyabortion—in an editorial titled “Poverty and Norplant: Can Contraception Reduce the Underclass?” Lamenting the number of children living in poverty, the Inquirer asked what seemed to be an economically sensible question: “[W]hy not make a major effort to reduce the number of children . . .
born into such circumstances?”17 The paper suggested making the implanted contraceptive Norplantavailable free to poor women. Although few choose to express it publicly, this is the same attitudemany people have about abortion: It helps us rid the world of children who will just be a drain onsociety anyway.
Setting aside the moral argument that can be made against deciding who “deserves” to live, let me ask a practical question: Has inner city poverty improved since abortion became legal? Obviouslynot. In fact, I would submit that legal abortion has made the poverty problem worse by helping to sowthe seeds of family breakdown, a problem that plagues the poor in America. After all, if the life of achild has no value, why should a man feel any obligation to marry and provide for the woman he hasimpregnated? But the argument that aborting the underclass is “good economic policy” falls to another reality: The underclass are not doomed forever to be the underclass. Think of your own family a generation ortwo back. Were any of your ancestors “poor”? Personally, I don’t have to think that far back. I wasraised in a family that was on the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Like millions of other pooryoungsters, I grew up to enjoy a better life financially than my parents knew.
Will some poor children stay in poverty all their lives. Yes. But how can we know who will and I believe that aborting the underclass accomplishes nothing except to encourage a continuing cycle of hopelessness. It tells the poor that life is cheap. Ultimately, it cuts the legs out from under thedesire to improve oneself and one’s lot in life. It is a “solution” that serves only to make the problems ofpoverty and despair worse.
George: “Mary! Mary! Tommy! Pete! Janie!
Zuzu! Where are you?”
Clarence: “They’re not here, George. You
have no children.”
I don’t think of people primarily as “taxpayers,” but I was nonetheless intrigued by the chart that follows, illustrating the possible loss of tax revenue due to abortions that have occurred already.
Cost of Roe v. Wade Decision to the U.S. Government
Taxes and Fees
6.5% Interest on Debt
Not Collected (33%)
Not Paid Due to
Keep in mind that the numbers listed above are conservative. In other words, it is asumed that not all of the 35 million people thus far lost to abortion-on-demand would have become taxpayers.
Instead, the chart assumes a uniform loss to the workforce of an additional 31 million first generationworkers.
Also note, as the chart shows, that those who have been aborted will not have children of their own, creating a second wave of demographic impact. Eventually, this second wave will create a thirdwave and a fourth wave and so on.
We can’t know, of course, how much these missing Americans would receive in government benefits, so it is impossible to determine the degree to which the additional tax revenue they producedwould be siphoned off in additional government costs. However, since most people give substantiallymore to government than they receive,18 the cumulative effect is a significant and unrecoverable loss to the U.S. treasury. This growing loss will Federal Debt as Percentage of GNP
exacerbate the growing imbalance betweengovernment spending and government revenue in the early decades of the 21stcentury (see chart).
controller in California projects that with tion will come a significant reduction instate revenues. “In the next two decades, we can expect to see new [financial] pres-sures placed on . . . public services,” warnsCalifornia Controller Kathleen Connell.
“The challenge for state policy-makers is tobegin planning for the time when the YEAR 1800
restructuring our tax system to accommo-date the changed demographics.”19 Source: Congressional Budget Office
George: “[My brother Harry] saved the lives of
every man on that transport!”
Clarence: “Every man on that transport died.
Harry wasn’t there to save them because you
weren’t there to save Harry.”
NATIONAL SECURITY ISSUES
One other area that should be mentioned when discussing the demographic and economic impact of abortion is the effect on America’s ability to defend itself militarily. Will we be able to recruit, train,and finance sufficient numbers of young people for military service? In his 1987 book, The Birth Dearth,Ben Wattenberg argues that a superpower requires both cutting-edge technology and a robust popula-tion to maintain its superpower status.20 Indeed, a large population is not only necessary to field military forces but also to support them— in the both the public and private sectors—with strong industrial production, transportation, andengineering and science acumen. Lawrence Roberge offers this useful mental exercise: “Picture thenumbers of construction personnel, scientists, engineers, transportation personnel, military trainingspecialists, and raw materials suppliers that are required to design, build, supply, maintain, and trainfor such military necessities as aircraft carriers, spy satellites, air cargo carriers . . . , nuclear submarinesor a battalion of M-1 tanks.”21 Whether or not we will have sufficient numbers of young people to carry out these tasks could well determine the future of our nation and the world.
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
As the preceding evidence demonstrates, abortion is not simply a matter of private conscience, but of public concern. Abortion-on-demand has effects that are rippling throughout our society andcould even threaten our future liberties.
This is why abortion, even if all moral arguments are totally discounted, cannot be ignored in framing public policy. Simply writing off abortion as a “moral” or a “religious” issue is a short-sightedapproach that fails to reckon its economic and demographic consequences.
We can’t undo the past, of course. We can’t undo the fact that we have had 35 million George Baileys, people never born, people whose lives were never allowed to touch other lives. Indeed theyhave left an “awful hole.” But for the sake of our nation’s economic future and national security, as wellas its moral character, we must resolve to promote from this time forward an ethic that is pro-familyand pro-children. Only then can America continue to have a wonderful life.
1. David Mastio, “Abortion Altered America’s Future,” USA Today, Jan. 21, 1998, p. 15A.
3. This is the “intermediate” projection, i.e. not worst-case, not “most” optimistic.
4. “Sheryl WuDunn, “The Face of the Future in Japan: The Economics of Aging,” The New York Times, Sept. 2, 1997.
6. W. Patrick Cunningham, “Markets Which Need People,” Population Research Institute Review, May/June 1997, p. 5.
7. The Grandchild Gap (documentary), PBS, April 1997.
8. Allan C. Carlson, “The Economic Consequences of Abortion,” The Family in America, Vol. 9, No. 11, Nov. 1995, p.4.
9. “The Poverty Business,” The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition, Jan. 23, 1998.
11. Cunningham, p. 5.
12. Lawrence Roberge, The Cost of Abortion (LaGrange GA: Four Winds Publishing, 1995), p. 49.
13. The term is borrowed from Allan C. Carlson.
14. Julian Simon, Theory of Population and Economic Growth (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), p. 64.
15. Carol D’Amico, Senior Fellow, Hudson Institute, Testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Education and the Workforce, June 5, 16. Richard W. Judy and Carol D’Amico, Workforce 2020 Executive Summary, Hudson Institute, 1997.
17. “Poverty and Norplant: Can Contraception Reduce the Underclass?,” Philadelphia Inquirer, Dec. 12, 1990, p. A18.
18. See “Who Pays and When? An Assessment of Generational Accounting,” Congressional Budget Office, 1995.
19. “Graying of Baby Boomers to Slow California’s Economic ‘Golden Age’,” Business Wire, Feb. 11, 1998.
20. Benjamin J. Wattenberg, The Birth Dearth, Pharos Books, 1987.
21. Roberge, pp. 67-68.
1998 Christian Financial Concepts, Inc.
601 Broad St SE, Gainesville, GA 30501 • 770-534-1000 • www.cfcministry.org
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