Dear Developed Countries

Dear Developed Countries,

It's no secret that our birthrates have been on the decline for a while. And that's fine, for now.

A lot of people are worried about the teeming hoards of oldsters that will be clamoring to retire over the next decade, only to discover that the children they didn't have didn't get jobs, didn't pay taxes on the wages they didn't earn, and ultimately didn't pay enough into the social security system to support all of tomorrow's low-fertility retirees. But I say suck it up, Grandpa. If you wanted to laze off and kick it on a golf resort in Palm Springs when you turned 62 then you should have had more than 2.1 children like the previous generation did.

And there is a positive side to a declining population. Less stress on the environment. More bargaining power on the job market. Shorter lines at H&M. Less of this.

Of course, sooner or later people are going to have to start having kids again, or we're going to go extinct. Japan is on schedule to become an abandoned ghost island by the end of this millennium.

A lot of people blame birth control for the steady decline in family size over the last fifty years, and still others blame our selfish, hedonistic culture. Kids these days don't want their precious "lifestyles" cramped by something as inconvenient as a child... thinks the sweet old woman who sits on a park bench and smiles as you walk past holding hands with your girlfriend.

But the modern latex condom was invented in the '20s, and the following fifty years of child-rearing reflected economic trends much more so than the availability of birth control. Sure, the later invention of The Pill and the legalization of abortion made it even easier to avoid unwanted births, but why were the births suddenly unwanted?

People may be more self-centered today than they were two hundred years ago, but we've always been self-centered. Couples weren't pressing out ten or twelve kids because they wanted to render a public service, they were pushing out huge batches of kids because it benefited them. Each healthy child that survived to adulthood was a net asset. If you lived on a farm the children became your team of farmhands, if you lived in the city they went off and started earning money for the family at a factory starting at age seven. When your children were grown they could support your ass through old age and illness. Having children made sense for the people having them.

Our first mistake was educating the children. It seemed like a good idea at the time. Instead of a little egg-gatherer or textile mill worker, my kid was supposed to learn things. Free schools were a good start, but I was still losing cash money from the work my kid wasn't doing. Then things started to get insanely expensive. Suddenly society started expecting me to put my kid through college as well, and buy new baby clothes for each child, and drive it to soccer games, and let the bastard live in my basement until he/she's 30 years old.

Before I know it, I'm spending almost half a million dollars on each child. At that rate, I can only afford to have one or two, but why the fuck would I want to have any? Is this massive investment going to finance my retirement and safeguard my old age? Probably not. I'm going to get the same social security check regardless of how many children I had, and unless one of them becomes a professional athlete, my golden years aren't going to be any cushier for having had kids.

I had kids for the human interaction, the life-long parent/child
 relationships, and the satisfying, close-knit family bonds
So now we have less kids, but we invest more into each one. Quality over quantity. Superkids. That too could have been a good idea. Unfortunately it wasn't. Instead of being awesome, this expensive new breed of child consists mostly of spoiled douche bags and lazy sacks of self-entitled shit who will go on to wreck my car and get busted for pot in high school. Then they'll each spend $200,000 of my money to major in Art History at NYU and live in my basement for another ten years after that until they eventually find an internship as a part-time museum curator that they could have gotten without any college degree whatsoever.

Take myself for example. After 18 years of schooling and a university degree, I have yet to earn so much as a nickel for my parents. And instead of being a little Einstein or a caring, informed citizen, I've become an asshole who is calling for a return to child labor. If I had been working in the mines since age 7, I'd have become a quiet, modest man who would have had ten kids of my own before dying of the black lung at 37.

Parents haven't gotten more selfish, children have become giant liabilities with a smaller and smaller payoff. No rational person would have a child. Every kid is like an inverse bank bailout- privatized losses and socialized gains. It's no wonder more and more people are choosing to free ride on the poor saps who somehow get tricked into having children by their own biological clock or a sense of public duty. No one wants to be a sucker.

Fortunately, there is a solution. It's our old friend, Mr. Child Labor.

I'm not suggesting we replace school with work. Kids still need an education so they can work in skilled positions when they're adults. But the way I see it, eight hours of sleep a night plus eight hours of school per day still leaves eight hours unaccounted for. Unless I've miscalculated, that seems like plenty of time to make ball bearings, solder circuit boards, stamp license plates, or polish the inside of some small metal object that only tiny children's hands can fit inside.

"But Sebastian," some of you may be saying, "This is all very reasonable, but don't children need time to play?" They do. One game in particular, and that's Pick the Soybean, and they need to be playing it 7,000-10,000 times per shift.

Children won't be earning a lot, of course. Their puny little backs and underdeveloped problem-solving skills are probably worth $4/hour tops, but I think the modest paycheck they bring home every two weeks would be more than enough to make any parent look down lovingly at their eight-year-old daughter and think, "you're worth keeping around."

And it just keeps getting better. Not only will children learn responsibility, respect, and appreciation for the effort it takes to provide the necessities of daily life, but it will also end the shortage in our agricultural labor supply. Children are natural-born field workers. They're already close to the ground and their young, supple spines are still fresh and flexible. Of course, we'll need to make sure that all these young farm hands have work to do, which will mean taking some harvesters, tractors, and combines offline, which I guess would have the unintended consequence of reducing our CO2 footprint. And we'll almost have to stop using chemicals and start growing all of our crops organically, just so our kids have weeds to pull and bugs to pick off the leaves. Cheap farm labor would also lower the price of food, conceivably ending world hunger.

The kids won't all be in the fields, of course. Some will go to work in the factories, undercutting the cost of overseas labor and spurring our manufacturing sector into a second golden age.

Sebastian Braff


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