Progess towards regress

James Taranto correctly points out that the solutions to past problems may turn out to be even more severe problems in their own right.

The decline of marriage among poor and working-class Americans is a result of a variety of social and economic changes. Among them, as Lowrey notes, are “tidal economic forces,” namely “globalization, the decline of labor unions [and] technological change.”

She ignores the tidal social changes that have also contributed, namely the sexual revolution and the expectation that women will spend most of their adult lives in the workforce, which, as we’ve argued, reduced the incentives for both men and women to marry. It is no more feasible to turn the clock back on globalization or automation than on contraception or female labor-force participation. All of these developments represent progress, in that they were solutions to the problems of the past. All of them contribute to the problems of the present.

This is an interesting point, especially in light of the fact that female labor-force participation has been dropping steadily ever since it peaked at 60.3 percent in 2000. It has dropped 6.4 percent to 56.9 percent, a level not seen since 1988.

Those who argue that the clock cannot be turned back are simply in denial. Not only can the clock be turned back, we can be certain that the clock will be turned back whenever the progressive developments lead to an unsustainable situation. Globalization will end as soon as people in the wealthier countries understand that free trade necessarily means impoverishment and a decline to global norms.

(Remember, we haven’t seen any changes in perceived wealth as yet because people have been spending through their savings and maximizing their debt in order to maintain their current levels of consumer spending. Once the consumer spending begins to contract, the credit disinflation will give way to full-fledged credit deflation.)

Contraception was outlawed before and it will be outlawed again in some countries once it becomes clear that not only is the societal price for replacing children with semi-civilized immigrants too high, but such replacement policies are correlated with net economic losses rather than the long-assumed gains. All actions and policies have unintended consequences, which is why the simplistic notion of progress as an inexorable clock is simply misguided.