IN OTHER WORDS
No Kidding: Hebrew University professor Omer Moav has devised an economic formula to combat global poverty: Fewer kids equals more wealth.
“Why is rapid population growth bad for a country’s standard of living?”, the Jerusalem-based sociologist and economist writes in a March 2003 article on Project-Syndicate.org. “The math is simple: More people means that (on average) everyone gets less.”
Large households not only dilute the value of capital by spreading money to more family members, Moav argues — they also lower the value of human capital. “The quality of children in poor households goes down as their quantity goes up, because poor families with many children are unable to invest enough in the education of each child to ensure that future adults benefit from a key determinant of economic success.”
The vicious cycle of poverty begetting low levels of education begetting high fertility rates begetting poverty, he argues, can be broken by making the raising of children economically unappealing. “Increasing the cost of raising a child creates a powerful incentive for households to reallocate resources toward improving child quality through higher investment in education,” Moav writes. “This change in relative costs can release a country from the trap of poverty, setting the stage for a demographic transition and economic advancement.”
As evidence, he cites the example of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jews, whose fertility rate during the 1950s and 1960s was three children per woman. After the introduction of generous child allowances to large families, the fertility rate doubled among ultra-Orthodox Jews to six births per woman. The result of the tax benefits, he concludes, has been widespread poverty in the community.
“The implications of this may at first glance seem inhumane,” Moav writes of reducing child allowances to large families, “but they are straightforward and unavoidable. Canceling, or even reversing, policies that reduce the cost of bearing a high quantity of children would contribute to higher living standards over the long run.”
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Hatikvah: “In whatever concerns standing up to evil,” Harvard Yiddish professor Ruth Wisse writes in the April 2003 issue of Commentary magazine, “Jews have long had much to teach the rest of the world, but never quite as much as Israel does now.”
In the latest turn on the “Diaspora cultural icon learns true meaning of Zionism” theme that has become a sub-genre of American Jewish literature, Wisse finds the Jewish spirit manifested in Israelis’ “peculiarly local brand of optimism.”
“If Judaism is a sustaining way of life,” she writes of her experience during a month-long stay in Jerusalem, “it is a privilege to live it among those whom it sustains.”
Israel’s “citizens have had no choice but to become democracy’s fighting front lines.” Wisse writes. “Short of joining their ranks, anyone curious to see optimism in action could do much worse than catch the next flight to Tel Aviv.”