Perusing the back pages of my new issue of First Things a few moments ago, I was gob-smacked at the details in the introduction to one of their new assistant editors.
Since the death of Richard John Neuhaus, the founder of the magazine, the editors have scrambled to make the necessary sad adjustments of carrying on without his guiding light for their publication.
Father Neuhaus was no longer the editor, however he was very much a part of First Things and for all involved it must be a darker, diminished world which continues to persist after his passing.
I wondered what adjustments Joseph Bottum, the current editor, would make in his lineup of authors and editors. I certainly wasn’t prepared for this, from Mr. Bottum:
You may notice, back on page 2 of this issue, that we have made changes to the masthead-adding some new positions and rearranging some old. As we work out the adjustments necessary to keep First Things on course, other changes will no doubt come along, but we are enormously grateful to all those who have rallied now to the magazine’s support.
The first to join us in the office is a new associate editor, David P. Goldman. He was trained in Renaissance history and philosophy, particularly music theory, and he still serves as a governor of the Mannes College of Music. His career has been spent mostly in finance, holding senior positions at Bank of America, Credit Suisse, and Bear Stearns, and he has written widely on financial topics, including a seven-year stint as a columnist for Forbes.
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Along the way, however, he has been writing popular weekly columns for the Asia Times, all published under the pseudonym “Spengler.” The name, he explains, began as a joke-the author of Decline of the West as an Asian newspaper columnist-but it had a serious side: to call attention to the impact of the culture of death on the viability of modern nations. After a few years’ acquaintance, we convinced him to emerge from his pseudonym and join us full-time at First Things. Deeply involved in Jewish issues, he worships at the Synagogue Or Zarua in New York.
Well, there go all the speculations I used to read in his comments — e.g., he worked for the CIA. (I think that was my favorite)
You can judge for yourself, as he explains his sojourn at the Asia Times:
During the too-brief run of the Asia Times print edition in the 1990s, the newspaper asked me to write a humor column, and I chose the name “Spengler” as a joke — a columnist for an Asian daily using the name of the author of The Decline of the West.
Barely a dozen “Spengler” items appeared before the print edition went down in the 1997 Asian financial crisis. A malicious thought crossed my mind in 1999, though, as the Internet euphoria engulfed world markets: was it really possible for a medium whose premise was the rise of a homogeneous global youth culture to drive world economic growth?
Youth culture, I argued, was an oxymoron, for culture itself was a bridge across generations, a means of cheating mortality. The old and angry cultures of the world, fighting for room to breath against the onset of globalization, would not go quietly into the homogenizer. Many of them would fight to survive, but fight in vain, for the tide of modernity could not be rolled back.
As in the great extinction of the tribes in late antiquity, individuals might save themselves from the incurable necrosis of their own ethnicity through adoption into the eternal people, that is, Israel. The great German-Jewish theologian and student of the existential angst of dying nations, Franz Rosenzweig, had commanded undivided attention during the 1990s, and I had a pair of essays about him for the Jewish-Christian Relations website. Rosenzweig’s theology, it occurred to me, had broader applications.
The end of the old ethnicities, I believed, would dominate the cultural and strategic agenda of the next several decades. Great countries were failing of their will to live, and it was easy to imagine a world in which Japanese, German, Italian and Russian would turn into dying languages only a century hence. Modernity taxed the Muslim world even more severely, although the results sometimes were less obvious.
The 300 or so essays that I have published in this space since 1999 all proceeded from the theme formulated by Rosenzweig: the mortality of nations and its causes, Western secularism, Asian anomie, and unadaptable Islam… [do read the rest of this lengthy essay at the Asia Times. It’s worth your while]
Spengler was one of those essayists one either hated or loved. I did wonder at his background, and thought he might be Catholic. Perhaps that is due to his education, which is certainly strange training for a banker. But never mind. Both his education and his economic career gave him an invaluable background from which to launch “Spengler”.
In the current issue of First Things, David Goldman (I’ll have to get used to his new name) has a riveting essay, “Demographics & Depression”. I read that before I stumbled upon the news of his identity in the back pages, so I had no idea I was really reading Spengler. No wonder his ideas stayed with me. I find it difficult to escape their sad logic:
To understand the bleeding in the housing market, then, we need to examine the population of prospective homebuyers whose millions of individual decisions determine whether the economy will recover. Families with children are the fulcrum of the housing market. Because single-parent families tend to be poor, the buying power is concentrated in two-parent families with children.
Now, consider this fact: America’s population has risen from 200 million to 300 million since 1970, while the total number of two-parent families with children is the same today as it was when Richard Nixon took office, at 25 million. In 1973, the United States had 36 million housing units with three or more bedrooms, not many more than the number of two-parent families with children-which means that the supply of family homes was roughly in line with the number of families. By 2005, the number of housing units with three or more bedrooms had doubled to 72 million, though America had the same number of two-parent families with children.
The number of two-parent families with children, the kind of household that requires and can afford a large home, has remained essentially stagnant since 1963, according to the Census Bureau. Between 1963 and 2005, to be sure, the total number of what of what the Census Bureau categorizes as families grew from 47 million to 77 million. But most of the increase is due to families without children, including what are sometimes rather strangely called “one-person families.”
In place of traditional two-parent families with children, America has seen enormous growth in one-parent families and childless families. The number of one-parent families with children has tripled. Dependent children formed half the U.S. population in 1960, and they add up to only 30 percent today. The dependent elderly doubled as a proportion of the population, from 15 percent in 1960 to 30 percent today.
If capital markets derive from the cycle of human life, what happens if the cycle goes wrong? Investors may be unreasonably panicked about the future, and governments can allay this panic by guaranteeing bank deposits, increasing incentives to invest, and so forth. But something different is in play when investors are reasonably panicked. What if there really is something wrong with our future-if the next generation fails to appear in sufficient numbers? The answer is that we get poorer.
The declining demographics of the traditional American family raise a dismal possibility: Perhaps the world is poorer now because the present generation did not bother to rear a new generation. All else is bookkeeping and ultimately trivial. This unwelcome and unprecedented change underlies the present global economic crisis. We are grayer, and less fecund, and as a result we are poorer, and will get poorer still-no matter what economic policies we put in place. [my emphasis — D]
We could put this another way: America’s housing market collapsed because conservatives lost the culture wars even back while they were prevailing in electoral politics. During the past half century America has changed from a nation in which most households had two parents with young children. We are now a mélange of alternative arrangements in which the nuclear family is merely a niche phenomenon. By 2025, single-person households may outnumber families with children.
The collapse of home prices and the knock-on effects on the banking system stem from the shrinking count of families that require houses. It is no accident that the housing market-the economic sector most sensitive to demographics-was the epicenter of the economic crisis. In fact, demographers have been predicting a housing crash for years due to the demographics of diminishing demand. Wall Street and Washington merely succeeded in prolonging the housing bubble for a few additional years. The adverse demographics arising from cultural decay, though, portend far graver consequences for the funding of health and retirement systems.
Conservatives have indulged in self-congratulation over the quarter-century run of growth that began in 1984 with the Reagan administration’s tax reforms. A prosperity that fails to rear a new generation in sufficient number is hollow, as we have learned to our detriment during the past year. Compared to Japan and most European countries, which face demographic catastrophe, America’s position seems relatively strong, but that strength is only postponing the reckoning by keeping the world’s capital flowing into the U.S. mortgage market right up until the crash at the end of 2007.
As long as conservative leaders delivered economic growth, family issues were relegated to Sunday rhetoric. Of course, conservative thinkers never actually proposed to measure the movement’s success solely in units of gross domestic product, or square feet per home, or cubic displacement of the average automobile engine. But delivering consumer goods was what conservatives seemed to do well, and they rode the momentum of the Reagan boom.
Until now. Our children are our wealth. Too few of them are seated around America’s common table, and it is their absence that makes us poor. Not only the absolute count of children, to be sure, but also the shrinking proportion of children raised with the moral material advantages of two-parent families diminishes our prospects. The capital markets have reduced the value of homeowners’ equity by $8 trillion and of stocks by $7 trillion. Households with a provider aged 45 to 54 have lost half their net worth between 2004 and 2009, according to Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. There are ways to ameliorate the financial crisis, but none of them will replace the lives that should have been part of America and now are missed.
Mr. Goldman doesn’t point out why those lives are missing, but I will. The tragedy of unlimited abortion in this country since the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe vs. Wade has cost us over fifty-three million American children. The earliest to go missing, about 615,00 children in 1973 (low estimate from CDC) would be in their late thirties now. I look at my daughter-in-law and see in her smiling vitality all those other mothers who never had her chance.
By the year my youngest son was born, one and half million of his cohorts disappeared down the drain. No wonder the ranks of those twenty-somethings seem so thin. No wonder the relations between young men and women, which Whiskey describes all too well, seem so bizarre and hard-edged.
In a recent post, Whiskey says:
Along with the lack of affordable housing, has come a profound shift in the way men and women relate to each other and form families. Or rather, fail to form families.
First off, women are increasingly having children as single mothers, as the 2006 US Census Survey on women and fertility shows. Depending on how you add things up (note page 6 of the PDF) “not married” can mean living with an unmarried partner or not, and can be either 36% or 41% of all births within the last twelve months of the Survey. I incline to the 41% figure (adding up the 35.5% of not married and 4.8% of “living with unmarried partner”). But to each his own. As noted in the report and elsewhere, births to Black women are 70% illegitimate, and 90% in the urban core, and among Hispanics it is approaching 50%.
The “good news” is that the Census Bureau is responding to these numbers by redefining “legitimacy” as a member of the opposite sex who resided in the household for at least a week. So if Mom’s boyfriend stays over that long, the birth is reclassified as “legitimate” or with a claimed father. Political Correctness at it’s finest.
Men and women used to get married far younger in the West. At far higher rates. See my posts here for example. Now, the trend is the opposite. Children are delayed, and when they come single motherhood is often a choice.
Be sure to read the comments on this post.
I agree with much of Whiskey’s analysis. However, in addition, pointing out the unintended consequences of unlimited abortions goes a ways towards explaining what Whiskey has termed the “zero-sum game” that currently exists between the sexes. It is not just the unnatural (my word) and hostile ascendancy of women over men, it is also the sheer lack of numbers among the fertile, reproductive-age members of our country.
Abortion has done untold damage, as has no-fault divorce, as has the concept that easy hook-ups have no lasting effect on the individuals who have numerous sexual partners. And the facile theories that underlie the philosophy of feminist ghettoes in American academia are a blot on the commonweal.
Another notable event, not often mentioned, was the terrible epidemic of divorce that began in the 1970s. The dissolution of my own first marriage was part of that statistic and it was a hell which still haunts the atomized remainders of that union. The experience permanently scarred me and our children. The phenomenon of “the trophy wife” was one I could have lived quite happily without ever encountering. Now, no one blinks an eye as mid-thirties wives are abandoned for steel-bellied airheads.
Many of the children of those atomized nuclear families have experienced difficulties forming permanent attachments in adulthood. So much for the pseudo-psychology that divorce is “good” for children. What a crock.
As usual, I have digressed — though not as much as it might appear. All those empty houses, all those broken children with holes in their souls so large that not all the goodies in the world could fill them. And now our economy spirals downward to keep company with the previous “current wisdom” (e.g., “credit” is good). Our bankrupt cultural mores have become at one with our doomsday economy.
Who but Solomon — or Spengler — would have guessed their intimate connection?