Thursday, November 19, 2020

49. Predictions for the Biden Era (Demographic Doom Podcast)

This is the script for my Demographic Doom podcast episode #49 recorded on 20 November 2020 (released on 21 November 2020). It may differ slightly from the final broadcast. This episode is available on major podcast platforms, including PodbeanApple Podcasts and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. The main website for this project is DemographicDoom.com

I’m Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I’m looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography, or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance, as aliens would see us from space.

Today is November 21, 2020. It's about 18 days since the presidential election in the United States and about 14 days since media outlets announced the winner, Joe Biden, and the loser, Donald Trump. Whew! That was a nailbiter! Those four days between the election and the announcement of the winner were among the scariest of my life, and I'm including my two brushes with cancer. It would have been truly terrible if Trump had won, and he very nearly did. 47% voted for him, or very nearly half of the electorate. Given his brutish, incompetent and autocratic style, openly demonstrated for four years, he should have been stamped out in a landslide, but he wasn't. It was essentially a routine election, as if both candidates were normal politicians. It's frightening to me how close it came.  

Now this is not a political podcast. I'm concerned with predictable long-term trends, not the politics of the moment, but this election was such a momentous one that I can't help but vent just a little. At least, I can make some predictions about the next four years based on what demographics and macroeconomics are telling us. 

I have no idea what is going to happen in American in the next week or even the next year. I don't have that kind of crystal ball. Demographics and macroeconomics yield predictions over a longer term. I feel more comfortable making forecasts over the next 4 to 8 years, or the term of the new President. Spoiler alert: That future looks bleak. The systemic disintegration continues, regardless of who is President, but it might be progressing just a little slower now. 

I guess I should be grateful to Donald Trump in one way. He was responsible for my Demographic Doom project and ultimately this podcast. My passion for demography was born four years ago, on November 9, 2016, or the day after Trump was elected. Like many others on this planet, I was shell-shocked. I asked myself, "How can could so many people be so stupid?" This launched me into the study of populations and what could be happening to them. Demography seemed natural because elections are, by definition, masses of people doing things. Once I got into it, I found that the problem was far bigger than Trump. He was more a symptom of dysfunction than a cause. The real issue was the progressive deterioration of the economic systems that we all depend on. Voters were hurting, so they lashed out in the only way they had: They voted for the protest candidate that all the experts told them not to vote for.

You might want to check out the video I recorded two days after the 2016 election, which tells you what I was thinking at the time. The link is found in the video version of this episode, or you can search YouTube for "Demographic Doom Glenn Campbell Trump", in that order. That video, recorded in Florida, marked the birth of my demographic project, although it took me a while to achieve its current formulation.

After I started inquiring into demography, the first surprising thing I learned was that the "population explosion", treated as gospel by my generation, was in fact a lie. Most countries of the world are on the brink of a population implosion, and this reversal of growth is having a lot of devastating economic effects. It means, for one thing, that there will be a ton of old people in the world and very few active workers to support them. This is ultimately expressed by debt, whether it is explicit debt on the books right now, or implied debts called "unfunded liabilities" which are debts we know are coming down the road. 

For example, we know a certain number of people will be filing for Social Security in coming years, even though they haven't done it yet. Demographic problems inevitably turn into macroeconomic problems, where we are looking at the state of whole monetary systems. The state of our current monetary system is dire, and it was dire even before Covid, because there are clearly more debts in the world than can possibly be paid back.

Nearly all forms of debt are problematic these days, be it government debt, corporate debt, consumer debt or student loan debt. There's no magic wand you can wave to make all these debts go away. There are magic wands that seem to make debt go away, but they're really just kicking the can down the road and making the problem worse. The Federal Reserve can print money and hold interest rates at zero. Maybe the incoming President can wave a magic wand and make student loans disappear, but as you might suspect, all these magic solutions come at a cost. Eventually the magic runs out and backfires on you.

The bottom line is that without unrealistic economic growth, based largely on population, most of the debts of the world are simply unpayable and are destined to fail. If you look at government debt alone, it's just astounding how much there is and how much new debt governments have accumulated in the wake of the pandemic. This year, in 2020, the US government will spend roughly twice as much money as it is received in taxes, and the shortfall is ultimately being covered through money printing and interest rate suppression. These are slight-of-hand tricks that can't go on forever. Sooner or later, the system has to fail catastrophically, and I'm betting it's going to start during the Biden administration. 

When we dumped Trump for Biden, we gained only momentary relief—in that the President of the United States of America is no longer actively trying destroy the United States of America. I think everyone on the planet can breathe a sigh of relief for that, but I'm not inclined to celebrate in the street. The demographic crisis, the debt crisis and the money printing crisis are still with us. The Titanic has already struck the iceberg, and there's nothing even the most organized and well-intentioned government can do about it.

Before I go on, let me do a little analysis of the the four-year Trump administration and how it might have changed our demographics. Demography is concerned with the big picture: What are whole populations doing? To begin with, Trump actively killed a fair number of Americans. As of today, roughly 250,000 Americans have died from the Coronavirus. There is little doubt that a more organized Federal response would have reduced that number. Let's say only 100,000 would have died if America had been on top of this from Day One, which leaves 150,000 deaths that Trump might be blamed for.

That's certainly a devastating toll for the people and families involved, but from a demographic standpoint, it's a drop in the bucket. There are about 328 million people in the United States, so even if we have a million Covid deaths, it won't significantly impact our population profile. I'm not trying to minimize the suffering and societal costs involved. I'm only saying that Covid deaths alone don't change our long-term population trajectory.

I guess if you want to congratulate Trump for something, he saved America some elder-care costs. Among the casualties of Trump's incompetence, the majority seem to be older Americans, retirement age and above, who you can cynically argue weren't producing much for America anyway. If someone is killed at age 70 instead of living to age 85, the U.S. has saved 15 years of Social Security, Medicare costs and pension disbursements for them. So congratulations, President Trump! I guess that's a silver lining if you want to look at it that way, and you do hear a lot of this reasoning in the right-wing media: These people were going die anyway, and the virus just killed them off a little sooner. 

I'm a little sensitive about that personally, because I'm starting to be labeled as "older" and I don't think my days of productivity are over. I'm not eager to be a part of the culling of the herd. I'd rather not be killed by Covid or bad government policy, but that's just me. Rather than getting sucked into this debate, I just want to point out that the cost savings in Covid deaths is still statistically insignificant. Killing off, say, 100,000 retirees won't rescue Social Security or Medicare. The long-term numbers are still terrible. There are still too many people retiring with not enough workers to support them.

Demographically, I think Covid deaths are a lot less significant than damage to US immigration. Trump has poisoned the well by making immigration to the U.S. much more odious. He hasn't just restricted immigration at the border. He has made America much less appealing to potential immigrants overseas who haven't even applied. The Trump Administration has essentially been a 4-year worldwide television ad for the dysfunction and xenophobia of America. Like every other developed country, America is in desperate need of high-quality immigrants to make up for their own lack of births, and Trump has decimated our marketing effort.

Immigrants, especially skilled ones, are a winning proposition for the receiving country because they usually go to work immediately and start paying taxes immediately without that country having to pay for their upbringing and education. It's a losing proposition for the country the immigrants come from, but it is mostly positive for any country fortunate enough to be able to attract talented immigrants. Sadly, Trump has made the U.S. a lot less attractive to skilled workers. If you were a trained professional from, say, Asia, and you had your choice of emigrating to the U.S. or Germany, the U.S. has really lost its sheen. I can't quantify this yet, but it will eventually show up in immigration statistics. I predict that the cost to the country of lost immigrant appeal will be far greater than the money saved by killing off 100,000 seniors.

So what's my overall assessment of Trump? Well, not good. I don't need to belabor the point, but he did not, in fact, Make America Great Again. He made America a pariah that no talented foreign professional would want to move to.

In this podcast, I am attracted to things that are predictable. Demographics are predictable, in that you know for a fact that you're not going to have more tax-paying workers 20 years from now than you have children today—unless, of course, you import them. Macroeconomics is also predictable, mainly in one critical assumption: In the long run, you can't spend more money than you make. I know some people are going to argue with that. Since the government runs the printing press, it can print as much money as it wants, but this experiment always ends badly. Always. Unrestrained money creation has ended badly in the past and it will end badly in the future, even if the effects are delayed. I can't tell you how and when it will end, but it will end, and if I had to place a bet on when the bad ending will get rolling, I'd say it will happen within the next 4 to 8 years.

Beyond that broad framework, specific predictions for how things will fail are very difficult. Over the past 4½ years, a lot of things happened that I never would have guessed. Who could have predicted in 2015 that Donald Trump would become President? No one could have predicted the appearance of the coronavirus, at least in its timing and and origin—although plenty of scientists have warned the something like this was destined to happen. 

The most stunning surprise to me is how the devastating economics of the pandemic has led to a rise in stock markets. It may no longer be true by the time you listen to this, but right now some markets are at all-time highs, in spite of the horrible state of the economy. Furthermore, I would never have predicted that the government would print so much money without triggering massive consumer inflation. By all rights, we should be in Zimbabwe territory by now, but we're not.

If I tried to make specific predictions about any of these things, I would have been wrong, but I'm still confident of my broader macroeconomic and demographic predictions, as expressed in earlier podcasts. In my Podcast #22 on December 13, 2019—that is, before the coronavirus—I predicted the 2020s would be a horrible, devastating decade for the world economy. I and others speculated that an unknown Black Swan would trigger a collapse, but we couldn't have known what that bird would be. That's how demographics and macroeconomics work: You can predict rising tensions that have to be resolved, but you can't say exactly how and when the reckoning will happen. You know that a lot of dynamite has accumulated, but you don't know what spark will set it off.

Compared to the Trump Administration, we know that the Biden Administration is going to be relatively competent, filled with smart, capable people who genuinely care about the country, but I have doubts about how much competence can accomplish on a sinking ship. If you change the management of the Titanic after it has already struck the iceberg, you might be able to reduce the loss of life through, say, more organized use of lifeboats, but all the competence in the world can't stop the ship from sinking.

Our demographic ship started sinking in the 1960s with the invention of reliable birth control, and our macroeconomic ship started sinking in the last Global Financial Crisis around 2009, or maybe decades earlier depending how you look at it. You can't put those genies back in their bottles. What we are destined to have during the Biden Administration is a ton of things falling apart in rapid succession. I can't tell you what will fall apart and in what order, but conceptually, the ship has struck the iceberg and has already taken in enough water to sink it. It's just taking the ship a while to figure that out. 

So many systems are falling apart that it's hard to know where to begin, but there are a couple of pending collapses that should be obvious to anyone looking at things from afar. One crisis is overvalued assets, like stocks, bonds and real estate. These pigs can't continue to fly while the real economy is in the pits. There has to be a reckoning sooner or later. 

Another obvious crisis is that no government can keep printing money forever. Something has to break, even though I don't know what that something is. A government, like an individual, can't consistently spend more money than it makes. The government's income is called "taxes" which are based on economic activity. If economic activity falls, as it has during the pandemic, then taxes will fall, too, even as the government is spending more than it ever has before. You can keep the Ponzi scheme afloat as long your economy is growing, but ours isn't growing and never again will, because we don't have enough workers and consumers. This pyramid scheme is going to fall the way they always do: with the sudden realization that there's not nearly as much value in the system as everyone thought there was.

Imagine what it would take for the US government to balance its books. In the current environment, it would either have to double taxes or cut its spending in half, both of which are politically and practically impossible. The third option is incredible economic growth, which just ain't gonna happen, even if the pandemic is resolved. The Federal Reserve is locked into a self-reinforcing regime of money printing and artificially low interest rates, which are eroding the foundations of the financial system, and there's literally no way out. There is no coherent theory anyone can offer for how this ends gracefully. The end can only be compared to the Fall of Rome but a whole lot faster.

Joe Biden comes into office with a mission to fix the country, but he can't. The main crisis isn't the virus but the economic collapse that was destined to happen anyway. Any relief from the virus or the economic pain involves spending still more money that the government doesn't have. For example, Biden can try to enact another stimulus program to send free money to citizens, but that's only temporary relief that creates as many problems as it solves. It's not going to repair anything, only delay the inevitable.

Nothing Biden can do will stop Baby Boomers from retiring en masse, or at least reaching retirement age, where they get less productive and a whole lot more expensive. That time bomb has been ticking since the 1960s, and no government policy is going to defuse it. 

Likewise, nothing Biden can do will neutralize the massive debts the government and private sector have accumulated—debts that can't possibly be repaid. By definition, debts that keep growing without reprieve must eventually end in some form of default, which wipes out the wealth of everyone who holds that debt. "Debt forgiveness" sounds like a good idea until you realize that somebody has to lose, and it isn't always fat-cat capitalists. Retirees lose their homes when their pension funds fail because they invested in risky bonds. When debts don't get paid, wealth simply vanishes. It magically goes away, and suddenly people who thought they were well-off find they are poor.

That's one of the things I'm predicting in the next 4 to 8 years: a massive evaporation of wealth. People who thought they were wealthy will find out it was an illusion. There are two ways this can happen: the price of assets can crash, or inflation can erode the value of those assets. 

For example, if you own a home valued at a million dollars, you might think you are rich, but that valuation can change quickly. Your home's perceived value is based on recent sales of comparable homes in your neighborhood. There is no guarantee that you will actually get a million dollars when you come to sell. We saw that happen in 2008 and 2009. People who thought they had million dollar homes found they could only sell for, say, half a million, if anyone wanted to buy it at all. In that case, the half-million more that you thought you simply vanished—or more properly, it never really existed to begin with.

Inflation works differently, but the net result is the same. Let's say you manage to sell your house for a million dollars but the buying power of a million dollars has eroded due to inflation. You still have a million in the bank, but it might buy only what a half million bought a few years ago. What really matters is the purchasing power of the money, not the money itself.

And 50% is roughly the magnitude I'm predicting. In the next 4 to 8 years, I predict that most assets will fall in value by at least half, either through price crashes or inflation. I'm talking about nearly all assets: stocks, bonds, real estate, fine art... anything an investor might put their money into to try to preserve or increase their wealth. The only exemption I might grudgingly make is gold. I really don't understand gold, so I don't know whether it will go up or down. Gold is something without much practical value that is worth whatever investors think it is, so it is speculative like every other asset. The only assets that aren't speculative are things that people actually use to stay alive, like grain.

I had a podcast about grain. It was Episode #7, about the fall of the Western Roman Empire. The Roman empire ran on grain. That's what powered all of its operations. Farmers produced grain, which was taxed by the empire and used to pay soldiers and bureaucrats and build all those monuments. The empire got in trouble when it started spending more grain than it produced. In the minds of some scholars, that's what really caused the Fall of Rome: deficit spending. The empire had more obligations than it could make good on based on its grain production. You can't tax the farmers too much, because you end up killing the farmers. That same idea applies to our society: There is a core production of taxable activity, which is taxed to pay for government operations, and for years, the US government has been spending far more than that. The government can't raise taxes too high, or it kills production, so it's stuck with a finite income and infinitely growing debts. You can't spend more than you make, because ultimately you got to produce the grain to pay all these debts or the whole house of cards collapses.

Similar insanity applies to stocks. A stock is a slice of the future profits of a company. You buy a company like Tesla not because it is profitable now, but because you think it will be profitable in the future, but those profits would have to be truly massive to justify current stock prices. As of today, the Tesla stock price is close to $500 a share today compared to $86 a share at the beginning of the year, before the pandemic. That's a 6-fold increase in price in spite of the pandemic, which will almost certainly hurt car sales.

I don't want to get into a debate about the merits of Tesla. My point is, the entire stock market in the U.S. is vastly overvalued in relation to the future profits that are likely to be generated. You can argue about specific companies and their prospects, but the overvaluation of the whole market is measurable. You judge it by the "market capitalization to GDP" ratio, or the "Buffett Indicator". If you add up all the values of all the stocks on all the US stock markets, you get the total "book value" of all those stocks. You then compare that number to the total GDP of the country and you get a percentage. 

Traditionally, if market capitalization is between 75% and 90% of GDP, the market is said to be fairly valued. Today's ratio is something like 175%, which suggests the total market is overvalued by a factor of two. To make markets rational again, stocks would have to fall by about 50%, which is what I thought would happen in March. Instead, we got an insane boom in stock prices, at least in the US—literally all-time highs in the Dow and S&P in the last few days. There are a lot of explanations for this, including the announcement of two potential coronavirus vaccines, but it's still insane no matter how you slice it. Even if they distribute a vaccine tomorrow, a lot of damage has been done to the economy that won't go away anytime soon.

When the bubble bursts, it won't just be wealthy investors that lose. When wealth vanishes, everybody loses, including people who own no stocks but lose their jobs when rich people stop buying things.

Politics, of course, is much harder to predict. Who in 2015 could have predicted Trump's election? It was just so outlandish. What is not outlandish, however, are the economic instabilities that give rise to this kind of anarchy. You can't predict specific incidents, like who will rise to power or which act of terrorism will come next, but you can predict that the conditions remain ripe for extremism. As the economy deteriorates for ordinary voters, the conditions are optimal for another Trump-like character to arise.

What are these conditions? In a word: misery. Misery is real among the electorate, and it is measurable. It mainly has to do with wealth inequality. In recent decades, the rich have been getting richer while everyone else gets poorer. The dim-witted voter doesn't know what has gone wrong. All he knows is that he's a lot less comfortable in life than he used to be. This change in circumstances leads to rage, which is often directed at the wrong targets.

One other thing I never would predicted was race riots in the middle of a pandemic, but in retrospect it makes sense. The riots were triggered by black people dying in police custody. Whether things like this are ignored or trigger an explosion depends on how much social dynamite has already been stored up, and evidently there's a lot of it. I wouldn't say that race is the key issue. I think income inequality is the key issue, because White Trump supporters are feeling the same thing. Everyone has the sense that "My life is pretty miserable right now," but different groups pick different targets for their rage. Rage can be expressed by burning down Kenosha, Wisconsin or by voting for an obvious psychopath. If the economic misery becomes too great, the rage becomes unstoppable, and a lot more than Kanosha, Wisconsin gets burned down.

The election of Joe Biden may have bought America a brief reprieve, but the core economic misery hasn't been relieved, and I don't think it can be. When the economy collapses even further and people are even more miserable than they are now, there will be more unrest and more rage directed at convenient targets. The most convenient target of all is the current government, which will inevitably be blamed for economic problems that have been incubating for decades. 

When more bad things happen and Biden gets blamed, it is likely that another Trump-like character will arise to channel voter rage. You can't predict who that will be or how he will take power. The only thing I dare predict is that it will be a "he" not a "she" and he will be a whole lot smarter and more Machiavellian than Trump was.

As an American and a world citizen, I'm relieved that we're finally rid of Trump—that is, if he actually relinquishes the position in January—but I'm still deeply worried. The 2016 vote could be seen as a fluke vote for a protest candidate, but 2020 proved that it's not a fluke. After four years of hell, 47% percent of voters wanted the hell to continue. Especially the White Christians! In 2016, 81% of  White Evangelicals voted for Trump, and it looks like the number hasn't changed much in 2020 (See Pew). I just can't fathom this. Here is the most un-Christian man on the planet, who in my mind embodies pure Biblical evil, and Christians are willing to set aside all their professed beliefs to vote for him. Some of them think he is the second coming of Christ, quite literally.

Over the past four years, Trump made every political blunder imaginable, and it didn't sink in with these voters. Trump was opposed by vast juggernaut of celebrities, comedians, respected past leaders and experts of all stripes, and it made no difference. Roughly half of America is willing to vote for a craven, self-serving autocrat, and we shouldn't feel comforted that less than half actually made it to the polls. If Trump had been only slightly more clever or the opposition slightly less effective, the election would have gone to a despot again. This can only happen a few more times before America becomes an 1984-style autocracy.

And all those conditions are still in place. 47% of Americans stand ready to vote for the would-be dictator, and they need only 3%, or even less, to make it happen. Even if Trump is gone, the infrastructure for autocracy is already in place. It is called the Republican Party. Like White Evangelicals, they have abandoned all pretext of principles in favor of the naked pursuit of power. In my mind, Democrats have a lot of kooky ideas, but Republicans, or at least those elected to power, seem to have none, but still 47% of the electorate will support them no matter what. All they need is that extra 3%, which can easily be delivered to them by the growing economic misery I am predicting.

Trump's saving grace was his stupidity. He wanted to become a dictator in the same way that Dr. Evil really, really wants to rule the world, but he was just too egotistical and self-destructive to pull it off. Every time he tried to implement a nefarious scheme, he himself would sabotage it.

The next would-be autocrat might not be so dumb.

🍄🎙

Subscribe to this podcast for more observations from a demographic philosopher. In the next episodes I hope to get back to my Post-Nuclear Family, where I still have a lot of explaining to do. I encourage your input. If you have anything to say, you can email me or post a comment to the YouTube version of this episode. My contact information is found in the YouTube description.

———

Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

48. The Post-Nuclear Family: Education and Family Culture (Demographic Doom Podcast)

This is the script for my Demographic Doom podcast episode (#48) recorded on 8 November 2020 (released on 9 November 2020). It may differ slightly from the final broadcast. This episode is available on major podcast platforms, including PodbeanApple Podcasts and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. (If you leave comments on this blog post, I might not see them.) The main website for this project is DemographicDoom.com

I’m Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I’m looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography, or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance, as aliens would see us from space.

In this episode, I am continuing my discussion of the post-nuclear family, my proposed redesign of the current nuclear family, which among other things isn't producing enough babies to sustain our civilization. I have been talking about this structure for about a year, but I reintroduced it a month ago under the new name, "post-nuclear family" in Podcast #46. The basic idea is that I'm trying to reduce the cost of parenting while improving the quality and consistency of parenting by raising a large number of children in one household. I'm thinking of between 9 and 18 kids, evenly spaced in age, cared for in various capacities by a dozen or more adults, who don't actually live in the household. Instead the adults serve in scheduled shifts, so you might be on duty one day a week instead of 24/7 like today's parents.

As I explained in my last episode, #47, this is not some kind of commune where adults are sharing everything they own. It's more like a church that a number of adults commit themselves to, but they spend only part of their time on it. 

The first advantage of this system is economy of scale. Instead of 1 or 2 adults caring for one or two kids, as in our current families, up to 18 kids can live in one household where only one adult needs to be on duty at any one time. In other words, instead of parenting being a full-time job, it can be a part-time job. The rest of your time is yours to do as you wish. The idea is to distribute the huge costs and risks of parenting so more people can afford to do it, thereby assuring the survival of their communities.

The second advantage of this system is that with a lot of kids and a wide range of ages, older kids can help care for younger kids. There has to be adult supervision and adult financial support, but wherever possible, children should look after each other. This is not only a labor-saving device for the adults; it is also an important part of the socialization process. Childhood shouldn't just be you pursuing your dreams; you have to also participate in your community by caring for others.

In this episode I want to talk about the most important function of a family, which is programming. You can think of babies as little computers. They come out of the womb with some amazing hardware capabilities, but they need 18 years or more of training to fill them with your community's software. Those are skills, habits, attitudes and information that allow them to contribute to society. I call this process "formation" and it's the main reason families exist: to form the child into a model citizen.

Humans are unique in the animal world in their very long childhood. Think of a hooved animal like a horse or sheep. They are walking from the day they are born, and they may achieve full adult size in only two years. Human babies, in contrast, are utterly helpless when they are born and don't reach full physical maturity until their teens. Evidently, this remarkably long childhood is designed by evolution to allow a long period of cultural programming before the child is required to assume full adult responsibilities, and most of this programming takes place inside the family.

The simplest example is language training. Kids come out of the womb with some very sophisticated language abilities—their hardware, as it were—but they have to be introduced to a real language and trained in its nuances. Listening and speaking come naturally to young children, as long as they are surrounded by a rich social environment, but they have to be taught to read and write, which don't come so naturally. Writing, for example, can take decades of practice, since it involves so many complex cognitive skills.

If a child is going to speak a language without an accent and truly know it as a native, they have to be exposed to it early. This analogy applies to a lot of other emotional and cognitive skills. Good habits start in the cradle. For example, emotional security starts in infancy. Do you feel good about yourself? Do you feel safe. Do you trust others? These basic emotional attitudes toward the world may start even before the child can speak.

The emotional skill of social cooperation probably starts in toddlerhood, when the child can start moving around and defying authority. Do you throw a tantrum to get what you want, or do you learn to play by the rules? The first few years of formation don't involve any book learning, and it can't be done online. The first few years form the emotional habits that will be built upon in later stages. A child gets their basic understanding of the world in these first few years, or likewise, this is when emotional dysfunctions begin to develop. A toddler who successfully gets what they want through tantrums might end up using this technique all their life, because it's hard to break those early habits.

So how does this integrate with my post-nuclear system? First of all, when a child is born—or we'll say, delivered to the family by the stork—they are the center of the universe, as things should be. Their next oldest sibling is 1-2 years older than them. When a new baby comes into the household, it's like getting a new puppy, and everyone is excited. Babies do that to people. They are designed to be irresistible to older humans, and older humans are designed to respond to their ploys for attention. It's part of the whole cuteness thing that babies use to seduce us into caring for them. The Japanese call it "Kawaii" or cuteness. Since they can't care for themselves, infants need to draw people in with their adorableness.

So when I say I want to put children to work caring for other children, that's not necessarily an imposition. It's not child abuse for the older children, as long as they get good adult support. Older kids are going to want to play with the new baby, and since it is part of the package, they are going to be okay with feeding it and changing its diapers. If you want a puppy, you have to learn to care for it.

In the first few months of life, the baby forms secure emotional bonds with its caregivers. I don't want to say in advance who it will form those bonds with. The test of a child's bonds is clearly shown in toddlerhood. When the child falls down, who do they run to for comfort? Maybe it's always a single person, or maybe it could be one of several people who are equally seen as comforting. If the child feels secure in their bond, they are sufficiently comforted that they can turn around and continue exploring the world. 

Since I see this household as genetically diverse—children from a lot of different biological parents—they are each going to have their own personalities. Some kids are going to be really good at caring for others. Other children may not get it at all. Maybe they'd rather play with trucks or work on technical problems. That's why I don't want to declare in advance who bonds with whom or who becomes a child's primary caregiver. Although there is usually an adult on duty in the household, I think they should resist taking on this role. They can have warm relations with all the kids, but since they are there only one day a week, I think they should be more like aunts and uncles rather than primary caregivers. An aunt or uncle can give children special attention, but they're not the run-to source for comfort. That has to be one of the resident kids who are more often available.

So when it comes to the basic foundations of education—things like language learning and the following of rules—it's mainly kids teaching other kids. Kids do most of the baby-talk—you know, when you spend hours talking to a baby to encourage and correct their language skills. This is a very labor-intensive task, and kids do it just fine. Older kids can also teach younger kids to play by the rules. If you take a toy out of the toy box, you have to put it back. Kids have a well-developed sense of justice, and making them lawgivers, not just law-receivers, is a good socialization exercise for them. If there is a conflict between kids, older kids should resolve it whenever possible.

There could be an adult watching all of this, taking notes and making sure all the important stuff gets done, but they shouldn't be intervening unless it is necessary. In my system, adults don't change diapers, run baths, clean house or prepare meals. They instruct children to do those things, and ideally the older children are well enough trained that they rarely need specific instructions. Adults are, however, deeply involved in the design of the family. They way not clean house, but they carefully set up the house so it is easily cleaned—say with no wall-to-wall carpets and furniture that holds up under heavy use. Adults are responsible for systems, but kids make the systems work.

Adults don't read books to toddlers or teach them the alphabet, but they are monitoring progress and making sure key milestones are being achieved. The adult on duty might say, "Josie, maybe you could read Danny a book," and if the kids are already well-socialized, there is a good chance both will comply. Josie gets to practice her reading skills, and Danny gets the benefit of the language interaction. This is a heck of a lot easier than an adult reading a book to Danny, which is one of the insanities of our current nuclear families. You have adults with PhD's reading children's books to children, which is a horrible misuse of their valuable time. Let's have a child read a children's book to another child. That way, you're doubling the benefit—since both kids gain something from it—while eliminating an insane adult expense.

The main purpose of the family is education—or software programming—and this can happen in a lot of different ways. Some of it just happens on its own, without much of a plan. That's how children learn spoken language. You just put them in a rich linguistic environment with lots of direct feedback, and their hardware proclivities automatically kick in. Big families are ideal for language learning, because kids are surrounded by lots of stimulation and examples. There are other forms of education that need to be more planned and structured, like the traditional subjects of math, science, grammar, history, etc. There has to be a plan here, and some adult has to enforce it, and that's where you need a teacher.

Now there is the option of the family sending its children to public schools. You know, a yellow school bus picks them up, and they spend 6 hours every weekday in a classroom run by the local government. That's how I was educated, and my own memories of it are quite dreadful. While public schools remain an option, I don't think most post-nuclear families would go for that. It's too primitive. If you go to all the trouble of setting up this complex family system, you're not going to turn over its most important function to some government entity. Public education is a factory system, and the family can probably do better.

If you have a dozen or more parents contributing part of their income to the household, they can probably afford to hire a full-time teacher, working five days a week. Only I don't use the word "teacher". Instead I would call them an "Educational Resource Manager". Their main job isn't teaching. Instead, they marshal educational resources and apply them as needed to achieve the family's educational plan. They directly teach children only in special circumstances where other resources don't work. I'll call this person a "teacher" for now, and I think that's what the kids should call them, but for the most part they don't teach; they "manage education".

What are the educational resources at their disposal? There are are variety of them. There's book learning and online learning and tutoring and mentoring by adults. The most important resource, as I said, is older children teaching younger children. This works best for basic skills, like learning to walk and talk and obey family rules. As soon as a child learns a new skill, they teach it to someone else. Josie teaches the alphabet to Danny, then Danny teaches it to Tracy. Periodically, they report to the teacher for informal testing. Can Tracy accurately say her alphabet? If she can, the teacher checks off that milestone in the list of expected achievements for a child that age.

So there's a curriculum, which is basically a set of milestones established by the parents. At such-and-such an age, a child should have learned this-or-that skill or knowledge set. Deciding what every child should learn is a political process hashed out among the parents. The teacher is the implementer of the plan, and their job is to hand out individual plans to the kids, but the design of the system is a community project. Because education is so important, it's something that is always being refined and renegotiated among the parents.

The teacher is the conductor, orchestrating the education plan of 9-to-18 students, each of whom is working at their own pace. Although there are fixed milestones that need to be met, all learning is individualized. No one is left behind or held back. If a student is struggling, more resources are devoted to them. If a student is zooming ahead, far beyond the milestones for their age, they are encouraged to do so. There are no barriers, and if the system works as I hope, most students will be moving much more quickly than in a standard bureaucratic school system. 

In the schools I went to, all the students of the same age must advance at the same pace, which leaves some students behind and bores the heck out of others. In this new system, every child works at their own pace, but measured against a set of benchmarks. If a benchmark isn't achieved, like reading by a certain age, then more resources need to be devoted to them. On the other hand, if a student is zooming ahead on the standard curriculum, that just gives them more time to pursue the subjects that interest them. It is up to the teacher to keep track of, first of all, whether the standard milestones are being met. Secondly, they are noticing what the child likes to do and what they are good at, so those special skills can be nurtured.

I think there's a limit, however, to the nurturing. A child's desires and proclivities aren't the only determinant of how educational resources are spend. The teacher is also looking at community priorities. For example, let's say a student really loves the theatre, loves acting, and there's really no resources within the family to develop those skills. This doesn't mean the family has to pull out all the stops to get the kid acting lessons. Every family has limited resources, and parents have to decide how those resources should be spent. If the kid wants to a be an actor, that's great. He or she is free to pursue that muse. But it comes to what the family is prepared to invest real money in, it might be more inclined to support, say, a kid who wants to be a doctor. The family has to have priorities. It's not going to forbid a student from exploring a drama career, but it doesn't need to contribute real resources.

Schooling probably still fits within a schedule. For example, five days a week between certain hours, deliberate education is supposed to take place, just like the schools we know today. Maybe those are the hours when the teacher is on duty. But in a broader sense, the education never ends. Everything the family does is part of the formation plan—the preparing of meals, the maintaining of the house, outings, entertainment activities. All of this is an opportunity to instill the family's culture into the children. You don't just take the kids to Disneyland. Every activity has to achieve some kind of goal, especially when it requires expensive family resources.

So what we are trying to preserve and perpetuate here is a culture, a body of knowledge and attitudes that are handed from one generation to the next. The founding parents would be entering into this complex childrearing arrangement because they fear that their culture will vanish if they don't.

A simple analogy is a dying language. Let's say you have a unique regional language that is only spoken by 1000 people. If you want to preserve this language as a living entity, you need to produce some children who you will teach the language to. So language education is going to be a central part of your plan, and you have to start it early if the children are to speak your language in its purest native form. In many other ways, that's what every post-nuclear family is trying to do. They are trying to preserve some aspect of their culture that they fear will be lost if they don't take action, and to preserve this culture completely, you need to start early.

This raises ethical issues. Is it right to bring a new child into the world—to create a new life fraught with danger—to preserve something that you think is important? Isn't it selfish to expect a child to preserve your language or way of life? I'll probably tackle that in a future episode. For now, we'll assume that the decision has already been made. A group of adults get together and decide, "We're going to create and raise some children to preserve our way of life." Obviously, you're going to be very concerned about the curriculum and habits you are teaching, and you're going to have a lot of private debate with other parents, outside the hearing of the children, about what should be taught and how. For example, what books are going to be "required reading" of all children in the household?

Some of it will go to plan, and some of it won't. One key thing here is that you're not just preserving a culture; you're creating a new culture, and it could go in a direction that the founding parents didn't expect.

Let me explain this. The founding parents are going to come up with a curriculum, or milestones about what should be learned and when, and they'll hand it to the teacher, who will try to implement the plan. But the kids themselves will have their own ideas. Maybe your curriculum requires that the kids learn some dead language like Latin, and they're just not into it. If they don't feel strongly about Latin when they grow up, they are not going to perpetuate it when they control the curriculum.

As I see it, there are three ways that a family's culture is passed between the generations: There's a formal education process. There's the example that the parents themselves provide in their behavior. Finally, there's the culture that passes between children. Call it "kid culture". It's like the stupid jokes told between kids with no adult involvement. If we are going to have kids raising other kids, they are going to develop their own ways of communicating and doing things, and parents have to lay off and let it happen. They can try to intervene if things go bad, but as long as the most important tasks get done, parents have to leave the kid culture alone and let it develop in its own way. Ultimately, kid culture will prevail, because in the end these kids are going to grow up and control the educational curriculum.

So you start out trying to preserve your own culture, but in the process the culture is going to turn into something new. There's nothing wrong with this. I think culture is deeper than its expression. It's a set of habits. The main thing is that basic morality is preserved. Everything else is decided by each generation. Each generation has to ask: "What do we want to preserve, and what can we leave behind?"

🍄🎙

Subscribe to this podcast for more discussions of this theoretical family structure. I encourage your input. If you have anything to say, you can email me or post a comment to the YouTube version of this episode. My contact information is found in the YouTube description.

———

Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

47. The Post-Nuclear Family: Is It Communism? (Demographic Doom Podcast)

 This is the script for my Demographic Doom podcast episode (#47) recorded on 29 October 2020 (released on 30 October 2020). It may differ slightly from the final broadcast. This episode is available on major podcast platforms, including PodbeanApple Podcasts and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. (If you leave comments on this blog post, I might not see them.) The main website for this project is DemographicDoom.com


I’m Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I’m looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography, or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance, as aliens would see us from space.

In this episode I'd like to respond to a comment someone left on the YouTube version of my last episode, #46, where I first introduced the post-nuclear family. The comment said: 


This very unrealistic. The Hippies have already tried this and it falls apart every time.

If you want to know what he's talking about, you should probably listen to my previous episode before you listen to this one. The basic idea of my post-nuclear family is that instead of one or two adults raising one or two children, we have a consortium of parents raising a permanent household of between 9 and 18 kids, evenly distributed in age. With that many kids, you've got economies of scale, and you also have a captive labor force of older children caring for younger ones. I am confident that children raised within this system would handle it well. The main challenge is how to get the adults to work together.

Apparently, the listener is equating my system to some kind of utopian commune from the 1960s or 70s. Another listener is more explicit. "This sounds like Communism," he writes. Political Communism obviously failed, for the practical reason of destroying personal incentives, but my system is not Communism. It is a group of adults living separate lives coming together only for this one project.

I think a better comparison is a community church. Throughout the world, the landscape is dotted with houses of worship supported solely by their parishioners on a voluntary basis. Everyone within the congregation shares an ideology, but they are largely self-organizing and there is no central authority telling them what to do. Apart from performing their church duties, each of the adults live their own separate lives without trying to share everything they own.

In a standard Christian church, parishioners attend regular services once a week, typically on Sunday, but they may also return to the church throughout the week for social or civic functions. The church is supported by voluntary contributions, often called a "tithe", which is literally one-tenth of your income. The fact that members of the church contribute their time and money to the church does not imply that every member is sharing all their assets with every other member. Members still live their own independent lives. They are allowed to own assets and pursue a career of their choosing. Only the church holds them together.

The kind of Protestant churches that I have known don't make many demands of their parishioners. The members are motived enough by their ideology and their loyalty to the parish to keep it going. They organize themselves into committees and plan social events—like pot-luck dinners—generally without much friction and without a power structure telling them what to do. There's a vicar who is technically in charge, but power is widely distributed over a number of parties. The people who tend to have the most influence in the church are those who choose to be most active in it. There may be disputes but they are generally mild ones. If anyone didn't believe in the parish's shared goals or didn't get along with other members, they would probably leave the church on their own. Technically someone could be asked to leave, but that would happen only under extreme circumstances. 

There is a certain amount of "Communism" involved in maintaining any non-commercial enterprise, be it a church or some other community-supported service, like a local zoo or museum. So long as important tasks get done, there isn't a strict accounting for who does what. If the cause is something that everyone in the group believes in, they are all willing to pitch in however they can. In any church, members tend to sort themselves according to their skills and interests. One member becomes the parish treasurer, another is the secretary, a third is the organist, and someone else might look after facility maintenance. Sometimes, there is pay involved, but it's usually not much. People mainly contribute because they identify with the organization and want to it to succeed. 

Parishioners know you are expected to give some of their money to the church. There may be a formula, like 10% of your income, but there's not a lot of enforcement. People comply out of a genuine concern for the group, which is easy if you know everyone involved. In spite of these relatively lax conditions, many churches not only survive but thrive as permanent institutions. Parishioners live and die, but the church keeps going.

The post-nuclear family follows the church analogy. If you decide to join the organization, it implies that you support its core beliefs and are willing to make a commitment to it. You know from the beginning that you are going to perform certain duties without pay. This might mean serving as a parent or teacher on a certain defined schedule—say, one or two days per week. If the family calls on you to perform a more time-consuming function, like treasurer, teacher or bearer of children, they may to pay you, but since you care deeply about the project, you're not going to gouge them. All the adults in the organization believe in the same mission, so there is likely to be a lot of cooperative and communistic behavior regarding the main project of raising kids, but it certainly isn't Communism in the Soviet sense. You're not sharing everything you own with everyone else.

Communism is more evident within the core household where the children are raised and the sick and elderly are cared for. A family, by its nature, is a communal undertaking: "From each according to his abilities; to each according to his needs." You can't expect a toddler to change his own diapers or pay his own way. Young children will require a lot of services because their needs are great and their abilities small. As older children gain abilities, they are expected to contribute more to the household—"from each according to his abilities." As soon as a child gains a skill, it is immediately put to practical use in service to the others. For example, when an older child learns to change diapers, they will be expected to perform this task whenever it is needed. Ideally, they'll do it on their own without being asked. They will call on older family members if they have a problem, but they also have pride in doing things themselves.

Yet even in the core household, there are limits to sharing. Every kid wants to own stuff and accumulate wealth—in whatever form wealth takes for them. If they obtain some nice object or article of clothing through their own initiative, they should be allowed to keep it. I call this the "footlocker system".

I imagine every child having their own footlocker, a sort of steamer trunk that contains their own personal possessions. It is usually kept in the same room they sleep in, maybe at the end of their bed. If you find a nice shell at the beach and want to keep it, you put it in your footlocker, and no one can take it from you. If someone takes something from your box without your permission, it's a crime worthy of punishment (although we haven't discussed how punishment works in this household). Everything inside a footlocker is private property. Everything outside all footlockers is community property. A teddy bear kept in your footlocker is yours, assuming you acquired it legitimately. If you leave your Teddy out on the floor too often, it becomes a community Teddy, and you lose your exclusive title to it.

The only limitation on the footlocker is that it is only so big. If you accumulate so many possessions that you can't close the lid, you'll have to relinquish something. The contents of your footlocker can be anything that's valuable to you: photos, clothing, toys, trinkets, or a collection of seashells. With this cache of wealth, you can trade with other kids in a proto-capitalist system. You can also give gifts to others and have it mean something, because you clearly owned the things you gave away.

Children are also allowed to accumulate monetary wealth. As long as their family duties are fulfilled, teenagers are free to get jobs outside the home, and they get to keep 90% of  what they make. What happens to the other 10%? That's their tithe, of course—their family taxes—paid to the family for as long as they are employed. 

These little slices of Capitalism are critical to a child's identity and self-esteem. I may love my sisters and brothers, but if one of them tries to take my stuff, I'll bite their head off. This is healthy and natural. The only thing I would try to restrict is the sheer volume of goods a child accumulates, and that's where the footlocker comes in.

The footlocker aside, a family is chiefly a Communist system and always has been. "From each according to his abilities; to each according to their needs." Whenever you marry someone, you are buying into a Communist system. You are agreeing to share your assets and liabilities without a strict accounting of who owns what. Among siblings, Communism also prevails. This is especially easy when the ages of the children are staggered and there are clear gradations of abilities and needs. No one expects a baby to change its own diapers, and no one who cares about the baby feels too aggrieved about doing it. This is one of the reasons I want ages to be clearly separated. If you have multiple children of the same age, you world probably run into all the classic problems of Communism, with some children slacking and others monopolizing communal resources. With staggered ages, there is less competition and more opportunity for pure altruism.

If you want to see a situation where Communism often doesn't work, look at a family with only one or two kids. The parents provide everything, and the kids just sit back and accept their largesse. They have no other model of behavior. The kids may have chores, but there is no natural way to assign them, and they often go undone. In the post-nuclear family, the chores are more integral. When dinnertime comes, everyone snaps into action, knowing what they are expected to do to make dinner happen. Child in small families get dinner made for them. In the post-nuclear family, the kids have to do it themselves or no one eats.

I am not advocating that the children fend for themselves. The kids cook the food, but the parents still provide it. Parents are always a background presence, assuring the safety and integrity of the household and teaching new skills. What's nice about having a spectrum of children is that if you teach something to one child, they can teach it to the others. Over time, more of the family's culture will be passed from child to child than from parent to child.

Every family requires adult supervision, because without monitoring and intervention things will starting going off the rails. If everything is working well, the adult touch can be light. Adults should not be intervening in matters they can be settled internally, through the natural hierarchy of older children supervising younger ones. Parents step in only on complex issues that cannot be resolved at a lower level.

If there is a competent 17- or18-year-old in charge, there might be no parent on duty for a few hours or even a couple of days. You need parents to teach complex ideas, pursue a larger plan and fine-tune the operation. The goal of the household is to be self-sufficient in all its standard operations. This reduces the demands on the parents and gives them more time to pursue their own private goals. When the parents come into the household, they should be engaged in high-quality interactions, not routine chores.

Among adults, Communism tends to work pretty well when you have a limited number of dedicated people voluntarily engaged in a worthy mission, separate from their private lives. The cooperation breaks down when people are forced to join the enterprise, as happened with Soviet-style Communism. That is why I'm not promoting the post-nuclear family as a solution for everyone. Joining other adults to raise children has to be a highly motivated free-will choice, and only the most cooperative and conscientious people should be accepted.

Now, when you mention Communism, most people think of the Soviet Union, but there was another form of communism practiced in Israel in the 1960s and 1970s. This was called the "kibbutz", which was more like the hippy commune mentioned by my first listener. It, too, eventually failed, but it was an interesting experiment while it lasted. Soviet Communism never abandoned the nuclear family. The basic unit of Soviet society was still a Mom and a Dad and some kids. Kibbutzim did try to remake the family. They sought to raise large numbers of children in a communal setting which may seem to resemble my system, but there was one key difference: The kibbutz segregated children by age. It was a horizontal system instead of the vertical system I am proposing.

A kibbutz attempted to raise literally hundreds of children at once. Kids were taken from their parents at an early age and raised in nurseries of 4-8 children, all of similar age. At the age of 7, nurseries were merged into "societies" of 14-22 children, which stayed together until adulthood. So every kid had a family of sorts, but it consisted only of children their own age. You had no access to older siblings, who could teach you stuff or younger siblings who you could teach and care for. All new knowledge had to come from adult teachers.

It was really a brutal system that scarred a lot of people. First of all, if you are one kid forced to live with 20 others your age, you don't get a chance to be special. Gangs would form among the children, where the strongest individuals would make themselves special through force. The children still had parents, but they we allowed to see them only on a very restrictive basis, and this was extremely painful to everyone involved. In the end, the failure of the childrearing system is one of the things that doomed the kibbutz. Children who graduated from the system never cared enough about the system to keep it going. They just wanted out.

In the system I am proposing, 9 to 14 children stay together for their entire childhood, just like families today. No kid is the same age as any other kid, except perhaps in the case of twins. If you have older siblings who are actively involved in your care, you see them as parents, and you receive a great deal of knowledge from them.

Think of the problem of learning language. If you've got 4-8 infants in one nursery, some adult has to spend time with each other for the one-on-one practice that makes language happen. This is essentially a full-time job for some adult who probably has to be paid for their service. If one infant comes into a household with at least 8 existing older children, there's plenty of opportunity for interactions with parental figures who already know their language. You don't need to be an adult to talk baby talk to a baby. An 8-year-old can do it just fine.

An infant in my system has a lot more stimulation than an infant in the kibbutz. Most learning is passed from child to child instead of teacher to child. There is still a role for teachers in my system, but I see them more as "educational managers" who assure that the proper skills are learned. They don't directly teach a child something if an older sibling can teach that skill just as well. Children can teach other children how to talk, walk, use the potty and obey the house rules. This is valuable not just for the child being taught but for the child doing the teaching, who gains the skills of social responsibility and cements their own knowledge of the skills being taught. 

Eventually, I'll have a podcast episode on education within the post-nuclear family, and as you might expect, it depends a lot on older children teaching younger children, especially for the basic skills of early childhood. There is an adult education manager watching over things, but when it comes to the nitty-gritty of teaching a toddler new words, reading books to them and correcting their grammar, older children should do it. It is part of their family responsibility, which they will see as perfectly natural if that's the way they themselves were taught.

What about that problem in the kibbutz of restricting a child's access to their parents? This was a big issue because parents and children really want to be together, and prying them apart is painful to both. My system solves that problem by redefining what is a parent. I mean, a newborn infant isn't very picky about who they bond with. When they look up from their cradle and see a face, they perceive that face as their parent. They bond with whoever communicates with them and cares for them.

The real test of parenthood is when I child stubs their toe, who do they run to for comfort? I don't want to declare in advance who will hold that special bond. The toddler might run to the 8-year-old or the 18-year-old. I think children within the family should be able to choose their own bonds. As I see it, this is a diverse family with a lot of different personalities, some of whom are more attuned to the needs of infants. Since the family never changes, apart from all the children getting older, this special bond with a parental figure can last for a long time, until, perhaps, the parties outgrow it.

Every child also has a biological mother. This is the woman who bore the child and naturally has a strong bond with them. I would never propose tearing a mother and baby apart. For one thing, I think that mother's should suckle their infants, which seems to be a lot healthier than baby formula. I expect possessiveness, but if the mother herself was raised by the family and trusts her younger sibling who she herself raised, she may be more than happy to let those siblings handle the granular tasks of raising that child.

At this point, you may be getting a few hints about where the babies come from, if, in fact, the stork doesn't bring them. I'm not ready to tackle it in this episode, however. That will be a future episode. 

Before I end this episode I want to mention an important principle we learned from the kibbutz. It's called the Westermarck Effect. That's the observation that children of the opposite sex who are raised together have very little sexual interest in each other. In the kibbutz, you had 20 kids of both genders raised and educated together, straight through puberty and into adulthood—although presumably living in gender-segregated dorms. There was no prohibition against marrying within your society, since most of the kids were not genetically related, but hardly anyone did it. You may love your brother or sister in a platonic way, but you probably wouldn't want to have sex with them. I think most young people would regard that as gross. This revulsion obviously has an evolution purpose, because inbreeding leads to serious genetic abnormalities. The sexual part of the brain has no way of knowing who you are genetically related to to, so it simply turns off for anyone you grew up with.

This little principle is something we'll file away until it's time to discuss sexual aspects of the post-nuclear family. What happens when children reach puberty and start taking an interest in the opposite sex? The Westermarck Effect says that they are going to look outside the family for their mates. This gets complicated, because if you marry someone from another family, which family do you belong to?We'll get into that later.

🍄🎙

Subscribe to this podcast for more discussions of this theoretical family structure. I encourage your input. If you have anything to say, you can email me or post a comment to the YouTube version of this episode. My contact information is found in the YouTube description.

———

Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

46. The Post-Nuclear Family: An Introduction (Demographic Doom Podcast)

This is the script for my Demographic Doom podcast episode (#46) recorded on 22 October 2020 (released on 23 October 2020). It may differ slightly from the final broadcast. This episode is available on major podcast platforms, including PodbeanApple Podcasts and a video version on YouTube. See the description on the YouTube version for extensive annotations, links and corrections. You can also comment on this episode there. (If you leave comments on this blog post, I might not see them.) The main website for this project is DemographicDoom.com



I’m Glenn Campbell. I call myself a demographic philosopher. I’m looking at life and trying to predict the future through the lens of demography, or the study of human populations. I'm trying to view humanity from a distance, as aliens would see us from space.

Today is Oct 23, 2020, and I'd like to return to the core of my Demographic Doom project, which is designing a new family structure. It is evident to me that the traditional nuclear family isn't producing enough babies to sustain modern society and that it never will. Couples today might have one or two kids, but then they quit, because it's so damn expensive, and these one or two offspring don't make up for the many adults who have no children at all. 

So what do we replace the nuclear family with? I've been talking about this for over a year now on this podcast and my earlier videos, but I've come up with a new name for my proposal, so I'm going to start over from scratch. I used to call this idea the "modular family". Now I simply call it the “post-nuclear family”. It's what happens after the nuclear family, and the nuclear family is what we are comparing it to. Certain aspects of traditional families are being retained, while others are being rewritten, but the nuclear family is our starting point. Humans being humans, we can't except them to accept a radical restructuring of the families they have known for generations. Instead, I propose making a lot of incremental changes that might eventually lead to something radical, but that aren't so radical in themselves.

Although I've said a lot about this family structure in previous podcasts and videos, under the "modular family" name, but I'd like to forget about all that and start over, perhaps explaining it a little better. I'm still going to keep all those past episodes and videos for historical interest, but I'm going to restart my narrative as though you have never heard of my system before—which maybe you haven't. I'll then build upon this idea in future podcast episodes and in the big document I'm working on.

Before I describe my family structure, let me quickly describe the problem that prompted it. Modern civilization has a child production crisis in regards to both quantity and quality. The quantity issue is that developed countries are simply not producing enough babies to sustain their societies. You may have been taught in school that there's a population explosion on Earth, but that's a lie. It may have been true 60 years ago but not today. Today, only the poorest countries in Africa are still exploding in population. Nearly all the others are facing the prospect of a population implosion. Sure, the population of the planet is still growing, but the growth has slowed dramatically, and it will top out soon at something like 9 billion souls, from the 7.7 billion we have today. At that point, the world population is going to start heading down, and that decline has already started for dozens of countries.

This may sound like a good thing from an environmental standpoint. Fewer people ought to mean less pollution, right? But it is absolutely devastating from an economic standpoint. Countries that have gone deeply into debt can't possibly pay those debts off if their number of taxpayers fall. Furthermore, their populations are aging, with more ailing elderly people and not enough workers to support them. This is going to lead to a massive worldwide economic collapse which I've discussed at length in other podcasts. The trigger for the collapse appears to be the coronavirus, but it could have been anything. This crisis has been a long time coming, and it won't go away anytime soon. Furthermore, Mother Earth isn't going to be helped if governments collapse. It there is no powerful authority to enforce environmental regulations, and desperate people are going to go back to burning down forests and polluting rivers again.

There is also the second, more subtle problem of population quality. Children today are inconsistently raised, and they are often relegated to the least capable parents. Due to a phenomenon called the "demographic-economic paradox", fertility tends to be inversely related to wealth. Rich people have fewer babies. There is also a "demographic-education paradox", where the people with the most education have the fewest babies. The net effect is that the least qualified and most stressed members of society are doing most of the heavy work of producing the next generation. This has to have an effect on the quality of your citizenry over time.

No matter how you slice it, human civilization is heading for some bad times that are certain to last for decades. I can't offer any short-term solutions because I don't think there are any. Even if a country were to magically produce a lot of babies today—along the lines of the Baby Boom of the 1950s—it wouldn't do anything to address your country's economic woes for at least two decades. Furthermore, if the people you entice into parenthood are the poorest and weakest in your society, you're not going to be producing optimal citizens.

My solution is a very long-term one that might take 50 years or more to have an economic effect. Furthermore, I'm not pushing it as a solution to the problems of broad society. Instead it is a solution to the problems of your community. You probably can't do anything to save your country, but you might be able to save your community. What is a community? Well, it could be a religious group or your kinship clan or some other group who you associate with. A community can form around shared values, whatever they may be. Maybe you look at your community and realize, "We are going to become extinct if we don't produce some children to carry on our ways." If you come to that realization, and it fills you with panic, then we can talk. Maybe I have a solution for you.

I call my proposed structure the "post-nuclear family". You might call it the nuclear family on steroids. It's bigger, stronger and hopefully longer-lasting than the traditional nuclear family. The starting premise of the post-nuclear family is pretty simple: Instead of one or two adults raising one or two kids in a single household, let's have a large number of children raised in a single household supported by multiple adults. How many children? I'm thinking between 9 and 18 kids raised under one roof. They are evenly spaced every one or two years from birth to age 18 and beyond. This is certainly a departure from today's families of 1 to 3 kids, but 9 kids was not unusual in humanity's agricultural era. This was your typical farm family, where your children were your labor force.

The advantage of a big family is economy of scale—you can buy the industrial size of everything and don't have to duplicated fixed assets like washing machines. You need only one adult on duty at any one time to care for 9 to 18 kids instead of the current ratio of roughly one to one. You've also got a captive labor force. We don't work children in the fields like we use to, but it is entirely reasonable to have older children care for younger ones. You don't need to be an adult with a PhD to change diapers or talk baby-talk to a baby. Any 10- or 12-year old can do that. Any family needs adult supervision, but the idea is to turn the family into a cooperative enterprise where everyone cares for everyone else in a structured environment that everyone understands, thereby minimizing the need for adult care and intervention.

How does the post-nuclear family begin? It can start quite simply without violating too many norms. Several pair-bonded couples, who either have children or plan to have them, decide to join forces and raise all of their children in a single household. The mothers coordinate their births so that the children are evenly spaced—that is, a new baby born every year or every other year. In a few years, you've got a full household of 9 to 18 kids. Now you've got the all the economies of scale I just mentioned. Only one adult needs to be on duty at any one time, so you've solved your daycare problem. This frees up all the other adults for conventional work or to pursue their own private interests.

This sounds like a good idea—doesn't it?—but of course it raises questions, like why hasn't this been tried before, and my job is to resolve all these questions based on my theories and calculations. I feel like an engineer designing a bridge. The basic idea is simple: we want to span this river, and we've chosen a way to to it: maybe a suspension bridge. Now the challenge is dealing with all the complications and details that might get in the way, including working with real materials and real humans.

For example, how do the parents divide up their duties and resolve their disputes. It is hard enough to get two adults to cooperate on parenting; how do we get 6 or 8 people to work together? And how do you support this whole operation financially? Every question you answer just opens up more questions, so I can see that as the Master Designer of this plan, I've got my work cut out for me. History is filled with failed utopias, and I don't want my idea to end up in that trash heap, so I've got to work out the problems in advance. I admit that I might never live to see this plan in operation, but I can still publish a blueprint that others can work with. It's just like designing a bridge. I can make calculations based on my knowledge of the materials—that is, my understanding of human nature—but it is up to others to implement the plan and to modify it for the real world.

I will no doubt record many future episodes trying to run down some of the complex issues of this family system, but in this episode I just want to describe it. What will this family look like after it has been established for a few years, and how will it operate? 

So the starting element is several couples deciding to raise their children together, but I want to add something else: The family never dies. Decade after decade, it will always have the same number of children: 9 to 18. As one child ages out of the core household, another baby is born into it.

In the traditional nuclear family, childrearing ends when the one mother loses her fertility, usually in her 40s. Although there may be 9 children at some point in the family's history, that's only a peak, not a sustained number. Children eventually age out of the family and are not replaced. The household dwindles to zero again as the parents retire and eventually die. The problem with this system that their parenting experience is lost. After you've raised 9 kids, you've probably learned a thing or two about how to do it well, but then you quit, and that experience goes to the grave with you. The families of today are fleeting, which means they have little in the way of institutional memory. 

The aim in keeping the family going is to preserve its internal culture. By "culture" I mean the software that the family runs on—that is, all of its procedures, policies and mythologies. If you have a system the gets a large number of children to work together smoothly, that's a great accomplishment, and you don't want to lose it. You want to keep the childrearing unit going indefinitely to allow the culture to be passed from child to child.

For example, a central part of family life is the preparation of meals. I think kids should be doing this, not adults. Adults provide the raw food and maybe some training, but the kids should do all the work, and be organized in such a way that they're not killing each other. Once you have a system for meal preparation in place, it becomes part of the family's culture. It's like, "This is the way we do things." and it's something that older kids can pass to younger kids without much adult intervention. If the family expires, you lose all those habits and procedures. You could try to put all this wisdom in a book, but it's not the same as building non-verbal habits over time.

Culture applies to everything the family does. You could see it as the family's most valuable asset. That's what you're trying to do when you raise children: You're trying to instill a culture into them, which consist of values, language and a way of doing things. It's a culture of morality, a culture of cooperation. And the best way to teach this culture is through practical lessons from the child's earliest age. Preparing meals and caring for your younger siblings aren't just chores; they are essential exercises in socialization, and once you get this whole system working, you don't want to just throw it all away, which is what happens in the nuclear family. That's why I see the post-nuclear family as a permanent institution that goes on forever: always 9 to 18 kids for as long as the Earth remains habitable.

A permanent family with a stable number of children begs the question: "Where do the babies come from?" Initially, the founding mothers provide them, but what happens when their fertility runs out in twenty years. That's a complex issue I'll tackle in a separate podcast. For now, I'll only say that the stork brings them. You know: a big bird that lives on roofs, carries babies in a little sack and drops it down the chimney. Hey, that's where I came from, so it's good enough for now.

Why do I choose that family size: 9 to 18 kids? I choose it because it allows for optimal age spacing between the children. It maximizes efficiency while giving each child his or her own special place in the family. If you are 8 years old, and your next oldest sibling is 10 years old and your next younger sibling is 6 years old, you have a unique position in the family where no one is directly competing with you. There is also a clear hierarchy. Your 10-year-old sibling has more authority and responsibility than you do, because their skills and maturity are generally more advanced. It is okay if older kids get more privileges owing to their age, because you know you'll get the same privileges yourself someday.

It would be different if there were three 8-year-olds in one family. Then they would all be competing with each other, and the most charismatic of the three could end up monopolizing all the family's attention. With even spacing between kids, everyone knows their place; everyone is special and hopefully no one gets left behind.

A family of 18 kids implies one child born every year, with only a year's spacing between children. To me, this is a practical maximum. Beyond it, the family turns into an industrial farm. If you crowd the children together, there is too much competition among same-age children, and each child loses his or her special place. 

I actually think that the optimal spacing for any family—nuclear or post-nuclear—is a child every two years, or 9 kids under the age of 18. The only reason you would want to make the spacing narrower is if your were planning to split the family at a later date. The post-nuclear family divides in a process I call mitosis—like the splitting of a single-celled organism. This is a way to expand the number of families while still retaining the family's hard-won internal culture. During mitosis, you split the family down the middle like a zipper. Half of the kids stay in the original household and half move into another house, not far away. Your next older and next younger siblings turn into your cousins, who you may still be close to but you're not directly living with them anymore. Mitosis may sound traumatic at first, but the reward for it is all the extra space you get. Instead of one family of 18 kids, there are now two families of 9 kids, each of whom now gets more space, freedom and specialness within the family.

Here is another wrinkle I'd like to introduce: Although the post-nuclear family is managed by multiple adults, I propose that none of them actually live in the main house with the kids. The parents live however they choose in their own homes or apartments, much as they do today, coming to the main house only for specific duties. This isn't a commune, where all adults share everything, or some kind of kinky group marriage. Adult members of the family are permitted to live their own independent lives, pursuing their own interests and careers, not much different than how they would live without the family. The only restriction is that they have to live close enough to the main household to perform their parental duties, which are usually scheduled well in advance.

I want to keep the adults at a distance, because don't want too many chefs in the kitchen. Each parent is officially on duty in the household for a certain scheduled period. This helps avoid conflicts between parents and keeps them from stepping on each other's toes. You may think that having a constant turnover of parents would be traumatic to the children. Don't they need secure bonds with parents they see every day? Yes, they do, but their strongest "parental" bonds are with the older children who raised them. All other adults play more of a grandparent or aunt or uncle role, giving the children special attention but not seeing them every day. 

The only adult family members would might live in the same household as the kids are the sick or elderly who need ongoing care. I picture them living in a wing off the main house, where they can be cared for both by children and other adults.

And this gets into the other functions of a family. A family is not merely a childrearing system. It is a lifelong support structure. It is a mutual aid society. If you get in trouble, you know your family will help, usually without payment. This is especially true when you enter the final phase of your life when your physical systems start failing. No one ever truly "retires" in the post-nuclear family. If you stop working in a conventional job, you are still expected to continue your "grandparent" role of caring for other family members. When your own faculties fade, you know that you yourself will be cared for if necessary—so long as you have been loyal to the family all your life and paid your family taxes.

That's another thing: family taxes. Every adult is expected to pay them in one way or another, in accordance with some kind of formula. Perhaps it is a percent of your income, as shown on your government tax return. Perhaps you pay your dues through your labor on behalf of the family, such as bearing children for them, but when you are out in the world making a living, you are expected to pay a portion of your income to the family. This is the main way that the family supports itself financially. Family taxes apply both to the founding parents and to the children who graduate from the family. Family taxes are voluntary, in the sense that no one can force you to pay, but if you don't pay you risk losing family services and the respect of the people you grew up with.

So that's probably enough for now. In this episode, I have introduced eight elements of the post-nuclear family system, which are these:
  1. The family has between 9 and 18 kids raised under the same roof by a consortium of adults.
  2. Children are evenly spaced in age, from infancy to adulthood.
  3. Most of the routine internal labor of the household is provided by the children themselves.
  4. The number of children is held constant over time. As one child ages out of the family, a new child is born into it.
  5. The adults who manage the household do not live there themselves. They live as they choose in their own separate lodging.
  6. Most adult parental duties are scheduled in advance. The rest of the time, each adult can live as they wish.
  7. Elderly, sick or disabled members of the family are cared for in a location close to the children.
  8. Every adult family member must pay their family taxes throughout their working life.
  9. The number of families can be increased through a system of mitosis, which divides one family of 18 kids into two families of 9 while preserving the family's culture.
Clearly I have a lot more to talk about, because each of these points raises new issues. For example, I failed to answer the question of where the babies come from. I'd much rather talk about this hypothetical family structure than about the current economic, demographic and health crisis, because I can't do much about that right now. The only thing I can really say about the current crisis is that the sky is falling, so you better get out of the way. I want to focus more on this post-nuclear family, because it might eventually have some impact on the world. 

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Subscribe to this podcast for more ruminations from a demographic philosopher and more discussions of this theoretical family structure. I encourage your input. If you have anything to say, you can email me or post a comment to the YouTube version of this episode.

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Written, recorded and edited by Glenn Campbell. For annotations, links and corrections, see the description on the video version of this podcast. You can also leave comments there. See here for all my podcast scripts on this blog.