Teen Pregnancy Rates

I quickly Googled teen pregnancy rates because it had marginal relevance to the welfare post I’m writing. But what I found is significant enough to merit a post on its own.

The United States has a total fertility rate of 2.09. But it has a teen birth rate of 43 in 1,000, i.e. an American girl can expect to have 0.22 children by the time she turns 20. If we assume that a woman’s post-20 fertility rate is independent of whether she gave birth in her teen years, it means that the USA’s post-20 fertility rate is 1.87, which breaks down as 1.78 for non-Hispanics (1.86 for blacks, 1.76 for whites) and 2.49 for Hispanics.

The significance of that is that modern states can only attain replacement rates by making women barefoot and pregnant. France, the most economically natalist state in Europe, has a fertility rate of 1.84, falling to 1.79 when excluding teen mothers.

I’m only pointing that out because I’ve seen people argue a few times that child credit policies should be aimed at discouraging childbirth – for example, by having no child credit. I appreciate that some liberals are trying to socially engineer a more eco-friendly society, but it doesn’t work. Poor people who aren’t religious fanatics don’t stop having children because welfare won’t cover it. Conversely, countries with decent sex education can’t increase their fertility rate to 2 even when they pay women hefty sums of money to be stay-at-home-moms.

Economic populism is usually not a very good idea, but when it comes to child credit policy, reality is on the populists’ side rather than on the latte liberals’.

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25 Responses to Teen Pregnancy Rates

  1. gordo says:

    It’s amazing to me that so many liberals buy into the wingnuts’ simplistic carrot-and-stick approach to economics and public policy.

    But as you point out, humans are more sophisticated decision-makers than laboratory mice are. They’re not going to have a big litter of kids just because they get a tax credit, just as they won’t quit their jobs just to get unemployment benefits.

    I’ve found that “liberals” who think in this manner (giving precedence to theory rather than data, and looking for ways to force people to behave “properly”) often go over to the Dark Side. That’s why I think that the real political field isn’t the classic economic-social/libertarian-statist field that has inspired so many quizzes. The real divide is between more along the lines of theoretical-empirical/simplistic-complex.

  2. Yoram Gat says:

    Economic populism is usually not a very good idea[.]

    What exactly do you mean by “economic populism”?

    If it means “taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor”, why is it not a very good idea?

  3. Alon Levy says:

    I’m all for taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. A good example of a policy slate that would do that, in small part at least, is:

    – A global tax of 5% on all income above PPP$10,000 per year as well as all corporate profits above PPP$500,000 per year.
    – Abolition of all tariffs, export subsidies, farm aid, and other anti-competitive practices of first world governments.
    – Abolition of all restrictions on immigration.
    – A global guaranteed minimum income of PPP$700 per year to anyone making less than that.
    – A ban on discrimination on the basis of nationality or citizenship in any line of work that isn’t related to military intelligence. This includes university scholarships only citizens can apply to.
    – A global campaign of education in and distribution of condoms, both for birth control and against AIDS.

    The Dick Gephardts of the first world aren’t taking money from the rich and giving it to the poor. They’re taking money from the bottom 85% and top 5% and giving it to the percentiles in between. When the economic populists stop blaming Chinese workers, Jews, technological progress, or atheism for all their troubles, I’ll take them seriously. If you make PPP$1,400, you’re at the 40th percentile of world income, which makes you part of the global middle class. If you make $10,000, you’re at the 85th percentile, which makes you part of the global upper class; as such, any social movement that has your interests in mind is not economically populist.

  4. Yoram Gat says:

    So, if I understand you correctly, you are in favor of “true” economic populism which calls for equalizing income globally, but against “false” economic populism which calls merely for equalizing income nationally. Do I have this right? Why would you be against the second if you are in favor of the first?

  5. Alon Levy says:

    “False” economic populism doesn’t merely call for equalizing income nationally. It calls for equalizing income nationally in a way that increases global income inequality.

  6. Alon Levy says:

    Steel tariffs, farm aid, screaming about “sending jobs to China and India”… Part of what helped rebuild Western Europe after World War Two was the USA’s willingness to slash tariffs and quotas on European goods without asking European countries to reciprocate.

  7. Yoram Gat says:

    Despite any rhetoric to the contrary, all the measures you named have very little to do with equalizing income nationally and everything to do with increasing corporate profits, and therefore with increasing disparity nationally and globally.

  8. Alon Levy says:

    Well, I’m willing to support any economic populist who doesn’t engage in China- or India-bashing and doesn’t insist on not trading with countries that have lower wages than the US. In the US, the people who want to slash farm aid aren’t the economic populists, but the anti-populist liberals, regardless of whether they’re social liberals like Krugman or neo-liberals like Thomas Friedman.

  9. Yoram Gat says:

    Bashing other countries is, by definition, a bad idea. Your other critiria for who is a true populist are dubious. For example, I am not aware of any evidence that trading with the US generally does good to the population of a third world country or that following your line of “pro-competitive” reforms would have a positive effect on global poverty.

  10. Alon Levy says:

    Bashing other countries is, by definition, a bad idea. Your other critiria for who is a true populist are dubious.

    They’re based on the politicians who’re considered populist, and the political stances that are considered populist: Gephardt, Edwards, Dean, Ann Richards.

    For example, I am not aware of any evidence that trading with the US generally does good to the population of a third world country or that following your line of “pro-competitive” reforms would have a positive effect on global poverty.

    I’ll just quote to you what I remember from the 2005 Human Development Report: when the EU imposed quotas on African-grown sugar, Mozambique’s economy was crippled. Ghana and Haiti bleed jobs because farmers can’t compete with the USA’s government-subsidized farmers. Burkina Faso and Mali lost an estimated 1-3% of their GDP in 2001-2 because of American cotton subsidies.

  11. Yoram Gat says:

    That’s pretty thin evidence to justify focusing on these issues. For example, it would only cost a couple of hundred million dollars (0.05% of the US military budget) to compensate Burkina Faso and Mali directly for the estimated cost of the subsidies that you quoted.

    This whole “US populists are hurting the third world” argument is a red herring.

  12. [...] Data released yesterday by the CDC shows that last year the birth rate in the US for women aged 15 to 19 declined to a record low of 40.4 births per 1000, down from 41.1 in 2004 (a 2% decrease). For some perspective, the rate back in …Read more: here [...]

  13. Alon Levy says:

    Burkina Faso and Mali aren’t the only two countries in the world hurt by American, European, and Japanese protectionism. I’ve only seen one economic populist advocate not just protectionism but more aid, Kucinich; and even the amount he advocates, $50 billion more, won’t be enough to recover the global damage tariffs and quotas cause.

  14. Yoram Gat says:

    $50 billion [...] won’t be enough to recover the global damage tariffs and quotas cause.

    Evidence?

  15. Alon Levy says:

    Burkina Faso and Mali aren’t the only two countries in the world with industries hurt by first-world subsidies. Mexico’s poverty rate has increased by about 15% because of American corn dumping, which will continue even if the economic populists withdraw from NAFTA (if they didn’t put American farmers’ right to government-subsidized exports first, they wouldn’t be ranting about the importance of the family farm). If the cost of fixing American poverty is any indication of how much fixing Mexican poverty will cost, the added amount in Mexico alone would top $50 billion. Contrariwise, telling farmers that they’re free to export corn to Mexico but not on the government’s dole will fix a large part of the problem while saving the US government money.

  16. Yoram Gat says:

    You still have not provided any evidence regarding the $50 billion number, and now you make an additional claim

    Mexico’s poverty rate has increased by about 15% because of American corn dumping

    without any evidence either.

    Both those numbers are not only unsubstantiated but would be very difficult to substantiate even in theory since any such estimate would involve many modeling assumptions. That goes for the Burkina Faso and Mali claim as well. For someone who doesn’t trust UN Gini index values, you seem unreasonably willing to accept at face value much more shaky numbers.

    In any case, even if, to push this discussion forward, I would accept your claims, all that would be needed to remedy those problems would be to change the terms of the subsidies rather than abolish them. One could easily pay the farmers for not growing corn or cotton instead of for growing those crops. This would keep the farmers (and those evil populists) happy, while not depressing crop prices.

    Of course, as I already mentioned above, the subsidies are not a populist measure to begin with, but rather mostly another giveaway to the rich. As such, it is a relatively minor and harmless one (compared to, say, the military budget, or the erosion of workers rights).

    Your focus on this issue is unjustified and seems motivated by some blind faith in “free markets”.

  17. Alon Levy says:

    For someone who doesn’t trust UN Gini index values, you seem unreasonably willing to accept at face value much more shaky numbers.

    I don’t trust UN Gini index values because whenever I go to a country’s bureau of statistics, I get different values. I tend not to trust figures that come from an international survey, which is what the UN’s statistics are based on. In contrast, the bit about Mali and Burkina Faso comes from country-specific studies.

    One could easily pay the farmers for not growing corn or cotton instead of for growing those crops. This would keep the farmers (and those evil populists) happy, while not depressing crop prices.

    It really wouldn’t. When the US started subsidizing farmers, it paid them both to grow certain amounts of crops and not to grow more. I’m not sure whether it still pays them not to grow crops; I know this for a fact about Israel, but not about the US. Moving to a system based primarily on paying not to grow will either still be protectionist, or require the US to import massive amounts of food. I don’t have a problem with importing food whatsoever, but apparently everyone else does, seeing as how I’ve yet to see anyone advocate ending food self-sufficiency or read about anyone who does.

    Of course, as I already mentioned above, the subsidies are not a populist measure to begin with, but rather mostly another giveaway to the rich.

    It doesn’t matter what you define as populist. If you’re willing to define populism in a way that conflicts with the conventional definition, and fails to consider even a single high-profile first-world politician a populist, then it’s one thing.

    As such, it is a relatively minor and harmless one (compared to, say, the military budget, or the erosion of workers rights).

    Yeah, it’s fairly minor and harmless. World hunger is an inconsequential problem.

  18. Yoram Gat says:

    In contrast, the bit about Mali and Burkina Faso comes from country-specific studies.

    The logical fallacy is obvious – international statistics being unreliable makes “country-specific” statistics, however speculative, automatically credible? (By the way, comparing national numbers across countries has its own problems, since methodologies may differ, so I would not be so quick to dismiss the UN numbers.)

    Moving to a system based primarily on paying not to grow will either still be protectionist, or require the US to import massive amounts of food.

    I have no problem in principle with having a protectionist system. I know that makes me a sinner according to the moral edicts of the religion of “free markets”. It should be quite easy to set the system so that neither significant food imports nor significant food exports occur.

    If you’re willing to define populism in a way that conflicts with the conventional definition [...]

    My definition of populism, given in my first comment to this post, is the conventional one. Where I may diverge from conventional wisdom is in identifying which policy is actually populist and which is not, but this is not a matter of definition but a matter of examining the facts.

    Politicians claiming falsely to be populists is not a new phenomenon. As far as I am aware, the only high-profile US politician which can claim to be a populist is Senator-elect Bernie Sanders. I find his position on agricultural subsidies reasonable.

    World hunger is an inconsequential problem.

    Your irony is hilarious.

    Despite all your assertions, you have not provided any credible evidence that US tariffs or agricultural subsidies make a significant impact on world hunger.

    As I already pointed out, other, much larger programs, cause direct and quantifiable damage. For example, you mentioned Haiti. Haiti is being, and has been for years, destroyed by direct US intervention. Losing jobs because of subsidies is the least of their worries.

  19. Alon Levy says:

    Even protection of the country’s native production from imports makes no sense, from a global equality perspective. It’s like saying, okay, we’ll let black people produce goods for other black people, but make sure whites only consume products made by whites.

    As for “credible evidence,” the problem is that your standards for what is credible are prohibitive. You have the same problem as libertarians, namely restricting your terms to what suits you. Libertarians will swear to me that Pinochet was a dictator, so the experience of Chile with massive deregulation does not mean massive deregulation promotes poverty in general. You do the same with communist countries and under-.25 Gini indices. I can’t produce that evidence for you, because it’s based on the real world, where economic populists don’t meet your No True Scotsman standards, and where changes in levels of protectionism tend to be too small to cause individually more than GDP reductions of a few percent.

    Finally, Sanders’ position on farm aid makes no more sense than any other populist’s. Conventional American wisdom is that Americans must be dependent on no one in terms of food imports, international courts, international laws, etc. In the real world, there’s a reason fascists seek autarky before they go to war. The best guarantee people in Iran have that the US won’t kill them is that the US is vulnerable to a supply shock.

  20. Yoram Gat says:

    It’s like saying, okay, we’ll let black people produce goods for other black people, but make sure whites only consume products made by whites.

    Yes, and if I prefer to clean my own house rather than pay minimum wage to a member of another race to do it then I am a racist.

    [Y]our standards for what is credible are prohibitive.

    Refusing to accept at face value some arbitrary calculation made by some economist with an unknown agenda or political bias is setting the bar unreasonably high? What you are actually saying is that because it would be very difficult to come up with any clear evidence for your theory then I must accept it based on assertions and some speculative anecdotes.

    By the way, I completely agree with the point that using the effects of Pinochet’s policies to argue that deregulation would promote poverty in the US is very unconvincing. There are too many differences between the US and Pinochet’s Chile for it to provide a credible analogy.

    The best guarantee people in Iran have that the US won’t kill them is that the US is vulnerable to a supply shock.

    You have stepped through the “free markets” looking glass. The only reason that the US is contemplating attacking Iran is because Iran controls a resource the US desires. If the US was energy self sufficient, Iran would not be more than a point on the map.

  21. simone says:

    I like that NBC is spreading a good message to teens about not getting pregnant. I will have my brothers and sisters watch this show. I think it starts on June 25th at 9pm!

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