Thursday, July 22, 2010

Abortion and Economics

Conventional wisdom, until now, has implied that the number of abortions would increase as unemployment increases: in a bad economy, people would want fewer children. But statisticians have been surprised by a different trend.

The number of abortions performed in Michigan decreased in 2009, according to recently released statistics from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The report from the Michigan Department of Community Health states that 22,357 abortions were performed in Michigan during 2009 compared to 25,970 Michigan abortions reported in 2008, a drop of 13.9 percent or 3,613 abortions. Since 1987, there has been a 54.4 percent decrease in the number of abortions performed in Michigan annually. Abortions in Michigan have decreased in four of the last six years and the number of abortions performed in 2009 represents the lowest annual total of reported abortions in Michigan since abortion providers were required to start reporting information in 1979.

Why this result? Various explanations have been proposed: during a difficult economy, people's minds may turn more toward home and family, and children may be more desirable, even if they represent a cost. On the other hand, some see racial explanations: abortion is an industry in which white, middle-age male surgeons make money primarily from young African-American females, and Obama presidency has given Black hopes a new impetus. A third possible explanation is that the next generation of ultrasound technology enables mothers to see their children much more clearly than the older, fuzzy, black-and-white images of early ultrasound equipment, and these newer images may influence the decisions of mothers. Finally, in difficult economic times, children, though initially expensive, may represent security for the parents, as pension funds and Social Security start to crumble.

Right to Life of Michigan President Barbara Listing said, "We are extremely grateful for the continuing decrease in Michigan abortions despite the hard economic times we've faced in Michigan. The fact that fewer mothers are having abortions in Michigan shows more and more women are coming to the realization that abortion is not the answer for an unplanned pregnancy."

In any case, increased birth rates historically predict economic recoveries. A lower abortion rate may be the harbinger of higher birth rates, but not necessarily.

Recently released polls from CBS and Gallup show our nation is turning its back on the idea that abortion is the solution to unplanned pregnancy. A CBS poll, conducted in April of 2010 found that 61 percent of Americans favor either stricter limits on abortion (38 percent) or that abortion should not be permitted (23 percent). A Gallup poll, released in May 2010, found that a plurality of Americans consider themselves "pro-life." For two years in a row, more Americans have called themselves "pro-life" than "pro-choice."

It will be important to watch this trend over the long-term. In the old Soviet Union, for example, prolonged economic hardship led to sustained higher abortion rates. How long will the current American economic malaise last? And what will it mean for abortion trends?

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Good and Evil

In this information age in which we live, reports of events around the world arrive constantly via computer, radio, and TV - not to mention actual newspapers. How are we, as individual human beings, to make sense of it all? We use rational categories in our thinking: sports, business and economics, politics, etc., to organize what we know about the world. These binary opposites reveal the structure of reality to us. Two of the most useful, but also the most controversial, categories are good and evil. A well-known journalist reminds us that

Evil exists. It is real, and it means to harm us. When you work in the news business, you deal with the ugly side of life. Every day across your desk comes story after story about man's inhumanity to man, from mass murderers to child molesters to mothers who drown their children to husbands who murder their pregnant wives. These stories push the limits of our ability to imagine man's potential for depravity, and yet they are horrifically true.

Because these events are so repulsive, troubling, and shocking, we want to imagine that there is some explanation for them - we don't want to accept the reality that evil is alive and well and roaming through our world. Denial is for more comfortable.

But if we acknowledge the painful fact there are evil actions, we can then enjoy the clear knowledge that there are also good actions, and we begin to see the rational structure of the universe: artists reveal the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil in their poetry, music, and painting; philosophers patiently untangle the details of good and evil; religious leaders seek the source of the distinction between good and evil; governments work to discourage evil and clear the path for good; parents teach their children about good and evil.

James Madison, explaining the structure of the Constitution, wrote that

If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself.

Historically, when evil has run amok on a large scale, we see principles at work: first, totalitarian governments are the breeding ground for evil, because even if you give power to a political structure with the best intentions, it creates the opportunity for abuse, and sooner or later, someone will use that opportunity. Second, the most horrifying examples of evil are not insane, although we are tempted to call them that: the genocides of Nazi Germany, Pol Pot's Cambodia, Stalin's Soviet Union, and Ortega's Nicaragua were not insane, but rather quite rationally organized. Third, if we fail to confront evil, and try instead to appease it, it will merely grow: one need merely mention the name Neville Chamberlain.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Learning from India

If you think that India is an economically stagnant backwater, think again. Many of us have outdated images of the Indian economy as a nightmare of third-world inefficiency.

Such images were, at one time prior to 1991, true. But the political leaders of India, like Manmohan Singh and Narasimha Rao, created a financial revolution by deregulating markets and industries, and by lowering taxes and simplifying tax codes. The result has been a power surge in Indian businesses, creating millions of upwardly-mobile jobs for people who previously had dead-end employment at the bottom of the service sector.

By any measure, the country of India has improved its monetary well-being.

Can America learn from this? Over the last twelve months, starting in mid-2009, the federal government has issued a long series of bad decisions, and has, by means of inane economic policies, created a toxic environment for economic growth. Can the USA save its economy from the ineptitude of its current leaders, both in Congress and in the White House?

Yes, we can, if we learn from India. America needs economic wisdom, not from Washington, but perhaps from Mumbai and New Delhi.