Mirror of Justice

A blog dedicated to the development of Catholic legal theory.
Affiliated with the Program on Church, State & Society at Notre Dame Law School.

Monday, February 8, 2010

John Allen and the New Demography

See the links for MOJ’s discussion of John Allen’s first, second, and third trends that are revolutionizing the Church.  This post focuses on his fourth trend – the new demography.

In my dystopia, the kind and merciful policy makers of the future will give each person five years of retirement before sending them peacefully to the end or the next stage of the journey, depending on one’s theology.  In this world, workers can retire at any age they want, health permitting, and then enjoy five years of social security and medicare before relinquishing their claim to a share of the earth’s (and the state’s) limited resources.

If the population trends and projections cited by John Allen are correct, we are in for a rocky future on many fronts.  Allen (p. 144) says that “[a]fter leveling out at 9 billion sometime around 2050, the population of the planet will begin to fall, and will do so with increasing momentum throughout the rest of the century.”  This will be a world-wide phenomenon as the global south’s fertility drop below the replacement level of 2.1, joining the 43% of the world’s population that already lives in countries with below replacement level fertility.  Allen discusses the world-wide phenomenon, but I’ll restrict my opening remarks to the United States.

A few fast facts (or projections):

·         Hispanic fertility rates in the U.S. are 2.3 compared to 1.8 for non-Hispanic whites.

·         The median age in the U.S. will rise from 30 in 1950 to 41 in 2050.

·         By 2050, there will be 16 million more Americans 65 and above than 14 and below.

·         “In 1955, America had nine workers for every retiree.  Today the ratio is 3.3 to 1, and it will fall to 2 to 1 by 2035” (p. 155)(About the time I’m ready to hang it up, if I remain healthy that long).

·         “By 2020, 1.2 million Americans aged 65 and older will have no living children, siblings, or spouses.”  (p.158).

Questions and comments about the law, lawyering, and legal education in light of the “new demography”:

·         What role can and should lawyers, including Catholic lawyers, play in creatively responding to the fiscal and more broadly economic crisis that will result from the graying of America?

·         How can law schools help current students to see and prepare for their roles in responding to the coming fiscal and more broadly economic crisis?

·         Immigration will continue to be an issue although as Allen points out, as population growth in the global south slows and eventually reverses itself, there may be less potential immigrants to replace the current American workforce and thereby support our current retirees.  Will and should we view Muslim immigration into Europe the same as Hispanic immigration into the U.S. or are there good reasons to distinguish the two cases?

·         How will the changing racial or ethnic make-up of the United States effect our culture, including our legal culture?

·         It is likely that we will need more lawyers doing pro bono work on behalf of the elderly poor who might have legal needs distinct from other impoverished populations.

·         In light of globalization, lawyers will also be called to think about all these issues on a global as well as local scale.

·         How should we deal with what I suspect will be an incredible loneliness of those who have no family?  (Not really a legal question, but one on my mind).

Concluding thoughts.  This chapter has been, for me, the most depressing so far, especially as I think about the future for my four children who are all in their 20’s.  Social upheaval and dislocation are bound to occur as a result of the “new demography.”  Our economic system requires growth and the opening of new markets.  Declining and aging populations don’t bode well for a robust economic future.  (I’m not an economist, so I’d appreciate any correction to my intuitions).  Our welfare state (as small as it is compared to some other states) will be crushed, I would think, under the weight of an aging population.  We will need bright, young creative minds, to help navigate these uncharted waters.  Catholics, including Catholic lawyers, can play an instrumental role.  At the quotidian level, I suspect that the loss of community contributed greatly to the current crisis, and I know that Catholics and others are working creatively in law and other disciplines to foster community, be it in the new urbanism or a revitalized agrarianism.   Can and how might the law be used to encourage healthy communities where child bearing and child rearing are once again attractive choices?

Comments are open, and I would appreciate your thoughts.


Scaperlanda, Mike | Permalink

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Thank you, Michael. I cannot read your post without also thanking, with great appreciation, Pasquale Annicchino, for his comments on the importance of the ECHR's case regarding the placement of crucifixes in Italian public school classrooms. The case is, I think, a moment in Europe's struggle to rethink its institutions and traditions in the face of rapidly changing demographics--changes that are on the horizon for the US too, as Michael points out. Recently, Italy has been at the forefront of this struggle. The Church, while a massive presence in Italian history and culture, is but one player in the drama. There are reactionary populist forces at work too that resist change and promote hatred and violence. Even the "beautiful game" has been tarnished by ugly acts of racism on the eve of the first World Cup on South African soil.

We must all contend with these changes in demographics. A difficult challenge for lawyers and jurists will be finding the resources for navigating between the forces of change and the normative traditions that have given legitimate authority to the rule of law. How will the idea of human rights, for example, be grounded in a new era that rejects appeals to the Christian conception of the dignity of the person? It is far from certain that legality provide its own legitimization.

Illustrative of the complexity of the challenge facing the court is the debate between then Cardinal Ratzinger and Jurgen Habermas (published as "The Dialectics of Secularization"). Habermas argued that to maintain legitimacy the constitutional state must “deal carefully with all the cultural sources [including religious sources] that nourish its citizens’ consciousness of norms and their solidarity” (46). Believers and unbelievers must work together, expecting dissent and disagreement, while affirming the right of both to make contributions (whether in secularized or religious language) to public debates (50-51).

Pope Benedict XVI, for his part, argued that whereas there are undoubtedly pathologies of religion, but reason has its pathologies too. He notes the inability of the rationalist view to generate much lasting support for its foundational principles outside of the West. (78-79).

Harmonizing reason and faith will most likely be a great concern in these times of great change. One of the great blessing of the Catholic intellectual tradition has been the acknowledgment of the need for natural reason to be in harmony with faith (what John Paul II had memorably described as "the two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth").

Much depends on the ability of the courts to find a way to respect difference (in age, race, religion, etc.) while recognizing the wealth of commonalities that can bind human beings into communities. Too much of the early twentieth century was written by those who were mistaken about the nature of the human person. We can only pray that the court will act with wisdom and sensitivity.

Weighty stuff, with much at stake for all parties.

Posted by: Kevin Lee | Feb 8, 2010 1:59:09 PM

Michael -- I'd like to add another issue to your list of legal issues raised by the statistics in Allen's "New Demography" chapter: What effect will these demographic trends have on calls for more generous legal protections for workers with significant caregiving responsibilities?

These responsibilities are increasingly shifting from the work of raising children, the burden of which is borne most significantly by women (partly for physical reasons) to the work of caring for elderly family members -- the burden of which does NOT physically have to fall more significantly on women than on men. As more men are faced with the realities of having to take time off work to care for elderly parents, and of the difficulty of finding good, qualified caregivers at affordable prices, and of the difficulty of finding adult day care facilities, will "work/life balance issues" be seen less as "women's issues" and more as significant social issues for all of us?

Posted by: Lisa Schiltz | Feb 8, 2010 4:21:50 PM

Today in the United States, as well as the entire western world, there is a constant debate over the financial debt being left to the “next generation,” of which I am one. Your discussion points out that a much more serious threat looms – what might be termed a “demographic debt.” Yet, it remains a proscribed topic, I think, because it forces grappling with the value of human life and our function in community. Many people tout the giving and altruism emerging with the younger generations. But is it just a faux concern for others if it’s done on my terms, my time, and my dime?

I wonder when the realization will hit that children are the hope of the future – both economically and communally. I find a pronounced aversion among my peers to sacrifice anything, career or comfort, for the duty of raising children. When will people figure out that our views of human life and the policies we have propagated are too schizophrenic to survive? Most of all, I wonder what can be done about it. I echo the question of my esteemed professor regarding how to use the law to encourage community, child bearing and child rearing, though I am probably more skeptical than he that the law is up to the task.

Posted by: Aaron Parks | Feb 9, 2010 11:59:55 AM

Aaron, the law won't be up to the task if we don't address the issues by Prof. Lee. Lee asks: "How will the idea of human rights, for example, be grounded in a new era that rejects appeals to the Christian conception of the dignity of the person? It is far from certain that legality provide its own legitimization." I too share this concern.

Lisa, I concur in your addition to my list. This, as you point out, raised interesting questions about the nature of our maleness and our femaleness in ways that are less obvious when discussing caregiving of newborns, infants, or maybe even children.

All three comments are related because they all call for greater attention to the anthropoligical question.

Posted by: Michael Scaperlanda | Feb 11, 2010 12:16:14 PM