The American Right’s Demographic Argument against the European Welfare State and Mussolini’s ‘Battle for Births’

One of the other arguments the American Right has used against the socialised medicine and the welfare state in America is the effect they believe it would have on the American birth rate. European birth rates are falling. Right-wing broadcasters and journalists, like Mark Steyn, have declared that this due to these nations’ extensive welfare policy. With the state to care for them in sickness, unemployment and old age, Europeans are no longer bothering to have the children, who would otherwise support them. This contrasts markedly with the competing nations in the Developing World with their large families. As a result, Europe would face the problems of an aging population, with increased state expenditure on their care and tax burden on the contracting younger population that would be required to pay for it.

This argument has a number of major flaws, not least the fact that birth rates are falling throughout the Developed World, regardless of whether they have a welfare state or not. Japan has been governed more or less continually by the Liberal Democratic Party since the Second World War. This is a Conservative party and there has been little state welfare provision in Japan. Despite this, the Japanese birth rate is also falling, to the point where one of the major Japanese newspapers back in the 1990s declared that if this situation was not reversed, in a thousand years’ time the Japanese people would be extinct. In some European countries this demographic decline appears to have begun long before the modern welfare state. The French and German birth rates appeared to have begun to fall some time around the First World War. The German writers Richard Korherr and Oswald Spengler also saw the declining European birth rate as part of its decadence, and these in turn inspired Mussolini to launch the ‘demographic campaign’ to raise the birth rate. Mussolini turned to the Fascist statistician and demographer, Corrado Gini, for information. Gini declared that the problem was symptomatic of the ‘old age of nations’, and due to the dominance of economics over patriotism. It was caused by the ‘calculated egoism’, ‘sedentary character’ and the growth in working class unrest. Mussolini himself went even further. He declared that it had been demographic decline that had caused the fall of the Roman Empire. Italy needed a high birth rate if it was to become a reinvigorated and dynamic nation. He argued that the low birth rate was the result of corrupt modern urban civilisation and its pernicious influences. This was contrasted with the countryside, where the virtues of peasant life resulted in large families. He therefore launched a campaign to depopulate the cities in favour of the countryside, and ban migration from it to the cities.

While Steyn and the rest of the American Right argue that state intervention and welfare policies are the cause of this decline, Mussolini demanded the exact opposite. The state launched a series of legislation to encourage its citizens to marry and have children. It also increased welfare provision to ensure the health of babies and their mothers. In 1925 it established the Opera Nazionale di Maternita ed Infanzia to ensure the health and welfare of women and their children. In 1929 it passed legislation granting maternity leave and birth insurance for working mothers, as well as a tax on unmarried men. From 1933 it passed further legislation providing for extra pay, and special loans, prizes and subsidies for families with a large number of children. Newlyweds were also to receive special loans from the state. The Italian population did rise during the Fascist period from 38,450,000 to 44,900,000. Historians of Fascist Italy, such as Philip V. Cannistraro, consider it very doubtful whether this was due to the government’s policies, except, perhaps, that increased welfare provision may have lowered infant mortality.

Socialised medicine and the welfare state cannot be used to explain falling birth rates in Europe and the Developed World. Far more likely is the simple fact that living standards have risen since the 19th century. The more educated, affluent sections of the population tend to have fewer children than the poorer, less educated. Living standards have improved, and there are greater leisure opportunities than available than in the Victorian era. In the 19th century much of working class social life revolved around the pub, though participation and involvement in sport, music and popular educational facilities like museums and libraries were also growing. Since then a wider range of commercial goods have become available, along with leisure activities and venues from sports facilities to music, theatre and the cinema. Moreover infant mortality has fallen from the horrific levels of the 19th century, so there isn’t the same necessity for parents to have large numbers of children in the hope that one, at least, might survive.

The converse of this is that the American Right, in their campaign against welfare benefits, Obamacare and decent working conditions are aiming to reduce their people to the kind of harsh poverty found in the modern Developing World and in the 19th century Europe and America, whose laissez-faire policies they idolise.

Sources

‘Demographic Policy’,’Fasci Femminili’ and’Gini, Corrado’ in Philip V. Cannistraro, ed., Historical Dictionary of Fascist Italy (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood 1982), pp. 162-4, 202-4, and 246.

Adrian Lyttelton, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919-1920, 2nde Edition (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson 1987.

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3 Responses to “The American Right’s Demographic Argument against the European Welfare State and Mussolini’s ‘Battle for Births’”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. Joan Says:

    Surely the last thing we should be doing is getting countries to raise their birth rates. This world is over-populated and struggling to feed itself already. Typical right-wing Americans though. They have plenty space and want to propogate their ilk as much as possible.

    • beastrabban Says:

      Absolutely, though their arguments in this respect refer to the Developed World, in which birth rates have actually fallen below replacement level. But you’re right – there is the assumption that the human population can continue expanding with no detrimental effects. Hence all the polemic against the Green parties and organisations.

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