Throughout history, poverty is the normal condition of man. Advances which permit this norm to be exceeded – here and there, now and then – are the work of an extremely small minority, frequently despised, often condemned, and almost always opposed by all right-thinking people. Whenever this tiny minority is kept from creating, or (as sometimes happens) is driven out of a society, the people then slip back into abject poverty. This is known as "bad luck."
– Robert Heinlein, "Time Enough For Love"
It was astonishing to read of Republican Sen. John McCain's recent radio attack on Barack Obama. Displaying an energy and vehemence that he somehow couldn't manage to muster during the 2008 presidential campaign, when it actually might have mattered, he accused the man who defeated him of "leading an extreme left-wing crusade to bankrupt America." But if America goes bankrupt, it will not only be the extreme left-wing that is to blame. After all, one can't go bankrupt without having borrowed money from someone, and there is no current politician in America who has been more closely affiliated with the financial institutions to which so much debt is owed than John McCain.
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I have frequently written of the tremendous tsunami of debt that is threatening to wipe out homeowners, corporations and even governments across the country. This peril has not abated in the slightest. The latest statistics indicate that debt-deflation is continuing despite the desperate attempts of the monetary and fiscal authorities to fight it with inflationary policies and vastly increased federal spending. However, it is a mistake to assume that the core issue is an economics one. The problem of societal debt is not only a cause of current and future problems, it is also a consequence of past politics.
There are many policies that are relevant to this issue, ranging from the voter franchise and central banking to immigration and income taxes. But one of the more significant ones concerns the consistency of the labor force. It is no secret that far more women are working today than were employed in the past. The rate of female labor force participation doubled in the last century. This is generally considered to be a positive development, particularly by progressives with their peculiar perspective on societal advancement. What is much less understood is the degree to which women have not joined men in the labor force, but rather, have replaced them. This long-term trend has been clear from the beginning of the post-war period, but picked up considerably with the beginning of the current depression. The male employment-to-population ratio has dropped from 69.7 percent to 66.3 percent since December 2008. The female ratio has declined as well, but at only two-thirds the pace, to 55.3 percent.
Labor force participation rate graph posted at CalculatedRiskBlog.com
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Although it is customary and politically correct to pretend that there is no difference between men working and women working, it is highly unlikely that the effective substitution of one-quarter of the male labor force for female workers did not have a significant effect on American society. Women who work may bring a different perspective into the workplace, but they also have fewer children. Men who don't work may play more golf, but they also commit more crime. And perhaps most importantly, since women tend to prefer to mate up rather than down, the changing labor force patterns indicate significant changes in the formation of familial structures throughout the nation.
It would be hard to defend the performance of the male-dominated government policies of the last 50 years. Perhaps the feminists are correct to insist that it is time to give women their opportunity to see if they can collectively do any better. One would think that they could hardly do any worse. But as a cautionary note, it may be wise to keep in mind that the idea of a society where women do all the substantive work and men spend their days doing little except drinking and relieving their boredom by terrorizing the countryside is not exactly a new one. It is an order that is common to many primitive societies.
America is not yet bankrupt, and it has not yet descended into complete barbarism. A society where barely more than half of all women work can hardly be described as a matriarchy, and not even a second great downturn in housing prices will see us all living in caves and grass huts. But, as Heinlein also wrote, "all societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children" and American society is increasingly failing to protect its two most valuable and vulnerable populations. While the idea of "turning back the clock" is anathema to most women who celebrate the irrational achievement of being able to slave away 40 hours a week during their peak child-bearing years so that young and old men alike can sit idle and collect transfer payments, the unfortunate reality is that the old compact of male productivity and female fecundity has been broken. What we know as "progress" amounts to little more than turning the clock back to an even older and less civilized time.