Two pervasive lies are:
"We can't afford to have children"
"We don't make enough money to be able to save".
The way things really are is exactly the opposite in both of these cases.
The less money women have, the more children they have.
And the less income people have, the more they save.
Why is this? And why are people so sure that their declared reasons are the truth?
Wealthy independent women would be crazy to sentence themselves to the physical discomforts and slave bondage that having children imposes.
And, citizens in a rich welfare state don't need to reduce their day-to-day standard of living so they can put something aside for contingencies because others will pay if things go wrong for them.
And, as for why we believe our lies ; humankind are rationalisers; we use our intellect to manufacture plausible explanations for decisions already made emotionally- and con ourselves about this most of all.
But these quite sensible (from the individual's perspective) behaviours have become an existential threat for the developed world. Look fat and happy, but in reality it's empty, NZ is right up there with the Europeans- maxed out on our credit.
European countries aren't now able to maintain their productive base (without which their economies will surely fail) because of falling populations and ever increasing dependencies. Their attempted solution is to bring in working age immigrants. But there's now a strong perception that immigrants fail to assimilate and game the welfare systems rather than becoming net contributors. In my view this is just xenophobia; immigrants do assimilate, it just takes a few generations, and they do contribute- like by doing the dirty low paid jobs that no-one else wants- but immigration is not the silver bullet.
And, without savings to pay for investment in infrastructure and new business, rich countries are becoming ever more indebted as well; only able to maintain their current lifestyles by borrowing unsustainably.
And from where are they borrowing?- From poor countries!
Let's just cast this in different words; for more than a generation now, the world's rich people have been spending more than they earn every month; making up the difference by borrowing the hard won savings of poor people
Which is just about as weird as quantum physics.
In the developing world (now called the 'emerging' world, as their propagandists move to capture the language), there is a growing belief that the root cause of these failures is representative government itself (aka democracy). In their view, citizens are like children; parentally imposed guidance, discipline and structures, are required to enable them to develop their potential and to prevent destructive behaviour.
Democracy, they maintain, is an irresponsible form of government; like letting children loose in a candy store.
Strong but loving autocratic governments are best. Lee Kuan Yew/ Singapore, Deng Xiaoping/China are proffered as examples.
They have a point; a common feature of all universal franchise democracies now seems to be: 'I'm entitled to ever improving rights, lifestyle and healthcare whether I choose to work or not' (while increasing numbers find reasons not to). Democratic states meet these demands by taking on ever-more debt- because any politician who dares to suggest living within the available income is biffed out immediately.
A counter point is that, for all its faults, democracy has delivered rapidly improving standards of living to more than a billion people over the last century, 2 billion if India is included. Asia's deep kite culture, a modern example
But autocrats explain this by pointing out that universal franchise is quite recent, that democracy's heyday was when only a small ruling elite (typically wealthy property owners) had the vote, and that democratic states have been going downhill ever since.
Historically though, autocracies have more often delivered death and misery than utopia (Stalin, Mao Zedong, and the trivial though headline making Kim family regime in North Korea for examples). And benevolent autocracies, when they have occurred (rarely), all slid back into tyranny within a generation or two.
Is anything different this time? Could it be that some form of autocratic rule- in which a ruling group works to provide ever improving standards of living for their citizenry while knowing that the axe will fall on them if they ever falter- as China is ruled now- may better optimise the human condition?
For all it's faults, I'm still betting on democracy over the long run, because it's not clear to me how unelected autocracies can be removed when they go bad. But only time will tell.
Right now, as democracy's various deficiencies bite Europe and America, the West is in decline.
While the East is rising, mainly because China has excellent government at present. Whether by happenchance or good judgement, since 1978 China has enjoyed historically unprecedented sustained growth and greater legitimacy with it's citizens than any democracy has possibly ever attained; more than 70% of Chinese currently believe their government is doing a 'good' or 'very good' job (contrasting with less than 40% of Westerners with the same view of their own governments).
And there are aspects to this trend that are not entirely negative, even from a Western perspective:
Maybe this kick-in-the-pants is just what Western voters need for them to start behaving like grown-ups instead of children- and accept that their lifestyles need to be earned, not financed by borrowing.
And having another two billion people raising their living standards to something approaching what Europe and North America have generally enjoyed for the last 200 years or so is not a bad thing.
And it will be overwhelmingly positive for the world of kites: Asia's deep kite culture will surely flower with the rapid growth of leisure and discretionary spending there. Creativity that's been held in check by lack of opportunity will burst forth- and there are already signs that this is happening. Like for everything else that moves east, there's a progression: A recent Asian designed kite
First there are very bad copies, but at prices so cheap that many westerners are tempted.
Then the copies get much better.
And then original design features start to appear; lacking in finesse, but evidence of independent thinking.
Eventually, and probably sooner rather than later now, completely new and original kite designs will come out of the East to delight us all.
Just like they did last time, half a millennium ago.
Peter Lynn, Ashburton, May 1 - 2012