Approaching demographic winter. About half the countries of the world—now including the United States—have a fertility rate below the replacement level of 2.1. America’s population likely will continue to grow for the foreseeable future because of immigration and longer life spans, but population growth probably won’t continue unless something changes. A shrinking population—after 200 years of growth—will create enormous social and economic disruption. These disruptions are already making themselves felt in some European countries. If current trends continue, the centuries-long rise in global population will top out within the next 30 years or so and we’ll see a gradual reduction in worldwide population. Of course, predicting 100 years into the future is something of a fool’s errand. But demographic predictions 30 to 50 years into the future are remarkably reliable, since the factors that determine population in the near- to medium-term were fixed years ago.
Peacock plucked. All the mainstream networks lean left, but I think you could make a case that NBC leans farthest left, partly because MSNBC stands even farther to the left and gives the parent network cover. Insiders now say the “peacock network” is in turmoil, in part because of self-inflicted wounds. It’s still answering questions about the botched firing of morning show host Ann Curry. The network says she wasn’t fired, but reassigned. The ratings of its flagship news program Meet The Press are way down. Martin Bashir and Alex Baldwin were both fired for inappropriate on-air comments, and Melissa Harris-Perry issued a teary on-air apology to Mitt Romney for making fun of Romney and his grandchild.
Unemployment benefits. Congress is this week considering an extension to unemployment benefits. The unemployment benefit is an area in which a bit of economics education goes a long way. For one thing, the optimal length of unemployment payments is not (to use Donald Rumsfeld’s taxonomy) a “known known.” If you stay on unemployment too long, your skills and contacts become obsolete. But if you take a job too early and significantly below the pay of the job you left, you permanently (or semi-permanently) affect your income potential (unless the new job is building new skills that make the worker more marketable in the future—yet another variable to consider). My bottom line is this: Extending unemployment benefits from six months to 10 months (the current proposal under debate) is too much. That’s an arguable point, of course, but all responsible economists agree that indefinite extensions create a “moral hazard” and economic unsustainability. One argument against indefinite extension comes from the Bible: “If a man doesn’t work, he shouldn’t eat.” The question is: Where is the line? And what kind of work should we require while a person is on unemployment or, for that matter, other forms of social welfare?
More on guns. On Tuesday, I mentioned here that violent crime rates have dropped while gun ownership has soared, but I drew this conclusion based on 2012 gun ownership numbers. Now 2013 numbers are streaming in, and it looks like it will be a record year for gun permits. Kansas and Illinois are among the states seeing huge surges in applications. Gun advocates say that when legal gun ownership rises, crime goes down, since the bad guys can’t be sure citizens won’t fight back. Crime and gun data from the past few years seem to support that argument.