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Babies! At the End of the World

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Babies! Are the answer.

Babies are also the reason. Babies are the problem and the solution, the currency and the contract, the apocalypse and the salvation, all wrapped in cute little rainbow diapers and outlandish college funds that make you wail well into 2042. Who knew?

I have recently returned from Spain. Spain is sultry and delicious like spicy paella at midnight; Barcelona is like San Francisco with a sexier accent and better sangria, warmer and bigger and messier, a million outdoor patios and nightclubs that won't even look at you until 2:00 a.m.

Spain is also in a free-fall, economically speaking, one of the worst performers in the EU: Endless turmoil, sky-high unemployment, protests, disgruntlement, graffiti, pickpockets and tension and desperation worse than a cluster of Catholic priests at a Boy Scout convention.

Do you know why? Something about the battered Euro, about struggling manufacturing sectors, the usual economic suspects? Yeah, that's what I thought, too.

But maybe not. According to Forbes (and others), the problem with Spain -- and much of Europe overall -- is its shockingly low birth rate. Which is to say, babies. They're just not cranking them out like they used to. Who knew?

"So dire is the fertility situation that not only is Spain's growth thought to be slowing or even leveling off, it's actually en route to declining; and it's far from the only one."

Why is this happening? That's easy: Because younger people don't want as many kids. Because Boomers are dying off. Because Millennials -- especially modern females -- have finally broken the joyless chains of the misogynistic, birth control-hating Catholic church. Because immigrant labor isn't racing in fast enough to fill the void. And as everyone knows, if the human species is not procreating like rabbits, we die like flies.

It's a basic, insane truism of economics: Population growth is what makes for a thriving economy. Not population stasis, not population contraction, not population oh-my-God-there-are-way-too-many-people-in-this-room-right-now. Only growth, endless and forever, will keep the world from imploding. How very preposterous.

Sound obvious? Sure it is. But it's also sort of tragic, this collision course with imminent implosion. We're like the bus in Speed or the boat in Speed II or the quantum rocket ship in Speed III -- slow down even for a second, and Sandra Bullock gets it.

It's not that growth is bad, per se. It's the fact that we cannot back off. Our systems simply do not allow for scaling down, dialing back the rapaciousness so as to cherish and enjoy what we already have. This is the message: If a country happens to stop birthing so much, if couples decide to have fewer/no kids, if they decide to instead travel, celebrate life and not work themselves to death like their forebears, well, eventually an economy does what Spain's is doing: it implodes, causes chaos and misery and pain. Hence:

Without a major shift in policies that favor families in housing or tax policies, and an unexpected resurgence of interest in marriage and children, Spain and the rest of Mediterranean face prospects of a immediate decline every bit as profound as that experienced in the 17th and 18th Century when these great nations lost their status as global powers.

Really, Forbes? Government incentives to procreate? What a completely ridiculous notion. And how odd that no government, no brilliant sociologist has figured a way for populations to safely, prudently contract without serious economic repercussions, without every headline in The Economist becoming even more bleak than it already is.

How can this be? Everywhere you look, from India to China, Africa to Mexico City, overpopulation is rampant, we are sucking down resources faster than Earth can replace them. There are seven billion of us and in a few short decades there will be 10 billion of us and no one has the slightest clue where to put all those used iPhones.

This much we know: No one is walking through the slums of Mumbai or Sudan, no one is stuck in traffic in LA, coughing up a lung in Sao Paolo or just trying to cross the street in downtown Cairo and saying, "Hey, you know what we need? We need more people. We need to procreate ourselves out of this problem. After all, it's what God wants." Because God, apparently, is a complete idiot...

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Mark Morford is the author of The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism, a mega-collection of his finest columns for the San Francisco Chronicle and SFGate. He recently learned how to properly spank a nun, requested that you please join his Tantric yoga sex cult and begged you oh my God please do not eat this. Join him on Facebook, or email him. Not to mention...