The G-20 Summit, Global Justice, and the Rise of Childless Leaders

June 16, 2019 Updated: June 16, 2019


It’s official: The United States is shrinking.

No, the climate alarmists’ prophecies about the Florida coast disappearing beneath the Atlantic Ocean have not yet come true. But a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics shows that, in 2018, the birth rate among Americans again reached an all-time low, well below the replacement rate.

Fewer Americans than ever are having children. This phenomenon isn’t restricted to the United States. In fact, it’s most obvious in the surprisingly high number of childless leaders of other countries. The rising trend of childless marriages is troubling because having children affects one’s perspective on politics and justice in ways that favor the common good of the political community.

The Growing Trend of Childless Leaders

At the end of June, Japan will host the annual G-20 Summit on Financial Markets and the World Economy, a gathering of leaders from countries with the most powerful economies in the world, including the European Union. Of the 20 leaders likely to represent member states at the summit, five don’t have any biological children. That number would have been six if Theresa May were still prime minister of the UK.

This trend is even more severe within the European Union. The EU comprises 28 member countries. The number of those countries with childless leaders is now 10. If you include the first minister of Scotland, that number is 11, and, again, it would be 12 if May were still in office. In addition, the current president of the European Commission—the executive branch of the EU—has no children.

These statistics reveal that one-quarter of the world’s most powerful leaders and nearly half of the leaders of Europe don’t themselves have a biologically invested interest in the next generation. And the record-breaking low birth rate in the United States demonstrates that the condition of childlessness is becoming increasingly descriptive of the American people in general. For some, of course, not having children is a personal tragedy, but for a growing number, it’s merely a choice.

The United States itself could soon have a childless president. Although there have been four presidents in U.S. history who had no biological children, the last one was James Buchanan, who preceded Abraham Lincoln. Among the Democratic presidential candidates for 2020, though, four have no children (Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, and Kamala Harris).

What is the significance of a nation’s leader not having children? I have been married less than a year, so I don’t have children yet. Even so, it seems reasonable that having children changes your perspective in certain ways. This isn’t to suggest that you must have children to be a good leader or that merely being a parent makes you a good leader.

Having children to care for, though, gives you a more concrete interest in the well-being of both a specific people and a specific place in which to raise them. More importantly, having children offers you an enduring perspective on politics that moderates an otherwise immediate urge for radical justice in regard to all the perceived imperfections in society.

If you know that your children will have to live in the world you leave behind, you’re less likely to burn it down in order to purify it of defects you believe it had when you inherited it. The numberless sacrifices that mothers and fathers make for their children are tangible investments in their children’s well-being and which often redound to the benefit of their community. This investment constitutes a vested interest in the future that is difficult for the childless to rival.

The Embrace, Rejection of Global Justice

The rising popularity of nationalist movements across the globe is due, in part, to the perception that current leaders have embraced a more abstract notion of global justice to the detriment of the more concrete common good of their national communities.

Two examples of this perceived neglect involve mass immigration and climate change policies. EU leaders have been allowing into their countries waves of migrants from outside of Europe and have passed increasingly stringent regulations to try to reduce global carbon levels. These policies have resulted in the Brexit referendum, the yellow vest riots, and, most recently, stunning losses for centrist parties in the European parliamentary elections.

Clearly, a growing number of citizens in European countries don’t share the abstract, global perspective of justice that many EU leaders have embraced. This perspective has led those leaders to view mass immigration as an unmitigated good, and energy policy strictly as the uncompromising demands of “climate justice.” And now some are quietly being voted out of office.

Many of these same leaders will be at the G-20 Summit. The goal of the summit is for leaders to discuss “a wide range of global issues … such as development, climate change, and energy, health, counter-terrorism, as well as migration and refugees.” No doubt many of these issues have a real impact on individual countries and can be addressed with international cooperation. But cooperation requires agreement about the ends in view, not just the means.

It’s one thing for leaders to consider sensible ways to handle refugee crises and to craft energy policies that strengthen the security and honor the sovereignty of each nation. But it’s another thing for leaders to abandon the consent of the governed in their own nation and to accept numbers of immigrants and energy regulations that serve the interests of other countries or the whole globe generally more than their own nation.

Human beings are wired to be concerned about justice. If they are less attached to their own political community through generational familial ties, they will likely be less concerned about facing and fixing problems in their own town than in showing support for more glamorous global causes.

Does the falling birth rate in the United States and among the barren barons of the world’s elite ruling class help explain why politics in many countries is increasingly dividing along nationalist and globalist lines? The question, at least, is pregnant.

Clifford Humphrey is originally from Warm Springs, Georgia. Currently, he is a doctoral candidate in politics at Hillsdale College in Michigan. Follow him on Twitter @cphumphrey.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Clifford Humphrey
Clifford Humphrey
Clifford Humphrey is a postdoctoral fellow at the Institute for Human Ecology at the Catholic University of America and the Director of Admissions for Thales College. He holds a PhD in politics from Hillsdale College, and he resides in Raleigh, North Carolina.