Shaman Priest: A story of Guatemala

Guatemala, our small neighbor just to the south of Mexico has a long and violent history, yet many people are unaware of Guatemala except as a tourist destination, a place with colorful native peoples, active volcanos, incredible pre-Columbian ruins, and beautiful textiles and handicrafts.

Right now many of the refugees crossing our border are Guatemalan. Why do they come? Why have they crossed through Mexico illegally and at great personal risk for a chance to enter the United States? Why have they come here hoping to stay?

Many come hoping for a new and better life for themselves or their children, and they bring their culture and its problems with them.

Did you know that from 1960 through 1996 colorful Guatemala was torn apart by a violent civil war? Did you know that more than 200,000 people were killed over the course of the 36-year-long civil war? More people were killed in Guatemala that were killed in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Chile, and Argentina combined. Unfortunately most people are unaware of the extent of the violence that took place in Guatemala.

And the violence continues there today in the form of gang violence, drug violence, and common criminality.

Did you know that 83 percent of those killed in the civil war were Mayan Indians (according to a 1999 report written by the U.N.-backed Commission for Historical Clarification titled “Guatemala: Memory of Silence”), and yet the Mayans for the most part tried to avoid violence and maintain their way of life?

Did you know that the U.S. was involved in the Guatemala in 1954 when the CIA backed, trained, and funded the overthrow of an elected president?

Shaman Priest, a novel set during Guatemala’s brutal civil war gives a human face to the violence and suffering that occurred during that time. In the story a young Mayan shaman’s family is murdered and he leaves his beloved mountains making his way to Guatemala City where he becomes a Catholic priest. There he meets Maria, daughter of wealthy landowners, and Earl Smith, an American working for the United States Aid in International Development (USAID) program. This powerful story of Guatemala is told through three fictional characters as they struggle with love and loss, violence, death, and a desire for justice and revenge.

Shaman Priest, by Karen Hopkins will be available in paperback on Amazon beginning July 7, 2014.

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I’ve lived in Arizona for twenty-three years.  I’ve lived on the border for eleven years.  I fixed my granddaughter a snack this  morning–carrot sticks with chili-limon sprinkled all over them.  They’re pretty good.  She’s three.  It was her idea.

I went out and weed whacked the yard this afternoon.  You have to be wacky to even think of  doing that.  I raked over a couple of snake holes in the ground.  I would rather have snakes than rats in the yard if I have to choose.

I came inside dripping wet and jumped straight into the shower.  The more I turned the hot water down the hotter it got.  Our water l is pumped up to the top of the hill into a tank that sits in the sun.  The line from the meter to the house runs across the south facing slope of the property line.  In the summer the cold water can be scalding.  Luckily the hot water heater sits in the garage where it cools off a little.  With the water system I have do you think I can take a solar energy credit?

Oh well.  I am clean and dry.  I would have showered under the refrigerator water if I didn’t mind walking out into the kitchen in my all togethers, but now he fan is turning and the air conditioner is running.  I think I’ll sit down and watch the World Cup.  The USA is still in.  Gooooooooooool.  Gotta love futbol.

And July is right around the corner.  I think I’ll grill carne asado for the Fourth of July.  Can’t wait for the fireworks!!


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Iraq Now

Will Iraq fall to jihadists? Did US forces die in vain? Will ISIS create an Islamic caliphate? Then what? Here are the latest developments.

June 13, 2014 at 1:16 pm


Sources: CIA World Factbook, Long War Journal. Laris Karklis/The Washington Post.

(Washington, D.C.) — The President and his top advisors have told us over and over again in recent years that “al Qaeda is on the run,” and “we decimated al Qaeda.”

Now we know it’s not true.

In recent days, an ultra-radical faction of the Sunni terrorist network — ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq & Al Sham — has captured huge swaths of Iraqi territory, hundreds of millions of dollars from Iraqi banks, and even U.S. military equipment.

At the moment, ISIS forces are rapidly moving toward Baghdad, imposing Sharia law, killing thousands, terrorizing millions, creating an exodus of Iraqis trying to flee for safety, and raising serious new questions:

I’m not going to try to answer these questions today. Just the fact that they need to be asked shows how badly U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has failed, and how high the stakes are for the American people, for Israel, and for our Arab allies.

At the moment, I need to go back to finishing the manuscript for my new novel on a future ISIS plot to conquer the Middle East and build and Islamic caliphate.

But first, please keep praying for the Lord to intervene and stop the rise of the jihadists, pray for safety for all Iraqis (and Syrians), and please keep praying for courage for the Christians. Pray, too, for regional and world leaders to have wisdom to know how best to stabilize and pacify the situation.

Then, please keep on top of the latest developments.  Here is some of the latest news coverage from the epicenter worth paying attention to:

“The Obama administration is facing its worst-case scenario in Iraq, which seems on the verge of crumbling as Islamic militants march on Baghdad,” reports The Hill newspaper. “Just more than three years after U.S. soldiers left the country, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has taken over hundreds of square miles ranging from Syria’s coast to the Iraqi cities of Mosul and Tikrit. The terrorist group is in control of a wide swath of land from which it could launch attacks on the West, former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte warned Thursday.”

“If these people succeed in multiple countries, that is going to represent some kind of permanent terrorist threat to the West, to our interests around the world and to ourselves,” he said on MSNBC.

“The sudden developments have left the White House with few good options and opened President Obama to severe criticism from Republican critics in an election year,” The Hill noted. “They argue the failure to reach a security agreement that would have left some troops in Iraq has hastened the government’s downfall. What’s more, the group is now taking access of U.S. arms and equipment that were left behind when troops left after nearly a decade in Iraq. Militants posted pictures on Twitter that showed they had acquired U.S. Humvees and armored vehicles….U.S. officials are worried that more weapons could fall into ISIS’s hands if the militants reach Baghdad. The U.S. has already sold the Iraqi military armed helicopters, drones, Hellfire missiles and a number of small arms….”

“This is pretty bad…These guys are our mortal enemies. These are the people, or one strain of the group of people, we’ve been fighting at least since 9/11,” said Michael Eisenstadt, senior fellow and director of The Washington Institute’s Military and Security Studies Program….“It feeds the perception that the United States is being pushed out of the region and the few accomplishments that we’ve had seem be unraveling,” he said.


Exodus from Iraq as chaos spreads…
UN: 800k refugees…
Terrorists ‘full-blown army’…
Medieval Sharia Law Imposed…
‘Roads lined with decapitated police and soldiers’…
Iraqi government ‘paralyzed’…
Army Collapses…
VIDEO: Thousands of soldiers captured by ISIS…
Iran Deploys Forces…
Americans evacuated…
USA Secretly Flying Drones…
Pentagon: Rebels may have captured military equipment…
PAPER: ‘Worst case scenario’…
FLASHBACK: Biden: Iraq One of Obama’s ‘Great Achievements’…
Vets in Congress: ‘What was point of all that?’…
Oil Soars…


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Would You Kill a Mouse?

On May 10, 2014 the Wall Street Journal ran an article on market economics  and its negative effect on morals.  To actually test this commonly accepted idea two German economists, Falk and Szech conducted an experiment in which they gave participants ten euros (about $14.00).  Once participants had the money in hand they were told that as part of lab protocol a healthy, young mouse would be killed unless the participant bought the mouse with the money they’d just received.  If they paid for the mouse it would live out its life in health and comfort.

Forty-six percent of participants chose to keep the money and let the mouse die.  The other 54% of participants chose to save the mouse.  There was more to the study, but it always included the option to allow the mouse to live or die.  And somehow the entire study demonstrates that yes, the market is immoral.

Wait a minute!  I live in a rural area.  We have mice here; I kill mice every week in my garage.  I trap them in a not very nice way and then I scoop up their little bodies and toss them over the wall.  (I don’t like to poison the mice because I am afraid the poison may affect the birds that eat the dead mice.)  So I have a hierarchy of values.

Would I let a mouse die for $14.00?  Of course.  I kill them for free.  Mice are pests, not pets.  They spread disease, sometimes horrible diseases like the plague and hantavirus.  But they also chew things up like the wiring on the underside of my car which was not cheap to repair.  They gnaw on the valuable stuff in my garage, and if I wasn’t busy trapping them they would soon be inside the house.  If they would stay outside I would leave them alone.  But mice and humans don’t share space well.  Mice are vermin–vectors for disease and death.  And you’re offering me $14.00 to let you kill one?

I don’t think I am a heartless person.  My point is that the study is flawed at the most basic level and to draw any conclusions on man’s morality or lack thereof based on mice is not going to give valid results.

You want to know whether market economics dilute our moral values?  Offer your subjects $14.00 to kill a puppy.  The results will be way different.  Given that choice I’d take the puppy home with me.  And so would 99% of the people in the study.

Falk and Szech may be brilliant economists, but this study missed the boat  when it comes to human nature, economics, and moral choice.


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Jay Walking through Life

Coming back across the line from the dentist  I crossed the street against the light. I jaywalked.  Hey, when in Rome . . . in Mexico everybody jaywalks.


As I was crossing the street I thought of a conversation I’d had a while ago on rules and consequences with one of my kids. He was standing on the curb in Manhattan, watching a man down the block trying to cross the street in traffic. The man was hit by a bus and thrown 20 yards or so landing near my son.  He was dead.


My son talked about how helpless he felt standing there unable to do anything to prevent the accident even though he could see it coming.  Watching, he had a sense almost of fear for the stranger. It seemed  wrong that this man who had been very much alive was so quickly and unexpectedly killed.


As I listened to him  I  thought of a similar incident from many years ago when I lived in London. An elderly woman was hit by a taxi in front of our house. She lay on the sidewalk with her skull fractured, thick dark blood oozing from her head. We brought out a blanket and pillow. We called the ambulance feeling uneasy, helpless. It’s not something you forget easily.


There are times when we think  those who break the rules should suffer the consequences,  should be brought up short, should learn  they cannot break rules without suffering the consequences. They should be punished.


But then I see the stark reality of consequences and I have to back off. Do I really want to suffer the consequences of my foolish, thoughtless decisions?


Justice has its place, but I vote for mercy. Without mercy we are all stepping out in front of the bus.


So in this life I hope we learn, I hope we follow, and I hope that we do not always have to suffer the consequences of our actions.  Thank you for mercy, and second chances, and third. . . .


Maybe I’ll have time to learn and change. Maybe today I’ll quit jaywalking through life.

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Giant Tales

Please read my short story in…
Giant Tales: Dangerous Days
Coming Soon! June 25, 2014

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Tiger, Tiger Burning Bright. . . .

by Karen Hopkins © May 1, 2014

The woman stands leaning on her broom, staring out into the trees. She was sweeping the small porch when Alonso passed by, stopping to report, “Sarita, El Tigre was spotted again out there,” waving vaguely toward the trees. Sarita’s small house built of bits and pieces of wood and flattened tin cans sits on the edge of the jungle, the last house before the clearing surrenders to the trees, the vines, the dark, the wild. El Tigre—the jaguar, that cat who rules the night with bright golden eyes, that cat who swims the rivers, the cat who had carried away her husband Juan—is back.

Sarita looks around the small house, two rooms and a walled patio with its horno for baking. She shudders feeling suddenly cold in the tropical heat.

El Tigre sits high in the tree, stretched along a stout branch. He watches as the woman goes back to sweeping. His interest isn’t personal; she is simply the closest, most accessible prey and El Tigre is hungry. He’s picked Juan’s bones clean, cracking and sucking out the marrow. His stomach growls, but the big cat sits, silent, invisible in the splotches of light and shadow.

That night Sarita dreams of El Tigre, sees him following Juan through the jungle silent and unseen. She watches as El Tigre drops from a tree knocking her husband to the ground, trapping his machete under his body. She watchs ancient Jaguar Priests take on the form of El Tigre, flying through the jungle, ascending stone temples to cut out the hearts of innocent children.

She rises up early anxious to escape her troubled dreams. She builds up the fire in the horno and mixes masa for tortillas. When her children awake she feeds them warm tortillas with goat’s milk, wipes their faces and walks them to the little schoolhouse. There’s been wind during the night. Sarita takes her broom and begins to sweep, first the porch, then the hard packed path leading out to the dusty track. She stops, frozen on the path. There are paw prints in the damp soil beside her.

Sarita clutches her broom and follows the prints around and behind her house. She retraces her steps back to the edge of the jungle staring out to where the prints disappear into the darkness.

El Tigre resting on his branch hears a noise and opens one eye. The woman is staring at him. His tongue comes out, pink and shiny; his jaws seem to open in a grin. He leans down and licks the thick white scar made by a machete, running across his shoulder and chest. Tonight he will come again. Tonight he will feed.

Sarita stands still and quiet for several minutes then turns and fills her pockets with stones before running back into the village to find help. Alfonso sits drinking coffee with other men in front of the abarroteria, the tiny grocery store.   “Excuse me, but I have found huellas, paw prints, around the side of my house.” The men look up with mild interest.

“Prints? What type? Perhaps a dog?”

Sarita holds her hands apart indicating a plate-sized print. Raul raises an eyebrow. “There is no animal with a print so large.”

“Only one,” Sarita whispers, “El Tigre.”

The men look from one to another. Alonso speaks up, “Let us go and see these tracks.”

The men stand, studying the prints. They look huge and they come from the jungle into the village. No cat, not even the jaguar can be allowed to enter man’s space with impunity. They carry their machetes and edge their way into the darkness. They soon lose the trail in the undergrowth, the vigor of the tropical forest. They look into the dark; they peer up into the trees. They will not capture El Tigre today.

Sarita fixes dinner, a chicken and fresh mangoes and of course warm corn tortillas. She and the children talk, the children recounting the events of their day. When the light fades Sarita tucks the children into her bed, the bed she and Juan once shared, the only bed in the small house. She goes out and sits in the patio, watching the stars as they appear one by one in the evening sky. She builds up a fire in the round clay horno. She would feel better if she had Juan’s sharp steel machete, but it was lost with him. She clutches her broom listening in the growing dark. She hears a soft sound, a thump outside the patio wall. She walks to the wall and stares out. El Tigre stares back his yellow eyes gleaming, hypnotic. He moves forward, his paws reaching up easily to the top of the wall. His jaw falls open in a smile. Sarita is paralyzed, but she thinks of her children asleep on the other side of the flimsy wall and moves forward, thrusting at El Tigre’s eye with the handle of her broom. The jaguar pulls back in surprise, a growl rising from deep in his throat. Sarita backs away, but the cat is not deterred. Like a spring he contracts, then pushes up clearing the wall. Sarita backs against the horno in terror. In desperation she thrusts the bristles of her broom into the fire. She swings it forward flaming, hitting the jaguar in the face. The powerful animal swats the broom away and licks his paw. Sarita reaches into the horno and pulls out a burning faggot. She runs at the cat heedless of the burning wood in her hand and hits El Tigre over the head. The jaguar is singed, confused. He wants to escape this enclosed space, this burning pain. Once more he leaps, clearing the wall, following the path of the broom, landing in the brightly burning brush. His anguished screams mix with those of Sarita who stumbles inside, wakes her children and runs toward safety away from the raging fire, the tortured jaguar.


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Sometimes you just have to write

I am about sixty pages into my next story.  I like my characters.  I know what’s happening at the border.  I know who the good guys are and who the bad guy is but I still haven’t figured out why the bad guy is doing what he’s doing.  Okay, I know he has connections to the cartel.  I know it’s money that motivates him.  But what is it with all his power and influence that he can actually do for the cartel?  And whatever it is it has to be something he can do without leaving a trail.  Now I know there are probably a dozen answers to that question.  And I know I should have figured that out before I started writing.  But I have such a good story going, going . . . . Yikes!  Going where?  

Sometimes all you can do is write.  I am sure i will figure this out but in the meantime I’m writing, building characters, putting in the action, making connections.  And if I’m lucky something will click and I will recognize just what it is the bad guy is up to.  Does this sound backwards to you?  Well, all I can say is as a story develops new ideas come.  I may have to go back and rewrite, but that is so much better than not writing at all! 

In the meantime look for my other books on Amazon under my name, Karen Hopkins–no middle initial.  At least you can enjoy a good story while I figure this one out!!

Oh, one more thing–I am in the middle of setting up Shaman Priest as a paperback.  Once I get that figured out I will publish all my titles in paperback.  I’ll keep you posted as soon as hard copies are available.  

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The Tapestry of Life

Since my mother-in-law died a year ago my husband has made connections with two half brothers he did not know existed.  On this journey of family discovery he also reconnected with cousins he hadn’t seen for nearly fifty years and has come to see his mother’s life in a new light.  He never really knew this woman he knew all his life. He could not see her clearly because she kept so many things in her life closed off.  The discovery and adding of family members has been a positive experience, adding  new threads to the tapestry of our life, threads now woven in and connected to the body of our family as a whole.

Interestingly, tapestries–those heavy weavings that tell a story–are traditionally woven from the back, picture side down, facing the ground.  The tapestry’s intricate design is sketched onto the warp–the tightly stretched, lengthwise threads on the loom,   The cross colors are woven through the warp in a disassociated weft. Disassociated wefts are threads that don’t go the full distance from selvage to selvage but instead remain in their own territory or color zone overlapping on the outer edges, holding separate territories together as part of the whole.  When the weaving is finished the warp, which provides support and structure, holds the tapestry together, but it is completely covered by the weft’s colorful threads. The warp can’t be seen in the finished product.

Watching the weaver at work, we have to trust in his creative abilities and skill.  We may watch as he combines, for example, two threads of different colors, side by side in the pattern.  Only in the finished product will we see that the two threads laid in together have combined to form a new and unique color, adding richness and variety to the work.

Generally wool threads are used in tapestries, with their unique texture, weight, and resilience, but silk or gilt threads may be added, threads that are smoother, longer and shinier than wool.  The silk threads catch the light, the gilt threads catch more light. Those threads of Guilt may add richness and light, but too much guilt can destroy the design. So we stand and watch the colors, the threads, the movements in and out, back and forth as the weaver works.

But we do not see the design, the pattern forming as the threads are woven in–we only see the warp. Why does the weaver use that thread, those colors?  We question what we can’t see.  How can something beautiful be created from this particular combination?

It is only in the finished product that the design becomes apparent.

There in the finished product we see things we couldn’t imagined with our previously limited perspective.  Oh, look at the family in the center.  It is not how I imagined it would be.  There are children I didn’t know before.  But now they are a part of the whole. Is that my mother?  She is different from the woman I thought I knew.  My sympathies for her are deep and real, but she is no longer with us.

Look at that spiral, that swipe of dark red through the heart of the design.  There is suffering in this work that I did not experience. There will be time to weave in the joys and sorrows  of my own tapestry. The finished work is  so much more than what we imagined  with our limited view from behind the master weaver’s work.  It is beautiful and painful and hopeful all together and depending where we look.

Here I see the whole family.  There I see pieces on the corners that are part of the whole.  We couldn’t see them before because we didn’t know where to look.  But now, as we look over  the finished tapestry we are see what had been gaps, beautifully filled in.

Yet even as we stand studying the finished piece the master continues weaving, and tapestries fall from his loom encompassing  lives, bringing us the stories we could not tell.

When the weaver finishes his work someday, perhaps it will all be clear.

But for now we have visits to make, and stories to tell.  Who would have imagined the surprises life holds!


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America’s Baby Bust


America’s Baby Bust

(This article from the Wall Street Journal is one of the most interesting and important articles I have seen recently.  I am convinced we’re looking for answers in all the wrong places.)

The nation’s falling fertility rate is the root cause of many of our problems. And it’s only getting worse

Updated Feb. 12, 2013 4:31 p.m. ET

Americans are not reproducing enough, and the long-term consequences are dire, says Jonathan V. Last, author of “What To Expect When No One’s Expecting,” in a discussion with WSJ Weekend Review editor Gary Rosen.

For more than three decades, Chinese women have been subjected to their country’s brutal one-child policy. Those who try to have more children have been subjected to fines and forced abortions. Their houses have been razed and their husbands fired from their jobs. As a result, Chinese women have a fertility rate of 1.54. Here in America, white, college-educated women—a good proxy for the middle class—have a fertility rate of 1.6. America has its very own one-child policy. And we have chosen it for ourselves.

Forget the debt ceiling. Forget the fiscal cliff, the sequestration cliff and the entitlement cliff. Those are all just symptoms. What America really faces is a demographic cliff: The root cause of most of our problems is our declining fertility rate.

The fertility rate is the number of children an average woman bears over the course of her life. The replacement rate is 2.1. If the average woman has more children than that, population grows. Fewer, and it contracts. Today, America’s total fertility rate is 1.93, according to the latest figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; it hasn’t been above the replacement rate in a sustained way since the early 1970s.

The nation’s falling fertility rate underlies many of our most difficult problems. Once a country’s fertility rate falls consistently below replacement, its age profile begins to shift. You get more old people than young people. And eventually, as the bloated cohort of old people dies off, population begins to contract. This dual problem—a population that is disproportionately old and shrinking overall—has enormous economic, political and cultural consequences.

97% of the world’s population now lives in countries where the fertility rate is falling. Getty Images

For two generations we’ve been lectured about the dangers of overpopulation. But the conventional wisdom on this issue is wrong, twice. First, global population growth is slowing to a halt and will begin to shrink within 60 years. Second, as the work of economists Esther Boserups and Julian Simon demonstrated, growing populations lead to increased innovation and conservation. Think about it: Since 1970, commodity prices have continued to fall and America’s environment has become much cleaner and more sustainable—even though our population has increased by more than 50%. Human ingenuity, it turns out, is the most precious resource.

Low-fertility societies don’t innovate because their incentives for consumption tilt overwhelmingly toward health care. They don’t invest aggressively because, with the average age skewing higher, capital shifts to preserving and extending life and then begins drawing down. They cannot sustain social-security programs because they don’t have enough workers to pay for the retirees. They cannot project power because they lack the money to pay for defense and the military-age manpower to serve in their armed forces.

There has been a great deal of political talk in recent years about whether America, once regarded as the shining city on a hill, is in decline. But decline isn’t about whether Democrats or Republicans hold power; it isn’t about political ideology at all. At its most basic, it’s about the sustainability of human capital. Whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney took the oath of office last month, we would still be declining in the most important sense—demographically. It is what drives everything else.

If our fertility rate were higher—say 2.5, or even 2.2—many of our problems would be a lot more manageable. But our fertility rate isn’t going up any time soon. In fact, it’s probably heading lower. Much lower.

America’s fertility rate began falling almost as soon as the nation was founded. In 1800, the average white American woman had seven children. (The first reliable data on black fertility begin in the 1850s.) Since then, our fertility rate has floated consistently downward, with only one major moment of increase—the baby boom. In 1940, America’s fertility rate was already skirting the replacement level, but after the war it jumped and remained elevated for a generation. Then, beginning in 1970, it began to sink like a stone.

There’s a constellation of reasons for this decline: Middle-class wages began a long period of stagnation. College became a universal experience for most Americans, which not only pushed people into marrying later but made having children more expensive. Women began attending college in equal (and then greater) numbers than men. More important, women began branching out into careers beyond teaching and nursing. And the combination of the birth-control pill and the rise of cohabitation broke the iron triangle linking sex, marriage and childbearing.

This is only a partial list, and many of these developments are clearly positive. But even a social development that represents a net good can carry a serious cost.

By 1973, the U.S. was below the replacement rate, as was nearly every other Western country. Since then, the phenomenon of fertility collapse has spread around the globe: 97% of the world’s population now lives in countries where the fertility rate is falling.

If you want to see what happens to a country once it hurls itself off the demographic cliff, look at Japan, with a fertility rate of 1.3. In the 1980s, everyone assumed the Japanese were on a path to owning the world. But the country’s robust economic facade concealed a crumbling demographic structure.

The Japanese fertility rate began dipping beneath the replacement rate in 1960 for a number of complicated reasons (including a postwar push by the West to lower Japan’s fertility rate, the soaring cost of having children and an overall decline in the marriage rate). By the 1980s, it was already clear that the country would eventually undergo a population contraction. In 1984, demographer Naohiro Ogawa warned that, “Owing to a decrease in the growth rate of the labor force…Japan’s economy is likely to slow down.” He predicted annual growth rates of 1% or even 0% in the first quarter of the 2000s.

Today, America’s total fertility rate is 1.93, below the replacement rate of 2.1. Getty Images

From 1950 to 1973, Japan’s total-factor productivity—a good measure of economic dynamism—increased by an average of 5.4% per year. From 1990 to 2006, it increased by just 0.63% per year. Since 1991, Japan’s rate of GDP growth has exceeded 2.5% in only four years; its annual rate of growth has averaged 1.03%.

Because of its dismal fertility rate, Japan’s population peaked in 2008; it has already shrunk by a million since then. Last year, for the first time, the Japanese bought more adult diapers than diapers for babies, and more than half the country was categorized as “depopulated marginal land.” At the current fertility rate, by 2100 Japan’s population will be less than half what it is now.

Can we keep the U.S. from becoming Japan? We have some advantages that the Japanese lack, beginning with a welcoming attitude toward immigration and robust religious faith, both of which buoy fertility. But in the long run, the answer is, probably not.

Conservatives like to think that if we could just provide the right tax incentives for childbearing, then Americans might go back to having children the way they did 40 years ago. Liberals like to think that if we would just be more like France—offer state-run day care and other programs so women wouldn’t have to choose between working and motherhood—it would solve the problem. But the evidence suggests that neither path offers more than marginal gains. France, for example, hasn’t been able to stay at the replacement rate, even with all its day-care spending.

Which leaves us with outsourcing our fertility. We’ve received a massive influx of immigrants from south of the border since the late 1970s. Immigration has kept America from careening over the demographic cliff. Today, there are roughly 38 million people in the U.S. who were born elsewhere. (Two-thirds of them are here legally.) To put that in perspective, consider that just four million babies are born annually in the U.S.

If you strip these immigrants—and their relatively high fertility rates—from our population profile, America suddenly looks an awful lot like continental Europe, which has a fertility rate of 1.5., if not quite as demographically terminal as Japan.

Relying on immigration to prop up our fertility rate also presents several problems, the most important of which is that it’s unlikely to last. Historically, countries with fertility rates below replacement level start to face their own labor shortages, and they send fewer people abroad. In Latin America, the rates of fertility decline are even more extreme than in the U.S. Many countries in South America are already below replacement level, and they send very few immigrants our way. And every other country in Central and South America is on a steep dive toward the replacement line.

That is what’s happened in Mexico. In 1970, the Mexican fertility rate was 6.72. Today, it’s just at replacement, a drop of 72% in 40 years. Mexico used to send us several hundred thousand immigrants a year. For the last three years, there has been a net immigration of zero. Some of this decrease is probably related to the recent recession, but much of it is likely the result of a structural shift.

As for the Hispanic immigrants who are already here, we can’t count on their demographic help forever. They’ve been doing the heavy lifting for a long time: While the nation as a whole has a fertility rate of 1.93, the Hispanic-American fertility rate is 2.35. But recent data from the Pew Center suggest that the fertility rate for Hispanic immigrants is falling at an incredible rate. To take just one example, in the three years between 2007 and 2010, the birthrate for Mexican-born Americans dropped by an astonishing 23%.

In the face of this decline, the only thing that will preserve America’s place in the world is if all Americans—Democrats, Republicans, Hispanics, blacks, whites, Jews, Christians and atheists—decide to have more babies.

The problem is that, while making babies is fun, raising them isn’t. A raft of research shows that if you take two people who are identical in every way except for childbearing status, the parent will be on average about six percentage points less likely to be “very happy” than the nonparent. (That’s just for one child. Knock off two more points for each additional bundle of joy.)

But then, parenting has probably never been a barrel of laughs. There have been lots of changes in American life over the last 40 years that have nudged our fertility rate downward. High on the list is the idea that “happiness” is the lodestar of a life well-lived. If we’re going to reverse this decline, we’ll need to reintroduce into American culture the notion that human flourishing ranges wider and deeper than calculations of mere happiness.

We’ll need smart pronatalist policies, too. The government cannot persuade Americans to have children they do not want, but it can help them to have the children they do want. Here are three starting points:

Immigration has helped make up for America’s dropping birth rate. Corbis; Photo Illustration by Keith A. Webb/The Wall Street Journal

Social Security. In the U.S., the Social Security system has taken on most of the burden for caring for elderly adults, a duty that traditionally fell to grown-up children. A perverse effect of putting government in the business of eldercare has been to reduce the incentives to have children in the first place. One RAND study suggested that Social Security depresses the American fertility rate by as much as 0.5.

Looking to dismantle this roadblock, some analysts have suggested flattening the tax code to just two brackets and significantly raising the child tax credit. Others suggest exempting parents from payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare while they are raising children—perhaps by a third for their first child, two-thirds for the second, and then completely for a third child. (Once the children turn 18, the parents would go back to paying their full share.)

Regardless of the particulars, the underlying theory is the same: To reduce the tax burden for people who take on the costs of creating new taxpayers (otherwise known as children).

College. Higher education dampens fertility in all sorts of ways. It delays marriage, incurs debt, increases the opportunity costs of childbearing and significantly increases the expense of raising a child. If you doubt that the economics of the university system are broken, consider this: Since 1960, the real cost of goods in nearly every other sector of American life has dropped. Meanwhile, the real cost of college has increased by more than 1,000%.

If college were another industry, everyone would be campaigning for reform. Instead, politicians are trying to push every kid in America into the current exorbitantly expensive system. How could we get college costs under control? For one, we could begin to eliminate college’s role as a credentialing machine by allowing employers to give their own tests to prospective workers. Alternately, we could encourage the university system to be more responsive to market forces by creating a no-frills, federal degree-granting body that awards certificates to students who pass exams in a given subject.

The Dirt Gap. A big factor in family formation is the cost of land: It determines not just housing expenses but also the costs of transportation, entertainment, baby sitting, school and pretty much everything else. And while intensely urban areas—Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Chicago—have the highest concentrations of jobs, they come with high land costs. Improving the highway system and boosting opportunities for telecommuting would go a long way in helping families to live in lower-cost areas.

These ideas are just a start; other measures certainly will be needed to avert a demographic disaster in the U.S. If we want to continue leading the world, we simply must figure out a way to have more babies.

—Mr. Last is a senior writer at the Weekly Standard and author of “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: American’s Coming Demographic Disaster” (Encounter), from which this essay is adapted.

Corrections & Amplifications
The U.S. replacement total fertility rate was higher than 2.1 children per woman in the 1800s and early 1900s due to childhood mortality. A chart that ran with an earlier version of this article incorrectly showed the replacement rate as constant since 1800.

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