#885: Do It For Your Country People are the engine that fuels an economy. But what happens when you start running out of people?
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#885: Do It For Your Country

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#885: Do It For Your Country

SARAH GONZALEZ, HOST:

Dear young listeners, when two people really love each other...

KENNY MALONE, HOST:

Sarah, just tell them that we're going to talk about sex in this episode.

GONZALEZ: We're talking about sex in this episode.

MALONE: All right. You're warned.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) A couple years ago, Eva Lundgren woke up in Denmark to news of a weird problem.

EVA LUNDGREN: There were some smaller articles in very serious newspapers that told the story about the problem with not having enough children born in Denmark.

MALONE: Yes, the great Danes were not having enough babies to replace the existing population. And this mattered to Eva because she works at a travel agency. And she thinks - uh-oh, we're not going to have enough customers in the future.

GONZALEZ: So they're like - OK, we need to figure out who our customers are now. Where are they going? What do they do? How do we get them to keep traveling?

LUNDGREN: And what we found out was that people going on city breaks were mainly couples.

GONZALEZ: City breaks - you mean vacation?

LUNDGREN: Yeah, sort of like small vacations, two or three nights to a big city.

GONZALEZ: People in Denmark get five weeks of vacation every year.

MALONE: Of course they do.

GONZALEZ: I know - so unfair. So apparently, when Danish couples go on these short city breaks, they aren't going out to see the sights of Rome and Paris. They're just unwinding, staying in their hotel rooms.

LUNDGREN: And that's why (laughter) we did the assumption that going abroad might turn into more sex. And more sex might have the ability to turn into children.

GONZALEZ: Right. That is how you make more children.

LUNDGREN: Exactly (laughter).

MALONE: Eva realizes there might be an opportunity here to create future customers and, sure, to help out Denmark. So she launches an ad campaign.

LUNDGREN: The ad that we came up with was called Do It for Denmark.

GONZALEZ: Do It for Denmark - like do it it?

LUNDGREN: Do it it, yes.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Danish). Do It For Denmark.

GONZALEZ: Their ads basically say it is your civic duty. For the sake of your country, do it.

MALONE: And use our planes to do it in a different country.

GONZALEZ: OK. So these ads, they are not subtle ads. Like, they are very suggestive.

LUNDGREN: Yes, it is. It is.

GONZALEZ: These ads are like, meet Emma.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Danish).

GONZALEZ: Yeah, she was born and raised in Denmark, but she was made by her parents in this hotel room in Paris.

LUNDGREN: So it's quite obvious what we are (laughter) - what we are suggesting should happen on that city break.

MALONE: The travel agency even ran contests that were like, hey, prove you gave birth to a baby around nine months after your vacation, and we will give you three years' worth of baby supplies and a child-friendly vacation.

GONZALEZ: And if you were ovulating, they gave you a discount.

LUNDGREN: Based on the input from people's period cycle, we found the period that they were ovulating. And then we suggested different city trips in especially that period.

GONZALEZ: Wait. So women were going to your travel agency and telling you when their next periods were...

LUNDGREN: Yes, they did.

GONZALEZ: ...So that they could get a period discount?

LUNDGREN: Exactly.

(LAUGHTER)

GONZALEZ: This is, like, probably the only time in the world that women get rewarded for having their periods.

LUNDGREN: Yeah, I think we should do that more.

GONZALEZ: Right?

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MALONE: Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Kenny Malone.

GONZALEZ: And I'm Sarah Gonzalez. Today on the show, Do It For Your Country. People aren't just good for the economy. They are the economy.

MALONE: And when a place needs people, they will try anything.

GONZALEZ: We have a story of a plan to resurrect an Italian ghost town.

MALONE: A battle to save a U.S. Congress seat by buying some residents.

GONZALEZ: And a state that's looking for some young blood.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MALONE: So Sarah, I feel like I should admit that when I heard that places were paying for population, I definitely thought that they would be these pathetic little places like...

GONZALEZ: Oh, Kenny (laughter).

MALONE: It seems like kids having to pay for their own friends at, like, the lunch cafeteria.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

MALONE: But I feel like this next example sort of puts that to rest.

GONZALEZ: I actually think this is, like, one of the best ways you can lure people to a state.

MALONE: Yeah. So Sarah and I called up a guy named Nate Wildes. He's one of the people in charge of promoting this particular pay-for-population scheme.

NATE WILDES: Hello.

Hey, I sound like I'm on a podcast or something. That's weird.

MALONE: Nate, I just want to say, I just visited Maine.

GONZALEZ: I visited Maine recently also, actually.

MALONE: You have amazing national parks.

GONZALEZ: Awesome lobster, lighthouses.

MALONE: You've got, like, wild blueberries galore. And you're telling us that, like, you have to pay people to come and live there.

WILDES: (Laughter) Well, that's one of a few things we're trying.

GONZALEZ: Nate told us, yeah, Maine is a super popular vacation destination. They even write Vacationland on their license plate.

MALONE: However, Vacationland is not the same as Population-land (ph). Maine gets about 36 million visitors a year. They have a population of just 1 million people.

GONZALEZ: And those 1 million people...

WILDES: So our population is old and white, generally speaking.

GONZALEZ: Maine has the oldest population in the country.

MALONE: The median age is just shy of 44 years old there.

GONZALEZ: And what that means is that Maine needs people to come and take care of its aging population. Nate says there's a huge need for everything from physicians to administrators to IT people who can work at the hospitals.

MALONE: And so about 10 years ago, Maine decided to basically pay off people's student loans.

GONZALEZ: Maine told students in the state, if you stay and go to college in Maine and then stick around after you graduate, we're going to give you a huge break on your state income tax to offset your student loans.

MALONE: So if you pay, for example, $2,000 in student loans, you got $2,000 knocked off your state income tax bill. And if you're from a STEM field - science, technology, engineering and math - there were even more generous benefits.

WILDES: And the employer community spoke up loud and clear and said - that's great, but even if we retain a hundred percent of every college graduate in Maine, that doesn't solve our talent needs.

MALONE: Whoa. That means you are quite low on young people.

WILDES: Yes.

GONZALEZ: So Maine said, OK, let's broaden the program. Now we don't care which state you're from. And you can go to college anywhere in the country. As long as you come to Maine afterwards and work here, we'll cut you the same deal.

MALONE: The state will help with your student loan payments by dropping your state income taxes - although, as Sarah and I learned, there are some restrictions to this.

GONZALEZ: So I graduated from college in California. So I could move to Maine, and you would offset my student loans if I moved to Maine.

WILDES: If you graduated in the year 2016, 2017, 2018 or any year into the future...

GONZALEZ: So you...

MALONE: Oh, I see. You only want, like, actual young people.

WILDES: Oh, inter-host burn.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

MALONE: No, we're both...

GONZALEZ: We're both (laughter)...

MALONE: We're both - we're about the same age, and we don't feel old. But like...

WILDES: Well, you're not too old to live and work in Maine. You definitely qualify for the quality of life we have to offer. How about that?

MALONE: Wait - what a copout.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

WILDES: That is not a cop - come on, man.

MALONE: Qualify for the quality of life.

WILDES: Where else in the world can you wake up in the morning, walk on the beach before you go to work, go for a hike at your lunch break and be on the ski slopes by 3 p.m.?

MALONE: Hm, California.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) Yeah, Kenny.

WILDES: Oh, come on. That's baloney.

(LAUGHTER)

WILDES: The traffic in California - you'd barely get to the beach by noon if you left before you woke up. Come on.

GONZALEZ: Oh, good point.

MALONE: OK, fine. Whatever. Maine doesn't want 30-somethings like us there. I don't want to be in Maine anyway.

GONZALEZ: Who needs lighthouses?

MALONE: Yeah, we have cellphone flashlights.

(LAUGHTER)

GONZALEZ: They actually don't need us, though. Maine has effectively paid off more than $50 million worth of student loans through this program.

MALONE: And Nate says it's hard to know which of these graduates came to Maine because of the program. But as of last year, around 9,000 actually young people were working in Maine, taking advantage of this program.

WILDES: What young people mean is decades of work. Oftentimes, they're going to start a family. They're going to contribute a few more human beings to Maine's population.

GONZALEZ: And Maine's approach is actually pretty smart. They don't have a cap on how many people can participate in this program, but you only get your student loans offset if you can find a job in Maine.

MALONE: And that's like this naturally built-in restriction for the program. And Nate says that is good because, honestly, the state couldn't handle a massive influx of new residents.

WILDES: We don't have the housing stock. We don't have schools. We don't have the jobs. So we're not looking for a huge number of people. We're looking for the right people - and more of them - to choose a life here in Maine.

MALONE: Just, you know, not old 30-year-old people.

GONZALEZ: Although, we do have so much more world experience.

MALONE: I know, right? We wouldn't skateboard down their streets. We wouldn't wear - what are annoying things kids do?

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) We don't even know.

MALONE: Are they still do in the vaping?

GONZALEZ: (Laughter).

MALONE: Are they still...

GONZALEZ: All right. Thanks, Kenny.

MALONE: Oh, sure thing.

GONZALEZ: I think that's your cue to leave. Will you send in Nick for me? He's younger than us.

MALONE: All right.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONZALEZ: Nick, you went to a state that is sort of facing an existential crisis.

NICK FOUNTAIN, BYLINE: Rhode Island. I went there to meet Carlos Tobon. We ended up driving around in his truck.

CARLOS TOBON: Maybe we could take a little ride, and I'll show you some of the cool things that we have.

FOUNTAIN: Carlos is the No. 1 booster of Rhode Island. He's a state rep. He represents about 15,000 people, and it seems like he knows every single one of them. He points them out while we drive by their houses.

TOBON: This guy used to have a business. This guy, he works at a lumber yard. This is a teacher. There's a Puerto Rican family.

FOUNTAIN: You clearly have been knocking doors in this neighborhood before (laughter).

TOBON: Absolutely, absolutely.

FOUNTAIN: It took a lot of campaigning for Carlos to get elected the first time.

TOBON: Yeah, I ran three times before I got elected.

FOUNTAIN: (Laughter).

TOBON: I lost three times. And in 2012, I made history - just not the one that I wanted. I lost by one vote.

FOUNTAIN: Oh.

TOBON: So that's why, for me, when people talk about counting, I take it so seriously.

FOUNTAIN: Sarah, Carlos is a man obsessed with counting.

GONZALEZ: OK.

FOUNTAIN: His obsession goes back decades. When he was a teenager, he had the job of enumerator.

GONZALEZ: Enumerator.

FOUNTAIN: Yeah. I learned that's just a fancy way of saying he counted the people of Rhode Island for the U.S. Census Bureau.

TOBON: So I, you know, knock on a door (knocking) and say, hello. My name's Carlos. I'm with the Census Bureau, and we see that we haven't received your paperwork.

FOUNTAIN: Carlos wanted to make sure that everyone in the state was counted because more people means more government resources.

TOBON: People would say, well, why do I have to do it? And then I would explain to them, well, this is going to affect what Rhode Island will get for the next 10 years and everything from infrastructure money and schools to the representation we have in Washington.

GONZALEZ: Representation in Washington.

FOUNTAIN: Rhode Island, right now, has two congressional reps, but they're at risk of losing one of them.

TOBON: Our state is facing grave danger.

GONZALEZ: OK. There are 435 congressional seats in the country. And every census, we divvy up those seats based on which states are growing and which states are shrinking. And in order for Rhode Island to not lose one of their seats, the state needs to grow by 30,000 people.

FOUNTAIN: And Carlos really doesn't want to lose that seat. So he proposed a bill that would give $10,000 in tax credits to 10,000 families - families of three or more - if they reside in Rhode Island long enough to be counted in the next census.

GONZALEZ: So they can, like, get their $10,000 and then move away?

FOUNTAIN: They could, but Carlos is hoping they won't. And I should say, that is just one of several criticisms of his plan. Democrats say he's subsidizing the rich because he only wants to give tax credits to families who make above a certain threshold. And Republicans are like, this is just a waste of money because, if you do the math, Carlos' bill will cost $100 million.

GONZALEZ: A hundred million dollars - that does not seem worth one extra congressional seat to me. I don't know.

FOUNTAIN: For Carlos, it is totally worth it. The way he sees it, Rhode Island gets billions of dollars from the federal government every year. But there's also a lot of federal spending that can be willed in one direction or another, like, for example, orders of submarines that get built in Rhode Island. He wants that extra vote to influence spending like that.

TOBON: We can't stand to take another loss. If we lose a seat, we'll be scratching our head. And we could talk about all the things we could have done, but it's too late.

FOUNTAIN: For 10 years, right?

TOBON: No, probably forever.

FOUNTAIN: Remember, Carlos lost an election by one vote. I think he just doesn't want to live that nightmare again of just missing out.

GONZALEZ: I can understand that.

Thanks, Nick.

FOUNTAIN: Got to go. Got to see if I can score one of those tax credits.

GONZALEZ: OK. But I need a co-host, so send someone else in.

FOUNTAIN: How much is it worth to you?

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) OK. We just heard about two really expensive ways to increase your population. Coming up after the break, a deal so good it's free.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONZALEZ: OK. So while some countries are putting out sexy commercials saying have more babies, please, and U.S. states are literally paying people money to move to their towns, one mayor in a small town in Italy thought - why not just welcome refugees? There are more than 28 million refugees and asylum-seekers in the world according to the United Nations, and immigration is one way that a lot of countries have solved their population problems for decades. Countries like Denmark, Italy - they develop and modernize. They get richer, and their birth rates drop, so we all start to depend a little bit more on immigrants. But in this Italian town, that familiar story went sideways. And to tell us all about it is the one and only Sylvia Poggioli, NPR's senior European correspondent.

Sylvia, welcome to PLANET MONEY.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

GONZALEZ: OK. So tell us about Riace.

POGGIOLI: Oh, it's a medieval town perched on a hill in Calabria. That's sort of the toe of the Italian boot. And it was, until about 20 years ago, a almost abandoned ghost town with not more than a couple of thousand people living there.

GONZALEZ: But then something happened in the summer of 1998. Hundreds of refugees arrived at Riace's shores.

POGGIOLI: That's right. And the mayor, Domenico Lucano, had this idea of, why don't we welcome them? And he basically offered them a place to live in the many empty apartments that existed in the town. And he offered them places to start opening little artisan shops. There were hardly any businesses. Now it's full of cafes and shops. I'm not going to say it's a thriving town, but it's a living town. It's been called the Riace Experiment, and several other towns in Italy were inspired - not many, but a few started doing it, too. And Lucano, he's become quite famous for having done this now.

GONZALEZ: But then the current refugee crisis that we all know about happened, and that changed things.

POGGIOLI: Not just the refugee crisis but the arrival of a new government, which is very much anti-migrant. And they cracked down against all these welcoming attitude towards migrants. And Domenico Lucano was charged with - basically, he was accused of enabling and encouraging illegal migration.

GONZALEZ: They were upset that he was giving refugees jobs.

POGGIOLI: Yeah, exactly. They had to find some excuse. In any case, he was first put under house arrest, and now he has been banned from living in Riace.

GONZALEZ: So he is the current mayor of Riace. But he is not allowed to be in Riace?

POGGIOLI: That's right.

(LAUGHTER)

GONZALEZ: How does he feel about that?

POGGIOLI: He's pretty furious.

GONZALEZ: Yeah. So Sylvia, there are all these cities and states and countries that are, like, actually begging for people to move there. Meanwhile, there's this global refugee crisis, and it seems like a match made in heaven. But it's not really happening.

POGGIOLI: Well, definitely in most of Europe now, there is a overwhelming anti-migrant feeling. All the policies now are making it much harder for migrants to settle and to make a decent living in these countries. The problem is, the migrants aren't going to stop coming (laughter). They're going to always find a way. Also, these towns - Italy also has one of the lowest birth rates in the world, so it needs migrants if it wants to, you know, sort of make its economy work in the future.

GONZALEZ: Or people could just make more babies.

POGGIOLI: They could (laughter) - but doesn't look like people are very willing to do that right now.

GONZALEZ: (Laughter) All right, Sylvia. And just because you are legendary and because my two co-hosts totally ditched me, will you stick around and do the credits with us?

POGGIOLI: Sure.

If you have a story idea, send us an email - planetmoney@npr.org.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GONZALEZ: Today's show was produced by Darian Woods.

POGGIOLI: Bryant Urstadt edits the show, and Alex Goldmark is the supervising producer.

GONZALEZ: I'm Sarah Gonzalez.

POGGIOLI: And I'm Sylvia Poggioli. Thanks for listening.

GONZALEZ: And one more thing we couldn't fit into the show was how Singapore tried to increase its birth rate through song.

(SOUNDBITE OF ADVERTISEMENT)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: It's time to do our civic duty. And I'm not talking about speeches, fireworks or parades.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: But I like that stuff.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: I'm talking about the stuff after that stuff. I'm talking about making a baby, baby. You ready? Lehgo (ph). (Rapping) Singapore's population, it needs some increasing. Forget waving flags, August 9, we be freaking. Like a government scholar, I'm going to cram real hard and tap you all night, like an EZ-Link card. Let's make a little human that looks like you and me. Explore your body like a night safari. I'm a patriotic husband. You a patriotic wife.

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