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December 01, 2006

Population Panic

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

Europe ... Low birth-rates ... Etc., etc.

Is this topic a source of much concern to you? I can't say I lose much sleep over over whether Italian women are averaging one or three births per. I often do, however, feel a little surprise at the number of people who look at Euro birth rates and feel some combo of "it's a disaster"; "it's the fault of the collapse of Christianity"; and "something -- and something political -- has got to be done."

This line of thinking, feeling, and bullying (or what strikes me as bullying) seems to me to make some huge and bizarre assumptions. For example: 1) constantly rising populations are always and everywhere a good thing; 2) people are being forced into their current reproductive behavior against their will and against their own best interests; and 3) if there is indeed a problem, the best policy isn't to let people respond on their own, it's to force them to behave properly.

I don't know about you, but I look at each one of these assumptions and think, "Sez who?" As I wrote in a comment over at GNXP:

It seems to me that, where the whole European birth rate thing is concerned, a few points get overlooked.

  • Maybe a reason why many people start to have fewer kids at a certain income level is because that's how they choose and prefer to live. They're educated, they're prosperous, and they're behaving freely. This is a problem?

  • Maybe another reason they have fewer kids is that they've made a kind of semi-conscious consensus decision that they're happy with the population level where it is. Maybe they'd even like it to be a little lower. Maybe they don't want to live in a country that's more crowded than it already is. Do we not respect this freely-expressed preference? Do we feel entitled to tell them that they're wrong? On what basis?

  • And I marvel a bit at the usual "something's gotta be done" concern. I mean, people could start breeding faster tomorrow, and entirely without bossing, policy changes, or coercion of any kind. Let's be wary of assuming that people tomorrow will be behaving exactly as people today are. Back in 1970, "overpopulation" was a huge concern. Weirdly, people all on their own started having fewer kids. Now "depopulation" seems to be a worry. Why not trust people to respond to this as they choose? I mean, who's to say that tomorrow's 22 year olds won't start popping kids out like little bunnies?

I thought most of y'all are vaguely libertarian. They why not root for letting things take their own course?

But I see this all as a subset of a more general pattern: letting experts highlight a trend and label it a problem; letting them work us into a panic about the pressing urgency of this supposed problem; and finally letting them get away with the leap from "it's a problem" to "something political has got to be done about it."

Why can't more people see this particular maneuver as the power-grab-by-the-elites that it often is? Sure some trends represent real problems, and sure some problems deserve to be addressed and attacked with political means. But just as surely many trends don't really qualify as pressing problems, and beyond-certainly many problems aren't best addressed via top-down policy-setting. And shouldn't we always be just a teensy bit skeptical of top-down people and their plans and druthers anyway?

What's your take on the Euro-birth-rate thing? Best to relax and make fun of the experts, or better to freak out and call in the cavalry? Are free and prosperous people behaving in ways that suit them and that deserve to respected? Or does a great civilization urgently need to have political action forced on it to be prevented from slitting its own throat?



UPDATE: GNXP associate Jaakkeli stares at the figures and concludes that birthrates among whites in the U.S. are even lower than birthrates in many Euro countries.

UPDATE 2: Faute de Pire takes issue.

posted by Michael at December 1, 2006


Extremely low birth rates, like extremely high birth rates (given the current low-mortality regime) are unsustainable. Either way, there will be a social-cultural-economic-political train wreck at some point. Europe will have that train wreck, likely before 2050 if demographic trends continue.

Will government efforts to raise birth rates work? Probably not. As you said people will do what they want to do (in their bedrooms).

There are several possible kinds of events that might provoke voluntary change regarding birth rates, most of them train-wreck related. The most benign one I can think of is a change in fashion to large families, as was the case during the Baby Boom.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 1, 2006 1:32 PM

Yeah, it's an odd assumption the experts make, isn't it? That today's behavior will go on forever? Why extrapolate out forever based on what's common today? It can be entertaining. But, I mean, really ....

Since it's so obviously a peculiar assumption, the people making it must be either naive, or they must be broadcasting it in order to achieve something, no? So I tend to conclude that what they're really up to is trying to scare us into policies that suit them, or maybe just into handing over control of our lives to them.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 1, 2006 1:36 PM

I pretty much go along with the third point you raised at GXNP: it is by no means certain that the current trend will last indefinitely. For all anyone knows today's worries could look as obsolete in 25 years as Paul Erlich's The Population Bomb looks today.

Posted by: Peter on December 1, 2006 1:52 PM

The two most obvious train-wreck scenarios for Europe (Lord knows what the non-obvious ones might be!) are (1) a social programs crunch where the burden on the young supporting the old becomes unbearable, and (2) the prospect that Muslims, with higher fertility rates, will become majority populations in some-most-all European countries.

For sake of argument, assume neither outcome is desirable. If so, then what are Eurpean governments doing to, for instance, (1) cut social welfare benefits to the elderly and (2) limit Muslim immigration?

I might be wrong, but my casual reading suggests that little or nothing that is serious has been done so far in most countries. Giving small tax beneftis for having 3+ kids isn't very serious a policy.

Sadly, we humans (and especially our democratic political systems) need real crises to spur constructive action.

I guess we might have to wait for one of those train wrecks before the hand of government gets seriously heavy or people change their sexual or voting behavior..

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 1, 2006 2:03 PM

If falling birth-rates were *simply* a result of increasing affluence, I would agree with you.

But aren't they also a rather predictable response to the welfare state? One reason people used to have children, and try to raise them right, was so that there would be somebody responsible around to look after them in their old age.

Programs like Social Security and Medicare diminish that reason. Hence, fewer and more spoiled children.

But the survival of programs like Social Security and Medicare may depend, in the long run, on people continuing to have children at traditional rates.

That's one problem.

Changing ethnic/racial demography is another.

Posted by: Steve Burton on December 1, 2006 3:15 PM

I disagree with those who interpret low fertility as a sign of cultural despondence and wilful autogenocide. I think it is the result of choice. There is no "reproductive instinct". People, like other animals, have instinctual drives to copulate and to care for infants. Nearly all human cultures add incentives to care for offspring. In the absence of birth control, that was more than enough to maintain birth rates above replacement. Parenthood was costly and difficult, but people had little choice about it.

But now copulation is divorced from reproduction, and the cultural imperatives to marry and beget are hugely diluted. People can choose whether to marry, or to beget, and they choose less of both than when it was forced. Women have many alternatives to the role of full-time mother, and most choose them. People who could afford to raise large families at a modest standard of living prefer fewer kids and more goodies.

A few people are enabled to beget in spite of previously unsolvable medical problems, or are wealthy enough to beget more than in the poorer past, but they are swamped by the fraction that beget less or not at all.

However, I agree with those who view this as a middle to long term crisis. If a culture stops reproducing, it dies. Or is displaced by cultures that continue to reproduce. The freight train of demography is rolling, and unless it us braked, hard, it will take us places very different from where we are.

Europe has huge problems. Its native population could be largely replaced by African and Middle Eastern immgrants, who have seriously dydfunctional cultures. Within its native population, an increasing share of reproduction comes from the "yobbo" class (or so I suspect, given that Britain now has a 40% bastardy rate). That's because the dysfunctional underclass are incapable of refraining from sex or maintaining contraception reliably (compared to people with their acts together).

The sum of all this is that the more functional parts of humanity are being replaced by the less functional parts. (China and India are a separate narrative; but Japan and the Philippines are another example of the problem.) Twenty five years from now, it is far more likely that one will have neighbors who practice "honor killing", binge drinking, or witch-hunting, than now.

I disagree with those who think there must be some action to promote fertility among "whites" (of whatever race or nationality). Banning abortion or contraception is impossible. The best I can think of is to promote and enable contraception for everyone, so that even the poor and dysfunctional stop outbreeding the rest.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on December 1, 2006 4:02 PM

WRT your second and third bullet points:

#2 - Very few people make decisions as important to themselves as whether to beget or not based on social concerns, unless there is a very strong consensus to go along with. (As when men volunteer en masse for military service.)

#3 - When a trend is as long and broad and deep as this one, it's not going to reverse suddenly. White American birth rates declined continuously, from 55 per 1000 in 1800, to 30 in 1900, and 18 in 1935. There was a rebound to 24 in the 1950s, then decline to 15 in 1980 and 13.5 in 2002. Partial data for blacks, hispanics, and so on is similar. A very long freight train is rolling.

Posted by: Rich Rostrom on December 1, 2006 4:23 PM

I think the panic arises a few layers down in the sub-basement of this topic. To wit: high birthrates have been, biologically, a strategy for men to compete reproductively with other men. (Actually, most of what feminists criticize as "patriarchal" behavior isn't men keeping women down, but men competing with other men.) Men are, often fairly quickly, "erased" from the gene pool within several generations, replaced by the lineages of other guys who have effectively out-bred them. (This isn't paranoia, but observable from genetic studies of populations in given locales.) Women, on the other hand, being able to have only so many babies, can't easily outbreed other female lineages, so they have little incentive to have huge families, risk death from childbirth, struggle to raise hordes of children, etc.

The upshot of this is that low birthrates tend to be indicative of societies in which women call the shots, reproductively speaking. Some men aren't happy about being outbred by other men who have more compliant wives. Thus these unhappy men criticize social trends which seem to be empowering their women to "just say no."

As the father of three, however, my feeling towards low birthrates is "more for my offspring! Bwah-ha-ha!"

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 1, 2006 4:39 PM

From the economist's perspective, this is a concern for a variety of reasons:

the first is the dependancy of the old/(or very young) on the working populations, this is a concern in some social democracies because of social security concerns.
A primary concern that goes along with this simply is that younger people are simply the economically active populations. They are the ones creating the growth in countries, they start businesses etc. Now of COURSE old people can do the same, but probably not without some change in social cirucmstances that allow (or force) older people to stay in the work force for longer. so you're gonna have to push the retirement age back, or the age of eligibility for social security etc.

The second concern is from immigration, if "WE" are not reproducing than "THEY" certainly will be. The hysteria caused by this is overblown: these reproduction trends are true for primary immigrant generations only, as individuals start making more money and start integrating within society they also start having less kids.

I am with Michael why the hysteria...

Posted by: strat on December 1, 2006 4:50 PM

Peter -- Just a hunch, but I'm betting that *many* of today's concerns will look weird or silly in 25 years. Except maybe obesity and crotch-shaving, both of which seem to have attained permanent status.

Donald -- Train-wreck scenarios are fun, aren't they? But how much should they be used to base policy on?

Steve -- I'm not the one offering single-reason explanations! I'm responding to the people who argue that declining birth rates can be entirely explained by evil social-democratic political policies, or by the collapse of Christianity. I'm trying to complicate the picture by introducing such factors as choice, preference, free will, etc. Which deserve some mention (and respect) too, no?

Rich -- A lot of good points, tks. I'm all for our civilization prospering, of course. But I'm left wondering whether the *only* choice available to us where dealing with population pressures from outside goes is either to let 'em in or to outbreed 'em. How about instead prospering in our own terms, and not letting them in? Who says this is impossible?

But I confess surprise: Doesn't anyone else feel suspicious of the people selling all the urgency? You really don't have alarm bells going off? You aren't thinking "Y'know, I think a fast one is being put over on us here, and it's probably not for our benefit"?

To come back home for a sec ... Our kooky policy of letting millions of Mexicans into the country is being justified by such arguments as "they're doing jobs Americans won't do," and "they'll be supporting us in our old age," etc. Yet if we were to raise pay levels for gardening and strawberry-picking jobs, Americans would certainly do them. If we were to reform our medical system, we wouldn't need bailing out down the line with immigrant labor (which might not bail us out anyway). A big majority of Americans don't want huge tides of immigration, or a much-increased population size either. Yet our business leaders want cheap labor and our Dems want easy votes. We're being steamrollered, in other words. Our legitimate desires are being defied by our elites.

Where Europe is concerned, perhaps it makes just as much sense to think of their birth-rate situation as "Europeans expressing a preference for a certain kind of life" as it does "Europeans are committing suicide and need emergency action." Why are Euro elites proposing and responding to the latter rather than the former? And why are they proposing big policy changes and permitting massive immigration (Turkey!?), rather than figuring out ways to move forward with what they've already got, and with what their people seem to want?

Methinks it doesn't have anything to do with serving their already-existing populations, but with serving their own interests ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 1, 2006 4:51 PM

Michael, the European "train wreck" isn't like Global Warming hocus-pocus. The data are solid regarding what's likely to happen regarding welfare entitlement consequences over the next 30 years, absent legislative or policy changes.

This is because, apart from babies born over the next 10-12 years or so who will be entering the labor force, everyone who will be retired or economically active in, say, 2035 is alive now. Some will die in the interim. There will be more or less migration of more or less qualified people (to pick up the Birth Dearth slack).

Going out 60 or 100 years, the situation might well be different because entirely new generations will come into play. That's the nature of population change: In contrast to political or economic change, it's a slow-motion affair with a huge amount of inertia built in.

But because it's so slow-moving, it's hard for politicians, businesses and individuals to understand and react to a potentially serious demographic crisis. For instance, a major corporation I'm familiar with was studying potential pension problems as long as 20 years ago, but they did little to resolve the issue and today pensions are one reason (among many others) they're in financial trouble now.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on December 1, 2006 6:07 PM

Exactly, the pain is in the financing of the pensions. Which, in countries like Italy and France was somewhat neglected. And that wouldn't be so bad, shouldn't those countries be a part of the European Monetery Union. Or in other words, the stability of the euro isn't helped by low rates of births, and a generation of baby boomers on the brink of retiring.

But the, maybe the Chinese will consider the euro a better bet than the dollar. One euro is 1,333 dollars right now.

Posted by: ijsbrand on December 1, 2006 6:39 PM

I'm not sure where Steve Burton gets the idea that Social Security and Medicare lead to "more spoiled" children. Though I guess you could argue that we're all more spoiled than those who lived in the days of slavery and indentured servitude and working right up to the grave.

It seems to me that there are four ways to deal with the pressure that an aging population puts on a prosperous welfare state:

1) Citizens start procreating more

2) Immigrants take up the slack

3 Younger workers increase their productivity to make up the slack

4) The welfare state is scaled back to reduce the financial burden on the younger workers

I'm pretty sure the "solution" to lower birthrates in Europe and elsewhere is going to be a reasonable, naturally-occurring combination of some or all of these. Anyone who singles out one of these (cut Social Security! breed!) as the only possible solution is more concerned with pushing a pet issue than thinking through the larger issues.

Posted by: Steve on December 1, 2006 6:55 PM

Another way of coping with lower birth rates and aging populations would be through gradual increases in the retirement age. This also is a logical step given increasing life expectancies. Of course, the trend in America at least is toward decreasing retirement ages.

Posted by: Peter on December 1, 2006 8:06 PM

I'm with those who think its not a problem as long as the Europeans keep the third worlders out. Otherwise, the third worlders will drag a first world continent into the third world, and start replacing european culture and artifacts with their own. Yuck, no thanks. Kick out the third worlders, and its not a problem. We don't need more Indias.

BTW, people would have more kids without Social Security and a welfare state. They would have to rely more on family and their own kids as they got older, with no Big Brother to do that. Socialism and social decline go hand in hand.

Posted by: BIOH on December 1, 2006 8:12 PM

Low birthrates are partly driven by the high cost of land. Presumably if the demand for land went down, the price of a home with a yard would go down, making children more affordable.

But there are a lot of ifs in this...

Posted by: Steve Sailer on December 2, 2006 2:39 AM

Class mobility, real or perceived, might be at the root of low birthrates. Now, we're in the habit of thinking of class mobility as an unqualified good, forgetting that mobility can be both upward and downward-bound.

So in effect, wherever there are low birthrates, it may be because people feel insecure about their place in society. I don't have the numbers, but it seems to me that it's the poorest and the wealthiest that have the most children. The former are confident that having children won't drag them down, while the latter feel that they can't get any lower than they already are.

But when you're middle class, or aspiring middle class, you agonize over having children because you have to think about the mortgage, the racial composition of local schools (to be blunt), and even about good old keepin' up with the Joneses, alas.

Those are the American realities, in any case. I imagine the sense of class insecurity due to mobility is a factor too. Same with East Asian countires, I imagine.... and the poorer Eastern European nations.

Re. Steve Sailer's point, I think his thesis on "Affordable Family Formation" is sound. But there are other factors at play, cultural ones I think. There are no baby booms North Dakota of Ukraine, where land is cheap. There are no baby booms in Finland, where population density is very low.

Posted by: PA on December 2, 2006 9:27 AM

I think that having children is the only way that most people achieve maturity. A society of childless people is a society of eternal adolescence.

There is a real price to pay for this. Childless people tend to live in a world of the ideal. Raising children teaches a person that ideals often have to be sacrificed in the face of reality.

Our political divide is, increasingly, the opposition of the childless to those who have children. I'm on the side of the parents.

I find the childless culture to be aesthetically unappealing. The cult of the individual that dominates the childless culture long ago reached a dead end of narcissism and fun-fun-fun. I'm so tired of being told to have fun-fun-fun that I'm ready to vomit. Fun-fun-fun is a very small part of life.

My observation is that few people know what to do with the time and money that is freed up by childlessness. I mean, they don't have anything worthwhile to do with that time and money. (I'm not one of those non-judgmental people. Some endeavors are more worthwhile than others.)

The phony political movements that now beset us: particularly feminism and gay activism are the product of people with too much time and money on their hands, armed with a rancid spoiled brat attitude.

Most people would be better off, and they would be better people, if they had children... including people who are homosexual. Most homosexuals would be better off in the closet, married, raising children, and focusing on something other than pursuing their perversions.

We made a mistake when we moved from tolerance to advocacy of perversion as a "lifestyle." This was the parents giving in to the whining, spoiled kids. We should tolerate the childless and homosexual, but we certainly should not encourage them. Encouraging this behavior creates more of it. And, conversely, the society should give greater honor and encouragement to those who produce children and maintain families. (And, I'll anticipate the spoiled brat whining sure to follow... No, these things are not civil rights issues. No, you're not a victim of discrimination. No, this isn't advocating a monarchy run by the theocracy.)

Parents should retake the culture. I'm tired of a culture of dumb kids. It's empty headed crap.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on December 2, 2006 10:27 AM

Donald -- I'm certainly not opposed to sensible policy-tweaking, just to being bullied into insane policies by over-frothy pols and propagandists. For example, the Euro elites have talked themselves (and are doing their best to talk their subjects) into merging with Turkey, partly out of (or supposedly out of) panic over population questions. That seems beyond-idiotic -- it seems far more suicidal to me than doing nothing. Why not instead address more basic and simple questions: What do we want our population level to be? What kinds of ethnic mix are we comfortable with? And then, once a few "what do we want" questions have been addressed, figure out modest and effective ways of adjusting? People do tend to freak out and then do dumb things, and politicians do tend to take advantage of this tendency we have ...

Ijsbrand -- It all seems to depend on the Chinese these days, doesn't it? How and when did that come about?

Steve -- What a good blog topic: What's your own pet solve-it-all policy? I wonder what mine is ... I do often think that the world would be a far more pleasant place if all our political and business leaders were forced to eat more dietary fiber.

Peter -- I'm seldom a defender of the Boomers, but the whole raising-the-retirement-age thing can really grate on me. Boomers supported their parents (via Social Security anyway) rather lavishly -- Greatest Generation folks got lots more out of the system than they put in. Now Boomers are apparently expected to spend their own golden years stocking the shelves at Costco. Grrrr. Anyway, if there is to be serious talk about raising the retirement age, I'd certainly love to see serious talk about ways for older people to do reasonable kinds of work. It seems to me that most workplaces are becoming ever more dependent on (and addicted to) young workers -- older workers seem to become deadwood at younger and younger ages. It's a weird coincidence of trends -- talk about retirement ages rising, and at the same time ever-more emphasis on youth at work...

BIOH -- It's funny the way the people who advocate superhigh, indiscriminate immigration levels manage to avoid the topic of its cultural impact, isn't it? I wonder if there's any way to hold their feet to the fire ...

Steve, PA -- I know nothing about this: When and how did having kids become so expensive and difficult for the middle-class? Middle-class people these days have far more money (and far bigger houses and toys) than they did when I was a kid, and when neighborhoods were swarming with kids. Yet people today talk about how expensive and hard it is to have kids these days. I'm not in the suburban/breeding swing of things, so I'm sure there's an explanation. There's much I'm not aware of!

ST -- I hearya. It's interesting the way that ethics and behaviors that suit gays and the childless have become so thick in the air generally, isn't it? I don't have kids myself and god knows I spend a lot of time around gays. But I'd never *advocate* this life for anyone. It's a pretty strange and special one. I think normal life probably suits four out of five people well, and is probably what most people ought to aim for. On the other hand, I confess that I'm sometimes knocked out, when I venture among the suburban/normal-people/breeder set, by the way some of them can be incredibly intolerant of those not like them, and also by the way 110% of life for many American adults revolves entirely around kids. Has there ever been such a kid-centric society as ours? Playdates, schools, letting the "having kids" thing dictate where and how you live, sneering at people who don't have kids, postponing all pleasure until retirement ... It's a lot! Obviously many normal-people types are sweet and generous, and just as obviously normal life ought to be respected and encouraged. But here and there there's a kind of having-kids ... well, not fascism of course, but social totalitarianism or something. I'm overdramatizing, but it is something I sometimes find striking. A kind of very rigid, aggressive self-righteousness about having kids that's very unpleasant to encounter. There are some people who really really hate those who don't have kids, and who can get very moral about people leading non-normal lives. Sigh: why can't we all just go about our own business and wish each other well ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 2, 2006 1:32 PM

MB: "Sigh: why can't we all just go about our own business and wish each other well ..."

Wouldn't that dramatically reduce the amount of blogging you do?

Posted by: James M. on December 2, 2006 1:46 PM

I wonder if blogging generally would survive it! Well, maybe the bloggers who like posting nice food and meal recipes ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 2, 2006 1:49 PM

In California 30% of births are to non-Hispanic whites, while 51% of birth are to Hispanics. Combine that with the fact that whites are moving out of the state while Hispanics are moving in, I'm guessing that the culture of California will be changing over the next 50 years.

Posted by: Chris M on December 2, 2006 2:00 PM

Anyway, if there is to be serious talk about raising the retirement age, I'd certainly love to see serious talk about ways for older people to do reasonable kinds of work. It seems to me that most workplaces are becoming ever more dependent on (and addicted to) young workers -- older workers seem to become deadwood at younger and younger ages. It's a weird coincidence of trends -- talk about retirement ages rising, and at the same time ever-more emphasis on youth at work...

Today's low retirement ages may be a cause of the increasing youth orientation of many workplaces. If retirement in one's mid-50's (or even earlier) is becoming standard operating procedure it's no surprise that past age 40 or so many workers are focusing much more on retirement than on the work at hand. One consequence is that companies prefer younger workers but at least they are focused on work rather than retirement.

Posted by: Peter on December 2, 2006 2:30 PM

I do think that very low birthrates are a problem as are very high birthrates.

However, I disagree with a lot of the population experts

For one thing they tend to be Anglo-centric anti-producerists that think de-industrialisation and high debt aren't a problem yet population aging is a disaster.

Since the English-speaking countries have no manufaturing base they at least needs to make sure they have some resources to trade. However, immigration based population growth is using up resources that could be used to trade for manufactured goods.

Hence, the massive debt being accumulated by countries like the US.

My economics teachers always said the best measure of economic health is productivity.

Given that English-speaking countries like the US, the UK and New Zealand have poor productivity levels you would think they would stop lecturing the rest of the world about how to solve demographic and economic problems.

Incentives to have children and increase producitivty are a sensible step but mass immigration isn't

Posted by: nz conservative on December 2, 2006 9:49 PM

"Sez who?"

Well, Mark Steyn is a good place to start.

Posted by: beloml on December 2, 2006 9:57 PM

In principle, I completely agree with you.

I do personally find it alarming to have all my eggs in one basket, posterity-wise; but since my wife and I started rather late in this particular game, that's quite likely the way it's gonna stay.

Some times I think about my maternal grandmother, who had four children, ten grandchildren and (so far) seven great-grandchildren (none of whom she lived to see, sadly). Some of my cousins are still thoroughly of breeding age, though, so seven may not turn out to be the final number for Generation Four. (You can prove anything with anecdotes. For my paternal grandmother the numbers are two, four and two.)

I've read all the stats about how more educated women freely choose to have fewer children etc. etc. A slightly more personal perspective on why some people in my generation (b. 1961) may have started having kids late or not at all: for much of my youth and early adutlhood I genuinely believed there was a serious chance of a nuclear world war. In which case there might have been parts of America and Russia where people, and even vestiges of civilization, might have survived; whereas in western Europe pretty much the best anybody could have hoped for was a quick death. I'm too young to remember the Cuban crisis, but I do remember the time some Soviet fighter pilot shot down that Korean airliner in the early 80s. I was sitting in the kitchen at my parents' house with my sister and the news came on the radio. We just looked at each other and though oh, this could be the end then.

As it turned out it wasn't, but I grew up seriously believing it could be and what kind of a world would that be to bring children into? I don't know if I'm typical of a significant portion of my generation in that, or not.

Posted by: Alan Little on December 3, 2006 4:06 AM

A few more random observations:

Britain has, in my lifetime in my opinion, mostly benefited immensely from immigration from its former colonies - particularly from India. My home town, Leicester, these days has around a third of its population of first- or second-generation subcontinental origin and is well on the way to half within a decade or two. Leicester is lucky in that most of those people are Indian Sikhs and Hindus rather than Pakistani Muslims - they have a more open culture, integrate more and generally seem to do better. Leicester these days is a more prosperous, lively and interesting place than it was when I was growing up. The violent, dangerous inner city area I grew up in is a whole lot less so now that Gujurati matriarchs rule the streets.

Unintegrated Pakistani disaster areas get all the press, but they aren't by any means the only thing that happened.

Neverthess, letting Turkey into the EU just seems obviously insane to me. I have no idea why anybody would even contemplate it.

Germany just raised the retirement age to 67.

Posted by: Alan Little on December 3, 2006 4:26 AM

MB asks: Has there ever been such a kid-centric society as ours? For all the kid-centricity, the whole enterprize seems kind of joyless, doesn't it?

It is a wierd phenomenon. I was raised in a very laissez faire manner by my parents in a completely different universe, a Commie eastern European country during the 70's.

Now, recently married, we're starting a family in the 'burbs on the East Coast, but I can't imagine the kind of let 'em run-free spirit coming as naturally in this time and place.

I wonder why that's so. The zeitgeist? The all-around uneasy feeling that the wonders of diversity bring on? The corporate/educrat forces that seem hostile to normal parents' efforts to raise their children their own way? I dunno.... It's certainly a fascinating question MB brings forward.

Posted by: PA on December 3, 2006 9:02 AM

A slightly more personal perspective on why some people in my generation (b. 1961) may have started having kids late or not at all: for much of my youth and early adutlhood I genuinely believed there was a serious chance of a nuclear world war.

I never really thought of that, but it makes sense. It would be interesting to see - though it might take a while longer for the statistics to become available - if some younger people in the United States have recently decided to postpone or avoid childbearing because they fear that (drumroll please) Islam Will Conquer the World. Writers such as Michelle Malkin or Little Green Footballs or the aforementioned Mark Steyn get a sexual fetish over stoking fears of the Muslim Menace. Read enough of that and you'll start thinking that brining a child into this world is a terrible idea.

Unintegrated Pakistani disaster areas get all the press, but they aren't by any means the only thing that happened.

Once again, according to Michelle Malkin or Little Green Footballs or Mark Steyn they ARE the only thing that happened.

Posted by: Peter on December 3, 2006 11:06 AM


The "what me worry" approach won't stop what Steyn has forecast. I think you know that, in your heart of hearts, it's a problem. As this is upsetting, that natural response is to simply turn away and go bowling or have a picnic or something.

The "clash of civilizations" already underway will, in the future, pit the grandchildren of today's Hispanic American migrants (plus some Hindus and Christian Africans) against the Islamists.

Why? Well, as we all know, "ethnic" Europeans and "white" Americans will be too few and too old to fight the battle.

Posted by: adam on December 3, 2006 7:55 PM

I'm familiar with the numbers on American, not European pensions, but: IMO the whole pension hysteria is way overblown. It's simply absurd in America -- there is no "social security crisis" -- and I think it's overrated in Europe as well. Europe has massively higher retirement benefits than we do and a lot of room to cut them. In general, the cuts in pension systems that would be necessary to balance them out in 2040-2050 still leave the elderly with absolutely higher benefit levels than they are getting now (through the wonders of economic growth). Slowdown in population growth means that education spending goes down, so workers don't have as many kids to support. Etc.

The Muslim immigration thing is more of an issue; Europe doesn't seem to know how to absorb that population and is letting in too many.

As for a low population growth rate being somehow "unsustainable": nonsense, I say. As population levels drop and life therefore becomes more pleasant and less crowded, housing becomes less expensive, etc., more people will want to have kids. The process is self-equilibrating, as many free social choices are.

Posted by: MQ on December 4, 2006 12:51 AM

Adam does the same thing Steyn does: he writes off the West (whites, Europeans, etc). And Steyn does it with unforgivable glee.

In fact, in absolute numbers, Europeans aren't going anyway. Their birthrates are not zero. Thus, even if we're halved in number, there will still be plenty of young Westerners in three generations.

"What me worry" is no solution, albeit it's understandable in people of Michael's age. They won't be around to see this world turn ugly.

But demoralizing the rest of us, a la Steyn, is no good either.

Posted by: s.j. on December 4, 2006 5:53 AM

Hey, when did I advocate "burying our heads in the sand"? My main point here is "it's wise to be wary of letting ourselves be bullied into panic states by our experts, because they're often up to shit that isn't in our best interest." It seems to me that the birth-rate thing might well be an example of this.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on December 4, 2006 9:38 AM


You are correct, pensions aren't the problem, if by pensions you mean Social Security. The problem is in the other senior entitlement, Medicare. That one is a real train wreck, and will sooner or later will force U.S. medicine into a "socialized medicine" structure. After all, the current system is halfway there. It pits for-profit medicine (doctors, some hospitals, drug companies, medical device companies, etc., etc.) against socialized payment mechanisms (insurance, Medicare, Medicaid.) The upshot? Double-digit growth rates in health care spending, as far as the eye can see. Not sustainable...unlike "pensions."

Posted by: Friedrich von Blowhard on December 6, 2006 5:29 PM

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