April 28, 2004


The Population Implosion: Can America be saved? (NICHOLAS EBERSTADT, April 28, 2004, Wall Street Journal)

Both Europe and Japan...entered into "subreplacement" childbearing patterns over a generation ago and are poised for prolonged depopulation. In most developing countries, birthrates are plummeting. China's fertility is now at subreplacement levels, partly because of Beijing's antibirth programs. Other Third World countries without coercive population policies are veering toward subreplacement, too--Brazil and Iran, for example.

Elsewhere, "population explosion" stereotypes are fading. Among Arab societies--supposed "holdouts" for high-birth norms--Tunisia and Lebanon have already fallen to replacement fertility, or below. And while Paul Ehrlich may have used a taxi ride through teeming Delhi to illustrate his theme in "The Population Bomb" (1968), today's New Delhi, like most other big cities in India, no longer generates enough local births to sustain its current population numbers over the long term.

With world fertility levels down by nearly half since the early 1950s--and no end to the drop in sight--the 21st century may turn out to be an era of population decline. Curiously enough, few scholars or writers have contemplated the prospect. Now, however, Phillip Longman offers us a view of the depopulationist future--and he is alarmed by what he sees.

"The global fall in fertility," he warns in "The Empty Cradle," "is creating a world for which few individuals, and no nations, are prepared. Simply stated, this is because population growth and the human capital it creates are part of the foundation upon which modern economies, as well as modern welfare states, are built." It is true, he notes, that "the engine that created today's affluent societies" might work without population growth. But making that happen "will require thorough reengineering, and not just of the formal economy, but of the family as well." [...]

Despite its idiosyncracies, "The Empty Cradle" is an intelligent, well-researched and compelling read, if not always a persuasive one. Like the late Christopher Lasch and his communitarian devotees, Mr. Longman seeks to revitalize the family in America without recourse to patriotism or religious values. A challenging task indeed...

The culture has to go backwards if the country is to go forwards. There's no hope for Europe, but we still seem to have a pretty good chance of pulling it off.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 28, 2004 11:30 PM

You need to get over your linear thinking.

Somehow or other, despite alleged subreplacement habits that have now endured for much longer than a human lifetime, there are more Europeans than ever before.

How did that happen?

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 29, 2004 1:54 AM

While depopulation will cause serious economic problems (especially in regards to funding public pension programs or the increased costs stemming from an endemic labor shortage), these pale in comparison to the problems of over population. Compared to a planet that resembles a cross between Calcutta and "Soylent Green" even a complete collapse of Social Security is a day at the beach.

Posted by: Dan Duffy at April 29, 2004 6:09 AM

Depopulation causes problems only for those things based on Ponzi schemes.

They are going to fail eventually anyway, and if there is ever a case of failure sooner better than later, Ponzi schemes are it.


You won't get very far with that line of argument. OJ doesn't think humans need energy or fresh water to survive.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 29, 2004 7:29 AM

Harry --

I agree that putting this all in numbers would add greatly to the discussion, but your benchmark of Euros today greater than Euros yesterday covers up all kinds of issues, ESPECIALLY in the context of the sustainability of the welfare state. Consider that alien immigration could easily account for the surplus today vs yesterday; and if not by itself, people living longer (demographic shifts, more retirees) could too. Both make the pool of Euros today larger today that yesterday, and yet may be less supportive of the macroeconomics of a welfare state.

Perhaps oj's linear thinking is too cryptic, but here it is likely to be correct.

Posted by: MG at April 29, 2004 7:29 AM

Harry: Because the old ones haven't died yet.

Jeff: Yeah, things like states. (See, e.g., Sparta, Rome.)

Posted by: Chris at April 29, 2004 7:31 AM

This is the best of all possible worlds...

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 8:03 AM


Survival is a Ponzi scheme.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 8:10 AM

Mr. Duffy:

That's Ehrlichian cant that no one takes seriously anymore. Tokyo and Manhattan are as densely populated as anywhere on Earth and the two most affluent locations on Earth.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 8:15 AM

Economic Growth depends on the division of labor. With less labor to divide.....

Posted by: AML at April 29, 2004 9:11 AM

Jeff above is correct.
Dan, I think is also correct, but the plentifulness of natural resources is ultimately a trite issue for many millenniums.
Free enterprise, capitalism, has a track record in senarios of rising population and declining populations (assuming the population decline is not due extraordinary causes, hence Hiroshima in 1945) and it's no problemo. Only when governments have monkeyed with the rational decision making process of individuals, and the free choices they make have problems arisen regarding rising standards of living. You could call it UNINTELLIGENT design by coercive institutions.

Europe will have to make unpopular decisions in the future to correct inevitable problems they will have created themselves. SO WILL THE US. (you have promised that George Bush will make those tough decisions, great)

I can't nor can anyone else hold up Capitalism as Utopia, (that's always the advangtage of Socialism), but human ingenuity based on the evidence we have can easily handle rising or declining population.

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 9:14 AM


Capitalism has a record in time of falling populations? Where?

It's record in Japan and Europe during this period of sub-replascement fertility as opposed to in Americxa which has remained above suggests the opposite of your thesis.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 9:19 AM

Raising standard of living in Japan and Europe since 1945. Actually I believe in Europe the population has increased. In Japan I'm slightly confused but I believe it has increased over the same time frame. In neither situation could you argue that standards of living have decreased, all though you could say that Japan's general standard of living hit a brick wall in 1990.

Please allow for some googling on my part to find a situation where you have declining population and increased material wealth. The difficulty would be that there are few countries that have had declining populations. Russia is one, but obviously I would weasel out of that by blaming it on lack of free flow of capital.

By the way, excuse my reversion to spanish in the above post "problemo"="problem". I am practicing for the inevitable.

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 10:15 AM


A & B are stranded on a desert island. They have a child, C. Population has increased. They don't have anymore. How's the future look?

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 10:21 AM

Didn't WWI and WWII do something to the overall European population? And the deliberate famine in the Ukraine?

And just how much of the current European population has immigrated since, say, 1990?

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 29, 2004 11:35 AM

C would of course inherit (or benefit anyway) from the accumulated capital of A and B. As well as benefiting from the accumulated knowledge of A and B, who by the way probably already benefited from all previous human experience in some fashion.
So therefore C would have a higher standard of living than A or B, since C would not have to divide the product of that capital with anyone else.
In addition C would not have to deal with that sour faced OJ (excuse me, I meant D) on the other side of the Island ripping him off for the benefit of E,F,G....since they don't exist.
Therefore higher standard of living with declining population.

Granted his future ends with his death. (so does yours)

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 1:36 PM


My culture's doesn't though. And my death isn't hastened by the fact there's no younger generation to help care for me. You've pegged the rest of the West though, wealthy but terminal. Ah, sweet secular progressivism...

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 1:41 PM

You are the one who picked the example of obivious extinction. I merely tried to show the dispersement and use of existing assets.

Capitalism, per se, does not cause standard of living for individuals to decline as the population declines. In your example above we will assume that (d) would act to take assets from (c) to immediately disperse to old farts (f)(g) and (h). That is not free market economics in operation. Because those dispersed assets are consumed by (f), (g) and (h), they are not available to (c) as (c) ages. Much better idea would be for (c) to make provision for himself by investing his assets in capital goods that would
provide an income in old age, and also something that his children could inherit.

Of course that is what you have so eloquently described as the George Bush Plan. I'm basically for that.

The Bush/Judd plan does not require an increasing population, but hey it can certainly accomodate increasing or decreasing population. It depends on what people choose.

You can continue to harangue Europe or Japan about their choices, (I'm only saying that the US is making similiar choices, at this time, and it is being "hidden" perhaps by continued importation of young people). That may be a problem for the soul of America, Europe, Japan, (actually the whole world if the same decisions are made) but it's not necessarily going to cause a decline in standards of living.

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 2:37 PM


Human beings are the only asset that matters. Your guy C leaves behind some stuff, but it's useless.

Immigration is not a hidden solution--it's the opposite of what Japan does. Meanwhile native birthrates here are far higher than elsewhere in the West--hovering right around replacement.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 2:43 PM

By the way, at the rate we're going your "culture" is going to be closer to Pancho Villa than Thomas Jefferson.

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 2:43 PM

Yeah, lots of bandidos in bandoliers roaming around these days.

The revolutionaries in America aren't Latino immigrants, they're spolied white college brats.

But you do bring clarity to the issue at last--your argument isn't really that population decline is economically sustainable but that you'd prefer suicide to Mexicans, the Japanese solution.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 2:46 PM

We evidently had a simultaneous post. I will for the moment allow you to make that assertion of
of our reproductive prowess, only because I don't want bother looking for contra evidence, but if that is the case then let's quickly install the Bush/Judd reform and stop allowing unlimited immigration.

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 2:50 PM

You are wiser than that. There are no revolutionaries in the US. Those that you are referring to are Sandbox Revolutionaries, playing like children.

I respect Mexicans (and if they decide to be revolutionaries, they have the balls to do it).
If I want to live in a Mexican, or West African Culture, I can buy a plane ticket and be there in a few hours.

I don't want to live in that culture, but in an American Culture (which in turn is already an amalgamation of Mexican, African, and European Cultures) Not a bad recipe, but I see no reason to fiddle with the recipe in haphazard fashion for no reason.

The importation of other Cultures will have an effect, on the books you read, the movies you watch, the government you have, the history your children are taught, and the HISTORY YOUR CHILDREN ARE ALLOWED TO LEARN.

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 3:14 PM


Yes, they have a vibrant culture that we're importing. Europe has none anymore.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 3:17 PM

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

Trends in Canadian and American fertility
1980 to 1999

Canada's total fertility rate has been declining, but the American rate has been rising. In 1999, Canadian fertility hit a record low of 1.52 children per woman, compared with the American rate of 2.08, a difference of more than half a child per woman. Only 20 years ago, this gap was less than one-third of that size.

For almost a century, Canada's population growth rate had been higher than that of the United States. However, Canada's growth is now only about three-quarters of the growth south of the border. Projections indicate that the growth rate in the United States will continue to be higher.

In previous surveys, Canadian and American women had expressed the intention to have the same number of children, on average 2.2 each. However, although young American women have continued to have relatively high fertility levels, fertility among young Canadian women has declined substantially in the last 20 years.


Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 3:22 PM

OJ, if we concede the point that an Earth with an average population density of Tokyo or New York will be as liveable as these two cities are today, what then? Will it still be liveable after the population doubles again? And again?

I tend to agree with Harry, you can't think at this problem linearly. That was the basis of Ehrlich's error, and is the basis of the thinking that once population begins to decline, it will continue to decline until we are extinct. I personally think that after the world population peaks and begins to decline, we will enter a phase of oscillations which will keep the world population within a range.

We will need new economic models to solve the Ponzi scheme that Jeff mentioned. A stable or shrinking population puts enormous financial burdens on the working generations to take care of the retired & disabled. The solution will have to both break the link between having children and being able to retire and will need to not disincent people from having children.

Posted by: Robert Duquette at April 29, 2004 3:37 PM

Robert --

If everyone on earth moved to Texas, the population density would be about the same as Manhattan or inner London, still less than Tokyo and Hong Kong -- and the rest of the world would be empty.

The best guess right now is that the population will never double again, topping out at 9-10 billion within a century.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 29, 2004 3:48 PM


Stasis is not an option, culturally or otherwise. Besides which, nothing you've written here has led me to believe that you are that enamored of our current culture.

Posted by: David Cohen at April 29, 2004 3:50 PM

Dang it, you won't take yes for an answer. I had already agreed that the fertility rates in the US was irrelavant to our discussion about the advisabilty of Bush/Judd entitlement reforms, which I favor. (Hopefully my being in support of it will not now make you oppose it)

You apparently want me to agree with the proposition that I should want to live in an America that is more Mexican than it has been in the past. When I mention in response to that proposition, that it is not economically required, you seem to chastise me for caring about money, instead of something called vibrancy of culture. I have already admitted that importation of young Mexican workers is BENEFICIAL to our economy,( although I did say that it would not cure the defects of our pyramid financing of Social Security etc.)

Mr. OJ, I don't want to be a Mexican. I don't want to live in Mexico. I don't want the society I live in to be like Mexico. Presently in the US reside 8% of the Mexican Citizenry Illegally. That's enough. I don't want another 8%. I don't want another 1%. This is xenophobia!!!

Do you want me to say that Europe's culture is somewhat sick and getting sicker. Yes It is.

Do you want me to say that that part of American Culture which is European is sick and getting sicker. OK I'll go with that.

Want to throw in Japan. OK.

Want me to say I want to be a Mexican or more like Mexico because have more vibrant culture. Hell no. (because their culture is not healthier except in you imagination)

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 4:19 PM

"Stasis is not an option"
I agree totally with you. So therefore you are suggesting that the World Culture must have the influx of personalities from another Planet?

You don't believe that. So let's not assume that the only way to have a "vibrant", "flexible", or (what you or OJ is trying to say) "better" culture is to receive immigration from different cultures. Why not design and try to institute those rules of behavior that are conducive to allowing individuals to live a positive, fullfilling lives without burdening them unnecessarily. It would be a start.

You say that I am not "enamored" with our present culture. My actually stating it is apparently not good enough, so how precisely do I prove that I am enamored. I got it, if I supported the immigration of 8% of the population of Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Lithuania, Korea, Brazil, Congo, Poland, Italy..... Thanks for the input.

Or are you suggesting that my criticism of parts of this Society show my lack of affection. In that you would be correct, but you know, that argument could apply to every one in the country.

Posted by: h-man at April 29, 2004 4:50 PM


Repeat the Brothers Judd oath after me:

Immigration, good.

Europe, over

Darwinism, silly.

Soccer, sissy.

Margaret Thatcher, smokin hottie.

Eastern Time Zone, inviolable.

The Song, satanic.

Eric Roberts=Julia Roberts.


Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 4:53 PM


There's only one country on Earth that realistically faces the problem you're talking about: us. The rest of the developed world already failed to strike the needed balance between faith and liberty. Islam has some potential to do the same, but given the near universal failure of others it would be silly to count on their pulling it off. Let's assume that by the time America runs out of room or food or whatever it will be because we've used up Aldebaran or wherever in the galaxy we are by then. Being overly welcoming of human life is unlikely to be the biggest problem of Man's future.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 5:00 PM

We darwinians are accustomed to and comfortable with the idea that populations fluctuate around a resource base, sometimes exceeding the long-term sustainability, sometimes crashing and failing for a time to maximize resources.

Humans are different, because unlike other creatures (with the possible exception of some kinds of insects), they are capable of increasing their resource base.

If we were dumb animals, we'd then increase the population and the new levels would fluctuate around the new, higher resource base.

But, since we have brains, we have the alternative of maintaining population and allowing per capita resources to increase.

As in Japan.

Why this is supposed to be a bad idea is a mystery to me.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 29, 2004 10:59 PM

We antidarwinians note with great amusement that populations are increasing fastest where there is scarcity and declining where there's plenty--effectively putting the lie to Darwinism.

Posted by: oj at April 29, 2004 11:10 PM

You anti-Darwinians need to find a new noun to put after "anti." Whatever you are against here, it isn't Darwinism. Scarcity of resources is but one of many, and far from the major, impacts on natural selection.

But rather than lay the answer out, I'll leave it to you to learn what those other factors are.

Besides, scarcity is relative to requirements. Do a little thought experiment: cut off the supply of fertilizers to China and India.

By your line of reasoning, populations will grow even more quickly.

Somehow, I doubt it.

Posted by: Jeff Guinn at April 30, 2004 9:32 AM


I agree, intelligent intervention would affect the population.

Posted by: oj at April 30, 2004 9:38 AM

That's correct, but the implication you are forcing is not correct.

All of your statements about dying nations assume what is not in evidence, that the resource base is fixed.

It never has been.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 30, 2004 8:07 PM

The resource base is declining--it's people.

Posted by: oj at April 30, 2004 8:16 PM

6 billion now and 9 billion in 50 years.

Not a decline in my arithmetic.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at April 30, 2004 10:26 PM

Yes, but where are those new 3 billion going to be? Not in Europe or (northern) North America.

Probably not in Russia and certainly not in Japan.

Even within the US, will they be in Pittsburgh or Charlotte? Only 500 miles apart, but totally different. If the overall world population were going to decline (especially by 1/3) in the next 100 years, most of the issues we ponder in this blog would already be settled, to just about everyone's satisfaction.

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 30, 2004 11:00 PM

I find Orrin's constant harping on the theme of race suicide kind of creepy.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at May 2, 2004 6:44 PM


Of course. No one wants to talk about the flaws of their own culture, especially when you can despise the wogs for theiors.

Posted by: oj at May 2, 2004 7:41 PM