January 14, 2006


No-cost childbirth mulled to boost population (Japan Times, 1/14/06)

The government will consider introducing a system to bear all direct costs for childbirth -- including hospitalization for mothers -- in a bid to encourage young couples to have more kids, a government minister said Friday.

If money were a factor then the developed world, enjoying ahistorical wealth, wouldn't be suffering a demographic disaster. The problem is religious.

Fly the flag in every garden (Toby Helm, 14/01/2006, Daily Telegraph)

Gordon Brown will call on the British people today to celebrate their patriotism and embrace the Union flag with pride as he embarks on a personal mission to reposition Labour as the party of strong national identity.

The Chancellor will say that Britain can only respond effectively and confidently to globalisation if its people have "a clear view of what being British means and how you define national identity for the modern world".

Flags won't get them around this problem:
Burke touches [the] matter of patriotism with a searching phrase. 'For us to love our country,' he said, 'our country ought to be lovely.' I have sometimes thought that here may be the rock on which Western civilization will finally shatter itself. Economism can build a society which is rich, prosperous, powerful, even one which has a reasonably wide diffusion of material well-being. It can not build one which is lovely, one which has savour and depth, and which exercises the irresistible attraction that loveliness wields. Perhaps by the time economism has run its course the society it has built may be tired of itself, bored by its own hideousness, and may despairingly consent to annihilation, aware that it is too ugly to be let live any longer.

The decision of the secular humanist West to welcome its own annihilation is entirely rational.

Outbreak of faith: Wherever disaster has struck this year, compassion has quickly followed (Cardinal Cormac Murphy O'Connor, December 18, 2005, The Observer)

Have you noticed the new secular wobble? I don't mean just the Narnia fuss over resurrected lions, and the shock discovery of a Christian sub-text in a CS Lewis novel. I mean the queasy feeling that goes hand in hand with the loss of confidence in confident rationalism. I mean the way faith keeps erupting outside the windows of secularism, interrupting the clear view of human beings as autonomous, selfish beings, with only this life to believe in.

Religion never went away, of course. Some 75 per cent of Britons profess or support Christian values, and most people step at least once a year into a church, mosque or temple. There is much that confirms, but also much that contradicts, secular Britain; what to make, for example, of the latest statistics for the Catholic Church in England and Wales that show a decline in numbers marrying in church yet an increase in the number of baptisms and priestly vocations?

What I do know is that, in generation after generation, in an un-newsworthy way, people sit up straight and realise God was born to a refugee family, modelled pure love, and was killed by a violent society so we all might enter a relationship of intimacy with Him. And in generation after generation, that astonishing discovery leads to a turnaround in the way people live and think.

Nothing new there: I would be cautious of talking of a revival of faith. But I do see a loss of faith in no-faith.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 14, 2006 8:21 AM

oj: Why must you do this, and subject us to daniel (or Anon or bplus or whatever he's calling us these days) posting his same old links for the 100th time?

Posted by: b at January 14, 2006 12:19 PM


Even he'll snap out of his denial at some point.....

Posted by: oj at January 14, 2006 12:29 PM

I've come full circle on this topic. In the 60s and 70s I subscribed to the conventional wisdom that population growth was a ticking time bomb that would ultimately destroy the world. In the 80s and 90s I realized that view was almost certainly overstated. In the 00s I started to become concerned about falling birthrates in the west. But now I think there's minimal reason to be concerned with that either. I think that human societies will be able to cope with rising or falling birthrates for a long time to come.

Rising birthrates have historically had two classes of advantages (there may be others but I can't think of them at the moment): (1) economic and (2) defense. Both classes' advantages (if they ever really were advantages) are being neutralized by technology.

Economic advantages include general wealth (GDP and wealth per capita) and the ability to support social programs (for example, social security). Both of these are materially increased by increasing the percentage of the population that works and certainly having more young working people than old retired people helps this. But increasing birthrates is a rather indirect way to accomplish this. A much simpler way is to raise the retirement age. In my opinion, the idea that people should be idle the last 25 years of their lives is insane. In Japan, Europe, and the United States, the Social Security and other government revenue issues supposedly attributed to the aging of society would be completely solve instantaneously and forever by significantly raising the retirement age and the age at which their populations can collect benefits. When we were all factory workers and farmers, that wasn't possible, but there is little problem for most of the population to work into their 70s and 80s business sectors other than farming, some factory jobs, and some construction jobs.

But perhaps we won't even need to do that. Ray Kurzweil's description of the GNR (Genetics, Nanotechnology, and Robotics) technology trajectory may make it so we can all be as idle as we like for as much of our lives as we like in only a couple more decades. This may or may not be a good thing socially, but, if Kurzweil is right (and I think he makes an almost plausible case for it in "The Singularity is Near"), then the need for a growing population to support social programs will be completely eliminated.

In defense, technology nearly completely trumps numbers of soldiers now. Is there any army in the world that even with a ten times numerical advantage and even on their home turf could defeat the military of the Anglosphere (& Israel)? I'd easily bet on the Anglosphere and with the robotics and other technological initiatives I've seen coming, numbers of soldiers is going to become completely meaningless.

I've never been to Japan (though I'm scheduled to go to Osaka in February), but the descriptions I've seen indicate that it's very crowded. If so, it seems to me that if their population shrinks 25% in the next 50 years, that will be a very good thing for the Japanese.

[this comment has been cross-posted to a recent Daily Duck post, but seems to be directly relevant].

Posted by: Bret at January 14, 2006 3:56 PM

i went to japan once. the architecture is pretty westernized, which surprised me. they don't actually know how to speak english so don't even try. it took 3 hours to go 18 kilometers from the one international airport, into tokyo. people had little tv's mounted to their dashboards, and now i hear they even have toilet's built into their cars. houses have these little mini-lifts so you can get two cars into one space. there are vending machines everywhere. outside of tokyo, in the town i was staying at for a week, the roads were very non-linear, kind of like a circulatory system. people had all kinds of stuff like stereos on their porches, because crime is pretty rare there. the japanese engineers i talked to had almost no personality or ambition. they can't write software for beans. this was in '89 and i could tell immediately they were no threat to the u.s.

Posted by: toe at January 14, 2006 8:36 PM

Bret: Plenty of good ideas there.

Let me add that in a contemporary environment mere numbers are something other than meaningless. On the contrary, they are a limitation, a disadvantage.

Numbers necessitate a larger logistic tail, a bigger target for air power. Further, electronic supremacy so degrades the ability of the opposing force to communicate that the mass formations, now parched, starving and out of ammunition, are stumbling about in the dark.

Posted by: Lou Gots at January 14, 2006 8:41 PM