D. Dowd Muska


The Voluntary America Extinction Movement

February 07, 2013

The ignorance of cultural elites is frequently amusing, but sometimes, it inspires awe.

Case in point: A recent Slate piece by Jeff Wise, a “New York-based magazine writer” who “specializes in aviation, adventure, and psychology.”

Wise believes that he’s landed a helluva scoop. “Experts” tell him that “the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.”

Well, duh.

The “overpopulation” crisis that eco-alarmists warned of decades ago never materialized, and family size is shrinking. That’s not news to anyone who’s been paying attention, but evidently, it shocks a certain New York-based magazine writer.

Unlike Wise, Jonathan V. Last understands that “serious demographers have spent most of the last four decades studying the phenomenon of falling fertility.” What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster (Encounter Books; 199 pages; $23.99) is a brief but data-drenched examination of a problem that few members of the government-academia-media complex acknowledge, much less understand.

Last is a writer for The Weekly Standard, neoconservatism’s house organ, and thus it’s tempting to dismiss anything he writes as jingoistic, national-greatness claptrap. But thankfully, his book keeps the Bush-praising, Iran-bashing, and Israel-gushing to a minimum, and focuses instead on the causes and consequences of the dropoff in baby-making.

The math is simple. When a nation’s fertility rate -- i.e., the average number of children born to each female -- dips below 2.1, its population starts to shrink. In many places, the process is underway: “Since 1989, Latvia has lost 13 percent of its population. Germany is shedding 100,000 people a year. (When I spoke with the country’s family minister in 2006 she muttered darkly, ‘We will have to turn the lights out.’) … In 1995, Russia had 149.6 million people. Today, Russia is home to 138 million. By 2050, its population will be nearly a third smaller than it is today.” Japan’s citizenry peaked in 2008, and it’s likely that “the country will contract by more than half … by the end of the century.” China’s one-child thuggery has “created a slow-rolling demographic catastrophe.”

America’s fertility rate was 3.7 in 1960. Now, it’s slightly under 2. Immigration, legal and otherwise, consistently boosts The Land of the Free’s total inhabitants. Newcomers add to the population, natch, but they’re also a force multiplier -- immigrants tend to have more babies than natives. Last is skeptical that the trend will continue. The U.S. “population profile is so dependent on Hispanic fertility that if this group continues falling toward the national average -- and everything about American history suggests that it will -- then our 1.93 fertility rate will take a nosedive.”

What to Expect When No One’s Expecting ticks off the developments that brought us to the cusp of population decline. The Pill, introduced in 1960, is an obvious contributor. Abortion -- 50 million procedures “performed” since Roe v. Wade -- is another. Urbanization, runaway housing costs, easier divorces, and a greater share of women in higher education and the workplace all play roles. So does shacking up: “There’s a 64 percent chance that a first marriage will last at least 10 years. Fifty percent of cohabitations break down after just the first year.”

As for the notion that fewer is better, Last isn’t having it. “[T]hroughout recorded human history,” he avers, “declining populations have always followed or been followed by Very Bad Things. Disease. War. Economic stagnation or collapse.” The federal government’s insolvency, the author notes, is largely driven by demographics. Social Security’s actuaries predict that “by 2034, the ratio of workers-to-retirees will fall to just 2.1 … as a result of (1) roughly 80 million Baby Boomers retiring and (2) the declining fertility rates having failed to produce a proportionate number of new workers.” Medicare’s picture, he intones, “is even more bleak.”

Don’t count on a strong economy to flip the ledger from red to black. Never-born children plus state-of-the-art healthcare means a dramatically older population, and graybeards’ priorities are “preserving money in low-risk vehicles and drawing down their investments to substitute for lost income.” The younger a country is, the likelier it is to have robust innovation and entrepreneurship.

The Manhattan-McLean-Malibu mindset isn’t open to reassessment when facts refuse to conform to long-cherished liberal orthodoxy. Clutching dog-eared copies of Paul Ehrlich’s wholly discredited book The Population Bomb, pols, bureaucrats, professors, and legacy-media mouthpieces will cling to their belief that America needs more birth control.

Last makes a towering case that the opposite is true. Will anyone in a position of power listen?

D. Dowd Muska (www.dowdmuska.com) writes about government, economics, and technology. Follow him on Twitter @dowdmuska.

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