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  • Japan and the Eternally Ticking “Demographic Time Bomb”

    Posted on June 24th, 2017 Helian 1 comment

    There are few metaphors more hackneyed than Japan’s “demographic time bomb.”  It is a never-failing source of copy for aspiring journalists on slow news days.  Stories about it keep popping up like so many mushrooms, all bearing more or less the same lugubrious burden.  Recent examples included the following from the Business Insider:

    Experts call situations like Japan’s “demographic time bombs.”  They’re places where fertility rates are falling at the same time that longevity is increasing.  Without young people to support older generations, economies can shrink, putting even more pressure on younger generations to keep families small and budget-friendly.

    Another article that turned up last month at Zero Hedge cited some dire statistical trends:

    Mark August 16, 3766 on your calendar.  According to…researchers at Tohoku University, that’s the date Japan’s population will dwindle to one.  For 25 years, the country has had falling fertility rates, coinciding with widespread aging.  The worrisome trend has now reached a critical mass known as a “demographic time bomb.”  When that happens, a vicious cycle of low spending and low fertility can cause entire generations to shrink – or disappear completely.

    In another article in The Economist, ominously entitled “The incredible shrinking country,” the ubiquitous “time bomb” again raises its ugly head:

    A quiet but constant ticking can be heard from the demographic time bomb that sits beneath the worlds third-largest economy.  This week it made a louder tick than usual:  official statistics show that the population declined last year by a record 244,000 people – roughly the population of the London bureau of Hackney… The 2012 government report said that without policy change, by 2110 the number of Japanese could fall to 42.9m, ie just a third of its current population.  It is plausible to think that the country could learn to live with its shrinking population.  But that might mean also embracing a much diminished economic and political role in the world.

    The amazing thing about these repetitious articles is their utter lack of any historical context.  It turns out that Japan’s population has been a “ticking time bomb” for well over a century.  However, back in the day it was ticking in a different direction.  For example, according to an article that appeared in the April, 1904 issue of the British Edinburgh Review, discussing the conflict in the Far East that would soon culminate in the Russo-Japanese war,

    In 1872 the population of Japan amounted to only 33,110,793; in 1900 it was 44,805,937, already too great for her territory.

    A few decades later the “time bomb” was still ticking in drive instead of reverse.  As noted in an article at the website of Australia’s Pacific War Historical Society,

    Between 1918 and 1930, Japan’s population had expanded dramatically and outstripped the capacity of the nation’s resources to support it. To sustain its population blow-out, substantial food imports were essential, but foreign tariffs imposed on its exports of manufactured goods limited the capacity of Japan to pay for its food imports. Japan had tried to deal with its population problem by encouraging emigration of Japanese to countries such as the United States, but had met resistance from Americans who feared the loss of unskilled jobs to cheap immigrant labour.

    This time, of course, the “time bomb” led to Japan’s disastrous decision to attack the United States.  Even after the war there was much wringing of hands about its rapid forward progress.  For example from an article that appeared in the December, 1950 issue of the American Mercury,

    Our exceedingly efficient Public Health and Welfare Division has succeeded in driving down Japan’s death rate from 29.2 per thousand in 1945 to only 10.9 per thousand in 1949.  The birthrate, meanwhile, was rising to 32.8.  Thus, with our help, Japan’s population is now increasing at the rate of 1,800,000 per year.  Every morning there are 5,000 more Japanese than yesterday… How can we say that we have helped Japan when Japan is less self-sufficient today than she has ever been.

    A few thoughts come to mind in light of these rather substantial changes to the nature of the “time bomb” over the years.  It appears that Japan was so desperate about the apparent impossibility of feeding her rapidly expanding population that she was willing to risk war with Russia in 1904 and with the United States in 1941.  In those years her population was around 47 million and 73 million, respectively.  Now her population is 127 million, and suggestions that she supplement her dwindling work force by massive immigration are considered the soul of wisdom.  For example, from an article that appeared in the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs,

    Japan must embrace immigration as a solution to its impending fiscal and demographic woes. A declining birthrate is a global trend, as is an ageing population. It will therefore be increasingly difficult for any country to meet all of its labor needs relying solely on the population that exists within its borders. In the case of Japan, more caregivers, nurses, and other providers catering to a graying society will be needed, especially if more women choose to go back to work full-time. The Japanese government will thus inevitably need to consider seriously the possibility of opening its doors to more immigration, rather than just to the highly skilled workers it currently courts. Although the Japanese have been at the forefront of developing robots designed to meet the mounting tsunami of elderly people’s needs, there is a limit to what can be expected from technology, especially when the psychological as well as physical needs of an ageing society are considered.

    This, of course, is one of the standard globalist rationalizations of the suicidal policy of promoting mass immigration.  Heaven forefend that Japan ever sheds her “xenophobia” and concludes that she “must” accept this brilliant “solution” to her “time bomb” problem.  It boggles the mind!  How is it that all the environmental issues raised by mindlessly expanding the already massive population on the relatively small Japanese archipelago have suddenly evaporated?  Is our planet really such a stable place that a country that once despaired about the impossibility of feeding 47 million will now never again have to worry about feeding three times as many or more?  Is it safe for her to assume that climate change and/or political instability will never impair her ability to feed all those millions?  If the assumption that nothing in the world will ever happen to threaten her food supply turns out to be wrong, Japan’s problem of caring for its senior citizens could easily pale compared to the potential problem of mass starvation.  Beyond that, it’s hard to imagine anything more self-destructive than importing a massive population of people who will perceive the existing population of Japan as an outgroup, will be perceived by that population in turn as an outgroup, and will remain unassimilable indefinitely.  Is it really necessary to demonstrate yet again the disastrous results of pretending there’s no such thing as human nature?

    I have an alternative suggestion.  Let the “time bomb” continue to tick in reverse.  It’s unlikely it will remain stuck in that position indefinitely, any more than it remained stuck in fast forward.  If the Japanese are really lucky, perhaps their population will decline to around 30 million, which was more or less what it was for hundreds of years before the Meiji Restoration.  I suspect their islands will be much more pleasant places to live at that level than they would be with the 150 million and up that the helpful people at Georgetown suggest it would take to defuse the “time bomb.”  I doubt that Japan would “lose face” due to declining economic and political clout in the world as a result, even if it mattered whether she “lost face” or not.  As a survivor of the “time bomb” it would be more likely that other countries would look on her as a role model.  She needn’t necessarily worry that such a small population would encourage aggression by her neighbors.  Japan possesses many tons of plutonium, which can be put to other uses than the peaceful production of nuclear power if need be.

  • Anti-Natalism For Thee, But Not For Me

    Posted on April 13th, 2016 Helian 1 comment

    According to Wikipedia, anti-natalism is “a philosophical position that assigns a negative value to birth.”  In general, it includes the claim that having children is immoral.  Commenter Simon Elliot asked that I take up the topic again, adding,

    I remember you said that you didn’t take it seriously because you thought it demonstrated a “morality inversion” of sorts, but I’ve since spoken to a fellow anti-natalist who has heard that argument many times and has found a way around it.

    I’ll gladly take up the topic again.  As for the anti-natalist who’s “found a way around it,” all I can say is, more power to him.  I don’t peddle objective “oughts” on this blog, because no one has ever succeeded in capturing one and showing it to me.  As far as I’m concerned, there are only subjective oughts, and I know of no mechanism whereby the ones that happen to reside inside my skull can manage to escape and acquire normative power over other human beings.  My personal ought regarding natalism applies only to myself.

    According to that ought, I should have as many children as possible.  Since I also believe that I and my descendants would be much better off if the population of the planet were greatly reduced, I certainly don’t want everyone else to share this particular ought.  Ideally, I would prefer that only a small percentage of the current population share my opinion on the subject.  The subset in question would consist of those individuals whose survival would contribute most to the survival of my own kin in particular, and to the indefinite survival of life as we know it in general.

    Simon is right when he says that I consider anti-natalism an example of a “morality inversion.”  By that I mean that anti-natalists typically rely on moralistic arguments to render themselves biological dead ends, whereas morality exists because the genes that are its root cause were selected by virtue of the fact that they resulted in just the opposite.  Why am I a natalist?  You might say it’s a matter of aesthetic taste.  I perceive morality inversions as symptoms that a biological entity is sick and dysfunctional.  I don’t like to think of myself as sick and dysfunctional.  Therefore I tend to avoid morality inversions.

    My position on the matter also has to do with my perception of my consciousness.  My consciousness is the “me” that I perceive, but it will survive but a short time.  On the other hand, there is something about me that has survived 3 billion years, give or take, carried by an unbroken chain of physical entities, culminating in myself.  That part of me, my genes, is potentially immortal.  I consider them, and not my consciousness, the real “me.”  My consciousness is really just an ancillary feature of my current phenotype that exists because it happened to increase the odds that the real “me” would survive.  I find the thought that my consciousness might “malfunction” and break the chain disturbing.  I would prefer that the chain remain unbroken.  Therefore, I am a natalist.  However, I have no interest whatsoever in “converting” anti-natalists.  Other than the exceptions noted above, the more of them the better as far as I’m concerned.

    Good and evil have no objective existence.  It is therefore impossible that I could have a “duty” to be either a natalist or an anti-natalist, independent of what is thought to be my duty in my own or anyone else’s subjective mind.  It does not occur to me that my personal opinion on the matter has some kind of a normative power on anyone else, nor am I willing to allow anyone else’s opinion to have any normative power over me.

    I realize perfectly well that anti-natalists like David Benatar seek to justify their opinions on what they perceive as objective moral standards.  However, that perception is an illusion.  In view of what moral emotions really are, and the reasons that they exist to begin with, I consider attempts to apply morality to decide this issue not only irrational, but potentially dangerous, at least in terms of the goals in life that are important to me.  They are irrational and potentially dangerous for more or less the same reasons that it is irrational and potentially dangerous to blindly consult moral emotions in any situation significantly more complex than the routine interactions of individuals.  Western societies are currently in the process of demonstrating the fact by engaging in suicidal behavior that is routinely fobbed off as an expression of moral righteousness.  No doubt the verdict of history on the effects of this “righteousness” will be quite educational for whoever happens to occupy the planet a century from now.  Unfortunately, the anti-natalists won’t be around to witness what the resulting “human flourishing” will look like in the real world.

    In a word, then, my position on the matter is, “anti-natalism for thee, but not for me.”  No doubt it is a position that is immoral according to the subjective standards prevailing in the academy and among the like-minded denizens of the ideological Left.  However, I am confident I can bear the shame until the individuals in question manage to successfully remove themselves from the gene pool.

  • The Derb on Japan’s “Demographic Catastrophe”

    Posted on February 16th, 2014 Helian 5 comments

    John Derbyshire’s reaction to the BBC documentary, “No Sex Please, We’re Japanese,” about Japan’s “demographic catastrophe” is probably somewhat different from what the producers had in mind.  In short, he considers it a feature, not a bug.  In fact, he thinks “The 21st Century Might Belong to Japan” because they are biting the demographic bullet now.

    The documentary follows reporter Anita Rani, a Briton of Indian descent, as she leads us through a series of nightmares in the demographic basket case that is modern Japan.  There is Yubari, a coal-mining town in the north, that once teamed with children, but whose maternity ward has been converted to a dusty storeroom.  There are a pair of late-30’s geeks whose main love interests, schoolgirls aged 15 and 17, reside in the virtual world of a Nintendo box.  There is a prison that is rapidly becoming a geriatric ward.  And finally we cut to the chase.  In a conversation with American-born economist Kathy Matsui, Rani observes sagely, ““Immigration.  Surely that’s the solution that’s staring them in the face.”  Matsui agrees, noting the extreme indebtedness of Japan, its stagnant economy, the increasingly unbearable cost of caring for a rapidly aging population without a steady supply of young taxpayers to milk, etc., etc.  However, she notes, “There is an order of steps that need to occur” for mass immigration to become acceptable in a traditional society like Japan.  Right, just like the order of steps that take you to the top of a gallows.

    According to Derbyshire, “Mass immigration at best postpones the day of reckoning for a few years,” and by biting the bullet now, Japan may, “…speed off ahead of us into some new socio-economic order suited to low population levels and better age ratios, as we struggle with the transition they have already mastered.”  Regardless of how she masters her economic problems, Japan is fortunate indeed to have a “traditional” society that discourages immigration.  As Jayman put it in a recent tweet, “we should be so lucky” as to have a similar problem.  I can but hope that Japan never becomes so suicidal as to take the “order of steps” to mass immigration.

    The peddlers of the “demographic catastrophe” scare stories would have us believe that there can be nothing worse than stagnant or declining economies.  Actually, there is something worse; failure to survive.  You don’t have to go back too many years to come to a time when this was actually a serious concern for Japan.  Just read some of the books and magazines about her published in the 30’s when her population was half what it is today.  However, with the agricultural technology available at the time, it appeared that there was no way she could continue to feed her population if it grew much beyond that.  We now know how she attempted to solve the problem, and the results of that attempt.  Now we are supposed to be shaking in our boots if her population returns to that level at the turn of the next century.

    Apparently we are to believe that such unfortunate byproducts of continuous population growth are all behind us now.  Search the Internet and you can find articles claiming that the planet can easily accommodate 10, 50, or even 100 billion people.  As a wag on the nightly news once put it, “maybe so, but who wants to eat standing up?”  What’s amazing is that this stuff is being eagerly swallowed on both the right and the left.  The Beeb, of course, is reliably leftist, like most of the rest of the western European media, and unlimited immigration is one of the boards that makes up the ideological box that the left lives in these days.  It’s as if the denizens of that box are a bunch of lemmings who can’t wait to commit demographic suicide, or serve as promoters for the next wave of civil wars.

    Consider, for example, the case of Switzerland, whose voters recently decided to apply some reasonable limits to immigration from the rest of the EU.  The German papers and news websites, which I happen to follow, became positively hysterical.  I haven’t seen much to compare with it since the most recent eruption of anti-American hate in the late 90’s and early 2000’s.  Among other things, the evil Swiss were supposed to be hicks from the back woods, consumed by greed.  Their vibrant economy was built with the wealth accumulated by the Nazis and assorted other dictators, etc.  It was a classic example of the response of an ingroup to perceived attack by an outgroup.

    Oddly enough, the right is playing a similar tune.  Anyone who thinks the planet might be better off with a smaller population must be “anti-Life.”  I have personally heard a retired Army 4-star general defend unlimited immigration, supposedly because it’s necessary to support a strong economy and, with it, a powerful military.  I’m of a different opinion.  I’d rather not rock the boat.

    Global warming may or may not be a reality.  We may or may not run out of clean water.  We may or may not be able to produce enough food to feed the planet’s increasing population.  We may or may not run out of affordable energy in the next few hundred years.  It seems to me the pertinent question is, “Why take chances?”

    Does that mean that the readers of this little blog should refrain from having as many children as possible?  Of course not!  Heaven forefend, gentle readers, that any of you should ever become defective biological units.  However, Mother Nature, in her wisdom, enabled us to perceive the world in terms of ingroups and outgroups, with different rules and versions of morality applying to each.  To paraphrase General Patton, the idea isn’t to commit genetic suicide yourself.  The idea is to get the other poor, dumb bastard to commit genetic suicide.  The result will be a world with a manageable population where you will be able to pursue your own version of “human flourishing” in peace.  As for Japan, I don’t doubt that she is still producing men (and women) whose love interests don’t reside in Nintendo boxes.  In time, their children, and their children’s children, will inherit the islands.  When they do, the population demographics will likely take a turn for the better.

    Of course, I’m supplying you with a “should” here, and as my readers know, I don’t admit the existence of objective “shoulds.”  Take it with a grain of salt, if you like.  It certainly won’t bother me.  I’ve made my reasons for preferring genetic survival to a life in which I make a “meaningful contribution” to the rest of mankind, and then croak, clear enough in earlier posts.  My point is, if you happen to share this whim, this preference for survival with me, don’t be concerned the next time you see some feminist harridan railing about the evils of having children.  Why on earth would you ever attempt to persuade her she’s wrong?  The best response is to smile, get a room, and get busy.

    UPDATE:  More on the Derb’s article over at Occam’s Razor

     

  • More on “Where have all the Babies Gone?”

    Posted on February 25th, 2013 Helian 1 comment

    Apropos the baby bust discussed in my last post, an interesting article on the subject by Joel Kotkin and Harry Siegel recently turned up at The Daily Beast via Newsweek entitled, “Where have all the Babies Gone?”  According to the authors, “More and more Americans are childless by choice.  But what makes sense for the individual may spell disaster for the country as a whole.”  Their forebodings of doom are based on a subset of the reasons cited in Jonathan Last’s “What to Expect when No One’s Expecting,” and are the same as those that usually turn up in similar articles.  The lack of babies, “….is likely to propel us into a spiral of soaring entitlement costs and diminished economic vigor, and create a culture marked by hyperindividualism and dependence on the state as the family unit erodes.”  As I pointed out in my earlier post on the subject, if all these things really will result absent a constantly increasing population, they are not avoidable outcomes, for the simple reason that, at some point, the population of the planet must stop growing.  The only question is, how many people will be around to experience those outcomes when they happen, and what fraction of the planet’s depleted resources will still be around at the time to deal with the situation.  Many of the commenters on the article do an excellent job of pointing that out.  For example, from Si 1979,

    At some point the population has to stop growing, space on the earth is finite.  As such there is going to come a generation that needs to ‘take the hit’ and the earlier that hit is taken the easier it will be.  The larger the population gets the worse an ageing population each generation will experience.  We can take the hit now or leave future generations a much worse problem to deal with.

    To deal with the “problem,” the authors propose some of the usual “solutions”;

    These include such things as reforming the tax code to encourage marriage and children; allowing continued single-family home construction on the urban periphery and renovation of more child-friendly and moderate-density urban neighborhoods; creating extended-leave policies that encourage fathers to take more time with family, as has been modestly successfully in Scandinavia; and other actions to make having children as economically viable, and pleasant, as possible. Men, in particular, will also have to embrace a greater role in sharing child-related chores with women who, increasingly, have careers and interests of their own.

    As a father of children who has strongly encouraged his own children to have children as well, I am fully in favor of all such measures, as long as they remain ineffective.

    The baby promoters have remarkably short historical memories.  Are they unaware of the other side of this coin?  One need go no further back than the 20th century.  What spawned Hitler’s grandiose dreams of “Lebensraum in the east” for Germany, at the expense of Russia?  Hint:  It wasn’t a declining German population.  Why did the Japanese come up with the “Greater East Asian Co-prosperity Sphere” idea and start invading their neighbors?  It happened at a time when her population was expanding at a rapid pace, and was, by the way, only about half of what it is now.  In spite of that, in the days before miracle strains of rice and other grains, it seemed impossible that she would be able to continue to feed her population.  Have we really put such fears of famine behind us for all times?  Such a claim must be based on the reckless assumption that the planet will never again suffer any serious disruptions in food production.  These are hardly isolated examples.  A book by Henry Cox entitled The Problem of Population, which appeared in 1923 and is still available on Amazon, cites numerous other examples.

    Needless to say, I don’t share the fears of the Kotkins and Siegels of the world.  My fear is that we will take foolhardy risks with the health of our planet by spawning unsustainably large populations in the name of maintaining entitlements which mankind has somehow incomprehensibly managed to live without for tens of thousands of years.  In truth, we live in wonderful times.  I and those genetically close to me can procreate without limit on a planet where the population may soon begin to decline to within sustainable limits because increasing numbers of people have decided not to have children.  It’s a win-win.  I’m happy with their choice, and presumably, they’re happy with mine, assuming they want to have some remnant of a working population available to exploit (or at least try to) once they’ve retired.  My only hope is that people like Kotkin and Siegel don’t succeed in rocking the boat.

  • Jonathan Last and the Un-Problem of Shrinking Populations

    Posted on February 24th, 2013 Helian 3 comments

    In his latest book, What to Expect When No One’s Expecting, Jonathan Last warns us of the dire consequences of shrinking populations.  He’s got it backwards.  It’s the best thing that could happen to us.

    Before proceeding with my own take on this issue, I would like to assure the reader that I am not a rabid environmentalist or a liberal of the sort who considers people with children morally suspect.  I have children and have encouraged my own children to have as many children as possible themselves.  It seems to me that the fact that those among us who are supposedly the most intelligent are also the most infertile is a convincing proof of the stupidity of our species.

    Why did I decide to have children?  In the end, it’s a subjective whim, just like every other “purpose of life” one might imagine.  However, as such I think it’s justifiable enough.  The explanation lies in the way in which I perceive my “self.”  As I see it, “we” are not our conscious minds, although that is what most of us perceive as “we.”  Our conscious minds are evanescent manifestations of the physical bodies whose development is guided by our genes.  They pop into the world for a moment and are then annihilated in death.  They exist for that brief moment for one reason only – because they happened to promote our genetic survival.  Is it not more reasonable to speak of “we” as that about us which has existed for billions of years and is potentially immortal, namely, our genes, than to assign that term to an ancillary manifestation of those genes that exists for a vanishingly small instant of time by comparison?  We have a choice.  We can choose that this “we” continue to survive, or we can choose other goals, and allow this “we” to be snuffed out, so that the physical bodies that bear our “we” become the last link in an unbroken chain stretching back over billions of years.  There is no objective reason why we should prefer one choice or the other.  The choice is purely subjective.  The rest of the universe cares not a bit whether our genes survive or not.  I, however, care.  If countless links in a chain have each created new links in turn and passed on the life they carried over the eons, only to come to a link possessed of qualities that cause it to fail to continue the chain, it seems reasonable to consider that link dysfunctional, or, in the most real sense imaginable, a failure.  I personally would not find the realization comforting that I am a sick and dysfunctional biological unit, a failure at carrying out that one essential function that a process of natural selection has cultivated for an almost inconceivable length of time.  Therefore, I have children.  As far as I am concerned, they, and not wealth, or property, or fame, are the only reasonable metric of success in the life of any individual.  The very desire for wealth, property or fame only exist because at some point in our evolutionary history they have promoted our survival and procreation.  As ends in themselves, divorced from the reason they came into existence in the first place, they lead only to death.

    Am I concerned if others don’t agree with me?  Far from it!  And that brings us back to the main point of this post.  I do not agree with Jonathan Last that a constantly increasing population, or even a stable one at current levels, is at all desirable.  As far as I am concerned, it is a wonderful stroke of luck that in modern societies the conscious minds of so many other humans have become dysfunctional, resulting in their genetic death.  I am interested in keeping other genes around only to the extent that they promote the survival of my own.  That is also the only reason that I would prefer one level of population on the planet to one that is larger or smaller.  That, of course, is a very personal reason, but it seems to me that it is a conclusion that must follow for anyone else to the extent that they prefer survival to the alternative.

    Survival, then, is my sine qua non.  Given that this planet is, for practical purposes, the only one we can depend on to support our survival, I consider it foolhardy to prefer a population that is potentially unsustainable, or that will diminish everyone’s chances of long term survival.  I am hardly a fanatical environmentalist.  I would just prefer that we refrain from rocking the boat.  I have read Bjorn Lomborg’s The Skeptical Environmentalist, and am well aware of how frequently the environmentalists have been crying “wolf” lo now these many years.  However, like Lomborg, I agree that there is still reason for concern.  Pollution and environmental degradation are real problems, as is the rapid exploitation of limited sources of cheap energy and other raw materials.  Obviously, Paul Ehrlich’s dire predictions that we would run out of everything in short order were far off the mark.  However, eventually, they will run out, and it seems reasonable to me to postpone the date as long as possible.  Let us consider the reasons Jonathan Last believes all these risks are worth taking.  In all honesty, assuming we are agreed that survival is a worthwhile goal, they seem trivial to me.

    To begin, while paying lip service to the old chestnut that a correlation does not necessarily indicate causation, Last suggests exactly that.  On page 7 of the hardcover version of his book he writes, “Declining populations have always followed or been followed by Very Bad Things.  Disease.  War.  Economic stagnation or collapse.”  To see whether this suggestion holds water, let’s look at one of Lasts own examples of “declining populations.”  On p. 36 he writes, “World population also declined steeply between 1340 and 1400, shrinking from 443 million to 374 million.  This was not a period of environmental and social harmony; it was the reign of the Black Death.  I leave it as an exercise for the reader to determine whether declining populations were the cause of the Black Death, or the Black Death was the cause of declining populations.  To anyone who has read a little history, it is abundantly clear that, while disease, war, and economic collapse may cause depopulation, the instances where the reverse was clearly the case are few and far between.  In a similar vein, referring to the Roman Empire, Last writes on p. 35, “Then, between A.D. 200 and 600, population shrank from 257 million to 208 million, because of falling fertility.  We commonly refer to that period as the descent into the Dark Ages.”  Where is the evidence that the population fell because of “falling fertility”?  Last cites none.  On the other hand, there is abundant source material from the period to demonstrate that, as in the case of the Black Death, declining populations were a result, and not a cause.  In Procopius‘ history of the Great Italian War in the 6th century, for example, he notes that Italy has become depopulated.  The great historian was actually there, and witnessed the cause first hand.  It was not “declining fertility,” but starvation resulting from the destruction of food sources by marauding armies.

    However, this allusion to “Very Bad Things” is really just a red herring.  Reading a little further in Last’s book, it doesn’t take us long to discover the real burrs under his saddle.  Most of them may be found by glancing through the 50 pages between chapters 5 and 7 of his book.  They include, 1) The difficulty of caring for the elderly.  2) The decrease in inventiveness and entrepreneurship (because of an over proportion of elderly)  3) A decline in military strength, accompanied by an unwillingness to accept casualties, and 4) Lower economic growth.  The idea that anyone could seriously suggest that any of these transient phenomena could justify playing risky games with the ability of our planet to sustain life for millennia into the future boggles the mind.  The population of the planet cannot keep increasing indefinitely in any case.  At some point, it must stabilize, and these consequences will follow regardless.  The only question is, how many people will be affected.

    Consider Japan, a country Last considers an almost hopeless demographic basket case.  Its population was only 42 million as recently as 1900.  At the time it won wars against both China and Russia, which had much greater populations of 415 million and 132 million, respectively at the time.  Will it really be an unmitigated disaster if its population declines to that level again?  It may well be that Japan’s elderly will have to make do with less during the next century or two.  I hereby make the bold prediction that, in spite of that, they will not all starve to death or be left without health care to die in the streets.  Demographically, Japan is the most fortunate of nations, not the least favored.  At least to date, she does not enjoy the “great advantage” of mass immigration by culturally alien populations, an “advantage” that is likely to wreak havoc in the United States and Europe.

    As for military strength, I doubt that we will need to fear enslavement by some foreign power as long as we maintain a strong and reliable nuclear arsenal, and, with a smaller population, the need to project our power overseas, for example to protect sources of oil and other resources, will decline because our needs will be smaller.  As for inventiveness, entrepreneurship, and economic growth, it would be better to promote them by restraining the cancerous growth of modern tax-devouring welfare states than by artificially stimulating population growth.  Again, all of Last’s “Very Bad Things” are also inevitable things.  What he is proposing will not enable us to avoid them.  It will merely postpone them for a relatively short time, as which point they will be even more difficult to manage because of depleted resources and a degraded environment than they are now.  It seems a very meager excuse for risking the future of the planet.

    In a word, I favor a double standard.  Unrestricted population growth of my own family and those closely related to me genetically balanced by an overall decline in the population overall.  There is nothing incongruous about this.  It is the inherent nature of our species to apply one standard to our ingroup, and an entirely different one to outgroups.  We all do the same, regardless of whether we are prepared to admit it or not.  I leave you, dear reader, in the hope that you will not become confused by the distinction between the two.

  • Japan’s Birthrate “Problem”

    Posted on January 30th, 2012 Helian No comments

    Japan’s health and welfare ministry has released another lugubrious report on the nation’s declining population.  If current trends continue, it will decline by a third in the next 60 years, and 40 percent of the population will be over retirement age by 2060.  Of course, many other industrialized countries face a similar problem, if you can call it that.  I question whether it’s really a problem.

    Why, after all, would Japan want to maintain a population of over 100 million?  The ultimate cause of all our environmental problems is, after all, excessive population and Japan certainly has her share.  The overcrowding there is extreme, or certainly seems so to anyone who isn’t used to such a high population density.  Then there’s the question of whether such a large population is really sustainable in the long run.  Go to any graduate library and look up stories about Japan that were printed in the political journals between the wars, and you’ll find that the problem of feeding her people seemed insurmountable at the time, when her population was only about half what it is now.  The modern, high yield rice strains that have given Asia some breathing room had not yet been discovered, and, with her limited agricultural land already fully exploited, it seemed inevitable to many, especially in Japanese ruling circles, that she would gradually starve unless she could secure more territory overseas.  The aggression this fear inspired and the disaster the country suffered as a result of it are familiar to anyone who has read a little history.  Is it really impossible that a problem that seemed so insurmountable within living memory should recur?  What if there is another collapse of world trade as occurred during the Great Depression, and Japan can no longer afford to import sufficient food or the fertilizer to maintain production at home?  What advantage will a large population be then?

    What problems will she face if her population declines as expected?  A shrinking economy for a time?  She suffered a far more severe “shrinking” of her economy during World War II, but somehow managed to not only survive that, but thrive in its aftermath.  A reduction in benefits for her retired citizens?  Will their lot be any better if the problem of overpopulation is simply allowed to fester until a major economic crisis comes along, as it eventually will?

    Global warming, overfishing, polluted water supplies, and all the other environmental problems we face may appear more or less severe depending on ones ideological predilections.  Regardless, the fact is that the ultimate cause of every one of them is overpopulation.  Instead of panicking over declining birthrates, I suggest it might be better to consider them a boon.  Instead of gambling that the fragile environment of our planet will continue to sustain an ever increasing population, would it not be better to step back for a while and give it time to recover from some of the damage we’ve already done to it?  Given that this is the only planet we have to live on for the time being, does it make sense to take such absolutely unnecessary risks?

    As for Japan, she is likely to benefit more than most countries from the “problem” of declining population.  Given her history and culture, it is unlikely that her rulers will be driven to the irrational extreme of importing masses of alien workers to “solve” it.  Unfortunately, this “solution” is already being tried in several other countries, and is likely to end in disasters far worse than the problem it was intended to cure.

    Of course, I do not mean to imply that you, dear reader, should have fewer children.  The fecundity of the readers of this blog is unlikely to contribute substantially to the global population problem one way or the other.  If we get to that point I will let you know.