Japan’s Birthrate “Problem”

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.

Author: Helian

I am Doug Drake, and I live in Maryland, not far from Washington, DC. I am a graduate of West Point, and I hold a Ph.D. in nuclear engineering from the University of Wisconsin. My blog reflects my enduring fascination with human nature and human morality.

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