Japan and the Eternally Ticking “Demographic Time Bomb”

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.

Why Did They Vote The Way They Voted?

Ask anyone who voted in the recent election why they voted the way they did, and they are sure to have some answer.  They will give you some reason why they considered one candidate good, and/or the other candidate bad.  Generally, these answers will be understandable in the context of the culture in which they were made, even if you don’t agree with them.  The question is, how much sense do they really make when you peel off all the obscuring layers of culture and penetrate to the emotions that are the ultimate source of all these “logical” explanations.  There are those who are convinced that their answer to this question is so far superior to that of the average voter that they should have more votes, or even that the average voter should have no vote at all.  Coincidentally, the “average voter” is almost always one who doesn’t vote the same way they do.

Claire Lehman recently wrote an interesting essay on the subject at the Quillette website.  Her description of these self-appointed “superior voters” might have been lifted from the pages of Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind.  In that book Haidt uses his parable of the elephant and its rider to describe the process of moral judgment.  It begins with a split-second positive or negative moral intuition, which Haidt describes as the “elephant” suddenly leaning to the left or the right.  Instead of initiating or guiding this snap judgment, the “rider” uses “reason” to justify it.  In other words, he serves as an “inner lawyer,” rationalizing whatever path the elephant happened to take.  Here’s how Lehman describes these “riders”:

This is one reason why charges of wholesale ignorance are so obtuse. “High information” people ignore evidence if it conflicts with their preferred narrative all the time. And while it may be naïve for voters to believe the promises of Trump and the Brexit campaigners — it has also been profoundly naïve for the cosmopolitan classes to believe that years of forced internationalism and forced political correctness were never going to end with a large scale backlash.

In fact, high information people are likely to be much better at coming up with rationalisations as to why their preferred ideology is not only best, but in the national interest. And high information rationalisers are probably more likely to put forward theories about how everyone who disagrees with them is stupid, and is not deserving of the right to vote.

As a representative example of how these people think, she quotes the philosopher John Brennan:

And while I no doubt suffer from some degree of confirmation bias and self-serving bias, perhaps I justifiably believe that I — a chaired professor of strategy, economics, ethics, and public policy at an elite research university, with a Ph.D. from the top-ranked political philosophy program in the English-speaking world, and with a strong record of peer-reviewed publications in top journals and academic presses — have superior political judgment on a great many political matters to many of my fellow citizens, including to many large groups of them.

It would seem “some degree of confirmation bias” is something of an understatement.  What, exactly, does “superior political judgment” consist of.  In the end it must amount to a superior ability to recognize and realize that which is “Good” for society at large.  The problem is that this “Good” is a fantasy.  All it really describes is the direction in which the elephant is leaning in the minds of individuals.

There can be no rational or legitimate basis for things that don’t exist.  It is instructive to consider the response of secular philosophers like Brennan if you ask them to supply this nonexistent basis for the claim that their version of “Good” is really good.  The most common one will be familiar to readers of secular moralist Sam Harris’ The Moral Landscape.  Whatever political or social nostrum they happen to propose is good because it will lead to human flourishing.  Human flourishing is good because it will lead to the end of war.  The end of war is good because it will result in the end of pain and suffering.  And so on.  In other words, the response will consist of circular logic.  What they consider good is good because it is good.  Question any of the steps in this logical syllogism, and their response will typically be to bury you under a heap of negative moral intuitions, again, exactly as described by Haidt.  How can you be so vile as to favor the mass slaughter of innocent civilians?  How can you be so ruthless and uncaring as to favor female genital mutilation?  How can you be so evil as to oppose the brotherhood of all mankind?  Such “logic” hardly demonstrates the existence of the “Good” as an objective thing-in-itself.  It merely confirms the eminently predictable fact that, at least within a given culture, most elephants will tend to lean the same way.

Philosophers like Brennan either do not realize or do not grasp the significance of the fact that, in the end, their “superior political judgment” is nothing more sublime than an artifact of evolution by natural selection.  They epitomize the truth of the Japanese proverb, “Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.”  In the end such judgments invariably boil down to the moral intuitions that lie at their source, and it is quite impossible for the moral intuitions of one individual to be superior to those of another in any objective sense.  The universe at large doesn’t care in the slightest whether humans “flourish” or not.  That hardly means that it is objectively “bad” to act on, passionately care about, or seek to realize ones individual moral whims.  It can be useful, however, to keep the source of those whims in perspective.

One can consider, for example, whether the “rational” manner in which one goes about satisfying a particular whim is consistent with the reasons the whim exists to begin with.  The “intuitions” Haidt speaks of exist because they evolved, and they evolved because they happened to increase the odds that the genes responsible for programming them would survive and reproduce.  This fundamental fact is ignored by the Brennans of the world.  What they call “superior political judgment” really amounts to nothing more than blindly seeking to satisfy these “intuitional” artifacts of evolution.  However, the environment in which they are acting is radically different from the one in which the intuitions in question evolved.  As a result, their “judgments” often seem less suited to insuring the survival and reproduction of the responsible genes than to accomplishing precisely the opposite.

For example, the question of whether international borders should exist and be taken seriously or not was fundamental to the decision of many to vote one way or the other in the recent U.S. presidential election.  Lehman quotes Sumantra Maitra on this issue as follows:

[T]his revolutionary anti-elitism one can see, is not against the rich or upper classes per se, it is against the liberal elites, who just “know better” about immigration, about intervention and about social values. What we have seen is a “burn it all down” revenge vote, against sententious, forced internationalism, aided with near incessant smug lecturing from the cocooned pink haired urban bubbles. Whether it’s good or bad, is for time to decide. But it’s a fact and it might as well be acknowledged.

It is quite true that “forced internationalism” has been experienced by the populations of many so-called democracies without the formality of a vote.  However, it is hardly an unquestionable fact that this policy will increase the odds that the genes responsible for the moral whims of the populations affected, or any of their other genes, will survive and reproduce.  In fact, it seems far more likely that it will accomplish precisely the opposite.

A fundamental reason for the above conclusion is the existence of another artifact of evolution that the Brennans of the world commonly ignore; the universal human tendency to categorize others into ingroup and outgroups.  I doubt that there are many human individuals on the planet whose mental equipment doesn’t include recognition of an outgroup.  Outgroups are typically despised.  They are considered disgusting, unclean, immoral, etc.  In a word, they are hated.  For the Brennans of the world, hatred is “bad.”  As a result, they are very reticent about recognizing and confronting their own hatreds.  However, they are perfectly obvious to anyone who takes the trouble to look for them.  As it happens, they can be easily found in Lehman’s essay.  For example,

Bob Geldof calls Brexit voters the “army of stupid”. US philosopher Jason Brennan describes Trump voters as “ignorant, irrational, misinformed, nationalists.”

She quotes the following passage which appeared in Haaertz:

But there is one overarching factor that everyone knows contributed most of all to the Trump sensation. There is one sine qua non without which none of this would have been possible. There is one standalone reason that, like a big dodo in the room, no one dares mention, ironically, because of political correctness. You know what I’m talking about: Stupidity. Dumbness. Idiocy. Whatever you want to call it: Dufusness Supreme.

In other words, the hatreds of the “superior voters” are quite healthy and robust.  The only difference between their outgroup and some of the others to which familiar names have been attached is that, instead of being defined based on race, ethnicity, or religion, it is defined based on ideology.  They hate those who disagree with their ideological narrative.  Outgroup identification is usually based on easily recognizable differences.  Just as ideological differences are easily recognized, so are cultural and ethnic differences.  As a result, multi-culturalism does not promote either human brotherhood or human flourishing.  It is far more likely to promote social unrest and, eventually, civil war.  In fact, it has done just that countless times in the past, as anyone who has at least a superficial knowledge of the history of our species is aware.  Civil war is unlikely to promote the survival of the human beings effected, nor of the genes they carry.  “Low information voters” appear to be far more capable of appreciating this fundamental fact than the Brennans of the world who despise them.  The predictable result of the “superior judgments” of self-appointed “high information voters” is likely to be the exact opposite of those that resulted in the existence of the fundamental whims that account for the existence of the “superior judgments” to begin with.

It is useless to argue that human beings “ought” not to hate.  They will hate whether they “ought” to or not.  We will be incapable of avoiding in the future the disastrous outcomes that have so often been the result of this salient characteristic of our species in the past if we are not even capable of admitting its existence.  When Robert Ardrey and Konrad Lorenz insisted half a century ago that the existence of ingroups and outgroups, what Ardrey called the “Amity-Enmity Complex,” is real, and made a few suggestions about what we might do to mitigate the threat this aspect of our behavior now poses to our species in a world full of nuclear weapons, they were shouted down as “fascists.”  In the ensuing years the “experts” have finally managed to accept the fundamental theme of their work; the existence and significance of human nature.  They have not, however, been capable of looking closely enough in the mirror to recognize their own outgroups.  Those who spout slogans like “Love Trumps Hate” are often the biggest, most uncontrolled and most dangerous haters of all, for the simple reason that their ideology renders them incapable of recognizing their own hatreds.

There is nothing objectively good about one version or another of “human flourishing,” and there is nothing objectively bad about social unrest and civil war.  However I, for one, would prefer to avoid the latter.  Call it a whim if you will, but at least it isn’t 180 degrees out of step with the reason for the whim’s existence.  We are often assured that flooding our countries with unassimilable aliens will be “good for the economy.”  It seems to me that the “good of the economy” can be taken with a grain of salt when compared with the “bad of civil war.”  It is hard to imagine what can be fundamentally “good” about a “good economy” that threatens the genetic survival of the existing population of a country.  I would prefer to dispense with the “good of the economy” and avoid rocking the boat.  By all means, call the “low information voters” racist, bigoted, misogynistic and xenophobic until you’re blue in the face.  The fact that one was “good” rather than “bad” in these matters will make very little difference to the rest of the universe if one fails to survive.

I have no idea what the final outcome of the Trump Presidency will be.  However, I think “low information voters” had reasons for voting for him that make a great deal more sense than those given by their “superiors.”  One does not necessarily become more rational or more intelligent by virtue of having a Ph.D. or reading a lot of books.

donkey-and-books

Helpful Hints on the Morality of Parenthood

One Thomas Rodham Wells, who apparently fancies himself a philosopher, has posted an article entitled Is Parenthood Morally Respectable? over at 3quarksdaily.  It explains to the rest of us benighted souls why it’s immoral to have children, except in situations where the number is limited to one, and the prospective parents’ motives in having children are scrutinized for moral purity, presumably by a board of philosophers appointed by Wells.  Such tracts have been popping up in increasing numbers lately, mainly emanating from the left of the ideological spectrum.  I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see them.  They’re the ultimate expressions of what one might call a morality inversion – morality as a negation of the very basis of morality itself.  Moral objections to parenthood are hardly the only manifestations of such suicidal inversions observable in modern society.  For example, often the very same people who consider parenthood “evil” also consider unlimited illegal immigration “good.”  I suppose one shouldn’t be surprised.  Jury-rigging a large brain on a creature with a pre-existing set of behavioral traits, and then expecting the moral emotions to catch up with the change overnight would be a dubious proposition even in a static environment.  Plump that creature down in the environment of today, radically different as it is from the one in which its moral equipment evolved, and such “anomalies” are only to be expected.

On the other hand, Darwin happened.  He certainly had no trouble making the connection between his revolutionary theory and moral behavior.  It was immediately obvious to him that morality exists because it evolved.  The connection has been just as obvious to many others who have come and gone in the intervening century and a half.  In this post-Blank Slate era the fact should be as obvious as the nose on your face.  It should serve as a check on the intellectual hubris of our species that, in spite of that, so many of us still don’t get it.

I won’t go into too much detail about how Wells rationalized himself into a morality inversion.  It’s the usual stuff.  Parenthood is selfish because it imposes social costs on those who choose not to have children.  Parenthood is irresponsible because the carbon footprint of children will melt the planet.  Parenthood is unfair because the burden of other people’s children on the childless don’t outweigh their advantages.  And so on, and so on.  As usual, all this completely misses the point.  The “point” is that the ultimate reason that morality exists to begin with, and absent which it would not exist, is that it increased the probability that individuals of our species would survive and have children who would also survive.  In other words, using morality to encourage genetic suicide is manifestly absurd.  It is basically the same thing as using one’s evolved hand to shoot oneself, or using one’s evolved feet to jump off a cliff.  One can only conclude that, in the midst of all his complex moral reasoning, Wells never bothered to consider why, exactly, there is such a thing as morality.

Should one go to the trouble of pointing all this out to him?  Why on earth for!  The rest of us should be overjoyed that he and as many others like him as possible are delusional.  If anything, we should encourage them to remain delusional.  If they have no children, we won’t have to feed them, educate them, the planet may not melt after all, and, best of all, there will be more room for our children.  As for me pointing this out to my readers, I admit, it does seem somewhat counterintuitive.  On the other hand, so far there aren’t enough of you to seriously risk melting the planet, and if you’re smart enough to “get it” it’s probably worth my while to keep you around to provide a little quality genetic diversity in any case.

The Derb on Japan’s “Demographic Catastrophe”

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?”

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

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.