Demography and Destiny?

Mark Steyn writes, with his customary verve, about birth rates, Japan, Australia, Europe, and the Muslim world. Some key paragraphs:

Will Japan's economy return to the heady days of the 1980s when US businesses cowered in terror? Answer: No. Japan is exactly the same as it was in its heyday except for one fact: it stopped breeding and its population aged. Will China be the hyperpower of the 21st century? Answer: No. Its population will get old before it gets rich.

Check back with me in a century and we'll see who's right on that one. But here's one we know the answer to: Why is this newspaper published in the language of a tiny island on the other side of the earth? Why does Australia have an English Queen, English common law, English institutions? Because England was the first nation to conquer infant mortality.

By 1820 medical progress had so transformed British life that half the population was under the age of 15. Britain had the manpower to take, hold, settle and administer huge chunks of real estate around the planet. Had, say, China or Russia been first to overcome childhood mortality, the modern world would be very different.

What country today has half of its population under the age of 15? Italy has 14 per cent, the UK 18 per cent, Australia 20 per cent -- and Saudi Arabia has 39 per cent, Pakistan 40 per cent and Yemen 47 per cent. Little Yemen, like little Britain 200 years ago, will send its surplus youth around the world -- one way or another.

I'm not sure how right Steyn is, either on the general matter or on his specific concerns about abortion. My sense is that later marriages and later onset of childbirth in marriages may be a more important economic factor here; and of course decreased childbirth may in many situations create economic benefits (as women, and to some extent men, spend more time working) as well as economic costs. Nonetheless, his argument seems quite intriguing (and, as usual, very readable), and the topic is certainly tremendously important and in my experience underdiscussed.

Bob Bobstein (mail):
In this quote, Steyn tries to treat a population's youth as a talisman, the One True Indicator of a society's future.

England's conquering of infant mortality was a result of domestic economic and political advances. Even if Bangladesh has a very young population, it's not going to take over the world unless there is some serious economic development there.

Steyn writes: "Japan is exactly the same as it was in its heyday except for one fact: it stopped breeding and its population aged." Now, surely there were some sort of economic developments in Japan in the past 25 years that might help account for where it is today? Is it all due to aging?
2.17.2006 1:24pm
Humble Law Student:
I took Mr. Steyn's argument as demographics are a necessary but not sufficient cause. However, I do agree that Steyn is overstating his case. It may be a good thing though in this case, because I think demographics and its importance is all too often ignored.
2.17.2006 1:45pm
Steyn? Nyets!:
Steyn is really oversimplifying. These monocausal theories for why the world is like it is don't usually seem to cut it. Didn't Steyn also argue a few years ago that we took the war-crushed economoes of Japan and Germany, pumped billions into them, and they became economic powerhouses, so we can do the same with Iraq? These blank slaters can't be counted on to predict anything, because...well, they believe in the Blank Slate!
2.17.2006 1:50pm
Didn't Steyn also argue a few years ago that we took the war-crushed economoes of Japan and Germany, pumped billions into them, and they became economic powerhouses, so we can do the same with Iraq?

In fairness, Germany and Japan in 1948 were still a mess by any standards.
2.17.2006 1:56pm
One wonders if Steyn would accept the implications of his argument that the state should be pro-natalist. Specifically, you can't discourage abortion unless you have some positive plan for the resulting "excess" births (presumably born to women who don't want them or can't afford them) - state-run day care, more schools, day care centers in high schools, etc.

Perhaps they can all be raised as soldiers, so we have an unstinting supply of manpower to fight the "long war" against Muslim Extremism for decades, centuries, however long it takes...
2.17.2006 2:05pm
I am not exactly clear what Steyn is arguing for here. Every time I hear demography arguments, I wonder what the author is arguing for to remedy the situation. Is he arguing for lowering the standards of living, because that is one way to increase birth rate. Is Steyn arguing for rolling back on women's rights, because that is one way to increase birthrate. Ban abortion that works to increase birth rate to a certain degree. Force women to quit work when they get married, put a stigma on working mothers, that works like a charm. Incidently Japan is an odd case, women generally are less liberated in japan than in the europe and the women over there generally face a greater pressure quit work when they get married but the very high standard of living pushes the birth rate even lower. Or immigration that works too but in a generation or 2, the immigrant children reduce their birthrate. To me it seems Steyn's arguments goes hand in hand with a desire to roll back feminism's gains.
2.17.2006 2:13pm
Marcus1 (mail) (www):
I read a provocative take on the situation in Davids Medienkritik a few weeks ago about the situation in Germany, here.

It may sound silly, but it strikes me that just to maintain the current population, couples really need to have at least three children. Two children per couple, to state the obvious, only results in a stagnant population if there is 100% efficiency in reproduction from generation to generation, which of course there isn't.

I'm sure things will work themselves out one way or another, but it's kind of interesting to think about.
2.17.2006 2:13pm
Robert Ayers (mail):
Thirty years ago I happened to be at Speakers Corner in Hyde Park London and stopped to listen to a man who was telling the crowd that England and Europe were going to find themselves left in the dust due to demographics. The speaker's country, with its strong fertile population, would rule the 21st century. That country was Nigeria.
2.17.2006 2:20pm
Juan Notwithstanding the Volokh:
What a loon.

Even taking his argument at face value, basing anything on the percentage of youngsters rather than sheer numbers is very misleading. China has 21% of its population under 15 - that's 280 million youngsters. India, with 31% under 15, has about 330 million in that age range. Given that, does he seriously think that the 10 million youths of "little Yemen" will conquer the world? If so, maybe it ought to first conquer its own infant mortality rate, a whopping 61 per 1,000 births (Pakistan has 72), ten times the U.S.'s 6/1000.

Of course, the prospect of multitudes of Indians flooding the globe somehow doesn't seem as scary, does it?

[Lies, damn lies, and statistics. The latter I got from the CIA fact book ]
2.17.2006 2:26pm
I actually like some of his thoughts, but completely disagree with the conclusion. I'm especially disturbed by the population bombs in Palestine and Africa, but don't think that trying to win playing that way makes any sense.

I guess I'm just one of those silly people who thinks we'd be better off with fewer people. We shouldn't breed more. We should try to figure out a way to motivate them to breed less.

Perhaps one day Palestinians will win by crushing Israel under the population bomb. Then they'll have many of the same social problems and engage in some introspection for the first time.

Perhaps one day our consciousness of India will see past its wonderful successes to the poverty and smell of its cities. There is simply no way for the masses in India or China to fulfill the dream. Solving that by having more native babies in Europe and North America is inane. Or maybe San Fransisco should breed more to save itself from all those Mexicans.
2.17.2006 2:44pm
Houston Lawyer:
The required number of children per family to replace the preceding generation is 2.2. Many European countries and Japan have been reproducing below this level for two generations now. This originally created a worker shortage, which Europe tried to solve through immigration. The immigrants they allowed in were largely Muslim, and those immigrants have a higher birth-rate than the native population. So quite a few European countries now have non-assimilated minorities constituting a large portion of their youth.

Demographics isn't everything, but it is important.

I don't think Steyn has offered up any solutions to this problem. A civilization that is shrinking in population could not be described as thriving.
2.17.2006 2:45pm
Daniel Wiener (mail) (www):
Birthrates are heavily driven by the costs and benefits of having and raising children. In societies where elderly people depend on their children to support them during their declining years, there are strong incentives to have enough children to assure that support. In societies which have socialized the support of the elderly segment of the population (Europe being a prime example, with the U.S. trying to catch up), the incentive to have more children declines. (Yes, on a macro level the increase in the ratio of elderly to younger citizens will eventually be unsustainable. But this is a "tragedy of the commons" situation due to the fact that retirement support has been socialized.)

Malthusian predictions have been confounded both by advancing technology (improved contraception and abortion methods) and by the development of affluent societies. There is at the very least a strong correlation and likely causal link between a society's increasing wealth and technology and its decreasing birth rate. There are evolutionary advantages to concentrating more parental resources on less offspring. Improvements in medical science have reduced infant mortality and other dangers to children, thus lowering the overall risk of concentrating one's eggs into fewer baskets.

If we want a "solution" to the demographic differences which concern Mark Steyn, then we should encourage Muslim countries to break out of their retrograde religious restrictions and join the modern world politically and economically and culturally. Political and social freedom, including an end to the oppression and subjugation of women, combined with freer market economies and upward mobility, will quickly drive down birth rates in the effected countries.

At the same time, improvements and breakthroughs in extending life expectancy and the health of older people will minimize the disadvantages of lower birth rates. If and when medical science is able to radically increase healthy human life spans (a la Aubrey de Grey's Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence (SENS)), then questions about "replacement-level" birth rates will cease to have much meaning.
2.17.2006 2:56pm
"My sense is that later marriages and later onset of childbirth in marriages may be a more important economic factor here; and of course decreased childbirth may in many situations create economic benefits..."

Being a somewhat regular Steyn reader, I think his general point is that abortion, although not clearly stated, at the least, is highly correlated with delayed marriage and childbirth, and frequently a means of delaying the latter (childbirth).

More fundamentally, I think Steyn is attempting to criticize the priorities of many western cultures. Namely, let me take care of my well-being first, then assume the burdens of marriage if its pareto-optimal, and lastly, children, so long as it doesn't impinge upon an expected minimum standard of living.

I also don't think Steyn was arguing that decreased childbirth cannot lead to economic benefits, at least in the short term. I think that's putting words into his mouth.

Rather, he is making the general point that decreased childbirth is suicide for a country's viability on a long-run basis. The unwillingness to sacrifice an expected standard of living to raise a family in the aggregate is hazardous to a country's health.
2.17.2006 2:59pm
Duncan Frissell (mail):

positive plan for the resulting "excess" births (presumably born to women who don't want them or can't afford them) - state-run day care, more schools, day care centers in high schools, etc.

Since we're wealthier than ever, we can certainly afford them.

The Feds could up the dependent exemption for larger numbers of dependents and eliminate income taxes (and even SS taxes) on families of x size.

Home schooling by stay-at-home moms takes care of the schooling and day care.

Cut government revenue as a percentage of GDP from the current 28% back to 1929's 10%. Anyone with a spreadsheet can figure out how to do that in an afternoon.

Remember, tax cuts and spending cuts don't cost any money. They save money becauuse of reduced collection and administrative costs.

Our normal economic growth combined with the boost caused by privitization of spending would easily employ extra workers. The conversion of non-working public employees to productive work would also boost output.

Christian homeschoolers are doing a lot of this now on a self-help basis. Mom and kids learning together and selling stuff over the Nets or on eBay. Efficient employment of child labor in the home. Working married mothers tend to be working only to pay the added costs of working in any case. Much lower income taxes, ease of relocation to low-tax states.

Don't have to try out a radical change all at once. Try it out in Puerto Rico or the North Carolina Research Triangle. See what happens.
2.17.2006 3:01pm
Steyn is making one simple, basic economic mistake: he is equating raw numbers (labor) with influence and power (capital). The British conquered the world because they had surplus capital, not surplus labor. Otherwise, Indian ships and officers would have ferried hordes of low-paid British soldiers around the world, instead of British ships and officers delivering Indian auxiliaries to global trouble spots.

Likewise, in the future, power relations between Europe and Yemen will be determined by capital. Every time a European family decides to have 1 or 2 children instead of 10, both Darwinism and rational choice economics tell us that the parents are not intentionally trying to reduce their chances of having successful grandchildren. Instead, those European families are choosing to have a few highly-educated, human-capital-rich children instead of many poorly-educated, capital-lacking children. These are the children who are going to invent technologies, run companies, write poetry, and otherwise dominate the future -- because their parents are choosing to invest a lot of resources in them.

Yemen and Pakistan will contribute some world leaders as well, because their children are equally smart and capable. But far more of their children will not become as powerful, because they lack the schools, health care, clean water, and financial capital to do so. This is in general a tragedy, and when we see large numbers of children in poor countries, we should want to help them rather than fearing them.
2.17.2006 3:07pm
Unnamed Co-Conspirator:
I'm assuming that the 3 births per couple to maintain population was particular to Germany (or to another country with net emigration among its native population). Houston lawyer's figure of 2.2 is probably right, unless emigration is a big issue. And I would suggest that non-assimilating immigrants shouldn't be counted to offset emigrating natives, if the issue is demographics and culture, as it was in Steyn's piece.
2.17.2006 3:13pm
"..the topic is certainly tremendously important and in my experience underdiscussed."

What I think is also interesting is the correlation between religious belief and fertility rates.

Muslim populations are far outstripping their more secular European neighbors. Indeed, even in the U.S. there is a differential between fertility rates among more religious/conservative regions of the country, and more secular/liberal sections of the country.
2.17.2006 3:14pm
His argument is weak for the various reasons already mentioned. Just one more. Even taking a very simplified version of incentives, the situation he posits is basically:

A country must import youths so long as:

A * B > C * D

A = cost of sustaining an old person
B = number of old people
C = excess wealth generated per young person
D = number of young people

Steyn says, "B is going up, D is going down, therefore they must import young people." But that treats A and C as constants, which obviously they are not. A has been exploding and so has C. If old people were willing to live with fewer benefits, there would be no need to import. If technology continues booming, C may outpace D's decline and A's and B's increases. Moreover, the division between B and D is fluid. If older people are willing to work, B will shrink and D will grow.
2.17.2006 3:14pm
Steve Waldman (mail):
Steyn suggests natalism ought to be public policy in depopulating Western countries. But ill-considered natalism can lead to a wide variety of social problems, including crime and social unrest. (See Freakonomics for a discussion of the role of unwanted births in American crime and Romanian revolution. Sometimes social unrest is positive...) Indeed, radical Ismlamism as an assertive political movement may owe its existence to unwarranted fruitfulness and multiplying, and ill-considered attempts to be number #1 in the world fecundity might lead to homegrown nationalist or fascist movements in the West rather than securing liberalism for future generations.

That said, here's a policy idea that I think would help to stem the trend towards depopulation in the developed world, while avoiding willy-nilly incentives to reproduce (or disincentives to abortion) among those least capable of raising kids successfully:

Western public pension systems should offer tiered benefits explicitly contingent upon the number of children a couple has had, but with the extra benefits not kicking-in until at least 20 years after a child was born. Lots of variations on this theme are possible (extra benefits to parents of the educationally successful, etc.), though there is a slippery slope to overintrusive social engineering.

This idea has the advantage that it offers an incentive to reproduce that is likely to disproportionally affect those well prepared to raise a child. An impulsive teen whose failure to use birth control leads to a pregnancy is unlikely to be swayed in her choice of whether to have the child by an incentive 40 years distant. But a distant incentive may well affect the decision of successful couples, already socking away funds in their IRAs an 401-Ks, and whose decision to have very few children is related to conscientiousness in managing their finances.

Aside from helping to address a broad perverse incentive, such a scheme could help address the growing insolvency of social insurance programs. Any private pension manager knows that it is important to match the assets and liabilities of the fund, in terms of both quantity and timing of payoff. A private pension manager buy bonds as a long-term, liability matching asset. But with a social insurance programs, owing to their scales, financial assets may become meaningless. If a society fails to produce real assets sufficent to support the aged, any bonds the social insurance program has become claims on stale air. The real asset that social insurance programs rely on is productive young workers. A social insurance program that wants to match assets to its liabilities ought to be encouraging the reproduction of successful wealth creators.

As a matter of course, such a program would help to address some of the concerns Steyn calls attention to, without provoking an ethnically or religiously based arms race of childbearing.
2.17.2006 3:20pm
Unnamed Co-Conspirator:
DK, you're right, except that the the barriers to obtaining capital, including the kind of human capital you're referring to, are far smaller than they used to be, and unlike the 18th and 19th centuries, the unwashed masses get to vote. So, for example, unassimilated immigrants in European societies can have an impact on the culture disproportionate to their present holdings of capital. So, Steyn's not off base, rather, he's making a good argument, even if it is overstated for effect.
2.17.2006 3:22pm
nooner (mail) (www):
Steyn wrote a similar piece in the WSJ last month: It's the Demography, Stupid
2.17.2006 3:25pm
Steve Waldman,

One economist best described Freakonomics as akin to sensationalism.

I would see Foote and Goetz's critique of his study on abortion's impact on crime rates in the country. They determined at least two serious flaws, one of which Levitt acknowledged (although I think he claims it doesn't effect his results).
2.17.2006 3:42pm
Daniel Wiener wrote:
If we want a "solution" to the demographic differences which concern Mark Steyn, then we should encourage Muslim countries to break out of their retrograde religious restrictions and join the modern world politically and economically and culturally. Political and social freedom, including an end to the oppression and subjugation of women, combined with freer market economies and upward mobility, will quickly drive down birth rates in the effected countries.

There, of course, is the rub. So far most Western attempts to get Muslims to "break out of their retrograde religious restrictions and join the modern world politically and economically and culturally" have been met with fierce and often violent resistance.

Mark Steyn's aforementioned magnum opus in the WSJ is only part of the story. Demographics can tell you who is going to inherit the earth, but the character, worldview and will to power of those inheritors are what tells you how they're going to rule once the torch is passed.
2.17.2006 4:07pm
Mark White (mail) (www):
Mark Steyn's fascination with demographics leads him to
presume more certainty about the future than his facts merit. This is not to say he's wrong about the Sinosphere hefting less global influence than the
Anglosphere throughout the 21st century. He's just
right for the wrong reason.

The most important fact in global influence will
always be a society's ability to turn advanced
technologies into new goods, services, processes and
jobs. Beyond cleaning up its water supply by 1820
(plumbers had a lot more to do with public health than
doctors ever did), Britain was also taking a lead in
industrialization. Those British children didn't just
survive, they prospered relative to societies all
around the world. They could afford to travel, and
once they arrived, they could offer better goods,
services, processes and jobs than local elites -- and
if the local elites didn't like it, the British had
better weapons and tactics -- the goods, services and
processes that trump all others when push comes to

The West has the Rule of Law -- Britain's Common Law
permits what it doesn't prohibit, while the
Continent's Roman Law prohibits what it doesn't
permit. Common Law makes innovation easier relative
to Roman Law, while Roman Law makes mobilization
easier relative to Common Law. Innovation trumps
mobilization -- mobilize all the obsolescent
technologies you want, and you will still lose against
a superior technology. The Anglosphere has that
permanent advantage in innovation, which is why
Britain and her colonies are doing so much better at
economic growth and immigrant assimilation than the
Continent and her colonies.

The Anglosphere's notable advantage over the
Latinosphere is dwarfed by its much greater advantage
over the Sinosphere because China's Rule of Men offers
nowhere near the certainty and security in life and
property offered by the West's Rule of Law. The
oppressed make very poor innovators, and don't offer
all than much when mobilized, either. You seem to
think the Islamosphere's high birth rate will make it
more powerful in the 21st century, but Sharia's Rule
of Men, like other tribal systems, means that wherever
it holds sway, you'll have backward technologies and
unskilled warriors. Think, man! Did demography
matter at battles like Omdurman or Rorke's Drift? And
even with the West pulling its punches, the best
China's human waves could earn in Korea was a very
expensive draw.

As you've noted, the Anglosphere will have its choice
of immigrants to assimilate except where it borders
directly on the Latinosphere (i.e., the US-Mexican
border), and even there, their Western background
makes those immigrants much easier to assimilate than
the Islamosphere immigrants flooding the Continent.
You can depend on an enduring advantage in global
influence for the Anglosphere, despite the rapid
growth in Islamosphere populations. And Yemen won't
even be in a position to enforce demands on the
Latinosphere in the 21st century, no matter how many
young men they can offer up as cannon fodder.

Of course, Yemen's enduring weakness doesn't preclude
Western cowards from giving into demands that Yemen
can't enforce. It just shifts the argument from the
inevitability of Yemen's rise to the need for some
backbone in the leaders of the Latinosphere's superior
civilization -- more like Anders Fogh Rasmussen and
less like Franco Frattini. And they might do well to
import some Anglosphere policies.
2.17.2006 4:11pm
AppSocRes (mail):
My Ph.D. thesis was a mathematical model of the relation between economy and fertility in developed countries. Richard Easterlin, Judith Blake, and others have developed micro-enomic theories treating babies as consumer durables that adequately explain the fertility decline in developed countries as compared with, e.g., backward muslim populations.

Europe is doomed. It is politically impossible to lower the social benefits that the older, native population receives, and hence impossible to lower tax rates. The tax rates impose such heavy burdens on the younger, native middle- class that they cannot afford to have children. The temporary fix was to import foreign labor to make up lost tax revenue from declining fertility. Now the children of the imported underclass are sucking up the social services. This underclass and their children are going to stay on the margins, maintain high fertility, and eventually take over.

Members of Norway's muslim underclass are already wearing t-shirts bragging about their demographic dominance in 2030. The situation in France is so obvious, there's no need for bragging.

We in the United State have some leeway -- with our much lower tax rates and lesser demand for social services -- to escape from this death spiral. But only if we start dealing with the falling ratio of Social Security tax payers to beneficiaries and the rising national debt, budget deficits, and trade deficits.

Given the current level of political discourse in this country, I'm kind of glad I probably won't live to see how it works out for my nieces' and nephews' children.
2.17.2006 4:21pm
If your country's average life expectancy is 21, you're going to have a very high percentage of the population under the age of 15. But I'm not sure that would signify you'll be ruling the world soon.
2.17.2006 4:37pm
Charles Chapman (mail) (www):
Didn't a wise man once say letting in immigrants = letting in your future rulers? Indeed, twice? :)
2.17.2006 5:03pm
Steyn? Nyets!:
The main problem is that there are literally billions of people who would go to, say, Norway (population 4 million) or France (population 60 million) or Australia (population 20 million) if they could. And that once a beachhead is established in a country, the group organizes and pushes for even more members of its group to be let in. The enormous numbers of would-be immigrants, combined with their much higher birthrates, means that countries like Australia, Norway, Sweden, and France could easily become majority Muslim over the next 25 years or so unless immigration is severely curtailed rather soon.

I don't think anyone thinks Norway with a Muslim majority would be anything like Norway circa 1990.
2.17.2006 5:29pm
BobN (mail):
Imagine the young Yemeni (47% of the population below 15) landing on the shores of Manhattan. Armed by his culture's superior military technology, its advanced academic and financial infrastructure, he thinks, "Gee, with a little help from some microbes these folks have no resistance to, I could really make something of this place!"
2.17.2006 5:59pm
Klug (mail):
Boy, oh, boy, Mr. White -- I think you'd find a lot of Chinese (right or wrong) who seem to think that a human wave attack actually works...
2.17.2006 6:02pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
AppSocRes and Taimyoboi have the right take I think. Steyn isn't saying anything about feminism, women's rights, spotted owls, or any other liberal sacred cow. He's merely saying that it works for societies in a darwin ruled survival of the fitest world the same way it works for companies in a darwin ruled survival of the fitests economy (i.e. capitalist economy of free persons). How does that work you ask? There is a solid business axiom that goes "If you aren't growing you're dying". Steyn is noting the same thing is or could very well be true of societies and cultures. If your society, with its culture, value systems, and beliefs etc. aren't growing (i.e. population growth) then your society as you know it with its culture, value systems, and beliefs, etc. is dying.

They exact course and reasons for that death on a micro analytic basis may vary, but on a macro level it will be the same cause (i.e., the society, culture, value systems, and beliefs held dear by those not breeding sufficiently to maintain their population will be replaced by the culture, value systems, and beliefs of those persons who are breeding in sufficient numbers to grow their populations. Its just a matter of time).

Of course there are other ways for a society, with its culture, value systems, and beliefs to disappear before population dynamics can work their magic, but that doesn't mean that the proposition that population changes change the kind and quality of a society over time isn't accurate statement on a macro level.

These population changes can also explain effects on regional differences. Again it doesn't have to be the only explanation, but that doesn't mean it isn't happening. For example, red state believers in God and Country, the nuclear family, traditional value of marriage, etc. etc., these people are reproducing at a rate sufficient to grow their population. Blue state bicoastal liberals aren't. If nothing else changes, the population growth rates alone mean more and more electoral votes for red states and fewer and fewer electoral votes for blue states. That trend will accelerate as the populations not growing age and suddenly an entire age group starts dying within a relatively small window of time.

The Bushies are going to win, if not now, later. Better think about it before getting all worked up over someone merely noting that which is obvious. You are in effect arguing against evolution (of societies) by trying to deny that rates of societal/cultural survival (population growth) won't effect the balance of power in a society or the world as a whole.

Says the "Dog"
2.17.2006 6:04pm
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Steyn? Nyets!

These blank slaters can't be counted on to predict anything, because...well, they believe in the Blank Slate!

When I read this I immediately thought you were accurately describing the liberal, the constitution is a living breathing" document theory of constitutional jurisprudence. They start each day with the constitution as just a blank piece of paper, and then choose what to say is written there by a vote of 5 out of 9 oligarchs.

Says the "Dog"
2.17.2006 6:12pm
Dustin R. Ridgeway (mail):
Does Mark Steyn ever write about ANYTHING other than eulogies for declining white birth rates &warning screeds about the dangers of rapidly populating brown people in Midddle Eastern countries? This deusy seems to have hit both marks.
2.17.2006 7:37pm
Dan Simon (www):
My objection to the purely economic arguments for accelerating demographic decline is that they fail to take into account the real reason why people have children. In modern, affluent societies, children are a massive economic burden that no purely rational person would want to have. Yet millions of people do have them--because people are for obvious reasons genetically endowed with a powerful desire to have, care for and raise children.

Now, consider what happens when a society--again, like most modern, affluent societies--decreases the economic incentives to have children, and increases the economic disincentives. (For example, it establishes social mechanisms to provide for the elderly, thus reducing the utility of children, and generates enough surplus wealth to offer its population the option of enjoying substantial luxuries in place of the resources they would spend on raising children.)

An obvious consequence is that the only people who have children will be those whose innate drive to have children is so powerful that they reproduce in spite of the powerful disincentives to do so. The next generation will therefore be overwhelmingly composed of descendants of people whose desire for children is especially strong. Their average innate desire for children should therefore be stronger than the average for the previous generation.

In other words, shouldn't the trend towards demographic decline be self-correcting?
2.17.2006 7:55pm
The influx of unassimilated immigrants is a real problem. Manzikert aside, that's what happened to Anatolia in the 1100s. Before 1071, lots of Turks entered the Byzantine Empire. They were generally assimilated, though, and joined the society as warriors and border citizens. After 1071, they didn't assimilate anymore--instead, the urban greeks assimilated to them.

I buy the unassimilationist argument.
2.17.2006 8:42pm
I think Steyn has it right, unless the ratio of Muslim fertility to Christian fertililty in Europe changes drastically in the next couple of decades. No sign of that happening.

The political influence of rising Muslim numbers is already being felt and will increase. Since the Muslims are generally out of sympathy with the postmodern culture of the EU and its regulators, they will put an end to all that. Which means that the Commission and its army of bureeaucrats are devising a social and political order that will disappear while most of them are still alive.
2.17.2006 10:05pm
Thomas Roland (mail):
Marcus: "I'm sure things will work themselves out one way or another...."

That's just a blasphemous attack on the intelligent designer. Waddaumean, "work themselves out," you evolutionary infidel. I'm gonna cut your head off.
2.17.2006 11:17pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
There is a solid business axiom that goes "If you aren't growing you're dying". Steyn is noting the same thing is or could very well be true of societies and cultures. If your society, with its culture, value systems, and beliefs etc. aren't growing (i.e. population growth) then your society as you know it with its culture, value systems, and beliefs, etc. is dying.
Yes, yes, but it's worse than that. Steyn's point is that European countries (and Japan) are actually shrinking.
2.18.2006 2:20am
marc (www):
Mark Steyn, Mr Ridgeway, writes, quite often, about the theatre.
2.18.2006 2:25am
Arik (mail):
So how many kids does Mark Steyn have ?

How many years did he stay at home to raise them ?
2.18.2006 4:22am
Webel_Wabbit (mail) (www):

That's an interesting name, is that you're family name?
2.18.2006 7:27am
Webel_Wabbit (mail) (www):
Should be "your" above.
2.18.2006 7:28am
JunkYardLawDog (mail):
Dan Simon,

In other words, shouldn't the trend towards demographic decline be self-correcting?

It hasn't worked that way in Europe. Its birth rates have not been at levels necessary to maintain and grow their population for several generations now.

It would appear that the societal disincentives to child birth and child rearing are more of a factor than any genetic component, if there is one at all, compelling reproduction.

Says the "Dog"
2.18.2006 11:29am
There is a very problematic solution for Europe, that will require some readjustments to our very flexible notions of civil rights or civil liberties. Anyone recieving government subsidies in housing, financial aid (the dole), etc. has to submit to treatment with norplant or the male contraceptive equivalent. If you are too disorganized to manage your financial affairs than you are too disorganized to contribute a future member of society. Any decline in the working population will be easily made up by offering opportunities to the Chinese and Indian males (as guest workers) who are growing up in societies where they outnumber females by 3 to 1 (up to 7 to 1 in some regions) thanks to gender preferenced abortions in the last few years.
2.18.2006 3:10pm
James of England:
Arik, I don't know the answer to your question because Steyn avoids telling too many domestic anecdotes, but he has referenced a wife and at least one child. I would guess at more.
2.18.2006 3:41pm
Dave Hardy (mail) (www):
I'd be a little doubtful about his history. Water purification was barely beginning in England in the 1820s, and its link to preventing disease really wasn't appreciated until decades later. A high proportion of young in the population can be consistent with a short lifespan (and with the infant dead not being counted in that population.
2.18.2006 3:51pm
James of England:
Mr. Ridgeway, Steyn's writings can be found at Rather than writing solely on birth rates, you will find that the last five days or so see a great article on anti-globalisation protests, a couple of rerun articles on the winter Olympics, and a segment's worth of radio interview (transcript and mp3) discussing Dick Cheney, Al Gore, and some other topical events. Then there's the article quoted in this post, I believe the only article to address birth rates. After that come an obit. on Akkad, the guy who made the Halloween movies and some others, who was killed in the Jordanian bombings. There's an article on Avian Flu, one on the future of the conservative government in Canada, and a series of notes on the songs of Jule Styne.

Because he writes for a lot of publications, if you read his article on Avian flu in a Canadian magazine and in a British newspaper you'll find some common ground, occasionally even a shared one-liner, but the man posts up an average of slight over an article a day and it's rare to find more than a single couple of articles that can be paired in that way.

Even if it he were more focused, this wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. Thomas Friedman's columns have had a constant theme of oil's impact on middle eastern politics for a bit now, but he seems to be developing his thought a little. He's still wrong, but society benefits from its opinion formers being educated, even when they're wrong. Hegelian dialectic and all that stuff. To put it another way, honestly! Do the bloggers write about anything but the law?
2.18.2006 4:19pm
James of England:
Just to add to the chorus of people refuting the charges that Steyn wants to roll back civil rights and so on, the main question that most of those implying a malign motivation ask is what the solution would be. As Taimyoboi suggests, it doesn't seem that Steyn is generally suggesting a macro-economic or political solution. He's not fond of abortion, but he doesn't pretend that it's the sole cause, merely one cause, and one that correlates with others.

It's not that governments have to enact vast systems of benefits (which he's explicitly stated he's not behind). Those actually seem negatively correlated with childbirth, perhaps oddly. Rather, the political system should push the idea of childbirth, marriage, and so on. A large part of the problem is that many people view over-population as the problem and thus view childbirth as selfish and harmful to society. It's the club of Rome and Malthusian theories that he's countering more than any particular policy platform.

Some in the thread seem to suggest that Steyn looks at Indian expansion as a bad thing. Au Contraire, Steyn generally the miracle strongly. Likewise, some suggest that the Indian children won't be better off than their parents, due to the large numbers about. This argument makes Steyn's seem stronger since there has so often been this population explosion shortly before an economic explosion. It may be that it was capital rather than labor that differentiated Britain in the early 19th century from India at the same time, but it was Farmer George's reforms which led to much of the difference between Britain in the early C19 and Britain in the mid C18. No one factor is ever total in these things, but that doesn't make it wrongful to write articles about single factors.
2.18.2006 4:40pm
Nixon Did It (mail):
Why would any thoughtful person want to have children in today's America? In addition to all of the usual and expected costs of that extra little person alone, there is the reality that the schools are in the dumper, housing and medical costs have skyrocketed, and, importantly, powerful societal and cultural influences on children are overwhelmingly negative. Look at a lot of the teenagers you see. Would you want them living with you?

I have an unmarried 34-year-old daughter. Good-looking, a scientist, makes good money, a great catch—and she's got her pick of guys. So why isn't she married? She's very cautious because of government and societal factors—some mentioned above—beyond her control. Additionally, it's an article of faith with her generation that due to the profligate spending ways of the preceding two generations, the money's going to run out and there will be no happy ending with government retirement and/or medical care for her. She therefore sees a need to maximize career and earnings potential before getting into marriage, child-rearing, etc. Then there is the stark reality that half of all marriages end in divorce, with both parties often ending up miserable and one party or another getting hosed in the process. Not to mention the impact on kids, who can be presumed to be much more difficult to raise in a one-parent household.

Today's youth in the Western world aren't stupid. The deck is stacked against them and they know it. They've accordingly developed a hard protective shell and a me-first attitude, not favorable attributes for child-rearing. Who can blame them? Their governments and the elders around them have done the same. "Enlightened" western governments have nurtered everyone they could possibly find around the world, excused the inexcusable and allowed any and all into their countries, without any regard for the effects on their own societies, while forgetting their own children. Now, because of the difficulties in assimilating immigrants, there is little left for native-born youth in Western countries.

I think the poor, unwashed, illiterate and ignorant masses will indeed inherit the earth. Permanent dark ages. And Western civilization will have been the primary enabler. Greeks, Romans, we're next.
2.18.2006 8:19pm
Ryan Waxx (mail):
Bah. You can have a strong birthrate, but as long as you keep half your potential workforce (women) in chains (and that includes keeping them out of the political process), then you have a population DISADVANTAGE, not an advantage.

Styen has a point, as usual (and the people calling him a 'loon' despreately need a mirror) but he's only showing one aspect of the situation.

What about productivity? What about absolute numbers rather than percentages?

Birthrate/population IS an important resource. But not the only resource... and that's far more true today than in the days when the sun never set on the british empire.
2.18.2006 9:01pm

My name belies a lot. The name, well the "taimyo" part, I got as a nickname from a friend's mom when we were youngins'.
2.19.2006 2:20pm
Webel_Wabbit (mail) (www):
My name belies a lot. The name, well the "taimyo" part, I got as a nickname from a friend's mom when we were youngins'.

Do tell. This should be good.
2.20.2006 3:50am