Demographics and Destiny

One of the merging memes on the social right is that you judge a society by its fertility rate. It’s argued that Western Europe is a failure because its population is aging and will soon begin falling; ditto Russia and Japan. The implication is that modern secularism, with its encouragement of individual freedom, ignores the injunction to go forth and multiply, and is thereby doomed to the dustbin of history. But check out this interesting graphic of reproduction rates. Look where the highest birth-rates are: Niger, Yemen, Uganda, Rwanda, Zambia, Afghanistan, to name a few. A quck hands up: who wants to move there?

At one end, high birth rates are an indication of social collapse and desperation: people are having kids in order to maximize their survival chances. Maybe there is some spiritual benefit to living in such dire need, but I fail to see a simple connection between high birth rates and social health. In fact, declining birth-rates are almost always a sign of economic and social success, not failure, as we’re seeing in China and India. As long as the infrastructure exists for maintaining economic growth, the number of people in a given society is not that important an issue. Fewer may well be better. I’d rather live in Germany than Kazakhstan, wouldn’t you? Yes, there comes a point at which demographic imbalance with too many old people can strain a system. But this is a transitional problem, not a permanent predicament. Wealthier societies with fewer people and continued growth are – or should be – a goal for most of us, not a threat. They help spread wealth more widely, will eventually ease environmental strain, and make for more comfortable living in a less crowded Western Europe or Japan. Numbers don’t equal wealth or military power, given technology and the new brain-driven engines of economic growth. Instead of bemoaning population decline, why not celebrate it?