September 24th, 2010
Over at the Standard I’ve got a long piece up about fertility and demographics title America’s One-Child Policy. The basic gist is this:
For a very long time time, the fertility rate has been declining across the globe. To achieve a steady-state population, a closed system needs an average of 2.1 children per-woman. Nearly every industrialized nation is already below the replacement-level. The rate of decline in developing nations is so steep that most of them will be below replacement relatively soon. Every country is experiencing this decline due to a unique set of circumstances, though many countries have certain drivers in common.
Which this all means that the world is headed–within the next 50 years or so–for population contraction. And there is no precedent in human history for prosperity in the face of a shrinking population.
This isn’t new ground that I’m ploughing. Various demographers have been alarmed about collapsing fertility for the last 30 years or so. Ben Wattenberg’s The Birth Dearth was the first to gain wide notice. George Weigel and Mark Steyn dealt with the issue more recently in The Cube and the Cathedral and America Alone. (Both of which are truly excellent, even though they deal primary with other subjects.) And there has been a lot of academic work done on the subject from all corners including–oddly enough–the U.N’s Population Divsion. (You would think that they’d be stuck in Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb mode, but while the main body of the U.N. is, the Population Division is remarkably serious and diligent.)
But the two men whose contributions I found the most important are AEI’s Nick Eberstadt and the New America Foundation’s Phillip Longman. Eberstadt has written of ton of hair-raising stuff about fertility problems in Russia, China, and Greater Asia. Longman wrote about the global scope the phenomenon in The Empty Cradle. (Empty Cradle is, for my money, one of the most important books of the last 10 years. If you haven’t read it, order a copy today.) I’ve leaned heavily on both of these rock stars.
There is, I think, a lot more to say about fertility and demography in America and abroad, which is why I’m dedicating a page on the site (up there, in the nav bar) to the subject.
I’ve always thought it would be clever to tie social security benefits to number and productivity of children. For instance, if I have 5 kids that become successful doctors and business owners, I get a huge fat check from uncle sugar in my dotage. If I have 1 shiftless layabout kid who is in and out of jail or on welfare, I get a bag of rice and block of government cheese for my retirement.
I often enjoy dreaming up politically infeasible policy proposals….
I thought this was one of your best straight-up public policy articles (and one of the Standard’s best). What is scary is how immune fertility seems to be to government incentives. On the other hand, spiritual incentives seem to work wonders: