Sunday, October 03, 2004

Demography

Ever since 9/11, I've read quite a bit about how Islamic civilization has handled modernity very poorly. However, in this post I'd like to examine a challenge of modernity that the West is also failing to meet. In Europe, Canada, and Australia, the level of fertility is well below the replacement level. (This is one of many places with data verifying my demograhpic assertions.) Here in the U.S., we're treading water, just barely at the replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. (Our population is expected to grow by half over the next fifty years, but that's mostly because of immigration.) Only in Latin America is the West still growing. However, I suspect their fertility will have dropped to our levels (or even European levels) by the time Latin America reaches current European levels of prosperity. Comparing Latin American fertility rates in the 1970s to those of the 1990s reinforces my suspicion.

Bluntly, half of the West is dying out, and there is a real risk that the other half is but a generation behind in this trend. Meanwhile, the Muslim and Indian civilizations are growing. (And China would grow too were it not for her tyrannical government's one-child policy. Growing fastest of all is sub-Saharan Africa, which I'm not prepared to classify as part of the West, though Christianity is the predominate religion there.) Therefore, Bernard Lewis' remark that Europe will be Islamic by the end of the century should not surprise us, given European immigration policy and the overwhelming tendency of Muslim immigrants to Europe to stay Muslim and have more children than native Europeans.

Perhaps every human civilization will eventually depopulate or at least demographically stagnate in the face of modernity for universal reasons. Perhaps all but a few backward corners of the world will have reached a harmonious demographic equilibrium by the end of the century. Even under this scenario, though the West of the New World will survive, the West of the Old World will more likely than not be just a memory. Of course, darker scenarios are also possible.

Europe is not blind to all this, and has become ever so family-friendly in its work rules, but to little effect. Having even two children is still undesirable for the vast majority of Europeans. In economic terms, they have a shortage of a public good: it is in the interests of each of them for their fellow citizens to be fertile, but not for themselves to be such. If Europeans want to preserve themselves, then they must achieve either a radical change of attitudes towards children, or a radical increase in state incentives for larger families. However, the latter is likely impossible without the former.

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