[Paleopsych] Claremont: (Depopulation) No Child Left Behind

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No Child Left Behind

By Mark Krikorian
Posted June 14, 2005

A review of

[1]The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World
Prosperity and What to Do About It by Phillip Longman

[2]Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our
Future by Ben J. Wattenberg

Goodbye, population explosion. Hello, population implosion. Well,
not quite yet, but soon.

Birthrates are falling in almost every country, changing the way
the public and policymakers think about a wide range of issues. To
mention only the most obvious, Social Security reform, once a taboo
topic in American politics, is now up for debate as lower
birthrates lead to an unsustainable ratio of workers to retirees.

Two new books explore these changes and their implications. Each
presents a wide variety of information that will be news to most
readers; each offers policy prescriptions; and each, in its own
way, falls short. Wattenberg's Fewer has the more extensive
description of the new demographic realities faced by humanity,
while Longman's The Empty Cradle offers a more detailed look at the
likely causes for the fertility decline as well as ways to address
it in the United States.

Although the birthrate decline has begun to have significant
effects in the U.S., it is in Europe and East Asia that the
consequences will be most dramatic. In demographic terms, a "total
fertility rate" (TFR) of 2.1 is necessary to keep a population from
declining--the average woman needs to have two children (plus the
0.1 for girls who die before reaching reproductive age) to replace
herself and the father. The TFR in the U.S. is just a hair below
that benchmark, having bounced back from its nadir in the 1970s.
But in every other developed nation it is lower, and falling:
Ireland, 1.9; Australia, 1.7; Canada, 1.5; Germany, 1.35; Japan,
1.32; Italy, 1.23; Spain, 1.15. Birthrates this low are
unprecedented in peacetime societies. As Wattenberg writes, "never
have birth and fertility rates fallen so far, so fast, so low, for
so long, in so many places, so surprisingly."

Not only is this causing an increase in the median age of these
populations, as in the U.S., but many of these countries will soon
see declines in total population. By the middle of this century, we
could find a Europe home to 100 million fewer people than today,
and a Japan shrinking by one-fourth.

Despite their huge and growing populations, the most rapid
birthrate declines (and thus the most rapid rates of population
aging) are taking place in the Third World. The total fertility
rate in less-developed countries as a whole, as defined by the
U.N., has fallen by half since the 1960s, to 2.9 children per
woman, a much faster drop than anything experienced in the
developed world. This is happening almost everywhere: China and
India, Mexico and South Africa, Iran and Egypt. Population
"momentum" will cause continued increases in these countries for a
time, as large numbers of girls have babies, albeit fewer than
their mothers, and the Third World will potentially add another 2.5
billion people before population growth stops. This is still a very
large increase, but it will come to an end in the foreseeable
future (in some countries surprisingly soon). After that, their
populations will also start to fall.

"[O]ne broad social trend," Longman writes, "holds constant at the
beginning of the twenty-first century: As more and more of the
world's population moves to overcrowded urban areas, and as women
gain in education and economic opportunity, people are producing
fewer and fewer children."

Both authors acknowledge that the U.S. is exceptional. Our
birthrates have fallen, and thus the average age of our people has
increased, but it has happened more gradually than elsewhere.
What's more, our population is projected to keep growing. This is
not only because of immigration, as Wattenberg suggests, but
because of higher fertility among native-born women; even
college-educated, non-Hispanic white women have a total fertility
rate of 1.7 children, higher than the overall rates of Canada,
Britain, or Australia, not to mention the even lower rates of
Japan, Germany, Italy, and Spain.

* * *

Within the context of falling birthrates worldwide caused by
urbanization, education, and the rest, Americans, as both a more
religious and more optimistic people, simply choose to have more
children. In fact, the only Census Bureau scenario that foresees a
declining U.S. population in this century is based on the highly
unlikely assumptions that, first, the fertility of American women
will fall to European levels, and second, immigration will be
reduced to levels below even what most restrictionist organizations
call for. Barring catastrophe, then, the population of the U.S.
will not decline during the lifetime of anyone reading this

Nonetheless, we as a people are getting older, and this is creating
important challenges in fields ranging from medicine and pensions
to employment. The fundamental question for our society is: Should
our emphasis be on adjusting to new circumstances, or should the
state second-guess the American people and take an active role in
shaping the size and composition of the nation?

Both authors favor the second approach, fearing that what they
value about America could be lost if population aging and slowing
growth continue. Longman, a senior fellow at the New American
Foundation, sees America's purpose as providing a home for secular
liberalism, and fears that if secular liberals like him don't start
having more children, the only people having them will be
"fundamentalists." He writes:

On our current course, more and more of the world's population will
be produced by people who believe they are (or who in fact are)
commanded by a higher power to procreate, or who just lack the
foresight to avoid the social and economic cost of creating large
families. [S]uch a trend, if sustained, would drive human culture
off its current market-driven, individualistic, modernist course,
and gradually create an antimarket culture dominated by
fundamentalist values.

Wattenberg also fears that the New Demography could impair
America's mission, which he defines somewhat differently. Other
than defending itself, our country's " job" is "to vigorously
promote social, economic, and individual liberty in America and
around the world." Declares Wattenberg,

It's hard for me to imagine that the advance of individual and
economic liberties in the world would continue without an exemplar
nation that is prospering and growing. In the modern world America
is that nation. Were America on the European/Japanese track of
population decline, the case for democracy would be much harder to

When it comes to policies, Longman's recommendations are clearly
intended to engineer for America his desired political culture. But
he works from the common-sense proposition, often articulated by
Jack Kemp, that if you tax something, you get less of it. Longman
maintains that there is an effective tax on child-bearing and
rearing; he spells out ways of lightening the load on parents,
including exempting them from Social Security payments until their
children turn 18 (the theory being that parents are already
contributing to the future of society by raising children). To
ensure healthier and more productive old age, he wants to hector
Americans to eat less and exercise more. He also wants government
to help the family reclaim its role as the center of economic
activity, thus again making children economic assets rather than

Wattenberg's solution, by contrast, is unambiguously undemocratic
and coercive. He argues that pro-natalist policies like Longman's
have always proven ineffective, and that the magic solution is mass
immigration. Unfortunately, his data refute his argument. The
Census Bureau projects an increase in our population of about 140
million, including new immigrants, over the first half of this
century, but "only" a 50 million increase if there were no
immigration at all. How is it plausible to claim that America will
be derailed, and the worldwide spread of human liberty jeopardized,
if our population grows by an average of one million a year instead
of three million?

Basically, Wattenberg is saying that since Americans have freely
chosen to have smaller families, the state must import people to
supply the bodies needed to fuel the global democratic revolution.
As others have noted, this mass-immigration worldview echoes
Bertolt Brecht's suggestion that the East German government
dissolve the people and elect a new one. Wattenberg never offers
any specifics about how to "elect" this new people. What kind of
actual immigration policy should we have? How many immigrants? What
kind? How do we select and screen them? He offers nothing beyond
the most vaporous generalities.

* * *

In the end, neither author has sufficient faith in the American
people. Wattenberg sees his countrymen as not up to the task
History has set before them, and so they must be supplemented by a
huge, unending flow of outsiders. Longman, on the other hand,
harbors the blue-state fear that those who feel commanded by nature
and nature's God to procreate are itching secretly to establish a

Some of Longman's suggestions about easing the burden of parents'
excess taxation may well be advisable on equity grounds, and a
certain low level of immigration by, say, foreign-born spouses, is
desirable. But the social engineering that both authors call for is
incompatible with republicanism, and in any case, unnecessary. The
American people, through what one might call a reproductive free
market, are collectively making sensible decisions about how many
Americans there should be. We need sober and reasoned discussion
about how best to adjust to changing demographics, and these books
do a good job of alerting us to the challenges. But when it comes
to having babies, our government should leave it to the citizenry
to decide how best to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves
and our posterity.

Mark Krikorian is Executive Director of the [3]Center for
Immigration Studies.


    1. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0465050506/theclaremontinst
    2. http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/156663606X/theclaremontinst

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