Hold Off on Those Clone Vats

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Andrew Sabl at Reality Based Community tries to deflate some of the panic over declining populations in Western Europe. I think he misfires on a couple points: Other things equal, cultural dynamism will tend to vary with population size for the familar reason that division of labor depends on the extent of the market. A society consisting of a few thousand people isn't going to be able to support rich communities specializing in different kinds of artistic or scientific production to the same extent a larger one can—though there are very likely sharply diminishing returns to scale here. The key point, though, is that it's silly to freak out over dire scenarios that emerge when you do straight-line extrapolations of current trends. As Sabl notes, for instance, if people are having fewer children partly because population density makes larger houses prohibitively expensive, you can't just presume they'll continue reproducing at the same rate indefinitely, because less dense populations will lower housing prices, and the opposite effect will kick in.

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  1. Thanks for this. I’ve been reading most of the “They (either Muslims, Mexicans, or Misogynist Religious Freaks, depending on whether the piece is from the left or the right) are Outbreeding Us” stuff, and always thought there were some rather large holes in the arguments. One is that it’s rather silly to assume that today’s social trends will continue in a perfect straight line for the next 60 years. Another is that even if They have more kids that We, that Their children will automatically have exactly the same beliefs as the parents. This goes even more for grandchildren.

    Once it’s cheaper to buy a house in Italy, the birthrate will recover.

  2. I have no doubt that population decline is wrenching. It requires profound adjustments in school funding, pensions, health care, land use, infrastructure, everything. Such adjustments are even more profound in countries where tradition and interest-group structures ossify public policy.

    I found that near the very end of the article. You could call that burying the lead. Everything I have heard about “Old Europe’s” pensions (Social Security) is that they are much more messed up than ours in the US. They have a coercive Ponzi Scheme just like we do, except their day of reckoning is basically just around the corner due to their massively low birth rates and, at least in Italy’s case, a government debt that is larger than the size of the economy. Their retirement benefits will kick in and bankrupt the system long before they croak and their estates sell off their houses at supposedly low prices that might lead to an increased birth rate according to the author’s thesis.

    Good luck getting out of that pickle. They could “import” more people, such as from white countries like Russia and Ukraine that I am guessing they would find more palatable than darker-skinned Muslims. But then they have three other problems. 1) Those countries also have anemic birth rates. 2) As the author pointed out, their housing costs are large, arguing apparently against birth rate increases and 3) They need to give them jobs (with which to generate the needed funds to sustain the Ponzi scheme), which their economies are structurally designed not to do, see the French riots as an example.

  3. One is that it’s rather silly to assume that today’s social trends will continue in a perfect straight line for the next 60 years. Another is that even if They have more kids that We, that Their children will automatically have exactly the same beliefs as the parents. This goes even more for grandchildren.

    You’re correct when you say that predicting the future is a risky business. Considering the immigration trends of 100 years ago it would not have been unreasonable to assume that the US would have been majority Italian by 1950.

    But that prediction was flawed because the US has done (up until recently) a pretty good job of assimilating immigrants. Europe, however, has not. Many of the immigrants who arrive in Europe not only fail to assimilate, they don’t want to. So in effect, Europe has imported a large, angry, Muslim subpopulation yet has not been able to make them into Dutch, French, or Germans.

    That’s when demographics become a problem. Because if the parents refuse to assimilate, it’s doubtful the children will. And when a rapidly-growing minority is openly contemptuous of a country’s laws, culture, and history, and also follows a religion that believes the non-believers should be forcibly converted by any means necessary, that’s not a good situtation.

    Once it’s cheap enough to buy bigger houses in Italy, most of the buyers will be Muslims.

  4. Cap: Good point. At least some Europeans, notably in Holland, have started discussing this problem. My own personal opinion, and it’s worth a good bit less than H & R paid for it, is that improving women’s rights in the Muslim world, including the banluies, would solve this one in a heartbeat, as well as improving the world in general. I say make “Florence of Arabia” a movie as soon as possible.

  5. Karen,

    I agree, but getting to that point–women with rights–is the difficult part.

  6. Don’t worry Karen, when women get the vote in the mideast then there will be a woman head of state like the US and things will be different…er, nevermind.

  7. The obvious European solution to this problem is a government subsidy for extra bedrooms.

  8. One doesn’t have to look far to see a Muslim majority or plurality in France–look at the demographics of those under 20 years of age. Something like 40-45 percent Muslim, from what I’ve read (which, of course, could be total BS, but I’m just putting it out there for discussion). None of this is theoretical or way out there in the future. The demographics already exist. The reality on the ground in Western Europe is already pretty much set. The bigger question is whether the Muslim immigrants decide to become French, German, etc., and whether the natives will accept them as such.

    More interesting to me is what happens to Japan. Demographically, Japan is like France and Germany but without all of the immigrants. Will there be enough working-age people around in 30 years to support all of the 80 and 90 year-olds there?

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