"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, July 4, 2013

The West Needs More Babies

Charles Moore, writing in The Telegraph (7.4.13) and reflecting on the work of Stephen D. King, group chief economist and global head of economics and asset allocation at HSBC, says that Europe needs more babies:

The baby boomers – reacting to the fact that there were (as their name suggests) so many of them – convinced themselves that over-population threatened the health and wealth of the world. Almost the opposite is the case. By failing to reproduce themselves in adequate numbers, the baby boomers have laid enormous burdens on those few children whom they have produced. You can borrow and spend hugely if you know that the generation that will end up with the bill is much larger than your own. If it is much smaller, you can’t; but we have. As a result, Europe is a dying business.

The issue is far more complicated.  Right now half the world wants visas to Europe and America. Opening the doors just a little bit wider would satisfy labor demands, refresh the stagnating native European fertility with some red-blooded, old-fashioned big families, and even help return society into a more acceptable procreative one.

For 50 years now, European culture has developed the idea that the problem is too many people. Without quite realizing, it has developed attitudes that work against the future of the human race. In cultural terms, the celebration of contraception, homosexuality and euthanasia all represent this trend.

All of which puts me in mind of Shakespeare’s ‘Fertility Sonnets’ poems which suggest that procreation is a responsibility and a duty.  With not a little scent of eugenics, Shakespeare urges his beautiful young man to propagate and continue his line of elegance and beauty.  There are 17 such Sonnets, so Shakespeare was really serious about the issue:

From fairest creatures we desire increase,
That thereby beauty's rose might never die,
But as the riper should by time decease,
His tender heir might bear his memory:
But thou contracted to thine own bright eyes,
Feed'st thy light's flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making a famine where abundance lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world's fresh ornament,
And only herald to the gaudy spring,
Within thine own bud buriest thy content,
And, tender churl, mak'st waste in niggarding:
Pity the world, or else this glutton be,
To eat the world's due, by the grave and thee. (1)

I worked on issues of overpopulation in India in the late 60s.  The country was the avant-garde of family planning and government with donor support invested millions in its early “Do ya teen bacche, bas” red triangle family planning campaign.

The campaign was very successful in spreading knowledge about family planning campaign and that the ideal family was two or three children, not the 5-8 that women were bearing.  The campaign was far less successful in promoting adoption of the Pill, condoms, and later IUDs.  Poor rural families relied on family labor for survival – boys behind the bullock cart, girls out gathering firewood – and saw that with so many children dying before five years, it would be stupid to limit births.  The population kept growing, and with an already huge base, it grew geometrically.  With ‘only’ 500 million people in India when I lived there, it is now 1.3 billion and counting. With increased media penetration, a significant rise in family income, and a decrease in infant and child mortality, fertility rates have gone down; but the population size is still enormous.

The good side of this is that there were an estimated 250 million people in the Indian middle class in 2007, many of these in the younger, highly-productive age group.  With this eager, well-educated, aspirational, and motivated population, India is now in a much more advantageous economic position than China which, because of its draconian one-child population, has far fewer people in the productive age groups.

In other words, contrary to the prevailing wisdom in the 60s, large populations are not always bad for you.  It all depends.

Which brings me to Europe.  It has a serious demographic problem (see the curiously condom-shaped population pyramid for France which shows far too few people in the productive age groups, a lot of old people and very few children http://populationpyramid.net/France/2010/), but just the thought of an increased influx of nappy-headed Algerians is enough to make the likes of Charles Arthur Tristan Languedoc de Noailles wretch in their hotels de ville and Normandy chateaus.

The French as always can frame an argument, but often don’t see past it.  It is one thing to lament the passing of Christian France, the Elder Sister of the Catholic Church, the nation that saved Europe from the Muslim hordes at Tours in 732; but it is another thing altogether to have more children to rebuild the bulwark against Islamic intruders.

France is not alone, of course.  Just about every other country in Western Europe has the same fears of losing national and cultural identity, language, and religion.  The fears are well-founded, since the influx of foreigners continues and campaigns to increase fertility among native Europeans have fallen flat.

The United States is in a slightly different situation.  Although we have our nativist sentiments to be sure – think border fences – we are a nation of immigrants, most of whom integrate quite well into American society.  It is easier for the immigrant to the US than to France, for our culture is far more simple. Jose does not have to deal with the complexities of 2000 years of history, a legacy of world leadership in culture, arts, music, and philosophy.  He only has to figure out how to make money.  As Engine Charlie Wilson, a former President of General Motors, once famously said, “The business of America is business”.

No matter how much we say we want to keep illegal immigrants out, we don’t really mean it.  We like the cheap lettuce that Jose picks, the excellent child care that Maria provides, and the super paint job done by Miguel and his Salvadoran cousins.

One day while working in the Bolivian Ministry of Health on population issues in the mid-Seventies, I heard the Minister harangue a United Nations Population Fund official.  “We need more people in Bolivia, not fewer”, he said.  “Just look around you”. He swept his arm out towards the vast, flat, arid, airless, empty altiplano the the west. “Do we look like a country that needs fewer people?”

Of course he missed the point – children were dying on the altiplano in record numbers because families had too many mouths to feed, too little money to spend on health care, and nothing to spend on shoes.  For these Indian families, overpopulation was a big problem; but the Minister was thinking in geopolitical terms, previous wars with its neighbors, issues of national sovereignty, the frustration of having no salida al mar.

In other words, most developed countries are caught in a bind.  Their fertility rates are dropping below replacement level, they have no gumption to have more children, yet they fear that the country they know and love will be transformed into a colored ghetto.

There is no answer to the question; but the inertia of immigration is such that wave after wave will pour over the shores of Europe until its countries no longer resemble what they once were.  Not America, of course.  A hundred years from now, a mixed-race, hard-working, entrepreneurial population will be trying to make a buck just like their white European predecessors.  Nothing much will have changed. Which is a good thing.

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