THE DEMOGRAPHIC BOMB

Clay Shirky clay@shirky.com
Thu, 18 Oct 2001 17:45:09 -0400 (EDT)


> > This is the same kind of racism as Gallagher subscribes to.
> 
> Clay, I'm very, very disappointed in you.  I've given no evidence of racism.

My apologies. Wrong word. 

I meant racial definition of national identity. By conflating birth
rate and population growth, you are subscribing to the same idea of
racial definition of national identity as Gallagher.

> > Falling birth rate doesn't lead to economic problems, falling
> > population rate leads to economic problems, and falling population
> > rate has two factors -- births and net migration. If the birth
> > rate is falling, raise immigration.
> 
> Don't you think there's a limit to the level of immigration any country can
> accept?

Yes, but its a political level, more in some eras and less in others,
and in any case it only needs to be enough to make up the difference
between the present populations burth rate and total replacement rate,
which is everywhere a sub-2% number.

>  I realize this is a matter of psychology, but take a look at the
> recent British immigration backlash. 

Yup, and the Aussie one as well. I also have no problem thinking of
those people as racists. Do you?

> Even USA, which has prided itself for centuries in being a home for
> immigrants, it's difficult to raise the immigration rates much above
> where they are now.  Take a look at the objections to even granting
> guest worker status to those Mexicans _already_ here.

Sure. There are always racist objections to immigration. We have in
general however fought those impulses off well enough to keep our
population growing despite the same fall in birth rates among
well-educated white women that Europe faces. 

> > Only industrialized countries that cling to racially-defined notions
> > of national identity face problems of falling population.
> 
> I think we agree on this but differ on the feasability of changing those
> notions,...

I'm not commenting on the feasibility of changing the German's racism
towards the Turks, say, or the Japanese towards the Koreans. Thats not
my issue. I'm merely noting that in an industrialized system where
individuals are free to maximize their self-interest, it is unlikely
that women can be persuaded to have even the requisite number of
children to replace the current population.

The only countries for whom this is a problem are countries who think
of race and national identiy as being linked.

Putting a scenario spin on it, these countries will not be able to
force or bribe the women into 3+ pregnancies in the near term, meaning
that when the crisis hits (2020 or thereabouts), the 18 year lag for
replacement births becoming workers will leave immigration as the only
solution, and the more racist the country, the worse off they will be
willing to let things get before giving in.

> So what I'd like to know is -- how important is it for any country's economy
> to have a positively growing population?

Probably moderately helpful. What is totally critical, on the other
hand, is to keep demand rising and to keep the number of workers per
retiree from shrinking. Moderate growth is probably a small net
positive, in other words, but any shrinkage is a disaster in the
making.

-clay