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hayden eastwood
hayden eastwood
2 months ago

I don’t buy the panic around population decline. Japan has had this decline for decades and its GDP per capita has steadily increased.
A falling population means less pressure on schools, less pressure on public services, less pressure on transport infrastructure. It means finding a seat when you’re on a train and being able to drive on a motorway without 5 hour traffic jams. It means downward pressure on property prices and a host of other asset classes, all of which is beneficial for ordinary working people.
The UK, in contrast, which we are told “needs migration more than ever” has had a GDP per capita decrease over the same period. Wage growth has been far below asset price inflation for close to 20 years (ie we’ve become poorer).
It’s impossible to find a seat on a train.
It’s common to find 30 somethings sharing a house with 4 other people just so they, as qualified, highly trained professionals, can afford to save something, anything, by month-end.
Quality of life has fallen in the UK versus many countries with such feared “demographic implosions”.
There is also productivity to consider. Flooding the market with cheap labour reduces long term productivity because companies have less financial incentive to invest in new rounds of mechanisation. In the long run, therefore, mass migration reduces productivity.
This is one possible explanation for worker productivity in the UK being neck and neck with Japan since 2007, even when Japan’s work force has been ageing significantly over that period.
The world continues to automate. There will be less and less need for jobs that are low skill and monotonous.
With a falling population, there is less migrationary pressure placed on neighbouring countries. Illegal migration is not coming from places with “demographic collapse” but from those where population growth significantly exceeds GDP growth.
And this is the thing that bothers me about this article: How can a discussion about population leave out Africa? It will add 3 billion new people to the planet by 2100. In fact, every land mass outside of Africa will be stable or declining by 2050-2060 except for Africa, which alone will account for all population growth this century.
What does that mean in reality? Nigeria, the size of Texas, as one example, will have close to 1 billion people by 2100. Opinion polls regularly show that more than 50% of Nigerians want to migrate to Europe or America.
So, quite apart from worrying about demographic collapse, what we should be worrying about is mass migration from countries undergoing demographic explosions in central Africa, and how the inevitable migration from these few countries will affect geopolitics globally.
Migrant crossings from Africa to Europe, for example, are accelerating, not abating, and driving enormous changes in culture and politics in Europe and elsewhere.
Many illegal migrants are unskilled and will either halt the productivity growth of the countries they flood (by providing shadow-market labour at low cost), or end up as an underclass that is both unemployed and unemployable and, therefore, exert a huge drain on the states that house them.
How this is handled between now and 2100 is the real story. And it is one that very few will talk about.

Last edited 2 months ago by hayden eastwood
Hugh R
Hugh R
2 months ago

I think your worries about cultural rift may have legs, but we are past the point of no-return. The ‘harm’ is indeed real, but it is self-inflicted by the Western World, and the UK in particular. Property speculation, the rentier extraction of juice from an old prune, is finally home to roost.

When graduates sit in shared flats for a decade or two, rather than maturing into more rounded( as is usually the norm) parenting adults, it may be good for BTL ‘portfolios’, but……

That the author is capable of writing a nice long thesis can be seen, but it is clear from this treatise that it was never in Data Science.

Perhaps he (Dr Morland) is too mindful of advancing years to consider that every generation shuffles off into eternity, but if a whole generation is decimated, as in the ‘one child’ policy years, it is effectively Year Zero for productivity and scientific advance. It is and was not an aside, it is the fundamental fulcrum of China’s desperate malaise that is unfolding.

Here in the West (USA, excepted) we have long since passed a sustainable population model of balance. We saw the 50-somethings ruminate during covid lock-down and decide that the hamster wheel wasn’t worth the carrots. So they retire on their stash and bleed the NHS dry, while they ‘demand’ the right to ‘free’ (to them) care homes, and scion tax-free disbursement. Suddenly there are ‘staff-shortages’ :AKA the bill for Boomer largesse.

We’ve re-invented the wheel, and it’s square.

Last edited 2 months ago by Hugh R
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 months ago
Reply to  Hugh R

Hammer, meet Nail. Nail, meet Hammer. Nail, in case you hadn’t realised it yet (and, going by past form, you probably haven’t): Hammer has just hit you directly on the head.

Josef O
Josef O
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Did you translate this from Japanese ?
“Sticking out nail gets a hammer”.

Darren Turner
Darren Turner
2 months ago

Spot on Hayden. Exponential population growth is not desirable or possible. The world would be a much better place to live with 5 billion people than it is with 8 and will be with 10. This demographic time bomb argument is blinkered and short-sighted.

j watson
j watson
2 months ago

The issue is arguably less about population growth and more about it’s age profile. Can an increasing older population be sustained by a shrinking still economically active workforce? Japan often gets referenced in such discussion as reassurance that we can square this dilemma. But it warrants deeper consideration what that entails.
Japan has invested heavily in a Long term Care Insurance model, nationally run by the state. (So that’s one immediate dilemma for the free marketeers). The premiums in Japan are consistently rising despite the risk pooling. The age of retirement is also being increased. Maybe not so bad if you are going to live to 100, but not exactly an easy sell. Be aware too one of the reasons the UK has had a surge in early retirements, compounding a workforce problem/inflation etc, is the need to spend more time caring for parents esp given the near collapse in social care. Getting back into equilibrium will not be easy or quick. Japan manages thus far because generations live together and esp the oldest Son culturally assumes more responsibility for the care.
The population is generally healthier too. So it can stave off exploding health care costs a little longer, and have elderly folks look after themselves a little longer. But it just delays things rather than solves the problem altogether.
Japan remains v worried the maths eventually just run away with themselves before the population rebalances. It’s some good head starts on rest of us and some good lessons, but it’s transferability will not be easy. There is much we better start grasping quickly if we think we can follow their example and minimise the role of immigration in this. And no easy sells here either. We don’t have a great record in being honest about choices. Cakeism still rules.

Last edited 2 months ago by j watson
Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
2 months ago

Japan got rich *before* it started shrinking. They have dealt with it by automating the heck out of everything that stayed in Japan and outsourcing much of their production to other countries where they sell the products they make there. Their “lost” decade has lasted for 30 years now and it won’t get much better. Plus, the Bank of Japan has pulled out all the stops on artificially supporting the Yen for all these years. They won’t be able to do that much longer.
Immigrants almost always help their new country. Only the best, those most willing to take chances, to give up everything and everyone they know to go elsewhere for a chance at a better future for themselves and their children are the ones who immigrate. Even with all the hullabaloo in the US about migration, even the illegal immigrants are a net positive. They start businesses at a much higher rate. Their children go farther and do better in school than the average American. For all of Trump’s ranting, they and their children are less likely to get in trouble with the law aside from illegal immigration itself. Mexico is now doing well enough that Mexican illegal immigration is going in reverse and has been for years. The people we’re getting now aren’t Mexicans. They’re from countries south of Mexico that are merely going through Mexico to get here.
Young people are consumers. They’re the ones who buy the cars and the homes and pay for education and raising their children. Older people are investors, not buyers. But the day they retire, they cease adding to the economy. They are no longer working. They start drawing down on their pensions and whatever government pension schemes are where they are. They move their investments to super safe bonds and annuities, no longer chasing the best return on their money, but on safety. They used to invest in new companies and new ideas and take flyers that only pay out every so often. Dynamic investments that come up with new things. Not after they retire. That dynamism is gone.
So the investment money starts drying up and there aren’t consumers to sell to. Almost the entire developed world has the same population shape. We’re all losing consumer and investors. Half of the Baby Boomer generation has already retired and the rest are all getting ready for it. There aren’t enough younger people to fill those more experienced shoes that are leaving. There aren’t enough even younger people to buy what was being produced. We’re past the peak of the demographic dividend and it can only go down from there.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 months ago

Bravo, Hayden!
You are correct in identifying the population explosion as the most critical issue facing the world. Your arguments in favour of population decline are cogent and logical, for which the evidence is all too plain in the western nations, UK in particular. Your reference to 30-somethings sharing houses because they cannot afford to purchase their own is a phenomenon with which I am personally familiar.
The forecast enormous population explosion in Africa is of particular concern as its corrupt nations have destroyed its economies and infrastructures, thereby rendering it incapable of feeding its populations, which will inevitably seek better horizons across the Mediterranean.
We need world leaders urgently to tackle the population problem head-on, rather than celebrating the world passing 8 billions of live humans today, as did the dreadful United Nations recently. But there are no leaders with the moral courage to commence the challenge. Having said that, the western world appears bent on destroying itself politically, morally and culturally, so perhaps the eventual replacement of its population is inevitable.
So far the evidence leads to pessimism, not optimism!
Articulate voices like yours are intellectual stars that twinkle in an otherwise dark firmament, but which are nevertheless tiny beacons of hope for as long as you keep posting!

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 months ago

When you impose the costs of having a family on individuals but socialise the benefits of having those children, by their labour funding everyone else’s welfare in retirement, the results are unsurprising. It’s a tragedy of the commons. Everyone is entitled to receive a share of a child’s economic output but, for obvious reasons, cannot be compelled to have children themselves.

This leads to a situation where, as the article points out, individuals choose to preserve their relative wealth by forgoing having children, safe in the knowledge that their welfare in old age does not depend on a family, only it does, just it’s someone else’s family who picks up the bill.

This system was fine when the population was still growing and of course we shouldn’t punish those who don’t have children, but the current system clearly incentivises lower rates of family formation.

Both in our childhoods and our old age, we require the care and economic support of the wider community. Why then as a society do we sufficiently fund the latter but not the former?

Last edited 2 months ago by Matthew Powell
Hugh R
Hugh R
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Spot on.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

There is no evidence that people are eschewing children for financial reasons. China, the Scandinavian countries, and the United States are all facing similar demographic problems despite vastly different ecnomic and political systems.

Children are negatively correlated with national economic prosperity, but the actual decision appears to be a cultural one more than an economic one. Like many things in economics, the macro and micro views conflict with each other.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 months ago

Whilst urbanisation may be the primary driver of birth rate decline, all developed societies have a shared trait that they have implemented welfare and healthcare programs which skew spending heavily towards older citizens whilst failing to reward family formation. This is true whether in China, Sweden or the USA, it’s just occurred at different rates.

The key, as the article states, is not the level of absolute prosperity in a society but the relative loss suffered by having children. There’s a good correlation between high birth rates and larger rural populations where children are still expected to contribute to the household through labour and later the look after older members of the family. Once this beneficial link breaks down, family formation declines.

Post urbanisation, birth rates correlate well with groups who see the smallest relative drop in incomes when they have children. Higher birth rates are observed in the upper middle classes and rich, but also poorer members of society who maybe relatively better off from the state support they will receive from having children. For the majority however, having children constitute losing too greater share of their income and the results are an observable collapse in the birth rate of middle and lower middle classes.

Last edited 2 months ago by Matthew Powell
Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

China has little to no government pension scheme and has retirement ages as young as 50 for some classes of workers. That may be why they aren’t putting any restrictions on travel for this Chinese New Year holiday. It’s the one time a year that urban people go home to see their parents. And they’re carrying COVID with them. The CCP is cold blooded. Outside of the urban areas, people are almost as poor as they’ve always been and have little medical care available. That’s where we will see extremely high rates of COVID deaths, even if they aren’t “reported” as such. And China’s already fudging the books that way. Unless they die purely from respiratory failure, it’s not considered a COVID death and doctors are even “encouraged”, in the Chinese way, to not mention COVID at all. When a city has millions of infected people, hospitals overflowing, hearses lined up for miles at crematoria, they say less than 50 have died from COVID. Right.

j watson
j watson
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

I fear sometimes the debate, and almost implied criticism, on falling birth rate in the West underplays the emancipation and freedom to choose of women. I’m always struck by how often the comments are from Men, almost appearing to entirely overlook what women feel and desire in their lives too. Now if us fellas could actually have these additional children male commentators seen to desire then the contention would jar a little less, but…

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 months ago
Reply to  j watson

In polling women on average reply that the would like more children than they have and the main reason for not having so is financial constraints.

Kate Heusser
Kate Heusser
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

In what way do you imagine that ‘we sufficiently fund’ the country’s old age but not childhood? It has to be imagination, as even the slightest brush with the reality of caring for the elderly would have taught you otherwise.

Josef O
Josef O
2 months ago

Interesting article. In China the one child policy has also a serious social cost:the distruction of the family as we have known it. After a generation of such imposed rule the following phenomenon is happening: there is only a child who has his parents and grandparents. Gone are the following figures: brother or sister, uncle or aunt, cousins, brother and sister in law etc.There are grave social consequences to such developments

J Bryant
J Bryant
2 months ago

Surely there’s an upside to this situation. Global population can’t increase forever, and countries shouldn’t base their future prosperity on endless growth and consumption.
As described in another Unherd article, Japan dealt with demographic decline by outsourcing much of its manufacturing to poorer countries. China and India can do the same over time. But the goal shouldn’t be endless growth. Stabilizing global population by increasing productivity seems a better path and, yes, we should all learn to gradually reduce our material expectations.
When a former colleague had a three-day weekend, he’d fly from California to Europe on Friday night, rush around his chosen city over the weekend, then fly back on Monday, all courtesy of the combination of ultra cheap flights, cheap hotels, and caffeine pills. Perhaps it’s better to return to the days when foreign vacations were a luxury and were carefully planned and savored. I don’t subscribe to the WEF’s “you’ll own nothing and be happy” philosophy, but a return to a simpler and less cluttered lifestyle wouldn’t hurt, imo.

Last edited 2 months ago by J Bryant
Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

It’s certainly true we don’t want endless population growth but a declining population is incredibly damaging when the rate is too rapid. You end up with a death spiral, where each successive generation is too small the meet the welfare needs of the previous one and so reacts by having less children themselves, accelerating the decline.

The only way out of this is to significantly increase productivity, better incentivise having children or drastically cut welfare. The answer the public has tended to give so far is that they are willing to countenance none of the above.

Peter D
Peter D
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

I agree. I also think that the West has failed itself by bringing in immigrants en mass. While it brings lots of benefits, it also makes our politicians lazy because they have an easy solution to grow the economy. Socially, it has more downsides than upsides. There is such an undercurrent of dissatisfaction which is slowly developing into an anger. Fortunately the far right pop their head up every now and then. We of the sensible centre get that reminder of where not to go. Still, it burns away.
China might surprise us by having a crisis and a sharp drop for a generation but then come out the other side more galvanised. Even though it is tough, it’s better than our malaise.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
2 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Everywhere in the world, in every human society we’ve looked at, prosperous people have fewer children. It’s almost as if humans (unlike every other species on the planet) are designed with a natural safety valve to prevent runaway geometric population growth. How remarkable that a bunch of smart apes figured this out all at the same time.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago

And if that doesn’t work, there is always the other safety valve….war.

Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 months ago

Whilst urbanisation does drive down birth rate across the board, today the birth rate among women in the highest paid jobs is twice the average of all occupations.

It’s the relative loss of income which makes the difference when deciding whether or not to start a family.

thomas considine
thomas considine
2 months ago

These are the r and K selection strategies. Roughly, the r strategy is to have more offspring, investing less in each; the K strategy is to invest more heavily in each of a smaller number of offspring. The poorer, facing a less certain outcome choose an r strategy. The better-off, more certain of a favorable outcome, invest heavily in only a few offspring. Thus. with increased wealth, we often see a change from r strategy to K strategy.

Derek Smith
Derek Smith
2 months ago

In 2021, Twitter removed a post uploaded by the Chinese Embassy in the US. It directly quoted a study about the effects of ‘deprogramming’ Uighur women in Xinjiang. The quote was as follows:

“Study shows that in the process of eradicating extremism, the minds of Uygur women in Xinjiang were emancipated and gender equality and reproductive health were promoted, making them no longer baby-making machines. They are more confident and independent.”

Not long after this, the CCP began asking its people to have 3 children in order to reverse the effects of the One-Child policy. The public response was along the lines of ‘they can’t tell us what to do with our bodies’. The CCP had forgotten that they had already deprogrammed their own population before starting on the Uighurs.

Last edited 2 months ago by Derek Smith
Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 months ago

One Child, One Belt, One Road, One China, One Health – and Zero Covid. It’s all part of the same thing. All of them coercive, pseudoscientific policies imposed by megalomaniac, overwhelmingly male, control freaks with strong psychopathic, anthrophobic tendencies who think they know what’s best for everyone. How to keep them safe, and sterile. They detest the chaotic beauty of the fertile woman who has a power to spawn a joyful new life that, for all of their armies, robots, and machines, they may never possess. Aging communists motivated by jealousy, resentment, and fear, as they always are.

And the West has bought it. Bought in to an anti-human pandemic treaty that will enshrine “One Health” as a guiding principle. A stepping stone, in the utopian vision of its zealous adherents, on the way to the industrialisation of transhuman reproduction and lives, if you can even call them that, lived entirely outside of a dirty, chaotic, unsafe, inequitable natural environment in which there are limits, there are unchosen obligations, there are innate biological and symbolic differences and boundaries between men and women (and between adults and children). The communists understand the appeal of “no limits” and “equality” to coddled Western narcissists with little regard for, or even knowledge of, their own distinctly Judeo-Christian cultural heritage, who want all of their cakes and to eat them over and over again, and who share their delusion of perpetual economic growth in a world of limited resources and a slowing rate of technological progress. And, boy don’t they exploit them.

Time to wake up and smell the coffee, before it’s too late.

Hugh R
Hugh R
2 months ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

I’d suggest you woke up long ago.
The bit about pseudoscientific policies, that was irony, right?
How very droll.
PS: To much coffee is bad.

Last edited 2 months ago by Hugh R
Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago

There are two long-trend simultaneous playouts (and by long-trend I mean centuries), both feeding into each other, but both somewhat out of sync with each other in terms of timing. That slight mistiming is going to result in an extremely difficult and painful landscape globally over the next two or three decades, because both are accelerating and because we are literally, living through the inflection point as those trends change profile and crossover in some chaotic way. The two playouts are: human population demographics, and the rise of algorithmic and gene editing technologies.

Global population has ramped over the last three centuries, and literally vertically since around 1900, as a knock-on of technological advance, resulting from initially the mass adoption of mechanisation (in effect a one dimensional precursor to algorithmic technologies). Simultaneously, the same forces drove mass urbanisation, which in the first instance hit a sweet spot where populations could still increase, because although the number of children per woman dropped very rapidly, this was more than offset by ramping health and mortality outcomes improving dramatically. However, once algorithmic technologies started coming on stream (starting around the mid 1960s but at scale from the late 1980s) they changed the demographic balance towards in effect depopulation in urbanised human societies. Algorithmic technologies put huge (but pernicious) pressure on human earning power at the individual level in developed economies. I point to the aftermath of the 2008 crash as proof. There was no ‘traditional’ recovery after this crash but instead wages remained static, because companies often chose IT spend and automation when they started growing again instead of employing more people, which is in effect meant falling steadily behind in earnings real terms. The effects remained masked for a long time because of fast developing nations, primarily China, exporting deflation on an unprecedented scale. But that party is now over.

Algorithmic technologies in effect allow unbounded migration of human processes and human decision making, out of human scale physical domains and into virtual abstract domains where human scale limits no longer apply. Human level processes can be endlessly modelled and then altered to taste. Human decision making can be replicated as algorithms, which can then be endlessly cloned, transmitted at near instantaneous speeds, and altered to achieve orders of magnitude improved outcomes. I know many people disagree with me but the long term effect of algorithmic technologies is very very obvious: mass scale job loss, ‘first slowly then all at once’ (my long term prediction has been and remains circa 2025 as the tipping point when the world creates fewer jobs than are lost to automation, then perhaps a couple of decades before half of all jobs have disappeared and we have a massive ‘useless class’).

So regarding those two playouts, we are in a race between depopulation caused by demographic collapse, and Malthusian outcomes caused by mass scale livelihood loss. It is possible because of a slight mistiming between the playouts, that we get both: a ‘useless class’ and Malthusian outcomes as well as human population collapse – or we could get lucky, the stars align, and depopulation cancels out the effects of loss of livelihoods, and we escape relatively pain free.

And this all sets the backdrop for the rise of the bio-edit and bio-alter technologies.

Last edited 2 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Gordon Black
Gordon Black
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Your comment took me back to Uni when studying statistics: given past and present data, analyse correlation cause and effect. As far as prediction was concerned, the Golden Rule was ‘extrapolate at your peril’ … exception … demography ‘extrapolate with confidence’.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

I think I need a drink after reading that.

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
2 months ago
Reply to  Warren Trees

Yes, probably the most turgid and dense comment I have ever posted BTL, like eating a shredded wheat without milk.

Last edited 2 months ago by Prashant Kotak
j watson
j watson
2 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

It was interesting though and linked the discussion to how AI and technology could ‘hollow out’ many economies. But Malthus proved wrong in the end so I wouldn’t be too downbeat. AI, if we control it and use wisely, may solve many problems.
I suspect another coming theme will be the need for minimum incomes for large parts of the population or we generate social disorder beyond a scale that is containable. Been some interesting pilots of this in a few places already, and the results show it does not lead to mass ‘laziness’ (the fear). In fact once the fear of poverty is removed people more often show great desire to make worthy societal contributions. A coming Policy debate I’m sure.

Julian Pellatt
Julian Pellatt
2 months ago

Declining birth and fertility rates should be a cause for celebration in principle, considering the gigantic increase in the human population from WW2 to 2023 (c.2.2 billion to over 8 billion today). It is human over-population that causes or is linked to many of the Earth’s environmental problems: pollution, deforestation, species extinction, global warming, etc.
But the United Nations celebrated the fact the the human population surpassed 8 billion recently! What an utterly useless organisation!
For as long as it remains politically incorrect to address human over-population, because it occurs chiefly in the ‘developing world (Africa chiefly), we will be in trouble. Are there any leaders out there who have the courage and foresight to take action in this critical area? I doubt it.

F. Deville
F. Deville
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Pellatt

Well said.
Yes, this is some of the best news I have heard in recent months.
The UN “celebrated” massive overpopulation? What is there to celebrate? Their statement is an irresponsible and rather stupid one.
I can only hope that the population decrease goes global, quickly.

Last edited 1 month ago by F. Deville
Billy Bob
Billy Bob
2 months ago

I think blaming the falling birth rates compared to their grandparents on having higher expectations is slightly incorrect. Firstly their grandparents had no access to birth control, and secondly having larger families was a bonus for rural poor families as it meant more hands to earn a wage and more people to look after them in old age, whereas having children for the young now is prohibitively expensive. I don’t think it’s to do with the young having an entitled attitude

Hugh R
Hugh R
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Agreed wholeheartedly until the bit about the young. They are ‘entitled ‘ to no more or less than ‘us’…..they’ve been screwed over – written off as collateral damage. No wonder it’s driving them mad.

Mônica
Mônica
2 months ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

It’s only prohibitively expensive if you (rightly so) wants to know where your next meal is coming from, as the author points out. People in the past didn’t have large families because the conditions were right, but because they had no choice in the matter.

Richard Turner
Richard Turner
2 months ago

Is this man serious? This is really good news for the planet and he calls it a crisis? Without fossil fuel there is no way we can support the present population so for it to fall relatively slowly is surely good news?

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago
Reply to  Richard Turner

It isn’t falling slowly. That’s the point

Tom Watson
Tom Watson
2 months ago

“Towns like Dongbei…”
TOWNS? Dongbei literally means ‘the north east’ and in China refers to the three northern provinces also known as Manchuria.

What sort of town did this guy think was being referred to in the linked article that said “Dongbei’s GDP as a percentage of the national total has plummeted from 14% to 6.8%”? 7% of China’s wealth in one town?

He’s right about the big picture for China, but it’s wrong to blame it on the one child policy. Like many staples of geography textbooks the world over, it wasn’t actually very significant (or interesting). Cf. South Korea’s demographics – very very similar despite no equivalent to the one-child policy but equally breakneck urbanisation.

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
2 months ago
Reply to  Tom Watson

The one child policy pre-dated the urbanization and economic growth. So they were already on the back foot when China decided to engage with the world and start joining the global economy and urbanized. Outside of this estimated announcement, they failed to mention the 100 million fewer people (more women fewer than men, given China’s culture) that the 2020 census discovered that they had overcounted in the past.
Japan and South Korea are falling over backward to do whatever they can to hold onto the US market for their products. Our demographics, like France’s, are more like a chimney instead of the inverted pyramid of almost all of the rest of the developed world. Our Baby Boomers had children. Maybe because that it’s much easier to raise kids in the suburbs with lots of room and yards for the kids to play in instead of being all cooped up in a smallish apartment. 2 to 3 kids was the norm. Plus, with the welfare schemes in the ’60s, it really did pay to have more kids with no father around for far too long. Set up really nasty social expectations and consequences for a large group of people.
My mother had three kids but, were she still alive, only one grandchild and one great-grandchild out of all of us. I had planned on three myself – you often picture the kind of family you grew up in. But reality, in the form of a truck not watching where he was going, got in the way of that, so just my one son and his one son.

Cynthia W.
Cynthia W.
2 months ago

This article doesn’t mention that parts of India have male:female ratios worse than China’s.

Mary Bruels
Mary Bruels
2 months ago
Reply to  Cynthia W.

This is a cultural issue as male children are highly prized and female children much less so. Since the advent of mobile ultrasound companies, more female children have been aborted than male children. This leaves a huge imbalance in social structures that has far reaching consequences.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
2 months ago

“What has really changed is not economics, but expectations.”

My question is when will wealth and comfort create a culture in China where the people stop being such a bunch of quiescent malleable pussies?

John Holland
John Holland
2 months ago

I’m always a little confused by the ultimate argument of these population-decline panic pieces, which are now starting to outnumber the old population-growth panic pieces.
What is the eventual scenario for this promotion of infinite human population growth? On a simply mathematical basis, the author must surely spot a slight problem coming in the future. I can only assume that space colonisation is the unspoken plan- and even this assumes that space really is literally infinite, which actually doesn’t seem to be the case.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

The Moon would make a splendid Penal Colony, rather as Botany Bay did. It would also have the tremendous advantage of allowing the incarcerated to continually see the Earth, yet know they would never ever return.

John Holland
John Holland
2 months ago

The efficacy of that particular torture would depend upon whether, by that time, the Earth was in a sufficiently fit state to elicit much of a desire to return to it.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

From circa 250,000 miles it should always look fairly appealing.
I also I wouldn’t call it torture, but rather re-education through exile, and conditions should be as benign as is humanly possible.

Last edited 2 months ago by stanhopecharles344
Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
2 months ago

“The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” by R.A. Heinlein has exactly that setup. Fun book and a great read.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 months ago
Reply to  Diane Merriam

Thank you, I had never heard of it.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
2 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

Or an asteroid can hit the reset button again.

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
2 months ago
Reply to  John Holland

You could take every family on Earth, put them in an average American sized home, and fit them all in the state of Texas. It’s not living space that’s the problem any time soon. It’s how to feed them. and even that wouldn’t be a problem for a long time once the world gets over its GMO pseudo-panic.
So yes, there has to be a maximum carrying capacity for the Earth, but it’s nowhere near as bad as most people think. And since the global population is expected to start decreasing from around the middle of the century we’ll likely never hit anywhere near that point.
The issue is actually where the demographic balance is. In an urbanized environment, children are simply costs. Young adults consume. Older adults are investing and working on retirement plans. Retirees are simply costs once again. With fewer kids and young adults, who is going to consume all the stuff that the older adults are making? And who is going to pay the costs for the retirees?

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
2 months ago

The issue, in so many ways, is about propping up the capitalist system. All of the other problems inherent in population decline can be dealt with, but without perpetual growth our economic system will fail. Since such systems; capitalism, feudalism, etc, each came about organically through a chain of individual actions, over many generations, none of us can predict what will come next.
Of course, humans being the foolish creatures they are, there will be many attempts to impose a new system that some half-baked egotist cooked up in his head; stalinism and maoism come to mind. The opportunity to repeat history and get millions of people killed might just be too tempting for such a muddle-headed species.

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
2 months ago

For deaths, Xi is about as cold-blooded as Mao was. Xi will kill millions of rural, old Chinese that the system can’t support with COVID just as Mao did with his “Great Leap Forward.”

John Riordan
John Riordan
2 months ago

There seems to be an assumption that growth and progress are inextricably linked with population growth . This surely must be untrue if for no other reason that what really matters is GDP/capita, not outright GDP, and that the technological progress that has been raising productivity for the past few centuries hasn’t stopped.

The global trend for population growth shows it levelling out in about 2075 or so, which is generally seen as a good thing given the constant carping about saving the planet. It deos depend though on everyone being wealthy enough that the birthrate slows down, so the problem we’re describing is where ten billion humans are all much wealthier than now and aren’t having squads of kids.

Good problem to have?

Edwin Blake
Edwin Blake
2 months ago

This is an incredibly shortsighted statement: “if our species is to continue thriving, it must find a way to combine modernity with a pro-natal attitude”.

No! Can you not see that our “pro-natal” species is exponentially exhausting the earth? Do you want us to remain on the perpetual treadmill of more children therefore more old people who require even more children? That’s ridiculous.

Instead, if our species is to continue thriving we need to spread the benefits of automation and higher productivity to all and find innovative ways to support ourselves without always growing the demographic debt of future generations.

Wim de Vriend
Wim de Vriend
2 months ago
Reply to  Edwin Blake

“… if our species is to continue thriving …” A strange description of humanity. But it may help explain why at one time western zoos had African pygmies on display.

CHARLES STANHOPE
CHARLES STANHOPE
2 months ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

I though Darwin cracked it, and we are in fact only an ultra aggressive, species of superannuated Chimpanzee.

John Holland
John Holland
2 months ago
Reply to  Wim de Vriend

Are you trying to suggest that Homo Sapiens is not a ‘species’?
Only a fundamentalist Creationist could argue that was “strange”.

Diane Merriam
Diane Merriam
2 months ago

When you live on a farm, children are free labor almost as soon as they can toddle. In a city, they are simply an expense. In the US, in suburbs at least, you can tell the kids to go outside to play. Where are they to go to play in an anonymous huge apartment block in the middle of a thronging city? And apartments considerably smaller than we are used to in the US. Prior to reliable birth control, it was hard to avoid getting pregnant in any way other than abstinence. My OB/GYN had a name for those who relied on the rhythm method … mothers.
Many European countries are looking at demographics not much different than China’s. Germany’s is the worst. Though several have already started trying to encourage more births, so far the only difference has been when the babies are born, not the number of them. Sad to say, but in a way, the Ukraine war may turn out to be a blessing for many western European countries. The refugees are mainly women and children. If the war lasts as long as it looks like it might, many of those young women and children, the population segments most needed, will set down roots in the countries they have fled to and they will not have as much trouble fitting into the societies of another European country as other, non-European refugees have.

Michael Layman
Michael Layman
2 months ago

I wonder how the US dependence on cheap Chinese goods will play out. However militarily China is a paper tiger. The US would destroy them in a week in a conventional war, which is why it will never happen.

David Pogge
David Pogge
1 month ago

Much depends upon how we define human flourishing. Classically it has been defined by fecundity. From the view of evolution, success is defined by the number of offspring surviving to reproduce. Classically, flourishing was defined by having a large family of children who lived to maturity and then had children of their own. If they liked you or they ‘actualized their potential’ that was nice; but the real test was whether they survived, were able to support themselves, and had children of their own. The high value often placed on male children was in part due to the larger number of offspring they could produce compared to female children. Material wealth, in such a value system, was defined primarily in terms of its ability to foster the production and survival of children.
In modern times, we measure our flourishing not in terms of reproduction, but in terms of the pleasures we enjoy during our personal lifetime. How much we own, how comfortably we live, how widely we travel, how much we see and do, the prestige we enjoy, the trophies we win, how well we eat, how fast we drive, how great our self-esteem, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. In this view, flourishing is almost synonymous with happiness, which is itself almost synonymous with pleasure.
When flourishing was defined by reproductive success this enterprise was supported by relatively limited forms of primary pleasure for the individual parent. Although conception undoubtedly entailed some immediate pleasure, from that point on each child demanded a great deal of effort, sacrifice, and risk from both parents. At the same time, there was not a great deal of immediate and direct pleasure. However, the enterprise was often supported by tribal, religious, social, and cultural reward structures that helped to sustain the inherent drive to reproduce. At the same time, other sources of primary pleasure (e.g., sex, food, physical comfort, etc.) were less plentiful, harder to come by, and access was often restricted by group prohibitions (e.g., the labelling of gluttony, lust, and sloth as sins).
The immense material success of the modern world reverses this relationship in an unprecedented fashion and makes the rewards of childrearing – particularly having children in large numbers – pale in comparison to pleasures that are readily available. It is these pleasures which complete with the enterprise of successfully bringing offspring to fecundity. This can be easily understood by listening to people of childbearing years discuss the prospect of parenthood and their perceptions of the pros and cons it will entail. Listen to what they dwell on as they contemplate the ‘sacrifices’ that marriage and family will require and the rewards that they anticipate from having and raising children.
Of course, there is more to it than that; but this seems to me to lie at the heart of the decline in the childbearing rate among wealthier societies. As the immediately accessible pleasures (i.e., fun) of life grow and expand, the subtler and more delayed gratifications of childrearing decline. As the view of human flourishing evolves away from ‘how can I promote my family/people into the future?’ and towards ‘what feels good now?’ the reasons for any individual to want to do the things that successful childrearing requires become fewer and more narrowly defined. In this context, the reason to have more than one or two children steadily fades from sight, and the reasons to avoid childrearing altogether become more prominent in the worldview of the increasingly educated middle class.
This is not just selfishness and immorality (although it has elements of both) but mostly it is human beings succumbing to those things to which they are heir, and which the intellectual and material success of modern times makes possible. What we fundamentally are, and how good we are it it, in many ways seems to contain the seeds of our eventual demise.