Mike O’Hare’s recent post on population declines in Europe in general, and Italy in particuar, leaves me baffled. His post gives us plenty of reason to believe (as if it were in doubt) that Europe’s old-stock population continues to decline, but no reason to share his conviction that this should worry Europeans, let alone us. And indeed, I doubt that there is such a reason. Consider:
1. As anybody who’s spent time in Western Europe can attest, the place is crowded. Italy, Mike’s central case, has the fifth-highest population density in Europe at 200 per square kilometer (the U.S. is at about 31, meaning plenty of room both for those who like the Eastern seaboard—operationally part of Europe—and those who prefer the rest of the country, which is modeled on Scottish borderlands). Germany is even denser.
Research question: are many of the countries with the lowest birthrates also those with highest population density? (I mean relatively stable and prosperous countries, not Russia or such. ) To the extent that they are, the alleged problem of decreasing population is self-correcting. If having kids is a financial sacrifice because spacious houses in suburban Frankfurt are expensive, it will be much less of a sacrifice when ancestral farmhouses in Tuscany can be had for a song. (Why? No heirs.) Yes, this reasoning is crude, and I’m using aggregates when the action is more localized. But actually, an analysis that did justice to local variation would probably give us even less cause for alarm. Nobody has kids in San Francisco because you now need to be an investment banker to buy a house. But this has no implications, or positive ones, for population in Arizona, or the country generally—or even in California as a whole.
2. Even if population decline isn’t self-correcting, it has no implications regarding “the looming extinction of Italians.” Italy only had 36 million people in 1920 as opposed to 57 million now. Were there no “Italians” in 1920, no Italian art or culture, no Italian cooking? A negative exponential growth rate takes in theory an infinite amount of time to take you to zero. Of course, extrapolating the growth trend forever makes no sense, but the point is that a big country can lose people for a long time and still have plenty enough to sustain any desired level of cultural survival. In fact, older people probably have disproportionate taste, and time, for the often-outdated traditions that we tourists gloss as a country’s essence. (Most French people don’t smoke. Most Brits prefer curry to meat pies and wine to ale.)
3. If Italy and Germany really want more Italians or Germans, they can get them the way the New World has always gotten them: immigrants, and in particular a culture that considers the kids of immigrants full members of the national society. Nobody in my mother’s family, when she was born in suburban Zurich, would have thought her reproductive cycle a likely future source of plain old Americans, but there you go. Europe’s population problem is a nativism problem, and deserves no more sympathy there than nativism deserves here.
4. The reason Italian and German women (and educated native-born American women, in fact, whose fertility rate is not too different from Europeans’) have fewer kids than they used to is that they have more opportunities and better things to do than change diapers. This is a good thing. I have nothing against kids; in fact, I like being around kids more than most successful men probably do, and love my three-year-old to pieces. But rearing him, which work I split equally with my wife, can be stressful and exhausting, and I don’t wonder that few two-career families want to play the replacement game of having more than two. Those who want higher birthrates have the burden of explaining who exactly is supposed to replace the half the population that used to have “involuntary governess” as their only career choice. (Yes, I know that many women both here and in Europe “wish they could have more kids.” But this seems to me equivalent to the finding that most voters wish for more services and lower taxes. What we really “wish,” tradeoffs and all, is what our life-choices demonstrate. And I’d also like to see more attention to men’s preferences in these surveys, including their willingness to take on vastly increased child care responsibilities themselves, something their partners would often like but know they’ll rarely get.)
5. What’s wrong with fewer people? Unlike some, I’m not talking about the environmental benefits thereof (though perhaps Mike, if he also feels like Cassandra on global warming, might map out further the links between his two issues). I just honestly wonder what the big deal is either way. When I was a kid in the 70s, the U.S. had less than 220 million people. Now it has almost 300 million. Are we “better” as a result? Is American culture necessarily more vibrant, our society more admirable? I’m not being nostalgic, just skeptical: the quality of a society and its size seem unrelated to me. Granted, in geopolitical terms a large population is useful for throwing one’s military and economic weight around. But Germany and Italy more or less stopped playing that game, out of choice, shame and outside pressure, long before their population growth turned negative. Does anybody think that a few more kids in Old Europe would change that, and does the world’s welfare necessarily depend on this change happening?
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. (If there are fewer kids there can also be fewer schools, but that’s hard to accomplish where teachers’ unions are strong; if there are fewer young workers older workers should command a high wage for staying in their jobs, but that’s unlikely to happen where people expect to retire “like their grandparents.”) But explosive population growth is no picnic either, as anyone living in immigrant-rich Southern California can attest, and I see no reason to lament the former more than the latter. None of these things is inherently good or bad.
To measure a country’s well being by its growth in population is a VERY old habit; ancient historians did it, and the Enlightenment made a fetish of it. Perhaps it even made sense when a country could only survive through producing young men for war and when low population tended to come from pestilence and famine. But I think it’s a habit we should drop. Leisure, culture, and independence are normal goods. As countries prosper, their inhabitants produce more of them—and, on aggregate, fewer kids.
CORRECTION: I originally listed the population density of the U.S. as “about 80,” mixing up the U.S. number in square miles with the European numbers in square kilometers. Thirty-one per square kilometer is right. Western Europe is, compared to the U.S., even more crowded than I thought.
UPDATE: Mike’s rebuttal is here and my surrebuttal here—I meddled with the thread names, so that might not have been obvious.
14 thoughts on “Europe: nobody goes there any more; it’s too crowded.”
Oh thank god. I thought I was going mad reading that moronic piece. You've pretty much said everything that I was thinking when I read O'Hare. Thank you for doing it so concisely.
THe one thing you didn't address is the odd convergence of O'hare's piece with the recent speech by Frist? or Santorum or one of those right wing guys on how Europeans have "nothign to live for" and are "dying" spiritually because they aren't religious enough/not having kids/not being judgemental enough about other people's freedoms. Frankly, I thought O'hare's piece had wandered onto this site from a right wing hysteria blog since the main implication was that if there weren't enough *white* europeans there couldn't be enough *real* europeans.
The problem is not that low rates of reproduction will depopulate these countries. As you say, they currently have high population densities, and it would require centuries of sub-replacement reproduction to lower their populations to troublesome levels.
Rather, the problem lies in the demographic distortions which result from a combination of rising life expectancies, and declining fertility. And the death of their cultures that would come from importing fully grown replacements for the children they didn't have.
Frankly, I think the appropriate solution is massive expenditures on life extension technology. If people don't get decrepit as they age, then you can easilly cope with the demographic changes.
Excellent article. Thought provoking.
Besides the adjustment trauma, which you explain quite nicely, I think much of the handwringing has to do with the "throwing ones military and economic weight around" aspect. Even the most enlightened cultures succumb to nationalism, and nationalism is about national competition, most pointedly in economic and military terms.
But there is also another school of handwringing, darker and harder to deal with, which is about who replaces declining populations. As Edward Glaeser has pointed out, much of the infrastructure that supports a population level is expensive and durable, making it unlikely that cities or dwellings constructed for a large population will be simply razed to accomodate a more modest one. So if a population is not replacing itself, and facilities are to be utilized, demographic changes must occur. Managing the character and manner of those changes is what makes declining birthrates such a nettlesome issue in many countries.
Good chunks of the drop in Germany are happening in out-of-the-way parts of Eastern Germany. I suspect that there is proportionally less infrastructure for small towns in the East, so pruning it may not be so traumatic.
Outright abandonment is not to be ruled out either. I was recently in Cyprus, where employment has taken people down from the hills to the coasts. Some villages are entirely abandoned, some partly or mostly so. The poorer a country is, the easier this process, or so it appears to me. Consider southeastern Poland. Rural Moldova and Albania are probably easy to leave without much adjustment to the infrastructure. Many Soviet settlements in the north were only possible with considerable subsidy from the "mainland." They are now gradually being abandoned as well.
Can't keep 'em down on the farm.
The perceived problems are thus:
The combination of Europe's declining birth rate, lengthening life spans, and generous government benefits will be difficult to maintain. The solution, of course, is immigration (as you point out). However, European countries have a generally poor record of assimilation and the growing Muslim population seems to be growing ever more resistant to assimilation attempts (to the extent that any attempts are being made).
It appears that so far Europe is failing on two fronts to pass on its culture: having children and assimilating immigrants.
Some might say that passing on European cultures is not so important. Maybe not, but first we must look at what will replace it (or, more likely, significantly modify it). That would be Islamic culture. And now maybe you see the perceived problem.
I always respond to these whitewashes with the rhetorical rejoinder "exactly who is going to be wiping your butt in the nursing home, Mr. babyboomer?". Fact is that no one can cite an historical example of population decline not due to disease, famine, pestilence, or war. Failure to reproduce is a worrying feature of post-modern culture and may be the fifth horseman of apocalypse!
This article misses a point made by, among others, Mark Steyn.
It's not merely the reduction in numbers that's the problem, having to do with older workers retiring and fewer younger workers to support them and all the rest of it.
The question is not whether there will be fewer Italians in the sense of raw numbers. The question is what proportion of the young and active will be Italian in terms of place of birth and anti-Italian in terms of culture.
The writer does know that this is a problem which is why he refers, once, to "old stock" and then continues, pretending it's nothing but a numbers game with no concern for who's replacing the "old stock".
Anthony, but Europeans are far more able to deal with any problems of such due to the plain fact that they consume less and work less. If need be, they can keep consumption levels constant and work MORE, and at most suffer temporary discomfort (though hardly any serious distress). Furthermore, Europeans are already fairly efficient (and are far more efficient in several areas, particularly health care delivery, than the United States) with technology making them more and more efficient. Denmark, for instance, already shuffles all their people, whether they need it or not, through both college and usually postgraduate educations in order to minimalize the work force – there just isn't enough WORK to go around. Having fewer people seems to not be as much of a problem, as they can simply adjust their optimal labor controls accordingly.
There is nothing inherent in declining population in general that warrants worrying about. It is the specifics of demographics and the European welfare system that makes declining population in European countries potentially worrisome. Ponzi schemes tend not to work out very well when the pyramid starts looking like an obelisk and even worse when the pyramid gets stood on it's point.
As the population declines it also ages. And with lower than replacement rates of reproduction that means that fewer of the young people, especially if a large portion of those are imported, have any familial connection to this growing horde or ever needy oldsters. Given the richness of the social benefits system there will be an increasing number of retired people being supported by a decreasing number of younger, working people and the working people won't have much inclination to give a tinker's damn about all these old people chomping away at paychecks like a gypsy moth invastion.
The seemingly obvious solution to that is to raise retirement ages but keep in mind here that we're talking about nations where people riot and strike when faced with a suggestion that they increase the workweek from 35 to 37 hours, or give up 2 days of their 6 week vacations, or even the notion of being able to hire and fire young people at will. The idea of tacking and extra 2 or 3 or 5 years of work onto the tail end would likely be taken even more seriously.
Another thing is that the European welfare states don't seem to have the same asset collection in the older segment of the population as the US does. The aging population was promised generous retirement benefits – they spent their money along the way on all those long vacations. There are no huge assets stores to be liquidated and redistributed as they die off or earlier should the tax base prove itself unable to support the welfare costs.
Yeah, so, that's their problem. Well, we all know that Europe today is populated with quiet hobbyists and pacifists culturally enriched by all their long vacations to seaside resorts all over the world. What harm can they do anyone? Unfortunately the past history of Europe when dealing with social disruptions is not encouraging. And one needn't go to ancient history to find the troublesome tendencies – these tendencies have shown themselves several times in what amounts to little more than a human lifetime.
If they chose to die away quietly and prepay the burial or crematory service, fine and dandy. Given their historic penchant for driving away the portions of their populations they can't support – or worse yet, cranking up the kilns – and for deluding themselves that they can make a better world through conquest, I wouldn't bet on them dying away quietly.
With a little luck, however, the Japanes model of robotics will bill bail them out in time.
It's apples and oranges to compare countries with parts of countries, but instructive anyway. Portions of the U.S. have experienced stable to declining populations since the late 19th century (consider "ghost towns" and now the Great Plains). Areas in decline are able to coast for a long while on their past investments in infrastructure. Then, when the population gets too low the infrastructure gets abandoned.
Population decline can be a serious problem. Here in Kansas, many parts of the state have trouble recuiting and retaining essential services–grocery stores, teachers, doctors, and dentists)–because there aren't enough customers for a viable business. Perhaps European countries will not drop so far in population as rural Kansas counties, but the possible problems are not trivial. I wonder if there is a tipping point beyond which stabilization and/or recover are much more difficult.
Well, when the "ancestral farmhouse in Tuscany can be cought for a song," it is one element of the overall economic collapse that comes with a declining population in a capitalist society. For obvious reasons, housing prices in the declining areas will be murdered. Not a pretty prospect, especially in the U.S., where so much household wealth is invested in homes.
That's true, but the Great Plains children were actually born, they just moved to the coasts. They pay Social Security taxes that support their aging parents. The problem the Europeans have is the children simply don't exist (in a sweeping, domographic sense), so there will be nobody to pay the pensions.
I don't think this will be the cause of much civil strife, though. The people who will lose out will be old and sickly, and revolution is a young man's game.
If pensions in the US were structured by region you'd have the same problem.
When I was a young man, I was a liberal because of my hippie lifestyle, and my total support of birth control. I could have my way with with the girls, and never have to take responsibility. This totally selfish attitude, was encouraged by the media and the government itself. We were told the world was becoming overpopulated, and that by taking birth-control pills we were doing the world a favor. Apparently, nobody told the Mexicans or the Muslims, and their populations and demographics will propel them to take over the world, because we were too selfish to have children. It's amazing how we hear in the media, about how we need all these illegal aliens to do the work, with no mention at all as to why we have no young people anymore to do the work. Considering where the United States is going as a country, with its aging population of old white people and the hostile and aggressive young Mexicans crossing the border and making demands that they be granted amnesty or else, I am inspired to comment on your post.
" 2. Even if population decline isn't self-correcting, it has no implications regarding "the looming extinction of Italians.
Italy only had 36 million people in 1920 as opposed to 57 million now."
Two questions come to mind concerning your facts. In 1920, what percentage of the 36 million Italians would have been considered ethnic Italians, as compared to the 57 million today? And, what would be the age ratio of the Italians in 1920 and today?. For instance, Americans of European descent made up 90% of the US population in 1950. But in just one generation of birth control, 65% of the country is of European dissent. But what these numbers do not take in consideration is the fact this 65% today are of the baby boom generation, and birth-control taking liberal feminist baby boomers do not have enough children to even break even, but have a large deficit, in fact they have committed a sort of genocide upon themselves by taking birth-control pills for the purposes of selfish pursuit.
"Were there no "Italians" in 1920, no Italian art or culture, no Italian cooking? A negative exponential growth rate takes in theory an infinite amount of time to take you to zero"
explain this in more detail please
"Of course, extrapolating the growth trend forever makes no sense, but the point is that a big country can lose people for a long time and still have plenty enough to sustain any desired level of cultural survival."
Really, how much English do you think anyone will be speaking in the future here in the United States?
" In fact, older people probably have disproportionate taste, and time, for the often-outdated traditions that we tourists gloss as a country's essence. (Most French people don't smoke. Most Brits prefer curry to meat pies and wine to ale.)"
And the Aztec, were well known for their human sacrifice, and it is their ancestors who are crossing the border and making demands. But for the globalist elite, in their gated communities, they think they will escape the terror.
" 3. If Italy and Germany really want more Italians or Germans, they can get them the way the New World has always gotten them: immigrants, and in particular a culture that considers the kids of immigrants full members of the national society."
If Muslims immigrate into Germany because German people believe the propaganda and took birth-control pills and started to disappear from this world, these Muslims will not become Germans. In the same manner, a Mexican crossing the border does not magically become an American. Being an American is something cultural, it's not a legal entitlement, that would be called citizenship quite another thing. If the European Americans disappear from America, it will become Mexico.
" Nobody in my mother's family, when she was born in suburban Zurich, would have thought her reproductive cycle a likely future source of plain old Americans, but there you go. Europe's population problem is a nativism problem, and deserves no more sympathy there than nativism deserves here"
And why is it, that the nativism deserves no sympathy, but the invading Mexicans do?
" 4. The reason Italian and German women (and educated native-born American women, in fact, whose fertility rate is not too different from Europeans') have fewer kids than they used to is that they have more opportunities and better things to do than change diapers."
Some people might accuse me of racism against Mexicans, but this is not true. I remember a Mexican woman yelling," we are the future, because we love our children, and you do not". I remember I had no rebuttal for this Mexican invader, she was right. They actually do not come here for the same opportunities you speak of, they come here to work and to send money back home to their families, everything for them is about family. Whereas we Europeans have better things to do. This is why I am not a racist white supremacist, because there's nothing supreme about European nowadays. The Lord has given us everything, and we have thrown it all away on selfish pursuits, whereas the Mexican had children and took over our country. So if I was to compare whose method of survival was superior, or for that matter what people were superior, I would have to say the Mexicans were superior. Because in the end, if you disappear from this world as a race or a nation, that is called extinction. And there's nothing more inferior than extinction.
" This is a good thing. I have nothing against kids; in fact, I like being around kids more than most successful men probably do, and love my three-year-old to pieces. But rearing him, which work I split equally with my wife, can be stressful and exhausting, and I don't wonder that few two-career families want to play the replacement game of having more than two. Those who want higher birthrates have the burden of explaining who exactly is supposed to replace the half the population that used to have "involuntary governess" as their only career choice. (Yes, I know that many women both here and in Europe "wish they could have more kids." But this seems to me equivalent to the finding that most voters wish for more services and lower taxes. What we really "wish," tradeoffs and all, is what our life-choices demonstrate."
And that life choice hast destroyed our nation and Europe, and it's no wonder the rest of the world does not want to emulate our way of life, and become terrorists in their struggle against us. For instance, we want to go into Muslim countries in free their women. My wife and I would have liked to have had children, but we could not afford them in this country. Yet the poorest peasant in Mexico has children, the poorest person in India can have children. We always hear the stories from successful women these last 20 years of liberalism, but what do they think today in their old age as they lose their beauty, and they look about their empty homes all alone.. all the sudden for some of them no doubt, they cry for the children they were too selfish to have, and man like me cry for the country that is lost.
" And I'd also like to see more attention to men's preferences in these surveys, including their willingness to take on vastly increased child care responsibilities themselves, something their partners would often like but know they'll rarely get.)"
I don't see Mexican men changing diapers.
" 5. What's wrong with fewer people? Unlike some, I'm not talking about the environmental benefits thereof (though perhaps Mike, if he also feels like Cassandra on global warming, might map out further the links between his two issues). I just honestly wonder what the big deal is either way. When I was a kid in the 70s, the U.S. had less than 220 million people. Now it has almost 300 million. Are we "better" as a result? "
And when you consider the loss in the population of Euro Americans, the 300 million figure becomes significant. Our children demographically speaking, are already minorities in their own country.
" Is American culture necessarily more vibrant, our society more admirable? I'm not being nostalgic, just skeptical: the quality of a society and its size seem unrelated to me. Granted, in geopolitical terms a large population is useful for throwing one's military and economic weight around. But Germany and Italy more or less stopped playing that game, out of choice, shame and outside pressure, long before their population growth turned negative. Does anybody think that a few more kids in Old Europe would change that, and does the world's welfare necessarily depend on this change happening?"
I think it's funny, to reduce your own population by means of birth control, without guaranteeing that the neighboring country who may be a historic enemy say, does not also decreased their population?
As much as I dislike war and love peace, given the choice, I would take war over birth control as a means to control human population. At least that way, Mother nature would prevail, and the strong would survive for the good of humanity. We human beings, particularly Europeans, have not been wise in the use of advanced technologies. Everything we touch, we screw up. We think were clever with industrial revolution and the creation of say automobiles, even though the ice packs melt and the polar Bears drowned, and for all we know the world is doomed because of our ignorance. We are so clever we create insecticides to control insects, only to create super insects immune to our poisons. The same goes for medicines we create, we create super diseases. And the same geniuses have been trying to teach us a new way to be these last 50 years, and you can be sure they screwed things up. This socialist experiment of multiculturalism is a dismal failure, just as it was in the Soviet Union.
Madman from Maui
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