Sunday, May 28, 2006

Birth rates, not weapons or tech, spell power


MercuryNews - Phillip Longman is the most important man you've never heard of in Washington.

A senior fellow at the liberal New America Foundation, Longman specializes in demography. If you're a romantic, demography is the science of love, writ large. If you're a cynic, it is the sausage factory of civilization. Whatever your disposition, demography is, if not destiny, then a subject of paramount importance. In the long run, no weapon, no technology, no economic system is more powerful.

Longman has spent many years studying demographic trends, and the conclusions are unsettling. As he writes in his 2004 book, ``The Empty Cradle,'' birthrates in America and around the world are declining beneath sustainability; population growth is slowing and, unless the trends of the past 200 years change, will soon bring about population decline -- and with it, potential shifts in global prosperity and power.

Forget domestic politics and international relations: Fertility is the thing. As Longman explains, it's the grand unified theory of everything. As fertility rates decline, populations, then economies, then military power, then world influence, diminish.

This is a bit counterintuitive. As Longman notes, everywhere you look there are signs of crowding. More traffic, more housing sprawl, more strip centers, more kids applying to college. It looks as if the world is bursting at the seams.

There's some truth to that. There are 6.5 billion people today, and that number is increasing every year. But according to demographic estimates, the world's population will peak somewhere between 9 billion and 12 billion in the next 75 years -- give or take -- and after that will precipitously decline, while the average age of the population gets more and more advanced....

...You can already see this trend in the United States. We have the highest fertility rate in the industrialized world (2.09), but this mainly reflects the contribution of our immigrants, who reproduce at a higher rate than natives.

As Colgate economist Michael Haines has shown, American fertility rates have been falling steadily for 200 years. In 1800, the fertility rate among white Americans was 7.04; by 1998, it was 2.07. This decline was interrupted by only a single period of increase: the baby boom. In 1940, the fertility rate was 2.22; in 1950, it rose to 2.98; in 1960, it rose further still to 3.53. But by 1970, it fell back to 2.39 and has been headed south since.

The fertility rate for black Americans is in steeper decline. In 1850, it was 7.90. Blacks, too, experienced a baby boom from 1940 to 1960, but by 1998, their fertility rate was 2.17 and falling fast.

Latinos are the only American ethnic group significantly above the replacement level, because Latin American immigrants bring with them higher fertility rates. After a few years in the States, they begin regressing to the mean: From 1990 to 2001, America's Latino birthrate fell 10 percent.

Immigration might seem like a solution to our demographic woes, but that's a mirage. As the U.N. report ``Replacement Migration'' explains, to keep the current ratio of workers to retirees in America, we'd need 10.8 million new immigrants every year until 2050, at which point the U.S. population would be 1.1 billion, 73 percent of whom would be immigrants arrived since 1995 and their descendants. As a sociological matter, that's an untenable situation.

An older, contracting population is a harbinger of dark times. In the modern welfare state, the cost of caring for the elderly is largely shifted to the government. Combine an increasing population of seniors with an increasingly expensive state pension and health care system, and you have a portion of the budget that must grow ever larger. The options: Slash benefits, overhaul the system, or raise taxes. As Longman explains: ``Younger workers, finding that not only does the economy require them to have far higher levels of education than did their parents, but that they must also pay far higher payroll taxes, are less able to afford children, and so have fewer of them, causing a new cycle of population aging.''

In other words, the further the fertility rate falls, the greater the incentive for people to have fewer children.

Capitalism is, historically speaking, a relatively new system, but recent experience suggests that capitalism and falling populations don't mix particularly well. Consider Japan and Europe. Japan's fertility rate is 1.34, 17 percent of its population is over 65, and its economy is a shambles. By 2050, Japan will lose one-seventh of its population, and the percentage of citizens over 65 will increase from 17 percent to 32 percent. Italy -- never, and certainly not now, a model of smoothly running capitalism -- will lose 13 percent of its population, while the proportion of those over 65 will double to 35 percent. In Russia, which is losing 750,000 people a year, that future is now.

In the coming years, the United States will struggle to avoid this fate. Our declining fertility is a matter of life and death.

I think I am having major change of heart here, I don't really subscribe to any of that bullshit above, but who am I, a simple redneck, to question "A senior fellow at the liberal New America Foundation". And really, looking back, I think I have been a little too harsh on my fellow humans who just happened to be born on the other side of the Rio Grande. I have been concentrating solely on what I feel is in America's best interests, and I realize now that it was wrong for me to succumb to my nativist impulses.

But I have turned over a new leaf, and I think its only right that I reexamine this issue from the perspective of whats best for our good neighbors to the south.

America's arrogant economic engine is draining Mexico of its most precious resource .... bright young minds, and if there is any truth in the article above its just simply unfair for us to condemn Mexico to an unsustainable future by continuing to allow young Mexicans to leave their aging countrymen behind to suffer the consequences described in the article above, just because the United State's capitalistic system supposedly requires a continuous influx of immigrants to survive.

I think it would be only fair, since it was our economic prosperity that is the root cause of Mexico's demographic nightmare, that we, as truly concerned and caring neighbors should bear the burden of building a wall to keep those selfish young Mexicans from ruining Mexico's chances of becoming a future economic superpower by abandoning the very people that gave them the most precious gift....that of life.

In fact, because of our past atrocious policies of stripping Mexico of its human resources, I think it would be very appropriate for us to consider incorporating into any future guest worker program legislation we pass a clause that excludes Mexicans of breeding age from consideration, and only accepts for 5 year temporary workers Mexicans over the age of 60, but of course they must leave before they reach retirement age...., not because I have a problem with them receiving social security benefits from the US treasury or anything like that, but simply because they should spend the money they made here, after paying a 50% farewell tax, back in Mexico, instead of further adding to our already unfair economic advantages.

In fact I think to atone for our past policies we should revoke the citizenship of every child born here to illegal Mexican parents in the last 20 years and deport them to Mexico, just to supercharge the Mexican economy with productive youths...we owe it to them, and its the least we can do for our brothers in Democracy to the south. In fact we should probably repeal the 14th Amendment entirely just to assure we never victimize Mexico or another nation ever again, by encouraging their young couples to illegally migrate here just to have a child outside their homeland, the way it is now we are complicit in denying third world nations their future economic bonanza that comes from high fertility rates.

Hey, you know its true what they say....the view really is nicer from the high road.