Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Crunching the Population Numbers

Mark Steyn writes:
...The new Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, [is] the first woman to run a national division of the Anglican Communion. Bishop Kate gave an interview to the New York Times revealing what passes for orthodoxy in this most flexible of faiths. She was asked a simple enough question: "How many members of the Episcopal Church are there?"

"About 2.2 million," replied the presiding bishop. "It used to be larger percentage-wise, but Episcopalians tend to be better educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than other denominations."

This was a bit of a jaw-dropper even for a New York Times hackette, so, with vague memories of God saying something about going forth and multiplying floating around the back of her head, a bewildered Deborah Solomon said: "Episcopalians aren't interested in replenishing their ranks by having children?"

"No," agreed Bishop Kate. "It's probably the opposite. We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion."

Is population control a problem in the West? Should Christians seek to have less children in order to be good stewards of the earth? In light of these questions we should examine some of the statistics about what is happening to demography in the Western world.

Last night I started reading Mark Steyn's new bestselling book, America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It. (It's the only book I know of that carries a blurb on the cover mocking the author: "The arrogance of Mark Steyn knows no bounds."--Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi Ambassador to the United States.) Steyn's thesis is that "much of what we loosely call the Western world will not survive the twenty-first century, and much of it will effectively disappear within our lifetimes, including many if not most European countries" (p. xiii). "This book is about . . . the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and that call into question the future of much of the rest of the world, including the United States, Canada, and beyond. The key factors are: (1) demographic decline; (2) the unsustainability of the advanced Western social-democratic state; [and] (3) civilizational exhaustion" (pp. xv-xvi).

Now, keeping Jefferts-Schori's quote in mind, consider some quotes by Steyn with regard to what is happening to demography:

"...the salient feature of Europe, Canada, Japan, and Russia is that they're running out of babies. What's happening in the developed world is one of the fastest demographic evolutions in history" (p. xvi).

"The single most important fact about the early twenty-first century is the rapid aging of almost every developed nation other than the United States: Canada, Europe, and Japan are getting old fast, older than any functioning society has ever been and faster than any has ever aged" (p. 2).

In order to have a stable population (no growth, no decline) you have to have a fertility rate of 2.1 live births per woman. Here are the current rates:
  • America: 2.11
  • Ireland: 1.9
  • Australia: 1.7
  • Canada: 1.48 (all-time low)
  • Europe as a whole: 1.38
  • Japan: 1.32
  • Germany and Austria: 1.3
  • Russia and Italy: 1.2
  • Spain: 1.1
"So Spain's population is halving with every generation. Two grown-ups have a total of one baby. So there are half as many children as parents. And a quarter as many grandchildren as grandparents. And an eighth as many great-grandchildren as great-grandparents. And after that there's no point extrapolating, because you're over the falls and it's too late to start paddling again" (p. 10).

What, you ask, is the live birthfertility rate in a country live Afghanistan? In 2005, it was 47.02 births per 1,000 people (=10.6 live births/woman). In 2006, the rate is 6.69. You do the math and ponder what that means for the shift of socio-political power in the years ahead.

"Islam has youth and will, Europe has age and welfare" (p. xix).

"I wonder how many pontificators of the 'Middle East peace process ever run this number: the median age in the Gaza Strip is 15.8 years. Once you know that, all the rest is details."

"Big government depends on bigger population. . . . The progressive Left can be in favor of Big Government or population control but not both. That mutual incompatibility is about to plunge Europe into societal collapse. There is no precedent in human history for economic growth on declining human capital--and that's before anyone invented unsustainable welfare systems" (pp. 2-3).

"...demography is an existential crisis for the developed world, because the twentieth-century social-democratic state was built on a careless model that requires a constantly growing population to sustain it" (p. xix).

"The tax revenues that supporter the ever-growing numbers of the elderly and retired have to be paid by equally growing numbers of young and working. The design flaw of the radically secularist Eutopia is that it depends on a religious-society birth rate" (p. 12).

"It's not the economy, stupid. It's the stupidity, economists--the stupidity of thinking you can ignore demography" (pp. 4-5).

"Given the plummeting birth rates in Europe, Russia, Japan, etc., a large chunk of the world has evidently decided to take pre-emptive action on climate change and opt for societal suicide. The crisis we face today is the precise opposite of 'overpopulation': the developed world's population is shrinking faster than any human society not in the grip of war or disease has ever shrunk" (pp. 8-9).

"In the fourteenth century, the Black Death wiped out a third of the Continent's population; in the twenty-first, a larger proportion will disappear--in effect, by choice. We are living through a rare moment: the self-extinction of the civilization which, for good or ill, shaped the age we live in. One can cite examples of remote backward tribes who expire upon contact with the modern world, but for the modern world to expire is a turn of events future anthropologists will ponder, as we do the fall of Rome" (pp. 3-4).

Update: Thanks to the alert readers who told me I was confusing birth and fertility rates with regard to Afghanistan. I never did do well in statistics in college!