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Depopulation Fears in /Foreign Affairs/ (of all places!)


Foreign Affairs is the flagship publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, which is no friend of the pro-life movement, limited government, national sovereignty, religious belief, or a host of other things we hold dear. From the beginning, it has contributed its share of overpopulation myth-making, all the while calling for national and — especially — international responses to this “crisis caused by our burgeoning numbers.”

Depopulation Concern

It is, in short, a most unlikely venue for an article on the looming problem of… depopulation. Yet that is what it has just published in the form of a piece by Phillip Longman entitled “The Global Baby Bust.”1 “[Paul] Ehrlich’s predictions of famine] proved wrong,” Longman writes. “Having averted the danger of overpopulation, the world now faces the opposite problem: an aging and declining population.”

That fertility rates were in free fall has been evident for over a decade. There is now an avalanche of demographic data about dying populations. It is nice to know that the weight of evidence has finally, at long last, begun to unsettle the editors of Foreign Policy.

Why birthrates have fallen so far, so fast, is well understood. More and more couples live in urban conditions where children provide no economic benefits, but rather are, as the Chinese say, “goods on which one loses.” For materially minded couples, the way to get ahead is to remain perpetually childless. Why give up a second income to bring a child into the world who will never, at least in material terms, repay your investment? Isn’t it true, after all, that he with the most toys wins?

Yet, despite their accumulation of wealth, these couples are not providing for the future in the most fundamental way: they are not providing the next generation. Secularism seems to have created a world in which the most “successful” individuals in material terms are the most “unfit” in the biological terms. Throughout human history wealth and children went together. Wealth made it possible to have many children. But the modern world has made children the enemy of wealth.

Where Are the Children?

“So where will the children of the future come from?” asks Longman. “The answer may be from people who are at odds with the modern environments, those who, out of religious or chauvinistic conviction, reject the game altogether.” There is a strong correlation between religious conviction and high fertility, he goes on to note, pointing out that Utah annually produces 90 children for every 1,000 women of childbearing age, while Vermont, the first state to embrace gay civil unions, produces only 49.

There is little doubt that the children of the future will come largely from the ranks of those who reject the notion that the primary end of life is the accumulation of things. For they believe, as an article of faith, that he with the most toys not only does not win, but may lose for all eternity. They may find it as difficult to gain entry to heaven as “for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.”

“Does this mean that the future belongs to those who believe they are (or who are in fact) commanded by a higher power to procreate?” Longman asks, “Based on current trends, the answer appears to be yes.”

Help for Parents

Longman also suggests that “Governments must… relieve parents from having to pay into social security systems. By raising and educating their children, parents have already contributed hugely (in the form of human capital) to these systems. The cost of their contributions in both direct expenses and forgone wages, is often measured in the millions. Requiring parents also then to contribute to payroll taxes is not only unfair, but imprudent for societies that are already consuming more human capital than they produce.”

These are not suggestions that will sit well with the secularists, who have by and large convinced themselves that their barrenness is a virtue.

Endnotes

1 Phillip Longman, “The Global Baby Bust,” Foreign Affairs, May/June 2004, vol. 83, issue 3, pages 64–77.

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