12:19 PM, Jul 7, 2011 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
If you obsess about demography for long enough, eventually you find all sorts of off-speed proposals to deal with the world's falling fertility rate. One of which is called "Demeny voting."Named for demographer Paul Demeny (who is now the editor of the Population Council's Population and Development Review) the idea goes something like this: One of the (many) problems of sub-replacement fertility is that as more people forego having children, the political constituency for natalism shrinks, leading to further evolutions in the law which increase the burden on prospective parents. Which would be fine--this is how politics works, after all--except that children, or more accurately, future taxpayers, are essential for the continuation of the welfare state.
Demeny proposes that children be given a form of voting rights before they reach voting age, through a proxy. Each child would count for some fraction of a vote, and these fractions would be halved and exercised by the parents.
It's a radical concept and a complete non-starter in America. But there may be countries where the democratic culture is young enough--and the demographic future disastrous enough--for it to be attractive. Like Hungary.
Hungary has experienced what demographers call "lowest-low" fertility, with the rate hovering around 1.3 for several years. (Which means that the average Hungarian woman has 1.3 children during her lifetime; for a population to remains stable, the number must be 2.1.) As a result, the Hungarian population peaked around 10.3 million in the mid '90s and has been shrinking ever since. If their fertility rate remains constant, Hungary will have just under 5.2 million people by 2100. Which is a recipe for Very Bad Things.
Which is why Hungary has recently seriously considered chartering a form of Demeny voting. (You can hear Demeny himself discussing it here.) It's outlandish. And it probably won't come to fruition. Yet. But lowest-low fertility will eventually force all sorts of previously unthinkable choices on the world.
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