The Demographic Cliff
7:07 AM, Dec 20, 2012 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
The New York Times has finally discovered that fiscal cliffs aren’t the only thing that menace the modern nation-state. There’s a demographic cliff, too. A couple weeks ago, the Times’s Ross Douthat wrote a column about America’s bleak demographic future and suggested that the reason we aren’t having enough babies is that we’ve become a decadent society. Douthat’s column touched off something of a firestorm on the left as liberal writers flipped out over the ideas that (1) There aren’t enough babies; (2) More babies would be a good thing; and (3) The dearth of babies suggests there might be something wrong with America’s present cultural moment.
Well last weekend the Times carried an even bigger piece on demographics from Alexandra Harney, looking at how much worse the situation is in Japan. Some highlights:
Yowza. But the truth is, things are even worse than Harney lets on. If Japan’s fertility rate were to somehow rebound to replacement level, its demographic structure is already so dilapidated that the country would lose 30 percent of its population by 2100. If Japan’s fertility rate stays where it is now? Then by 2100 the country will have lost more than half of its current population.
Population contractions are bad news. They bring with them economic distress and social instability. And sometimes worse. So no matter what happens, Japan is in for a rough ride over the next four generations. It’s entirely possible that “Japan” as we know it today won’t exist by the end of the century.
It’s to the New York Times’s credit that they recognize the demographic danger Japan—and by extension the rest of the world—faces. (Japan is the leading edge, but most countries are on the same curve and the world is headed toward global population contraction right now.) This is news that many of the people who read the New York Times don’t want to hear.
But Harney concludes by offering Times readers false comfort. Like many liberals, Harney seems to believe that demographic problems can be conquered with further expansion of the state. Here she is explaining how Japan could get out of the fix it’s in:
I don’t mean to be a wet blanket, but there’s been a great deal of research done on exactly the policies Harney proposes and the results are, at best, mixed.