The New Yorker's Elizabeth Kolbert writes about Jonathan V. Last's book What to Expect When No One's Expecting and gets it completely wrong.
Here's what Kolbert says:
In the United States, the fertility rate is currently estimated at 2.06. This figure puts the U.S. ahead of all European nations except France, and right about at replacement level. Nevertheless, according to Jonathan Last, a senior writer at The Weekly Standard, the country is facing doom by depopulation. At the start of “What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster” (Encounter), he breaks the number down by race, income, and education. Black women have what Last terms a “healthy” fertility rate of 1.96. Hispanic women are “doing most of the heavy lifting,” with a rate of 2.35. White women, by contrast, are slackers. Their rate is 1.79, which makes them about as productive or, if you prefer, unproductive as the Dutch and the Norwegians. Poor women generally have more kids than middle-class women, while women who drop out of high school have more than those who graduate, and way more than those who earn advanced degrees. All this adds up, Last writes, to a “kind of reverse Darwinism where the traditional markers of success make one less likely to reproduce.”
Last has aimed his book at the same sort of readers who subscribe to The Weekly Standard. He describes himself as an “anti-abortion nut job,” lampoons the “feminist-industrial complex,” and laments a decline in marriage rates among the “lower classes.” Those who find Last’s politics less than congenial are likely to be less than convinced by his arguments. Among the problems he attributes to low fertility rates is that they tend to make countries reluctant to fight wars. Among the solutions he advocates is cutting back on higher education, thereby reducing its depressing influence on American fertility.
And here's Last, correcting the record:
This is like one of those moments in the movies when the masked slasher taunts his victim: “Go ahead and pray to the New Yorker! Where is your godnow?”
It’s hard to know quite where to start because in the space of 281 words, Kolbert moves briskly from being confused, to uncharitable, to dishonest. For example, I wrote an entire book about the challenges low fertility rates pose for societies and what does Kolbert take away? That I think one of the “problems” with low fertility rates are that they makes countries “reluctant to fight wars.”
How could Kolbert possibly come away with that interpretation?
Read the rest of Last's terrific response here.