December 25, 2004

The Real Crisis of Our Age?

The New York Times's David Brooks here awards (free subscription) his prizes for the best public affairs essays of the year.

One such award goes to Philip Longman, for a Foreign Affairs essay on the new trend in demographics, that of decreasing fertility and declining population.

While at one time, Stanford Professer Paul Ehrlich gained notoriety, and eventually scorn, for his erroneous doomsaying preductions about world population growth and the resulting inevitable famines, Longman, echoing Pat Buchanan's doomsaying, predicts declines in absolute numbers of people, rapidly aging populations, declining entrepeneurship, and other dire results.

One concluson I draw from this is that Alasdair MacIntyre may have been right when he suggested that it's impossible as a matter of principle to predict what will happen in human affairs. On a less general note, the extrapolation of a current rate of change, e.g. a fertility rate, may lead to absurd predictions. For example, if an adolescent of 13 is 5 feet high and grows 2 inches a year to age 14, does that mean she'll be another foot higher at age 20?

Another interesting observation in the Longman piece is that religious people (Mormons, observant Catholics, orthodox Jews) are likely to out-reproduce the seculars. Does this mean cultural change is likely paralleling the political change Steve Sailer notes -- Bush did best in the states with the highest fertility rates among whites.

None of this is certain, but these trends are in the long run perhaps more significant that some of the more ephemeral (although important) issues we gabble about these days.

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