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An Alabama Reader Respectfully Disputes Pat Buchanan's Demographic Conclusions
Re: Pat Buchanan's Demography and Debt are Both Destiny—We're all Greeks Now
From: Engineer in Alabama [Email him]
Pat Buchanan is an extremely intelligent man, a patriot, a careful scholar in an era where mindless sloganeering seems to substitute for research, and his writings on trade policy and foreign policy are some of the best currently out there.
But he is sadly misinformed about demographics.
A healthy society should be pro-child, having a reasonable number of children (however large or small that number: circumstances vary) and dedicating resources to them out of love and to move the society forward.
However, no society in all of recorded history has gone extinct because of not having any children. When times are hard it is natural for people to limit their family sizes; this creates a powerful tendency for wages to rise and at this point fertility rates pick up.
If population increases are forced, such as by importing the surplus from a Third World society, then wages stay low and the fertility rate of the native population will also be held at a sustained low level. But, left to their own devices there are no examples of a people dying out for lack of children. The notion that the elites must import people or encourage high fertility rates because the natives refuse to breed is, typically, pure rot.
For example, Western European countries are not now importing the surplus populations from the Third World because the natives refuse to breed—rather, the importation of excessive numbers of foreign workers in order to keep wages down has resulted in the native population being pressured and limiting their children to numbers that they can support.
The notion that people need to breed like rodents to have a decent retirement is absurd. Would you rather be an average retiree in Switzerland or Bangladesh? Well?
When people have enormous numbers of children, yes there are more workers per retiree—but there are more children per worker, so the number of dependents per worker is not low. In addition, without an open frontier (which is now almost everywhere the case), societies with high sustained fertility rates have limited resources and extreme competition between workers for jobs, and thus rock bottom wages.
So do the math: a worker in Switzerland has two kids, and one grandparent to support, and makes the US equivalent of $80,000 per year in income. A worker in Bangladesh has 0.2 grandparents to support (shared with five others), and six children, and an annual income of maybe $2,000. How does this work out?
We keep hearing about how the Japanese are destined for failure because of their low fertility rate. But with 130 million people jammed into a tiny island, a modest population decline might not be a bad thing. New Zealand seems to be doing pretty well.
It's not clear how the Japanese trading their current problems with the problems of a Pakistan or Niger would be an advance. The Japanese people face many challenges, and an aging population will indeed cause some strains—but somehow, aging population or not, even with the catastrophe at Fukushima they seem to be doing just fine and most people in high-fertility rate societies would give their left arms to live there.
As always we need to avoid the extremes. It is indeed possible for a society to have so few people that it can’t defend itself. You need a few tens of millions to maintain the diversity of talents and economies of scale that a modern industrial state requires (although very small countries can do this via trade, or incorporation into larger unions), and you need enough "boots on the ground" to maintain your claim to the land. Hypothetically, if the population of Japan were only one million, it would be almost impossible for the Japanese to avoid being colonized by refugees from the rest of Asia.
But today these issues are almost nowhere a factor, and rapid increases in the population result not in strength, but in poverty, weakness, corruption, and collapse.
Why did a few tens of thousands of British soldiers have so little trouble conquering 100 million Indians? Why did a handful of Westerners have so little trouble subduing the hundreds of millions of people in 19th century China?
The weakness of societies with large and impoverished populations relative to countries with smaller and richer populations is not an ivory tower fantasy—it is how the real world works.
Remember that in Europe, the halving of the population by the Black Death resulted not in Europe becoming weaker, but stronger!
Because it freed up resources, and allowed the society to accumulate a surplus that it could re-invest.
Because one well-fed well-trained and well-equipped soldier is more than a match for any number of peasants starving to death in the mud.
James Fulford writes: The thing about the Black Death has been mentioned before by another reader—causing me to ask whether it would it be a demographic disaster if America's population dropped numerically, due to a low birthrate—if they were all Americans? Many people thought America was a pretty good country when it only had 140 million people.