In 2006, Mark Steyn reached two conclusions from his study of anemic Western demographics in his book America Alone. The post World War II global order led by the United States is literally dying, and the future belongs to Islam.
David Goldman, Spengler at Asia Times Online, dismisses those contentions as bogus. “The fastest demographic decline ever registered in recorded history is taking place today in Muslim countries.” World fertility fell from 4.5 to 2.5 children per woman over the past half-century, but “two or three times faster” in Islamic nations. Moreover, the severity of this drop is exacerbated by the “lapsed time” in which it is occurring. Europe spent two centuries descending to its present demographic nadir. Islamic societies are “attempting it [collapsed fertility] in twenty.”
But, this rush towards demographic oblivion is still cause for alarm. It “makes radical Islam more dangerous” because of “Spengler’s Universal Law #1 - A man or a nation at the brink of death does not have a rational self-interest.” As Islamic societies choose de-population, their rational calculus changes. The radicals’ boast that “you love life and we love death” is revealing in this regard. Radical Islamists have chosen to die fighting, rather than watch their societies self-terminate. As Goldman quips, “the flip side of suicide by infertility is jihad.” And, he marshals statistics, history, and philosophy to offer chilling predictions and disturbing recommendations.
Goldman draws on mounds of data to diagnose the Islamic world’s ills, and he dismisses Steyn’s thesis with the qualification of poverty. Old people are an existential threat to Islamic nations because they possess a fraction of Europe’s $30,000 GDP per capita circa 2009. The Middle East’s elderly “rely on their children to care for them.” But today’s bulge of young people will find that neither wealth nor descendants will exist to support them in their old age. The first signs of looming ruin are already apparent in states suffering drastic demographic drop-offs such as Iran (six children per woman), Turkey (five) and Egypt (four).
President Ahmadinejad started sounding the alarm back in 2006. His pronouncements have ranged from factual assertions that Iran faces “a tidal wave of elderly” to outlandish claims that Iran’s low birthrate is the result of a Western conspiracy. Yet, his anxiety is not misplaced.
So, what would it take to persuade you to have another baby? A big tax break? A monthly stipend? Free child care? A big house?
“I wouldn’t do that again for all the money in the world” is a perfectly reasonable answer. But be prepared: At some point, your government is going to pitch you on a larger family.
We have entered the age of the fertility panic. Country after country is discovering that smaller families are causing the population to shrink, which means more old people, and therefore higher government expenses and lower tax revenues. And many of those countries are then jumping to the wrong conclusion: that they should persuade people to have more kids.
The latest victim is the United States, which until recently was proud of its big, corn-fed families, but discovered last year that the economic crisis and constricted immigration have pushed its average family size down to 1.9 children, below the 2.1 needed for population stability.
This has led a number of American voices to propose what European countries have been doing for more than a decade and what Quebec has tried since the 1980s: attempting to create larger families through policy.
This theme has been seized upon most dramatically by the conservative author Jonathan Last, whose book What to Expect When No One’s Expecting created alarming headlines across America this week. He is not satisfied to warn of rising pension and health-care costs. “Declining populations have always followed or been followed by Very Bad Things. Disease. War. Economic stagnation or collapse. And these grim tidings from history may be in our future,” his first chapter warns. (He follows this by reassuring us that unlike the population-growth scaremongers of the 1970s, “I’m not selling doom.”)