TAG | Natalism
Pope Francis gave a speech at the EU parliament last week. There were the usual leftist themes that we have come to expect from this pope (“we encounter certain rather selfish lifestyles, marked by an opulence which is no longer sustainable”, “uncontrolled consumerism” and so on) complete with the hints of dark conspiracies that remind us that Francis’ thinking remains heavily influenced by the Peronist Argentina of his youth:
The true strength of our democracies – understood as expressions of the political will of the people – must not be allowed to collapse under the pressure of multinational interests which are not universal, which weaken them and turn them into uniform systems of economic power at the service of unseen empires.
And there was the jibe directed at Europe’s failure to live up to the Vatican’s natalist expectations:
In many quarters we encounter a general impression of weariness and aging, of a Europe which is now a “grandmother”, no longer fertile and vibrant.
Over at the XX Committee, John Schindler picks up on that, correctly noting that low fertility is not only a European “problem” (his word, not mine), but then goes on to argue this:
Francis’s analysis of Europe’s population problem, which is really a deep crisis of civilizational pride, identity and meaning, manifesting in a lack of will to even reproduce, is difficult to refute…
On the contrary, it couldn’t be easier. Declining birth rates can be a response to economic pressure, certainly (as was evident, say, during the Great Depression or in Eastern Europe during and after the Soviet collapse), but it’s a stretch to see it as evidence of Europe’s civilizational decline. British birth rates, for example, began to drop in the later Victorian era, a time when its national self-confidence stood at a zenith that was, broadly, to endure until 1914:
The decline in birth rates, identified as stage three of the demographic transition, took place in England from around 1870 to 1920. In 1871 the average woman was having 5.5 children but by 1921 this had fallen to 2.4 children.
(Office of National Statistics)
Smaller families is what people want when science and the likely survival of their existing children give them the chance to make that choice. And as we enter an age where, thanks to automation, the demand for labor—as we are already seeing—is ebbing, that’s not such a bad thing.
That’s not to say that the transition to a lower birth rate is without its problems. It isn’t (who pays for the old?), but they will not be solved by more people: the unemployed will not be able to pay for the retired. Mass immigration is not the answer.
On that topic, Francis had quite a bit to say, using the hideous tragedy of the drownings at sea of would-be immigrants (“We cannot allow the Mediterranean to become a vast cemetery.”) as (in essence) an argument for Europe to adopt an even more open immigration policy than it already has, something he has done before, perhaps most notoriously in his speech on the Italian island of Lampedusa, a performance that ‘Theodore Dalrymple’ (Anthony Daniels) quite right rightly described as a display of “moral exhibitionism”.
Meanwhile, Schindler notes:
“Why aren’t hundreds of asylum seekers drowning trying to get to Japan?” asked one analyst, pointedly, a year ago. After all, Japan is a very nice country with a most advanced economy and a desperate shortage of people. But refugees don’t try to reach the coast of Japan. For the simple reason they know they will be turned away. Preferring to preserve its native population, Japan turns away virtually all refugee claimants, while Australia lets many of them in, with generous benefits to boot. South Korea, like Japan, is not open to more than few refugees despite a serious birth dearth, so few come. In 2014, any developed country that pursues a permissive policy towards refugees is going to get more of them, perhaps many more.
And finally, when it came to the pope’s comments on the current unhappy state of the EU, many euroskeptics seemed to enjoy the thought that the pope was one of them. They were wrong.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph (link via EUReferendum), Christopher Booker explains:
The Pope’s address to the European Parliament seemed devastatingly critical. He spoke of how “the great ideas which once inspired Europe seem to have lost their attraction, only to be replaced by the bureaucratic technicalities of its institutions”.
He described it as looking “elderly and haggard” in “a world which frequently regards it with aloofness, mistrust and even, at times, suspicion”. He observed how it had lost the trust of its citizens, who see it too often as “downright harmful”.
Reading the Pope’s speech in full, however, he doesn’t seem to have grasped the EU’s real nature at all: in particular, why the core principles on which it was set up were inevitably destined to bring it to its present dismal pass.
Somehow the pope seems to have missed the fact that the EU was a profoundly post-democratic project. How it was sold (peace, reconciliation and so on) bore little relation to what it really was.
One of Saudi Arabia’s leading conservative clerics has said women who drive risk damaging their ovaries and bearing children with clinical problems, countering activists who are trying to end the Islamic kingdom’s male-only driving rules.
A campaign calling for women to defy the ban in a protest drive on 26 October has spread rapidly online over the past week and gained support from prominent women activists. On Sunday, the campaign’s website was blocked inside the kingdom.
As one of the 21 members of the senior council of scholars, Sheikh Saleh al-Lohaidan can write fatwas, or religious edicts, advise the government and has a large following among other influential conservatives.
His comments have in the past played into debates in Saudi society and he has been a vocal opponent of tentative reforms to increase freedoms for women by King Abdullah, who sacked him as head of a top judiciary council in 2009.
In an interview published on Friday on the website sabq.org, he said women aiming to overturn the ban on driving should put “reason ahead of their hearts, emotions and passions”.
Meanwhile, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey’s prime minister and a figure that The Economist persists in describing as “mildly Islamist”, reminds an audience that Turkish women are not, in his view, having nearly enough children (the birth rate in Turkey is a little over 2, a tally that has, mercifully, fallen by more than a half since the late 1970s);
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has urged a group of women in Mediterranean Turkish province of Denizli to have at least four children rather than his previously advised three…Erdoğan has noted in the past that Turkey’s annual population growth rate should be at least 2.5 percent and if Turkey continued with its existing trend, its population would rapidly become an aging one after the 2030s. Erdoğan has also linked aging populations and low birth rates in European countries to economic recession.
And that last sentence tells you all that you need to know about Erdoğan’s grasp of economics. The European recession has many causes, most notably a dysfunctional single currency, but the continent’s low birth rate is not one of them.
Britain’s chief Rabbi seems upset that people are finding that spiritual pap, “transcendence”, call it what you will, is not the only way to some sort of contentment. The Daily Mail reports:
Speaking at an interfaith reception [Itself a ghastly concept, but I interrupt] attended by the Queen this week, he said: ‘People are looking for values other than the values of a consumer society. The values of a consumer society really aren’t ones you can live by for terribly long.
Lord Sacks said iPad tablets were like the tablets of stone bearing the Ten Commandments given by God to Moses
‘The consumer society was laid down by the late Steve Jobs coming down the mountain with two tablets, iPad one and iPad two, and the result is that we now have a culture of iPod, iPhone, iTune, i, i, i.
‘When you’re an individualist, egocentric culture and you only care about ‘i’, you don’t do terribly well.’
Jobs died aged 56 in October, prompting an outpouring of grief from across the world.
Sacks added: ‘What does a consumer ethic do? It makes you aware all the time of the things you don’t have instead of thanking God for all the things you do have. If in a consumer society, through all the advertising and subtly seductive approaches to it, you’ve got an iPhone but you haven’t got a fourth generation one, the consumer society is in fact the most efficient mechanism ever devised for the creation and distribution of unhappiness.’
Absurd, but Sacks has form when it comes to this sort of thing. Here he was a year or so back:
The leader of Britain’s Jewish community claimed the continent’s population is in decline because people care more about shopping than the sacrifice involved in parenthood.He blamed atheist “neo-Darwinians” for Europe’s low birth rate and said religious people of all denominations are more likely to have large families. The Chief Rabbi, who entered the House of Lords last week, made his comments in a lecture on religion in the 21st century hosted by Theos, the public theology think-tank, on Wednesday night.
Lord Sacks said that faith had survived so far because it could provide answers to mankind’s eternal search for meaning in life – unlike the market, the state, science or philosophy, which underpin modern liberal democracies. He claimed religion could continue to play an important role worldwide in the future, by engaging in debate with scientists, by campaigning on issues such as global poverty or the environment, and by discussing the nature of the common good with humanists.
The Chief Rabbi warned that secular Europe is at risk, however, because its moral relativism can easily be defeated by fundamentalists.And he claimed that its population is also in decline, compared with every other part of the world, because non-believers lack shared values of family and community that religions have.
I’d agree that he’s right that religion will endure. It’s baked into our genes for any number of reasons, including, I suspect, the need that many have for some sort of organizing principle (me, I’m happy with chaos and an indifferent universe, and then making the best of it), but, on the population question, he is, like George Weigel, the author of that rather curious book, The Cube and the Cathedral, being distinctly disingenuous.
Here’s what I wrote on the Corner back then:
Mark, the fact that I think that gently declining populations are (at least in principle) a thoroughly welcome phenomenon may make me biased, but it’s a shame to see Lord Sacks seemingly falling for the myth peddled by some clerical folk (and those in their camp) that Europe’s declining population is something, he appears to imply, unique to that continent. Here’s this week’s Economist with a timely reminder of the facts:
In the 1970s only 24 countries had fertility rates of 2.1 or less, all of them rich. Now there are over 70 such countries, and in every continent, including Africa. Between 1950 and 2000 the average fertility rate in developing countries fell by half from six to three—three fewer children in each family in just 50 years. Over the same period, Europe went from the peak of the baby boom to the depth of the baby bust and its fertility also fell by almost half, from 2.65 to 1.42—but that was a decline of only 1.23 children. The fall in developing countries now is closer to what happened in Europe during 19th- and early 20th-century industrialisation. But what took place in Britain over 130 years (1800-1930) took place in South Korea over just 20 (1965-85).
Things are moving even faster today. Fertility has dropped further in every South-East Asian country (except the Philippines) than it did in Japan. The rate in Bangladesh fell by half from six to three in only 20 years (1980 to 2000). The same decline took place in Mauritius in just ten (1963-73). Most sensational of all is the story from Iran.
When the clerical regime took over in 1979, the mullahs, apparently believing their flock should go forth and multiply, abolished the country’s family-planning system. Fertility rose, reaching seven in 1984. Yet by the 2006 census the average fertility rate had fallen to a mere 1.9, and just 1.5 in Tehran. From fertility that is almost as high as one can get to below replacement level in 22 years: social change can hardly happen faster.
Fewer people, more stuff: Sounds good to me.
Well, that’s the (remarkable) headline and here’s the story:
ROME, FEB. 8, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Bankers are not the cause of the global economic crisis, according to the president of the Institute for the Works of Religion. Rather, the cause is ordinary people who do not “believe in the future” and have few or no children. “The true cause of the crisis is the decline in the birth rate,” Ettore Gotti Tedeschi, said in an interview on Vatican Television’s “Octava Dies.” He noted the Western world’s population growth rate is at 0% — that is, two children per couple — and this, he said, has led to a profound change in the structure of society. “Instead of stimulating families and society to again believe in the future and have children […] we have stopped having children and have created a situation, a negative economic context decrease,” Gotti Tedeschi observed. “And decrease means greater austerity.”
Who knew? Read the whole thing if you feel up to it.
The idea, incidentally, that the birthrate is falling because people have somehow given up on the future is a meme that pops up from time to time in certain parts of the conservative world. While the turn of the economic cycle can indeed affect the birthrate, that’s a lagging, not a leading indicator (thus you saw lower birthrates in quite a few countries during the Great Depression). The broader decline, however (a near-universal phenomenon these days) is largely a by-product of modernity, of female emancipation, of urbanization and, yes, optimism. Thanks to modern medicine, people feel more confident than in the past that their children will survive to adulthood and so they have fewer. That’s a good thing.