Demographic scare talk

Catherine Rampell, a liberal Washington Post columnist, notes that 2017 saw the lowest number of births in the U.S. in 30 years. She points out that Japan is experiencing an even sharper decline in births, and then purports to find lessons for the U.S. in the measures Japan is taking to counter its impending population shrinkage.

Not surprisingly, the lessons Rampell draws tie to liberal talking points. We need more liberal workplace policies (imposed by the government, presumably) and more liberal immigration policy, she says. Otherwise, the U.S., like Japan, will have too small a workforce to sustain economic growth and fund benefits and services for retirees.

But the premise of Rampell’s argument — that we’ll become like Japan, if we don’t adopt her liberal agenda items — is absurd. We’re nothing like Japan when it comes to population.

Japan’s population reached 128 million in 2000. Today, it’s 127 million. The Japanese Statistics Bureau estimates that the Japanese population will fall to just over 100 million by 2050.

The median age in Japan is 46.3. That’s thought to be the oldest in the world.

The U.S. population was around 282 million in 2000. Today, it’s around 329 million.

In the early part of this century, our population was growing by about 1 percent per year. It has declined slightly in recent years to about 0.7 percent.

Our median age is about 37.4. That’s almost ten years younger than Japan’s.

The Census Bureau projects that in 2050, our population will be approximately 400 million.

Thus, the U.S. isn’t similarly situated to Japan, and the steps Japan is taking to avoid a demographic time bomb — the ones Rampell recommends we take — aren’t necessary.

Nor do they make much sense as a matter of demographics. Rampell wants to increase the availability of child care, more parental leave, etc. But she offers no evidence that such measures would increase U.S. birth rates appreciably. Nations in the former Western Europe typically have more liberal policies in these regards than the U.S. They too are experiencing declining birth rates.

If liberals want more babies, they should consider toning down rhetoric that might discourage people from having them — e.g., gloom and doom talk about the environment and talk designed to make white Americans feel guilty about being white. They might also consider shying away from a mindset that treats the unborn as readily disposable.

Rampell also wants “a more liberal immigration system.” But she fails to show that we’ll face a population shortage if we don’t liberalize the system, and the evidence I presented above suggests we won’t. At best, Rampell has a case for keeping immigration at something like current levels, but she doesn’t put forth data that supports even that case.

For me, the key immigration agenda items are (1) reasserting effective control over who gets in and (2) letting in more people likely to contribute to our economy and fewer likely to be a net drain on it.

Japan may be desperate for people, period, and especially for people who can help take care of its elderly. We’re not in that position. Large numbers of highly skilled foreigners want to come here. We can have our pick. Thus, the way forward lies not in increasing the number of immigrants but in selecting our immigrants based more on the skills they offer, less on family connections, and not at all on idiocies like the diversity lotteries.


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