I grew up in the seventies, with “future shock” and other environmental doom about out of control population growth. The argument makes a certain sense: we have only so much room, and we can only grow so much food. As Malthus observed over two hundred years ago, if the population increases faster than the carrying capacity of the land, misery is the result. The more people we have, the more hunger and pollution.
Imagine my surprise, then, when I started to hear stories on the news that were concerned with declining birth rates. Low birth rates can lead to work going undone, especially work supporting the elderly. It can lead to the bankruptcy of pension plans and even Social Security. They tell us it’s depopulated Russia, and the Japanese are worrying too! So which is it? Is a low birth rate good or bad? Do these people even talk to each other? And what does all this have to do with transgender issues?
I’ll connect this with trans politics in another post, but first, a low birth rate seems to be good for the planet overall. The population bomb people and the low birth rate people don’t talk so much to each other, but there are occasional examples. Matthew Connelly and Hans Rosling observe that as women get more power, education and birth control, populations stabilize, so they predict that the world’s population will stabilize as more regions industrialize.
One key thing to note about the “low birth rate” alarmism is that it’s almost never about the worldwide birth rate. It’s about the birth rate of a country, an ethnic group, a religious group or even a race, relative to another. You can see that in the concerns of Cardinal Meiser and the Russian elites, which are both about “the Muslims” outbreeding “us” – German or Russian Christians. And if you’re concerned about that race part, that should tip you off about the others, because they’re basically the same thing. A race is just an ethnic or religious group fortified with biological essentialism.
Concern about national birth rates is also the same as concern about ethnic birth rates, because low national birth rates are only a cause for concern if there are strong restrictions on migration. If population levels are the only reason for concern, then immigration is just as good a remedy as procreation.
At its root of all of this lies a desire for more “us” and less “them.” This is an ancient tribal feeling, and it makes perfect sense from an evolutionary point of view. But from the point of view of fairness and kindness, it sucks. “Us and them” is fundamentally opposed to “all men are created equal.”
Obsession with “our” birth rate is part of the reason some parts of the world are still struggling with overpopulation. It’s also a primary motivator for hatred of trans people. I’ll get into all that in a future post, but in the meantime when you hear concern about birth rates, take it with a grain of salt.