By WILLIAM SNAER
In 1968, Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb. He warned: “In the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.” Ehrlich did not invent this neo-Malthusian anxiety, but he popularized it.
Although Ehrlich was wrong, his viewpoint has lived on, morphed into a broader eco-environmental concern. Writing in the Guardian, Lisa Hymas sums up this philosophy in her article about deciding to be childless: “Population isn’t just about counting heads. The impact of humanity on the environment is not determined solely by how many of us are around, but by how much stuff we use and how much room we take up.”
About Bill McKibben’s book, Maybe One, Kirkus Reviews said: “McKibben sensibly suggests that voluntarily confining family size to one child will reduce that family’s demands on the environment.”
The environmental exhortations are probably unnecessary. The work obligations of mothers and the cost of raising and educating children already impose a restraining effect on family size. There are even obscure factors like the impact of increased life expectancy that reduce the average number of children per woman, as recently reported independently by researchers at the University of Connecticut and the University of Michigan.
But while we have been keeping a wary eye on over-reproduction, the opposite threat has been sneaking up on us. It’s not that no one noticed. Pat Buchanan wrote Death of the West in 2001 and pointed out that there was not a single Western European nation whose native population was reproducing at a replacement rate (though Ireland is very close to the replacement level).
In a recent Wall Street Journal article, Jonathan Last observed that the fertility rate for white college-educated American women is 1.6, almost identical to the rate of Chinese women under China’s one-child policy. The total U.S. fertility rate is 1.93, largely due to greater immigrant childbearing. A fertility rate of 2.1 is considered necessary to maintain a stable population over time.
Failure to reproduce at a replacement rate has negative consequences. It places too great an economic burden on the young to maintain retirement benefits for a disproportionately elderly population. Excessive dependence upon immigrants for the needed workforce brings a less obvious but critically important problem.
Nations are not just real estate with borders, they are cultures with individual national identities. In Europe, the challenge to the survival of national identities can be seen in the number of churches versus mosques. Soeren Kern at the Gatestone Institute reports that in Germany, falling attendance at Protestant and Catholic churches has caused the closure or planned closure of over 1,000 churches, mostly Catholic. In France, 2,000 mosques have been built in the last ten years, but 40 more Catholic churches have been closed than new ones built. Kern asserts that 10,000 churches have been closed in Britain since 1960, and many of the 1,700 mosques are converted churches.
Our situation in the United States is significantly different. The majority of our immigrants are culturally and religiously more attuned to our society than are the European immigrants to their new homes. Still, there is an American national identity to be preserved. Our new immigrants will absorb it and assimilate, if as hosts, we do our job well. But we still must protect our national culture by not being unreasonably dependent upon immigrants.
For starters, a national task force should review the impact of tax policy elements, like the child tax credit, on family size.
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(William R. Snaer lives in Southern California. E-mail him at email@example.com.)