Yes, fewer babies is a good (sorry, a great) thing

Source: Wikipedia

In March of this year, we humans hit a remarkable milestone.  We crossed the 7 billion mark for global population.

Before getting to the real nut of this essay — the plateau-ing and decline of population in some developed countries — I want to pause and reflect on just how astounding that is.

In the early 1800s, when America was still a fledgling, experimental enterprise, there were just a billion of us wandering around on the planet.  It took a 125 years or so to grow ourselves to that second billion.

But in the decades since, population growth has accelerated dramatically.  In the last thirteen years alone, we added around 76 million additional people per year, every year.

That’s about one new New York City every month, month after month.  Wow.

What’s fascinating about this reality is that so many people are wringing their hands over the opposite phenomenon, the baby drought that’s developed in selective pockets of the world.

Japan is drawing the most attention.  In the latest Weekly Standard, Jonathan Last points out that by the end of this century, that country could lose a third of its population.  The remaining citizens will be starkly older.

This trend is a preoccupation of conservatives.  Ross Douthat wrote a much-talked about column for the New York Times entitled “More Babies, Please,” urging American women to, well, get busy.

“For the first time in recent memory,” he wrote, “Americans are having fewer babies than the French or the British.”

These aren’t inconsequential matters.

From urban China to the rural North Country, it matters profoundly how many kids are (or rather, aren’t) in our schools and how many young people there are to drive the economy.

But the problem isn’t a lack of babies.  It’s a lack of fresh ideas for how to manage a stable, sustainable society.

For most of human history, the prosperity and success of communities has been measured in growth, in expansion.  And it’s no surprise.

In demographic terms, having a lot of young people around is wonderful.  We love babies — most of us do, anyway — and we also benefit from having more and more people around who produce and buy things.

And they can take care of us dodderers when we get old.  Everybody wins, right?

But anyone with a whit of common sense can see that in a finite world, you can’t have infinite growth.

Right now, we’re operating a sort of planet-wide ponzi scheme, with a global economy built on the idea of the next, ever-bigger generation always picking up the tab.

In fact, the crisis we face in the modern world isn’t too few babies, but far, far too many.

If we were to keep adding a billion people every 10-20 years or so (our current pace) the results would be catastrophic.

So rather than view America or China or Japan or Russia as demographic basket cases, doomed to geriatric decline, we need to think in new ways about what a stable or micro-growth society might look like.

How do we avoid the kind of stagnation and rigidity that now plagues Japan?  How do we prevent the loss of community and key infrastructure that some towns and villages are experiencing here in the North Country?

Pioneering new approaches that don’t require constant growth makes sense, in part, because so far no one’s found a way to actually recreate the conditions that spark baby booms.

It turns out that young couples in modern society just aren’t interested in big families anymore — and that’s a set of values that exists from Tokyo to the Bronx.

Ultimately, it’s a good thing, if we can manage the trend wisely.

If the world as a whole were to follow Japan’s lead and gradually lose a third of its population, we’d be back where we were in the late 1980s.

That wouldn’t be an easy transition to make.  But it’s not like the 1980s were an era of apocalyptic depopulation.

In the end, this feels to me like another step in the slow, clumsy journey toward being a mature, global population, a species that thinks more intelligently about things like climate, non-renewable resources, sustainability and fair trade.

If we manage the change well, we might actually end up with a world where those babies that are born — and there will still be billions and billions of us — will live better, richer, and healthier lives.



43 Comments on “Yes, fewer babies is a good (sorry, a great) thing”

Leave a Comment
  1. tootightmike says:

    Excellent essay Brian, but boy! have you opened a can of worms this time. Human populations tend to expand to fill whatever space is available to them. Five hundred years ago, our ancestors in Europe had just about used the place up; they had cut almost all of the trees, and farmed on every rocky terrace, and lived in very crowded conditions…then they discovered the New World. The abundance of space and resource made their heads spin. European diseases made the work of stealing it all from the natives easy, and the race was on. It took another two hundred years to expand from sea to shining sea, and another two to fill it up. For the last century, we have engaged in a crazy drive to return to the crowded conditions we left behind.
    We believe that we are modern, rational beings, but we are still cave-men. Something in our makeup knows that only the fruitful tribe will succeed and survive disease and warfare, and we have not yet come to grips that we don’t live in that cave any more.
    The current flattening of population growth in this country may mean that we’re coming of age…evolving if you will, into a species that can do the math. Maybe the declines in France and England, Italy and Spain are a reflection of our new understanding of the Earth’s size and limitations. This trend is not happening everywhere, and world populations will continue to grow at impossible rates for another century. There are two ways to get populations down to reasonable levels; one is what we’re seeing here…a gradual flattening of the birth rate…the other is a dramatic crash; realizing too late, and crashing into the wall of limiting factors like climate, drought, starvation, and it’s consequent partners, violence, disease and warfare.
    There are places on the globe where these limits are taking effect right now. There is no need to wait for the end times, or the science fiction, dystopian future to see what it looks like. I sincerely pray that we can avoid that kind of result.

  2. Kathy says:

    Why do we have to “manage the trend wisely”?

    While I understand the discussion here, and the need to use the brains that God gave us, there are points in this article that project Eutopia.

    We have to be careful what we manage – and how we implement that management. History gives us insight and it’s not a pretty sight.

  3. Brian Mann says:

    Kathy –

    We have to “manage the trend wisely” because if you have fewer babies being born, you have to budget and prepare differently for things like senior care, the provision of essential services, etc.

    The current system doesn’t require much planning, because we always have more young people to take care of the old people.

    That’s not the future in America – and certainly not in the North Country.

    –Brian, NCPR

  4. Kathy says:

    Dang, this article has red flags all over it. Maybe it’s because I haven’t had my coffee yet but it shouts communism. In order to manage a sustainable society you have to have control. And when you start talking about fewer babies, China comes to mind.

  5. Kathy says:

    OK Brian, maybe I need to go get the coffee first.

    It’s just that you seem to be saying 2 different things.

    The title is misleading if you are not suggesting fewer babies but the impact of fewer babies on budgeting for senior care, essential services, etc.

    But then you say this: “If we were to keep adding a billion people every 10-20 years or so (our current pace) the results would be catastrophic.”

  6. Brian Mann says:

    First, I believe that coffee is ALWAYS the answer.

    Secondly, you’re right, I’m saying two things.

    I’m saying that having fewer babies is a really really good thing, to the extent that it’s happening in some pockets of the world.

    I hope the trend spreads, and I kind of think it will as more of the world becomes developed.

    It’s worth pointing out that in most of the world, the trend isn’t the result of China-style policy-making. It’s the result of societal changes, primarily among women.

    I’m also saying that as we have fewer babies, we need to prepare for a world that doesn’t rely entirely on dramatic population growth for economic prosperity, care for the elderly, etc.

    Countries like Japan, France, Russia, China and the US are already beginning to grapple with this challenge.

    And remember, Kathy – in the future, fewer babies will mean more coffee for you and me. :)

    –Brian, NCPR

  7. mervel says:

    I am concerned about a society that is without children and without families with children, Sun City is very depressing place.

  8. jeff says:

    Our social security system was structured on more people paying in than using the system. Our economic system is based on continual growth. In order for people to have pay increases, faster than inflation, or profit to invest elsewhere, there has to be excess. There is no taxable economy if it degenerates to barter. No excess for taxation.

    I realize that economy is different than population growth but I am looking at the effect of stagnant population. The economy is directly related to population. Otherwise there wouldn’t be talk that the gun industry has ramped up on military look alikes to draw more interest from white males because that demographic is shrinking but is a larger share of gun buyers. That is a tiny share of the population and most notable in this country but fewer children means fewer toys, fewer cars, less body heat and carbon dioxide exhaled by people and the animals that they eat or pet. Businesses need excess to pay for financing- in todays conventional thinking. The finance fee is rolled into product price.

    If we as humans were fewer there would be less product demand and less available work, more stress on young people lacking work, perhaps reluctance to have children and further decline in population. I can imagine a woman-based society as more women are educated and males needed for fewer purposes. Eventually the problem may be that due to overuse of the sperm bank, inbreeding would be rampant but by that time there may be some means to pre-test the the child or sperm and abort the deviants.

    Solutions for a soft landing to a stagnant population are few unless there is no ambition to have excess wealth (more than subsistance) or sex. A necessary element would be total societal cooperation and no threat to the stability. I think it would require world cooperation or insulation from outside interference to maintain stability.

  9. Coffee makes me nauseous but Brian has formally introduced the elephant that is in our economic room. Kathy fears that he’s advocating communism but the reality, like it or not is that we can’t sustain endless growth. There isn’t enough space and enough resources nor is sending excess population off to terraform and populate Mars a real possibility.

    Capitalism can survive what’s coming but it will have to adapt in thoughtful ways. We can’t keep making the most stuff with the least labor. Companies need to focus on sustainability rather than maximizing profits in the near term. People need jobs to have money to provide for themselves or they might decide communism is a better way. Consumers need to change their habits to buying what they really need and will use for the long term instead of buy/use/throw away. A move to quality over quantity.

    It is possible to make that transition but it needs forethought and we’re reaching the point where there isn’t going to be a lot of ‘fore’ for thinking and transitioning. The alternative is to muddle on until we have a crisis at which point a socialist or communist revolution becomes a real possibility. I don’t want to see that happen so I hope we can go into the future wisely.

  10. Peter Hahn says:

    It seems to be happening now in many developing countries as well. As you point out the big question is who is going to take care of us old folks. In agricultural societies,traditionally, you needed lots of kids to work the farm and then a few to survive long enough to take care of you in your old age (if you lived long enough). We need the young to pay into social security and Medicare, but the cost of raising them is so high that we are raising fewer and fewer kids. More immigration is one answer.

    Kathy – this is happening purely naturally in the private sector with no communist involvement.

  11. dave says:

    Red flags… communism…. get it!

    People fear what they do not understand. Kathy, China’s one-child policy has absolutely nothing to do with Communism. It was a policy they enacted due to unique circumstances they were facing in their urban areas. Right or wrong, it was a China policy, not a “communist policy” – would you say that slavery “shouts” capitalism or democracy because the United States had slaves? No, of course not.

  12. jeff says:

    I am inclined to think communism would be necessary to get the cooperation. It may not be legislated communism but volunatary cooperation would be extraordinary. A challenge would be how those who wanted to try something different, a different food, a different energy source, a different transportation means would be dealt with. An equilibrium would be upset, a comfort level would be changed, people might not want to adapt.

    In order to have an equilibrium there would have to be thorough trust that different things were not to cause advantage or discomfort. There would have to be tolerance of disadvantage or discomfort.

    To even move toward a state of equilibrium, the tolerance issues would have to be addressed. It is like getting the nuclear warhead geni back in the bottle but in much more person situations.

    When everyone is living in those tiny houses where there is no room for stuff, and somebody builds a boat because it fascinates him there may be a neighbor who would also want a boat . Would the building of a boat go against regulations of construction on one’s property? Would somebody not want to look at the boat in the neighbor’s back yard. The builder had to acquire the materials for the boat and each has created something that changes the equilibrium. Each wants a different color of paint requiring different chemicals that have to be mined and ground and mixed etc.

    If people had no ambition, this overpopulation problem would solve itself. But because that isn’t the case, a new “religion” would have to emerge that would keep the people who wanted something different in check. That hasn’t worked yet. Even’s China’s one child policy is hindered because some people want more children.

    Our whole system of fashion in clothing, home design, architecture would need attention to question the need for change. Ideally the only need for change would be to replace what is worn out.

    I know my comments are about minimalism but that is the essence of population regression. But one step back. Not wanting more, what would that do to the economy? The recession has shown a possible effect. It would be a challenge to back-up. I think it would ultimately require a belief in not having to perpetuate oneself in geneology or legacy.

  13. Pete Klein says:

    First – Yippie, it’s snowing. 4″ so far.
    As to the topic, this cutback on births is a natural result of the economy we have created.
    Once upon a time, children were viewed as wealth. Now they are viewed as a cost. This is why most families are getting smaller.
    The increasing need for kids to get a college education is one of more obvious costs of having children.
    The first thing that might go by the wayside is the idea of retirement.
    Limits will be placed upon when and how much Social Security and Medicare you can get.
    With that reality and better health, more and more people will continue to work into their 70’s and 80’s.
    Many older Americans will still draw on Social Security when they can and will use it as a part-time job to supplement wage stagnation.
    Many older Americans will continue to work if they can because Medicare isn’t all it is cracked up to be. If you can hold onto a job that provides health insurance, you will because only Part A is free. Everything else costs and often costs more than whatever you are contributing to your health insurance at the place where you work.
    Simple economic facts will determine the future.

  14. Ken Hall says:

    Brian, Let me be one of the first to congratulate you for breaching this incalculably important yet widely misunderstood, or even more egregiously ignored and suppressed, concept.

    It has long been a contention of mine, subsequent to living for 10 years (68-78) in CA, that human over population was/is the bane of everything that humans profess a love for in the natural world.

    As you pointed out the human exponential rate of infesting the Earth began in earnest with the advent of the “industrial revolution” which coupled with the vaunted capitalist economic system geared toward exponential wealth accumulation of some individuals. As you said “we’re operating a sort of planet-wide ponzi scheme”; truer words have not been put to print. The ponzi scheme is denied and simultaneously defended by virtually every human entrepreneur and small or large business person on Earth including, if I may be so forthright, NCPR. Every “business” person wants to “grow” their business which as you said “the prosperity and success of communities has been measured in growth, in expansion”.

    Unfortunately only a fraction of a percentage of the human population comprehends or accepts that the boom in human numbers is a function of the unimaginably cheap energy we tapped into when we discovered the uses to which coal, oil and natural gas could be put. Without oil and natural gas we could not produce the quantities of food required to feed 7+ billion of us and sans heating with hydrocarbons the 7+ billion would have likely put fire to every piece of vegetation on spaceship Earth. Obviously our entire lifestyle revolves around voracious consumption of hydrocarbon energy sources which the Earth, in collaboration with the Sun, sequestered within her crusts over hundreds of millions of years prior to our evolutionary arrival. Cars, planes, power boats, ., ., ., how many of them would function as did the earliest train locomotives by burning wood?

    I think you too have a problem accepting the very premises you make, for instance: “anyone with a whit of common sense can see that in a finite world, you can’t have infinite growth” belies your contention: “If we manage the change well, we might actually end up with a world where those babies that are born — and there will still be billions and billions of us — will live better, richer, and healthier lives.” Why do I say this? Currently perhaps 1.5-2 billion humans live a life somewhat comparable to the lives Americans live and we 300+ million Americans consume roughly 25% of the Earths appropriated resources each year. Unless you are in favor of leaving the billions of humans currently living in destitution out of your rosy future we need approximately 6 more Earth size planets to plunder just to bring the current crop of humans on Earth up to the American levels of resource consumption.

    The American resource consumption rate ignores Global Warming, Rising Oceans, Potable Water Depletion, Wars, ., .,all problems that we currently face, let me preface that with “some humans think”. Unfortunately the beloved capitalist economic system cares not a whit about the fate of the Earth and her inhabitants, especially the non-human variety. If humans are even remotely as intelligent as they profess, one might expect that they would recognize the growth paradigm is the road to perdition, be that growth in numbers or growth in individual consumption; unfortunately, disappointment appears to be my fate and humankind’s. If humans do not accept realities and significantly reduce their population and individual consumption rates, in a managed manner, it is inevitable that the “Earth as an infinite source” mantra of the pseudo-science known as economics will be dealt the “truth” money cannot procure something which is not there and the decline of human numbers will be precipitous and catastrophic.

  15. Brian Mann says:

    I don’t think the natural or inevitable alternative to an ever-increasing population or lack of sustainability in our current economic system is communism or top-down authoritarianism.

    –Brian, NCPR

  16. Walker says:

    “Capitalism can survive…”

    Well, maybe, though capitalism sure seems to be based fundamentally on growth.

    In any case, what clearly can’t continue is concentration of more and more capital in fewer and fewer hands. In a steady state population, that dog don’t hunt.

  17. Walker says:

    “But it’s not like the 1980s were an era of apocalyptic depopulation.”

    No, but getting back to the 1980s will require substantial depopulation. And depopulation is something we don’t know much about.

  18. Mervel says:

    Each family must decide for itself how many children they want, desire and can afford. Usually as economies become more advanced and health care gets better, families naturally have fewer children.

    However, human beings should never be viewed as a curse or a burden, so for me I think the discussion should not be about how we view and value children and human life in general but about how we look at populations that are aging and that this is a choice and can easily change or be reversed. Having an unbalanced population IS a problem societies need youth, they need children, there is nothing more depressing than a culture full of old people with no children.

  19. Will Doolittle says:

    I’m not saying you’re doing this, Brian, but there is something troubling to me about pressure to either have more (Douthat) or fewer (McKibben) babies. Bill McKibben wrote a book a few years ago advocating that people have just one child to lessen our impact on the environment. That’s taking things too far, in my opinion. I do think as someone above, or more than one, said, the problem solves itself over time, either through technological innovations that help the Earth support more human beings, or because people naturally slow down on baby-making as societies become more stable and advanced, or through plagues and natural disasters and wars and other horrible die-offs. There is a deeper wisdom and rightness in allowing the process to evolve than in trying to impose a program because of some imagined imperative.

  20. dave says:

    Brian M.

    Fantastic article and fascinating topic. We have danced around this issue quite a bit when talking about the Adirondacks and the population “issues” here. I maintain that a goal of the Park should be a stable population. Not a growing one. And that our economy should be one that is planned around this, so I find this discussion of local importance too. I just wish I was more of an economist so that I could better understand the underlying reasons behind this “grow grow grow!” mentality and, more importantly, confidently promote alternatives.

    And to add a personal touch to this topic…

    My wife and I are a young(ish) couple that moved to the area not long ago. We always used to joke about the not-so-subtle pressures we felt almost immediately once we landed. I believe our first encounter was on day 2, when the cable guy came out to install our internet. The comment was something along the lines of, “Oh, good to see someone move here who can help fill our school”

    We heard comments like that randomly all around town whenever we would introduce ourselves as being new to the area, at the grocery store, out on hikes, the farmer’s market… everywhere.

    We decided early on that we would find it curious and interesting, and not offensive.

    Heck, I recall going to see you speak at the Museum not long after we settled in, your ADK 3.0 (or was it 2.0?) talk, and early in your presentation you innocently mentioned how there were few people of “child bearing” age in the audience. We looked around, and everyone was staring at us. Indeed, my wife and I were the only potential child bearers in that room. Awkward!

    I always wonder, in these situations, how do people know that the couple they are saying these things to is even capable of having children? What if they aren’t, and this is something they struggle to deal with? This very public baby fever and forthright pressure would be awfully insensitive in that case.

  21. Walker says:

    Will, that’s some major-league optimism! Another real possibility is the end of intelligent life on earth. (If that’s what we have now.)

    It has always puzzled those who take seriously the search for signs of intelligent life elsewhere in the universe that such signs aren’t pretty ubiquitous. After all, the conditions that give rise to life aren’t apparently all that rare out there, and the earth is circling a pretty young star. So why aren’t there numbers of advanced civilizations emitting recognizable electromagnetic radiation?

    One possible answer is that advanced civilizations tend to snuff themselves out, and thus, instead of emitting a continuous stream of radiation for thousands of years, they instead put it out for a mere handful of decades, and then go dark, leaving an expanding shell that fades away.

    So the Mayans may just have been off by a bit.

  22. JDM says:


    The humanist population will self-annihilate itself by preaching the doctrine of population control.

    Meanwhile, I don’t see any lack of 5,6,7,10 children families in our church, and in many churches.

    In about two generations, you population-control proponents will have done yourselves in.

  23. dave says:

    “there is nothing more depressing than a culture full of old people with no children.”

    I couldn’t disagree more. I find adult communities to be an absolute joy. And I don’t just mean communities of older adults, as I think you may be referring to, but also and especially a community of young adults without children.

    Some of the most memorable times of my life was that period of time right after my social circle became “adults” (with jobs, income, ambitions, etc) till right before everyone started having families. Things were so vibrant, so exciting, everyone was making big strides in their lives, doing exciting things, experiencing all sorts of new places and ideas. I’m not sure how anyone would find that depressing.

  24. dave says:

    “In about two generations, you population-control proponents will have done yourselves in.”

    Anyone ever see Idiocracy?

  25. jeff says:

    Brian, if people don’t willingly agree to follow a common plan of sharing or have it legislated upon themselves, how would population decline be managed into society and economy?

  26. Brian Mann says:

    Jeff –

    Off the top of my head, I would say that it’s probably necessary to have people pay more into social security and senior care insurance programs, so that the society writ large will have the resources in reserve to care for them in their old age.

    I’d say we need to invest in technologies and organizational structures that will allow communities to function efficiently with fewer unskilled laborers and more high-skilled laborers.

    Developing medical care approaches that minimize the burden of large geriatric populations in the most efficient and ethical way would be a good idea.

    –Brian, NCPR

  27. JDM says:


    Let me say it another way.

    I only hope the population-control crowd practices what they preach.

    There are plenty of resources available to sustain a growing population. The only problem is that man tends to see himself bigger than what he really is. It’s a perception problem, not a real one.

  28. Brian Mann says:

    JDM –

    This is one of those moments when you’re not even wrong. You’re just talking about something that’s not real to this conversation.

    People in the developed world are having fewer babies. Not as the result of population control measures, but because that’s apparently what happens in societies.

    Christian families in the US simply aren’t having 5-10 baby families — no more than atheist or Hindu or Muslim families are. That’s just not happening.

    Here in the heavily Roman Catholic North Country, we haven’t become a stable and aging population because of a top-down birth control planning effort.

    It’s happening organically, one family decision at a time.

    Which means we have to plan and adapt and do new things to make our communities healthy and productive in the post-growth world.

    –Brian, NCPR

  29. Pete Klein says:

    Yes, humans definitely see themselves as bigger than what they really are.
    One major example should suffice.
    Many who claim to be religious, not all, believe God created the entire Universe just so that humans, the only creatures promised eternal life after death, could be judged worthy of spending that eternal life after death in Heaven or in Hell.
    A truly “It’s all about me” belief system.

  30. JDM says:

    Brian Mann:

    It’s actually this part of your editorializing that shows you are not just observing, but endorsing a certain view:

    “But anyone with a whit of common sense can see that in a finite world, you can’t have infinite growth.

    Right now, we’re operating a sort of planet-wide ponzi scheme, with a global economy built on the idea of the next, ever-bigger generation always picking up the tab.

    In fact, the crisis we face in the modern world isn’t too few babies, but far, far too many.

    If we were to keep adding a billion people every 10-20 years or so (our current pace) the results would be catastrophic.”

    We’ve had enough highly publicized predictions that the earth cannot sustain 1 billion, 3 billion, 6 billion, and now, 7 billion.

    At some point, these predictions are becoming as “ho hum” as the Mayan prediction.

    Let’s do 15 billion, 20 billion, 40 billion, and see where we are at before we all worked up over 7 billion.

  31. Walker says:

    “Let’s do 15 billion, 20 billion, 40 billion, and see where we are at before we all worked up over 7 billion.”

    Spoken as a true global warming denier.

  32. Kathy says:

    Well, Brian the coffee kicked in but my brain is a bit slow today – holiday planning, etc.

    Will Doolittle said it for me though! Great comment.

    Mankind doesn’t always get it right. Not that we shouldn’t try, but from my vantage point, there are certain things that are in the realm of being untouchable in terms of managing or controlling.

    Consider nature. We cannot harness hurricanes or tornadoes and we cannot figure out some of the oddities or complexities of the animal world. In man’s desire to learn, understand, and even conquer, it seems reasonable to me to accept that the world will always be bigger than us.

    This doesn’t mean we don’t have discussions such as this because our job is to use our intelligence to solve problems. But I think we need balance.

    I think the earth is a marvelous place that replenishes itself. Scientists say we will run out of this or that- but I cannot help but think that maybe we are not using our intelligence in terms of drilling oil or natural gas here or there because some may be too extreme regarding the environment. Just a thought.

    I threw the “c” word out there but it’s because I envision a depopulated earth, but what does that do to us mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as societies? So great – we now have all the resources we need – but we are beaten down?

    Nah. If we should be staying out of people’s bedrooms.. then we should stay out of people’s bedrooms.

  33. Kathy says:

    So are we talking about too many babies, over-population, and the impact on our finite resources?

    Or are we talking about too few babies, who will not pick up the tab for seniors?

    I think we have 2 different discussions going on here. Or do I need more coffee?

  34. Walker says:

    You need more coffee. There are two conflicting problems:

    The way we have been funding SSI is by having younger workers pay for them, and there have always been more young workers than retirees.

    But we’re going to be running out of resources (oil, clean water, clean air) making having ever more babies a problem. Plus, as Brian points out, there seems to be a natural tendency for people in developed nations to choose to have fewer children. Eventually, all the nations of the earth will be developed.

  35. jeff says:

    Thanks Brian, something to cogitate about.

    I concur on the SSI need and can’t see wisdom in the past two years of payment reductions. But that is near term.

    Being somewhat attached to the healthcare field, I have trouble seeing how nursing home care can be changed a great deal technologically. It still takes a person to change diapers and sheets and hand feed people. Pressure is already in place for economizing on such care and high skill-high pay is not the course it is taking. Sure, any machinery that doesn’t have back pain and always shows up for work helps.

    Healthcare approaches that improve health prior to life’s end- fostering eating right, exercising etc. only delay life’s decline. They will change the nature of late life ailments. They may change the required expense.

    The third thought leads me to wonder how long will it be until the pressure will mount for the old eskimo to walk out into the snow.

    But before all the senior care topics is how to manage a stagnant or receding population with inadequate work to keep them productively engaged. Will they see value in working in a warehouse of people who cannot help themselves? I write it bluntly to address how some people see nursing homes. I remember a science fiction book years ago where people just checked out by plugging into something akin to today’s tablet devices.

    Paying in advance or as you go is not a readily supported concept in the US economy. When people even talk, pay as you go, the banks raise a fuss because it takes money out of circulation. But advocacy of living within one’s means would be an appropriate early effort. Frugality would be good. Yet economic activity would decline as fewer products were purchased. Fewer houses needed. Tax bases would be reduced potentially increasing taxes or further bankrupting communities.

    While this country may import population as it has, the redistribution of population centers may require government subsidies to tear down blight as is happening in Flint, Michigan. That would require further redistribution of wealth that would not be for growth but for retrograde.

    Maybe elder care would take up sufficient slack.
    Like Israel’s army, everyone would serve time in eldercare service.

    I think one way to think about less population would be to image if Fort Drum evaporated and the associated rammifications that would come along. Vacant houses. Less sales tax. Empty businesses and so on. With fewer births the event would take place slower but the effect would be similar.

  36. Mervel says:


    I agree that we should be sensitive to every family about children, we don’t know why people have kids or don’t have kids and it is none of our business, so I would totally agree with you about that whole pressure issue.

    On the other side you make my point, the period of time you loved and enjoyed was when you were still a young person! Imagine whole communities without the vibrancy of young adults and youth doing those things.

    We need a balanced community is all I am saying and having families with children are a part of that. Children bind a community together through a shared focus on the future even if a couple does not have children.

  37. dave says:

    “On the other side you make my point, the period of time you loved and enjoyed was when you were still a young person!”

    The key to that is that I was a young person without children. I’m now a slightly older person, still without children, and consider myself just as active and vibrant as I was back then. My friends that had kids, however, not even remotely close. It seems to have something to do with sleepless nights and minivans! Haha. They all – every single one of them – joke and complain that their social life went to hell. They have less energy, less adventures… it goes on and on. It is the opposite of vibrant.

    My point was really just that. That children, or families with children, are not necessary to have an active, engaged, vibrant community.

    But I do agree that a balance is nice.

  38. Peter Hahn says:

    from “the economist”

    Mexico’s birth rate, once among the world’s highest, is in free-fall. In the 1960s Mexican mothers had nearly seven children each (whereas women in India then had fewer than six). The average now is just over two—almost the same as in the United States. The UN reckons that from 2040 the birth rate in Mexico will be the lower of the two.

  39. Peter Hahn says:

    (July 2011) India is on track to become the world’s largest country about 10 years from now, even though fertility has declined to 2.6 children per woman, which is less than half of its 1950s level.

  40. Walker says:

    “Like Israel’s army, everyone would serve time in eldercare service.”

    A truly scary proposition! As one who is only a decade or two from needing such care, the thought of reluctant draftee caregivers? Ouch!

  41. mervel says:

    Well I think we should embrace whatever choice people make, I certainly don’t want to tell families how to live when it comes to children. In fact I would encourage people who really don’t want children not to have them because they think they should. I would put in a plug for the joy of children as I don’t want to see people miss out on that, but I am biased because I love kids, including college kids!

    I just see a future with empty colleges and a missing generation of people doing the things that our society needs young people to do. The fact is we know that creativity falls as we get older, there is a bunch of reasons that youth is good for a society. On the other hand you have these cultures that are balanced far to far the other way, that is not a good thing either.


  42. Kent Gregson says:

    The only thing more expensive and un-sustainable than a huge American SUV is filling it with kids. Wouldn’t that eventually make the population go down?

  43. Mervel says:

    Ultimate unsustainabiliy is a society without kids. It’s one thing to say we need a balance of old and young quite another to be overtly against children or the elderly. My problem with the post is the headline that it is great that fewer babies exist . Maybe it would be great if fewer old farts existed? Old people are the resource hogs. Actually the disabled are really big non contributors also it would be great if we had less of them. I just think we should value all human life for its own sake not for nearly material outputs.

Leave a Reply