Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It's the Demography

A few years ago my kids were surfing channels looking for a children’s show. We only have broadcast TV, so the only show they could find at the moment was called Captain Planet. Predictably, it turned out to be a smarmy propaganda medium for radical environmentalism couched in super hero worship and cutesy environmental moral superiority.

The particular episode they were watching dealt with the evils of overpopulation and pretty much said that anyone that has more than one or two kids is evil. I had to laugh, however, when my six-year-old was bothered with the fact that some of the devices required to support the plot clearly violated the laws of physics. It’s pretty bad when a little kid understands that the only reason for the hero to show up has been bizarrely contrived in an unentertaining way.

With the collapse of the 1970s population bomb hype, I thought that the general public (if not the left fringes) had recovered from overpopulation fear mongering. (Especially in light of the UN’s latest population forecasts.) But at least some Americans seem as addicted to this kind of alarmism as some are to tabloids. As noted here by researcher Nicholas Eberstadt, some of our nation’s most educated continually fall for this stuff, although, it is consistently wrong.

When I was a teenager I went to work as a bagger in a grocery store. Every week purveyors would show up to stock the tabloid racks. Some of these publications are actually great (if vulgar) comedy, but I couldn’t understand how anyone would pay money for them. Still, every week we sold almost every copy. I was often surprised to see who bought that junk. Population bomb hype works very similarly.

Eberstadt surmises that “maybe the obsession has to do ... with America’s hunger for--at times, near worship of--numbers.” Oh, and we do love numbers. From the least newsworthy item to the greatest issues of the day, we are continually regaling each other with numbers. (Just check out my last post.)

Eberstadt is quick to point out that not only nationally, but worldwide, birth rates are down rather dramatically over the last century. We are producing fewer children per adult than at anytime in reliable history. Unprecedented population growth has occurred because people everywhere are living much longer lives than at any time in reliable history. (Don’t get started on the age stuff in Genesis.) Health care and safety issues have improved so substantially in the past century or so that worldwide life expectancy has doubled over this period. Even third world nations are approaching U.S. post-WWII life expectancy.

Unfortunately for those in the environmentalist community with anti-human agendas, limiting birth rates to even one child per couple will not achieve their desired minimally populated utopia anytime soon. The only way for the anti-humanists to achieve their goal would be mass genocide. In that case, I suggest they start with themselves. Just imagine the amount of pain that could have been spared if each of the great genocidal maniacs of the 20th Century had started with themselves.

Demography plays into many aspects of life, including politics. Michael Barone, the widely respected political demographer, writes here about what population shifts in the U.S. mean for politics. He says that with a few outliers (the Salt Lake City area being among them), areas of the country can be put into one of four general categories. Each classification considers the rates of domestic inflow/outflow, immigrant inflow, and natural growth.

Heavily Democratic Costal Megalopolises all had domestic outflows (2-10%) and immigrant inflows (5-8%). This is causing economic polarization akin to Mexico City and São Paulo. Republican leaning Interior Boomtowns have grown 18%, having significant domestic inflows (9-19%) and immigrant inflows (roughly half the domestic growth). Interior Boomtowns had 6% natural growth as opposed to 4% for Costal Megalopolises. Boomtowns also have much less economic polarization.

The decreasingly Democratic Old Rust Belt has seen a 4% domestic outflow and only a 1% immigrant inflow, with natural growth of only 2%. What are left are the somewhat Republican Static Cities with domestic outflow of less than 1% and immigrant inflow of 0-4%. Barone doesn’t list natural growth rate for this category.

Barone says that almost all smaller areas fall easily into one of the four categories mentioned. New Orleans is an outlier due to Katrina. The Salt Lake City area is an outlier because it “demographically looks a lot like the America of the 1950s. In 2000-2006 its population grew a robust 10%. But it had a domestic outflow of 4% (young Mormons going off on their missions?), balanced by an immigrant inflow of 4%.” What really makes the SLC area different is its whopping 9% natural growth rate, which is still far below historic national rates. Incidentally, I think Barone’s suggestion that missionaries comprise the 4% domestic outflow is off base because there is a continual flow of outgoing and incoming missionaries. This outflow more likely due to new college graduates heading off to new careers.

What all of this means for politics is a shift in Congress. Following the 2010 census, California will gain no House seats for the first time in 160 years. New York will lose yet more seats (down to 29 from 45 in 1960). By and large, Democratic leaning states will lose seats while Republican leaning states will pick up seats. And that goes for Electoral College electors as well.

Does this mean that traditionally Republican states will continue to lean Republican? Barone doesn’t get into that. It seems to me that some of the people fleeing the Costal Megalopolises and the Old Rust Belt for the Interior Boomtowns and Static Cities will bring their politics with them. I suppose a study would need to be done on the political persuasions of the people that are moving to get an answer to this question.

Another interesting note is that almost all areas had immigrant inflows. From Barone’s article, it appears that none had immigrant outflows. Others have said that this trend can be expected to continue at least through 2030, when Mexico is expected to drop below replacement birthrates and will begin to need all of its people to maintain infrastructure. Barone admits that immigrant populations vote heavily Democratic, but he leaves the question open as to how this will impact traditionally Republican areas with immigrant inflows.

Barone says that 20 years ago almost nobody would have predicted the demographic shift we are seeing today. It makes me wonder what kind of unexpected shifts will occur over the next two decades.


Charles D said...

I don't share your concern about fear mongering about those UN population forecasts. It seems to me that a 2.5 billion person increase in world population is certainly going to have an impact and not a positive one. It's as though we added the entire world population of 1950 to the current world population, bringing the total to 9.2 Billion persons. The fact that the wealthy nations are declining in population and the poor nations are increasing dramatically is hardly cause for celebration.

As for the US demographic shifts, they will no doubt have some effect. I don't however automatically assume that because someone lives in a "red" or "blue" state, they vote that way. Much of the impact of the population shift on Congress will depend on redistricting (a national disgrace), and whether voter apathy increases or decreases over the next few years.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I didn't intend to imply that additional population would have no impact. However, humans have an amazing capacity to adapt and to tackle real problems. This is where the scary forecasts about food shortages in the 70s went awry. People adapted to more than nullify the issue.

By far, the best way to save the environment is to improve a nation's economy. Economically advanced nations address and resolve environmental problems. Economically repressed nations cause them. Improving national economies beats genocide any day.

I agree that the political outcomes of the demographic shift are too difficult to predict. Of course, 10 years from now everyone will be sitting around with perfect hindsight saying that the changes that have occurred (whatever they may be) were completely predictable.

Charles D said...

Economies cannot grow indefinitely, and 3rd world economies cannot grow at all unless they are protected from the obviously overwhelming competition from the rich nations. Since it is those economies that would have to grow to meet the population challenge, it would be a good idea if US trade policy were reversed in favor of one that was concerned with building the economies of these nations, rather than lining our own pockets.

Another point, one of the adaptations that humans have made to the population density problem is to curtail population growth through birth control and promoting smaller families. Admittedly, we have enough food in the world to feed all of our current population and several hundred million more, we are unable or unwilling to distribute that food in a way that prevents the 25,000 daily deaths from hunger in the world

Scott Hinrichs said...

While logic would seem to dictate that economies cannot grow indefinitely, there is no evidence that any economy has ever reached the limit that some say definitely exists.

It is not the unwillingness of the rich nations to distribute food to the impoverished nations that is the problem. In fact, the U.S. far exceeds the entire rest of the first world in both charitable and non-charitable distribution of food and necessities to third world nations.

The problem is that the corrupt regimes in many recipient nations prevent proper distribution of the stuff. Donations end up going to enrich the corrupt leaders. Sometimes food rots on the docks so that two-bit dictators can prevent their 'enemies' from benefitting. Friends of mine dealt directly with this problem when trying to stock a school library in an African country with an entire shipping container of donated books and school supplies a year and a half ago.

We can do only so much to combat foreign corruption. We should do all we appropriately can, but I think our nation knows through experience that we need to be careful about foreign entaglements.

Charles D said...

I agree about the foreign entanglements - especially if you mean to include covert intervention to topple governments and invasions of random nations along with the food aid.

US food aid is "generous" because it is designed to aid US agribusiness in handling oversupply of commodities and thus stabilizing prices. Even when the food could come much more rapidly from nearby sources, the US will insist on supplying the food from here.

Since the US foreign policy and trade policy is designed to undermine local industry and food agriculture in the developing world in favor of imports and crops designed for export, it often exacerbates the food problem in the 3rd world instead of solving it.