Happy Whit Monday to my Commonwealth cousins throughout the Caribbean and the Pacific, and to our readers in much of Continental Europe. And of course to my fellow Canadians a happy if locked down Victoria Day. Enjoy it while you can.
Front page news from yesterday's New York Times:
World Is Facing First Long Slide in Its Population
Me in my international bestseller fifteen years ago:
The single most important fact about the early 21st century is the rapid aging of almost every developed nation other than the United States: Canada, Europe and Japan are getting old fast, older than any functioning society has ever been and faster than any has ever aged... These countries – or, more precisely, these people – are going out of business.
The Times front page yesterday:
All over the world, countries are confronting population stagnation and a fertility bust, a dizzying reversal unmatched in recorded history that will make first-birthday parties a rarer sight than funerals, and empty homes a common eyesore.
Me in 2006:
The salient feature of Europe, Canada, Japan and Russia is that they're running out of babies. What's happening in the developed world is one of the fastest demographic evolutions in history... This isn't a projection: It's happening now. There's no need to extrapolate, and if you do it gets a little freaky, but, just for fun, here goes: By 2050, 60 per cent of Italians will have no brothers, no sisters, no cousins, no aunts, no uncles. The big Italian family, with papa pouring the vino and mama spooning out the pasta down an endless table of grandparents and nieces and nephews, will be gone, no more, dead as the dinosaurs. As Noël Coward remarked in another context, 'Funiculì, funiculà, funic yourself.'
The Times yesterday:
Maternity wards are already shutting down in Italy. Ghost cities are appearing in northeastern China. Universities in South Korea can't find enough students, and in Germany, hundreds of thousands of properties have been razed, with the land turned into parks.
Me fifteen years ago:
[In Japan] the shortage of children has led to a shortage of obstetricians...
[China's] population will get old before it's got rich...
The 'experts' of the western world are slower to turn around than an ocean liner, and in Europe they were still yakking about the 'population explosion' even as their 1970s schoolhouses, built in anticipation of traditional Catholic birthrates, were emptying through the Nineties and Oughts...
One can talk airily about being flushed down the toilet of history, but even that's easier said than done. In eastern Germany, rural communities are dying, and one consequence is that village sewer systems are having a tough time adjusting to the lack of use. Populations have fallen so dramatically there are too few people flushing to keep the flow of waste moving...
The Times yesterday:
The strain of longer lives and low fertility, leading to fewer workers and more retirees, threatens to upend how societies are organized — around the notion that a surplus of young people will drive economies and help pay for the old. It may also require a reconceptualization of family and nation. Imagine entire regions where everyone is 70 or older...
Me a decade-and-a-half ago:
Speaking for myself... I'd rather date Debbie Reynolds than Angelina Jolie. But even to put it in those terms is to become aware of how our assumptions about a society's health – about its innovative and creative energies - are based on its youthfulness. Picture the difference between a small northern mill town where the mill's closed down and the young people have moved away and a growing community in the Sun Belt. Which has the bigger range of stores and restaurants, more work opportunities, better school choice? Which problem would you rather have - managing growth or managing decline..?
In theory, those countries will find their population halving every thirty-five years or so. In practice, it will be quicker than that, as the savvier youngsters figure there's no point sticking around a country that's turned into an undertaker's waiting room. Not every pimply burger flipper wants to support entire old folks' homes single-handed...
Everything The New York Times finally got around to yesterday, I said in 2006. My book was an international bestseller, including on the Times' own Top Ten list. Yet it did not bother reviewing America Alone, mentioning it only in the context of "hate" in Canada or as evidence of how literary darling Martin Amis had gone to pot.
It's actually rather difficult to write a bestseller about demography. On at least three continents, princes, presidents and prime ministers noticed the book and invited me to discuss it with them. And then they did nothing. Christopher Hitchens put my demographic thesis to Tony Blair and asked him if, at get-togethers with EU leaders, it was part of "the European conversation". And the PM replied that it was part of "the subterranean conversation" - ie, within the norms of 21st-century political discourse, there was no way to bring up the subject in public.
And now, a generation after one Canadian's book went unreviewed by The New York Times, no fewer than five Times reporters were needed to write a front-page story saying nothing Times readers couldn't have been apprised of in the autumn of 2006.
In the above sentence I'm using "generation" in the Afghan or Sudanese sense. If you have one designer child at the age of forty, generations are a little more leisurely. And, that being very common these days, all that has changed since 2006 is that America has now joined Europe in the demographic death spiral.
A final point: When I say that demography is "the single most important fact about the early 21st century", I mean it. As I've commented over the last year, it partially explains the fearful reaction to ChiCom-19. As I put it in America Alone:
Aged societies, by their nature, are more cautious and less dynamic: old people weigh exposure to risk more than potential for gain.
And so since March 2020 we have prioritized "exposure to risk" over life itself. And for a year we walled up our dwindling number of young 'uns in small flats with no school chums, no stimulation, no physical activity: that's a society whose "assumptions" are old.
And in the end the old people died anyway...
~It was a busy weekend at SteynOnline, beginning with our ongoing audio serialization of Mark Steyn's Passing Parade and an episode of contrasts, on musical celebrity in embryo and at its freakish end. Our Saturday movie date offered Rick McGinnis on Hollywood gone nuts, and our Sunday musical beano marked the centenary of a blockbuster lyricist.
If you were too busy misplacing chain-of-custody paperwork in Georgia this weekend, I hope you'll want to check out one or three of the foregoing as a new week begins.
We are celebrating the fourth birthday of The Mark Steyn Club, and I thank all those members who have decided to re-up for another year. Among them is Leo Down Under in Glenmaggie, Victoria who says:
Renewing is also a small gesture of defiance against the wankers of woke by assisting the most trenchant and withering voice of sanity to prevail. Keep up the excellence!
Thank you, Leo. On this Victoria Day in the Senior Dominion I treasure especially our fellow Victorians in the Lucky Country.