- The Washington Times - Monday, October 11, 2004

FEWER: HOW THE NEW DEMOGRAPHY OF DEPOPULATION WILL SHAPE OUR FUTURE

By Ben J. Wattenberg

Ivan R. Dee , $24.95, 241 pages

Ben Wattenberg’s “Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future” is a remarkable book and, in terms of its importance for our country and the world, it should attract a great deal more attention than most of the presidential campaign advertising.

Mr. Wattenberg reports conclusively that the world will have far fewer people than was expected even a decade ago, that in numbers and age and gender patterns this smaller population will be distributed in ways that will be significant, and that the implications for the environment, the economy and national security will be quite profound.

The biggest news is that in sheer numbers the human race is now likely to peak at 8.5 billion people instead of the United Nations projection of 11.5 billion. Even the U.N. demographers now agree that the population explosion will never reach the numbers they had once projected.

The biggest reason for this dramatic decline was captured in an earlier book by Mr. Wattenberg, “The Birth Dearth.” Women are simply having fewer children and the result is that in some countries population is already starting to go down.

As Mr. Wattenberg notes, in order to sustain the current population, the average woman would have to have 2.33 children. Falling below that average will result in a population decline. Today some 40 countries are already below the replacement rate and Mr. Wattenberg expects virtually every country to be below the replacement rate by the end of our lifetime.

Fascinatingly, after all the focus on Chinese compulsory population control, it is not China that has had the most rapid change in birthrates among Asian countries. That honor goes to South Korea, where women now average only 1.17 children (even lower than Japan). China has dropped to 1.825 and is still declining.

Mr. Wattenberg makes so many fascinating points in this thin book that it is impossible to cover them all in a review. However, a few deserve to be singled out.

Europe is going to lose population dramatically by mid-century and therefore become significantly older. This will almost certainly entail a significant shift in power and in economic competitiveness away from an aging and shrinking European Union.

Mexico is on the verge of dropping below the replacement rate; over the next generation this will almost certainly slow the rate of migration to the United States. Russia is facing a demographic crisis, with the shortest lifespan for males of any industrial country and a catastrophic decline in women willing to bear children.

Mr. Wattenberg highlights the intellectual dishonesty of the Paul Ehrlich, left-wing environmentalists and their factual mistakes over the last generation. Mr. Ehrlich had predicted famines beginning in the 1970s. They simply haven’t happened. The global warming projections all assumed a population of 11.5 billion. If the human race peaks at only 8.5 billion people — 3 billion fewer than predicted — and then starts a long-term decline, how that changes all those gloom-and-doom predictions.

Mr. Wattenberg highlights the unique role of the United States as the one industrial country that will keep growing. American population growth is a combination of the highest birthrate of any industrial country (2.01 children per female) and our willingness to accept immigration. Mr. Wattenberg projects that the United States will continue to grow in economic and other forms of power, while Europe and Japan decline dramatically. Indeed, in the Wattenberg vision of the future, there are only three large nations by 2050: China, India and the United States.

This is a book that should lead to very profound discussions, given its implications for pension programs in Europe and Japan, its implications for economic development throughout the world and its implications for environmental management and an honest assessment of the future.

Finally, this book is a tribute to the continued, persistent willingness of Mr. Wattenberg to take facts as they are presented and follow them without an ideological or political agenda. Hopefully it will lead many policy-makers to think deeply about how much the future will differ from their current expectations and then to ask how those differences should change American and world policies.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich is the co-author of “Grant Comes East: A Civil War Novel” (St. Martins Press).

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