Author Jonathan Last: Declining Population a Threat to American Life

Wednesday, 06 Feb 2013 04:02 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald and Kathleen Walter

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Americans are having fewer babies now more than ever, and author Jonathan Last says the nation's unwillingness to produce more children is one of the greatest threats to American life.

Last, the senior writer at The Weekly Standard, told Newsmax TV that while the United States isn't experiencing a shrinking population quite yet, declining numbers are on the way, and will have devastating effects on the United States.

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“Almost all professional demographers, the United Nations, the Population Fund, believe that within about the next 60 years we’re going to see global population peak at probably around 9, maybe 10 billion, and then it’s going to begin to shrink,” Last said.

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Women worldwide are having fewer children, not only in the United States, says Last, author of the book “What to Expect When No One's Expecting, America's Coming Demographic Disaster.”

“In 1970, the global average was 6.5 children per woman. Today it’s 2.5,” said Last. “The replacement rate, that is the average number of children the average woman needs to have in order to keep the population constant, is 2.1.”

As a result, he said, 97 percent of the world's population is in countries where fertility rates are in the negative numbers, and as a result, a “demographic disaster” is looming.

In the United States, staying below the replacement level could have many repercussions, said Last.

“A couple of things happen when you stay below that replacement level for a few generations,” he said. “The first is that your age profile inverts so you wind up with many more old people than you have young people. And then this presents a whole host of problems, it makes your entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare highly unstable.”

The slowing population growth can also bring the economy down, Last said.

“It’s very difficult to have any economic dynamism when you have a much older population for a whole host of reasons, including the fact that capital pools begin to shift into preservation mode instead of investment mode,” he stated.

The slowing growth could also hurt the United States' military, Last said.

“Militarily, it becomes very hard to have a solid defense,” Last said, because the nation shifts its funding into entitlement programs and away from defense.

“You just don't have the warm bodies,” Last said. “Your pool of military-aged men and women has shrunk.”

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If the problem was only in America, a first-world country, the nation might be able to get through three or four decades of slow economic growth and entitlement fund worries.

“The problem is this is global and it’s happening everywhere. What happens in countries that are not stable first-world countries like America?” Last asked. “When it happens in Russia and China, it is going to create real instability and real problems abroad.”

Changing demographics could also remake politics, said Last, noting that there are basically two Americas when it comes to population.

The blue states have fewer births happening, but the red states “tend to be much more fertile, and that's where you see most of the population increase coming from,” Last said.

The population declines will also affect immigration, he noted. “We're seeing the fertility rates south of our border in even steeper decline than they are here, and so most demographics think that within about 20 years, we will not be seeing the kinds of immigration that we have experienced recently. That means that the Democratic hopes of having sort of massively rejiggered ethnic proportions of the population here in America are probably going to be overblown.”

In November, many people blamed Republicans losses on changing demographics and the party's inability to court women and Hispanic voters, but Last doesn't agree with those who say Republicans must win over Hispanic voters for the party's survival.

“It's always helpful to win over voters of any sort no matter what, and it would be certainly good for Republicans to win over Hispanic voters, and that is an achievable goal,” Last said. However, there is a larger gap, involving married voters and singles, he said, that also comes into play.

“What’s interesting, of course, is that we talked about the gender gap and how Democrats do much better among women,” said Last. "Among married women, Mitt Romney actually beat Barack Obama by 11 points.”

In addition, while Washington is busy debating how to best deal with illegal immigrants, Last thinks there actually aren't enough of them.

“If you were to strip out those 38 million Hispanic immigrants that we’ve gotten over the last 30 years and then you run the numbers on our fertility rate, all of a sudden America looks a lot like Europe, which is to say we’re sort of 20 or 30 years closer to the demographic cliff than we are now,” said Last. “This isn’t to say that mass immigration has caused a lot of problems because, clearly, it has. Just to tick off a couple of the obvious ones, it depresses the lower end of the wage scale, it makes it harder for low income people to make a sustainable living here in America and it causes social divisiveness.”

He said political concerns on both side of the issue are valid, but “from a purely demographic perspective, in terms of what our actual future looks like in terms of having warm bodies here in America, without Hispanic immigrants, we’re going to find ourselves much closer to the demographic cliff,” he said. “Our entitlement programs and all sorts of other things that we have here in America are going to become less stable without that immigration going forward.”

The population declines are also remaking politics internationally as well. Last has noted that many of America's national security challenges look different when examined through the lens of demographics, and the threats of China and Iran could look different because of population changes.

“We perceive it as China as a rising power, but China is highly unstable right now,” said Last. “If you look at their demographics, they’re far below the replacement rate. They’ve been that way for several generations.”

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As a result, Last said, China is looking at an ongoing humanitarian disaster, with millions of elderly people and no support system for them.

“The challenge that China winds up presenting to us is not one of military challenge, but of sort of managing the possible implosion of a big power,” said Last.


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