The elephant on the couch scarfing macaroons from the coffee table:
Someone suggested that it was Mark Twain who used the elephant to mean something that was very obvious but ignored.  I suspect he got the idea from Edgar Allan Poe’s “Purloined Letter.”  By placing my elephant on a – presumably demolished – couch stealing confectionery I mean to express not just a conspicuous issue but an intrusive one.

And so it is with demographics.  That’s not to say it is never mentioned, just that it is not mentioned in proportion to its importance.  The work force in China has begun to fall.  (Peak Toil ECONOMIST vol. 406 no. 8820 January 26, 2013 page 41) It has been known for some time that this was going to happen.  One nice thing about demographics is that some times you can be pretty confident about the future.  The people you are talking about down the road may already be born.  So we knew this had to happen. 

Do not expect China’s amazing economic growth rate of about 10% per year to reverse itself all of a sudden.  That growth was due to increased productivity rather than to increase in the work force size.  In this country we generally buy into the “once child policy.”  There was a law you could only have one child, so that is what happened.  Only it didn’t.  The fall in birth rate had already happened when the law was imposed.  And the rate is now about 1.5 children per woman.  Those who look carefully at what is going on and what people there say recon that absent the one child policy the birth rate would rise to 1.6.  So there is no haste needed to change to policy.  It’s not that important. 

But for public consumption the “policy” does serve a purpose.  For a great world power it is nice not to be considered weak.  When people learn that China does not have a lot of children they remain impressed.  Were they to take to heart that China cannot have more children they could be less impressed. 

I have pondered recently the question of American military intervention.  We fought England, we fought Spain, we fought Germany, we fought Italy, we fought throughout Western Europe, we fought Japan and we fought North Korea.  That last fight ended in stalemate.  But looking at those countries, they pretty much all seem to be paragons of prosperity, stability and civil peace.  North Korea is not on my list of favorite places to live as an average citizen but we never occupied it.  We were in South Korea, which is doing very nicely, thank you.  Italy is not quite so prosperous on official paper, but I suppose they still have an unofficial economy that puts them right up there with the other rich nations. 

After the Korean War we continued to get into fights.  We fought in Vietnam, Cuba, throughout Central and South America, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen and Libya.  All of those places seem nicer than North Korea, perhaps, but they certainly are poor and for the average citizen are in lamentable state.  (Brazil maybe not so bad I’m thinking.)

So what happened to us?  What in the world happened after the fifties that turned our golden touch into the kiss of death?  And at the same time we had a massive increase in “recreational” drug use, divorce, “free love,” raucous music and on and on.  Somehow the government seemed no longer to be on the side of the average Joe, who used to be pretty much middle class.  The middle class is almost extinct. 

Well for one thing as we approached the end of the fifties the “baby boom” was winding down.  It is nominally said to have lasted from 1946 to 1964, but look at the graphic:

United States birth rate (births per 1000 population).[3] The United States Census Bureau defines the demographic birth boom as between 1946 and 1964[4] (red).
From  Downloaded January 27, 2013.
It’s not like the boom ended in 1964 and things stabilized, is it?  Instead the fall became faster than ever, falling below the depths of the depression by 1969.  But it could be seen coming by the early sixties and by 1970 was unmistakable.  It is clear to everybody but me that the low birth rate during the depression was because poverty meant people couldn’t afford babies.  Where does that come from?  The rest of the time they are saying that the best contraceptive is wealth.  I rather suspect that the depression was caused by the birth dirth rather than the other way round. 

At all events it seems possible to me that as the rest of the world watched us fail to have children we desperately needed, they lost their faith in us, no longer respected us, despised us.  On the face of it some of them act like that.

Then add to that the fact that we are in the process of legalizing same sex marriages.  So what? It’s not like we are the first.  And the others mostly are also rich countries with low birth rates.  And we are preparing to send women into combat, again not the first and again the others like us tend to be rich with a low birth rate.

All of which in no way causes substantial lowering of birth rates.  But once you don’t like something, you tend to drag in anything you don’t like about it as part of the picture. 

Well it’s a thought anyway.  The exceptions,  would be other prosperous places like Japan, South Korea and of course Europe.  They may not seem terribly fond of us some days, but they tolerate us.  They are understanding although of course they do not understand.  The work force in Europe is in decline as well. (Working-age Shift page 68 same issue) 

So people are talking about the elephant.  The problem is that they are not asking about it.  And there are only so many macaroons. 

There have been 29 visitors since the change in statistics.

Home page