Jewish World Review April 30, 2004 /9 Iyar, 5764

Terry Eastland

Eastland
JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
MUGGER
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports


A country's declining birthrate into oblivion


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | SIENA, Italy — In 1348, the Black Death took the lives of 70,000 of this city's 100,000 inhabitants. Siena, whose exquisite art still amazes, never again had a population that large. Today, it numbers just 56,000.


The Black Death was traced to infected rats aboard a merchant ship from the Crimea that stopped in Sicily. The diseases carried by those rats ravaged not only Italy but all of Europe. The loss of life ranged from 12 percent in a city or region to the 70 percent reported in Siena. "No one wept for the dead," wrote a denizen of the devastated city, "because everyone expected death himself."


Today, a visitor to Italy is struck by the fact that demographic destruction is occurring once again, though this time more slowly. There is no Black Death, no communicable disease that the destruction can be blamed on. But the fact is that Italy is depopulating itself, and it is doing so by human choice. Procreation, you could say, is suffering. Simply put, Italians are having very few babies — actually, too few for Italy to survive.


Italy now has the lowest birthrate (1.23 children per woman) in Europe and the second lowest in the world. If Italy's "rate of reproduction continues," London's Sunday Telegraph recently noted, "Italians will slowly but surely die out."


A similar demographic destruction is visiting other European countries, for most of them also have birthrates well below what is necessary to maintain current population levels (thought to be 2.1 children per woman). Consider that the population of Spain will decline from 40 million to 31.3 million by 2050 if the birthrate in that country persists unchanged.


It isn't hard to see the immediate problems facing a Europe lacking sufficiently high birthrates. Most obviously, the lavish, cradle-to-grave welfare states found throughout the continent will want for new workers and the taxes they would pay — unless immigration soars. But immigration brings its own problems, not least (in a post-Sept. 11 world) terrorism and the cells that support it.



Donate to JWR


Of course, welfare benefits could be cut. In Italy, for example, the retirement age would have to be raised from a mere 55. But trimming the welfare state requires political will, and it isn't obvious that aging populations that clearly like living in the "present moment," as one European history scholar told me, will acquiesce.


They may have no other choice, especially if Europe is going to develop a military capability to defend itself (once the United States withdraws troops). Europe has been able to enjoy "paradise," in Robert Kagan's keen analysis — a paradise made possible by the fact that its security has relied upon American power. Now, though, the time for assuming responsibility for a government's most important task has arrived.


European governments hold out hope that their populations won't wither but stabilize and even increase. Officials (tutored by economists) tend to regard a too low birthrate as a problem of supply that can be corrected as all such problems are — by offering behavioral incentives, meaning money.


Italy recently began offering 1,000 euros (roughly $1,200) to every woman who has a second child. That experiment will be closely watched. Meanwhile, working Italian women continue to complain about their husbands, who they say do too little work around the house. If the men helped out more, they say, they would have a second child.


Maybe. But maybe, too, the low birthrates of Italy and Europe generally are symptomatic of a much deeper problem. That Europe is secular (and American religious, an unnerving fact in Europe) is undisputed. But the problem of a secular society, as the British historian Christopher Dawson long ago pointed out, is that it "has no end beyond its own satisfaction." Such a society may have a harder time turning from its own pleasures to take on the responsibility of raising children.


"A baby," Carl Sandburg once said, "is G-d's opinion that the world should go on." In secular Europe, G-d's opinion may not be regarded as very important. A continent whose graying populations are wealthier and healthier than ever apparently prefers to do things other than perpetuate the human future.

Every weekday JewishWorldReview.com publishes what many in Washington and in the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.




JWR contributor Terry Eastland is is publisher of The Weekly Standard.Comment by clicking here.

04/26/04: Dems escalate the judicial war
04/09/04: Bush was right to permit Rice to testify on 9-11
03/25/04: Colleges doing away with their racially exclusive programs
03/02/04: What does a conservative beat mean for The New York Times?
12/31/03: America is right to press for religious freedom worldwide
10/22/03: Case involving pledge should be easy for justices to decide
10/15/03: Dean places political considerations ahead of national security
08/28/03: Colleges creating policies that discourage intellectual exchange
08/14/03: Progressive reform could end up limiting government
07/30/03: Congressman, please consult Miss Manners
07/23/03:Words reveal much about Bush: Maybe there is a reason he won't retract sentence
07/08/03: Justices also said affirmative action must end
06/25/03: Court's law school ruling isn't persuasive
06/24/03: Whatever the Lynch story, everyone wants it
06/18/03: A judge shows he can set aside his strong views
06/04/03: Boston church becomes politically important again
05/28/03: YWCA names culture warrior as its new head
05/23/03: Washington steps in to help teach history
05/13/03: It may take another election to change filibuster rules
05/07/03: Paige works to improve education from inside out
04/30/03: Iraqis have choice to make regarding religious freedom
04/16/03: Is it acceptable for an education secretary to state a personal preference for religious schooling?
04/08/03: University officials must put academics ahead of athletics
04/02/03: Support for our soldiers means support for their orders
03/27/03: 'Free Iraqi Forces' underscore Bush's sincerity
03/18/03: Dems misunderstand judge's job
03/13/03: Justices show right restraint in ruling on anti-crime measures
03/05/03: America's imperial intentions
02/25/03: The weakness of Dems' stated reason for their filibuster makes you wonder whether it is the real reason
02/19/03: Administration fine-tunes religious rights in public education
02/12/03: France and Germany need to be reminded of the necessity of a strong, even predominant America
02/06/03: Judiciary's 'balance' -- or lack of it -- is our doing
01/29/03: The child who almost wasn't
01/21/03: President decides to punt on affirmative action case
01/14/03: Bush's faith has influenced his conduct in public office
01/07/03: Dems need ideas, not more microphones
12/17/02: Gray Lady should learn that times have changed
12/10/02: Will High Court be guilty of activism?
12/03/02: The missing facts in news accounts of Saudi Princess Haifa's putative 'charity'
11/26/02: Americans don't have to be worried about Big Brother
11/19/02: Texas' reputation for flamboyance may be revised
11/11/02: Bush now can repair confirmation system
11/05/02: Dems shouldn't believe too strongly in history
10/30/02: Snipers had lots of motives
10/23/02: No one should be shut out of marketplace of ideas
10/15/02: Open hearings that could imperil the nation
10/08/02: Debating the clear and present danger
10/01/02: A great awakening in China?
09/25/02: Abortion, again? The settled but still unsettling law of Roe v. Wade
09/18/02: A relevant presidency--and irrelevant U.N?
09/10/02: Ashcroft's obtuse judicial statement
09/04/02: The Education Gadfly stings again
08/28/02: So then let the president declare war
08/21/02: Will Bush finally 'fix' affirmative action once and for all?
08/06/02: President must take up cause of Egyptian democracy warrior
07/31/02: With each war, civil liberties are curtailed less

© 2004, Terry Eastland