Jewish World Review April 11, 2000 / 6 Nissan, 5760
European Union? European Ostrich!
CONSIDER HOW JOSEPH CHAMIE, Director of the United Nation's Population
Division, distills the new and very controversial U.N. publication
"Replacement Migration: Is It a Solution to Declining and Aging
He looks at the current foundation of the demographic future
and says, "This is the only time in history where people are living longer
and populations are shrinking" -- but, he quickly notes, it doesn't apply to
America. (For that, we Americans are blessed.)
In short, we are looking ahead to a world where, in most of its modern
parts, people will be many fewer and much older. As Casey Stengel used to
say, that is a true fact. Which is why it is not a popular one in some
quarters, particularly when the news is delivered by the United Nations.
After all, most of the time U.N. agencies are stressing (overstated)
forecasts of population growth in faraway underdeveloped countries, rather
than the wrenching implications of shrinking populations in proud Europe and
Speaking officially for all the nations of Europe, Joao Fins-do-Lago of
Portugal responded to Chamie's truth-telling effrontery thusly: "The report
presents a one-dimensional approach to the highly complex issue of
population aging.... We would have appreciated that the document... been
provided... before being presented to the press and the public.... This is
an essentially distinct phenomena.... Future work must be done at a national
and regional level."
And so, official Europe continues in official denial. Let's call the
European Union what it is: the European Ostrich. The operative and
misleading word in Fins-do-Lago's statement is "distinct." The root causes
of the future sharp rise of median age are not distinct at all, and everyone
knows it. Longevity is expanding in most every developed country but Russia,
which is in crisis. And birth rates and fertility rates have fallen sharply
in every area of the world in recent decades. In Europe the Total Fertility
Rate (TFR) is 1.4 children per woman, about a third below the 2.1 rate
required to merely "replace" a population over time. In America the TFR is
Chamie and his colleagues have capsulized the problem with the path-breaking
phrase, "replacement migration." Just as a "replacement fertility" rate
tells us how many babies are needed to keep a population stationary, so
"replacement migration" tells us how many migrants are needed to:
1. keep population from falling;
2. maintain the size of a working population; and
3. keep the ratios of workers to retirees from falling.
The numbers for Europe are impossible. Europe is projected to take in 23
million immigrants from 1995 to 2050. But Europe would need 100 million
immigrants to keep its population from falling, 161 million immigrants to
keep the working-age cohort from falling and 1.4 billion immigrants to keep
the ratio of workers to retirees from falling.
Not going to happen. Europeans are already burning mad at even the current
immigration level. European elites excoriate anti-immigration politicians
like Austria's Jorg Haider and France's Jacques LePen, comparing them to
skinhead Nazis. But, nonetheless, mainstream European policies are turning
increasingly against any form of immigration.
But what's the problem with an aging society? People living longer -- that's
the good news, isn't it? Yes. But the bad news, thinks Chamie, goes beyond
the projected shortfall of worker-bees to sustain current levels of
government pension plans. After all, these are rich societies. Europeans
will survive, even with lower pensions than now, and perhaps with even more
assets per capita than now, due to the increasing payoff from technology.
But, Chamie wonders, what happens when the cash on hand can't buy the
desired and needed services for the elderly?
Think about it: Who will wash the dishes in the lush restaurants? Who will
wash the infirm elderly? Who will clean the bedpans, mow the lawns and sack
the groceries? Surely not the ever-diminishing numbers of working-age adults
emanating from the darlings of the model 1.4-child European family.
In short, Europeans don't want immigrants, but they want what only
immigrants can provide. Fortunately, this time the European press is not in
on the denial deal. The new U.N. report has been played widely. And why not?
Many European nations are on their way to a going-out-of-business sale. In
Spain, the proportion of elderly is expected to grow by 117 percent by 2050,
while the nation loses 24 percent of its population, which will continually
compound upon itself as, and if, the Birth Dearth continues.
America has its own problems with aging and pension support, but they are
slam-dunks by European standards.
Chamie calls the 20th century "the demographic century." Between the
Population Explosion and the Birth Dearth, he is right. But we ain't seen
nothing yet. And ostriches see nothing until it's too
Ben Wattenberg is a senior fellow at the
American Enterprise Institute
and is the moderator of PBS's "Think Tank." You may comment by clicking here.
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