Today’s doomster: “The demographic time bomb that could hit America”

Summary: Every day brings new doomster stories designed to influence you. The politics of fear rules America. We were not so weak and gullible in the past, and need not be so in the future.

Catherine Rampell


Today’s Doomster News!

The demographic time bomb
that could hit America

By Catherine Rampell, opinion columnist at the WaPo.

“In 2017, the United States saw the fewest babies born in 30 years, a stat that produced a lot of hand-wringing {WaPo: “As U.S. fertility rates collapse, finger-pointing and blame follow“}. But it turns out things could be worse – a lot worse. We could be Japan, whose unfolding demographic crisis provides some lessons for where America might be headed. …

“Despite government campaigns and policy changes, gender roles remain relatively traditional in Japan. …

“In a sense, then, Japan has learned the opposite lesson of the United States: If you want more babies, find ways to make it easier for working people to have kids – through both more family-friendly workplace policies and a more liberal immigration system. (Immigrants, by the way, tend to have more babies than do native-born Americans.)

“And preferably, do all this before the demographic time bomb explodes.”

As I wrote a decade ago, Only our amnesia makes reading the newspapers bearable. For decades we were told that the The population bomb was overpopulation. Only Leftist nostrums could save us. Now, suddenly, underpopulation is the bomb. And only Leftist nostrums can save us. Especially immigration, since open borders is their defining policy. As usual with modern propaganda for Americans, most of this is bogus (since we are so gullible, our elites craft propaganda with same care as dog food is made)

(1) About those “traditional gender roles in Japan.”

Unknown to Princeton-educated Ms. Rampell, societies with traditional gender roles usually have higher fertility rates than those with more modern systems. Japan’s plunging birthrate must have different causes.

(2) About the horror that is Japan’s economy.

As a good WaPo columnist, Rampell shares the perspective of our corporate owners. GDP is god. Fewer people means fewer sales, smaller profits, and perhaps even higher wages. (open those borders to fix both of those problems!) Real people care about per capita real GDP (and similar measures). How has Japan done during the past ten years (through 2017), during which its population fell by 0.9% and America’s rose by 8.1%. Japan did slightly better: up 6.6% vs. up 6.3% in the USA. Click to enlarge.

Per Capita Real GDP of US and Japan

(3) Japan: the model of a successful nation in the 21st century.

The big flaw in Rampell’s doomster screed: we are entering a new industrial revolution. This next wave of automation will destroy a large, but known, fraction of jobs. Kiosks and automatic check-outs replace cashiers. Paperless and cashless economists need fewer people to move paper. Human judgement in many fields, from credit officers to radiologists, replace by superior and cheaper algorithms. Droids replacing security guards. Software replacing journalists. See scores of posts about this here.

The perennial tech-debunkers have moved to their last-ditch defense: new systems will not replace all jobs. Duh. The people remaining in these jobs (cashiers to radiologists) will be far more efficient than today. There will just be fewer of them. Perhaps new jobs will be created to replace them. But there is little evidence of that today. Most analysis suggests that one-third to two-thirds of occupations will have large job losses.

Rampell is correct. We can learn from Japan. They have the formula for success in this age of history.

  1. A highly educated and hard-working people with a high-savings rate – the foundation for economic success).
  2. A homogeneous population with strong social cohesion – minimizing the domestic turbulence common in multi-ethnic societies when under stress.
  3. A shrinking labor force – able to more easily absorb the job destruction from automation.

These advantages are mutually reinforcing. A highly educated population suits the available jobs. A shrinking population more easily accommodates job losses from automation, which reduces the social stress of this transition (more about this here). Less social stress might facilitate adoption of new technology and methods. The obvious contrast is with America, and its growing population of increasingly poorly-educated people, in a society fracturing by ethnicity, race, religion, and ideology.

(4)  Fewer people will help solve our environmental problems

Advocating more people for Japan is nuts. Japan’s leaders have worried about its overpopulation since the Meiji Restoration when they had about 30 million people (1868). They encouraged emigration to Korea, to no effect. They had 50 million in 1910, 100 million in 1967, and a peak in 2008 at 128 million — all crowded into a narrow urban belt along the coast. At their current level of fertility, by 2100 their population might be half of today’s, back to the level of 1930.  Eventually their population might fall to 60 million (1925) or even 50 million (1910).

The effect on Japan’s environment would be wonderful. Japan could become a garden with fewer people and the cleaner technology of the future (when common question in grade-school history class will be “Teacher, what is ‘pollution’?”).

An industrialized world in the mid-21st century of ten or twelve billion people would be an ecological catastrophe. Falling fertility will help reduce the damage, and allow easier and faster repairs in the second half of the century.

On one hand, the WaPo advocates drastic Leftist measures to boost population growth in America. On the other hand, it advocates drastic Leftist measures to protect the environment – to which population growth is the greatest threat. There is a common element to these two campaigns: they assume that their readers are too foolish to notice the contradiction. Are they wrong?


For More Information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about Japan, about doomsters, about the new industrial revolution, and especially these…

  1. Must our population always grow to ensure prosperity? (2013) – Spoiler: no.
  2. A rocky road lies ahead to a far smaller world population.
  3. Why Japan can become an economic star of the 21st century.
  4. The facts behind the scary new UN population forecast & those doomster headlines.
  5. Doomsters warned of End Times from overpopulation. Now *fewer* people are disastrous.
  6. Diversity is a grand experiment. We’re the lab rats.
The Second Machine Age
Available at Amazon.

Books about the coming industrial revolution

The Second Machine Age:
Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a Time of Brilliant Technologies

By Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (both at MIT).

From the publisher …

“In The Second Machine Age MIT’s Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee – two thinkers at the forefront of their field – reveal the forces driving the reinvention of our lives and our economy. As the full impact of digital technologies is felt, we will realize immense bounty in the form of dazzling personal technology, advanced infrastructure, and near-boundless access to the cultural items that enrich our lives.

“Amid this bounty will also be wrenching change. Professions of all kinds – from lawyers to truck drivers – will be forever upended. Companies will be forced to transform or die. Recent economic indicators reflect this shift: fewer people are working, and wages are falling even as productivity and profits soar.

“Drawing on years of research and up-to-the-minute trends, Brynjolfsson and McAfee identify the best strategies for survival and offer a new path to prosperity. These include revamping education so that it prepares people for the next economy instead of the last one, designing new collaborations that pair brute processing power with human ingenuity, and embracing policies that make sense in a radically transformed landscape.

“A fundamentally optimistic book, The Second Machine Age alters how we think about issues of technological, societal, and economic progress.”

For more about this see Chapter One and a review from the London Review of Books.


18 thoughts on “Today’s doomster: “The demographic time bomb that could hit America””

  1. “As a good WaPo columnist, Rampell shares the perspective of our corporate owners. GDP is god.”

    Yessiree. Anther perspective concerning the rationale driving the open borders controversy; unfortunately, the mass media will predominately present the side of the issue which benefits the bottom line of their puppet masters.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Sad but true. But most of us obey the folks that pay us. If Americans would pay for news, we might get more useful news. Today corporations pay (advertisements).

      “If you don’t pay for something, you’re the product – not the client.”

  2. You might want to also read the Washington Examiner editorial page. That paper is an interesting experiment but I am extremely hesitant to predict where it will eventually wind up

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Can you tell us a bit more about it, esp in terms of its relevance to this post? I don’t read it.

    2. The Washington Examiner seeks out editorials from people who try to make a difference. This leads to a much more varied diet of opinions than the Washington Post. But, at the same time, the Examiner was a semi-right wing main stream media company until it was bought a year and it still has some of that flavor. The result is always thought-provoking commentary, but is not always useful.

      My primary reason for mentioning it is that it is a mainstream media company (or at least seeks to maintain that reputation) that is not always doom and gloom and tries to offer fresh insights into the world around us. As noted above, it does not always succeed but it is predictably more useful than the Washington Post editorials.

      1. Larry Kummer, Editor


        Thanks for the review – and the update. I didn’t know about its new management.

  3. The Inimitable NEET

    The wailing about overpopulation or underpopulation in the media function as doomsday predictions for a future that is still avoidable. Pundits erroneously believe they are tracking a trend that may erupt into an unheralded catastrophe, when in fact it has already occurred and they are merely detailing the fallout.

    Relying on total fertility rate or total births per country is a deceptive measure because it obscures that this trend is a global phenomenon. The worldwide annual rate of growth peaked at 2.2% in 1970, capping the 20th century as an explosive historical outlier; previously, it hovered around 0.2-0.4%. Among the 35 OECD nations + China + Russia + Brazil population growth reached its apex at the end of the 80’s and has been in decline ever since. Population “growth” has been is buttressed in first-world nations by the elderly living longer and longer while TFR decline in said countries is counterbalanced out by central Africa and India. In Rampell’s case, she missed the bus by about 30 years as Japan’s demographic decline began in ’88.

    Japan’s future is an issue where we’re at loggerheads. I know you are very optimistic from past posts, but I remain skeptical that Japan will be the leading figurehead in a post-automaton world. For one, the 18-54 year old demographic is not nearly as stable and prosperous as you may think. Similar to the U.S. there are enormous chunks of the working age pool (mostly male) who are either out of the job market or working minimum income jobs for subsistence. They aren’t accounted for in official unemployment reports – again like the U.S. – and have no interest in consumer spending or saving. This is one of several examples on their famous cultural ethos decaying within the last 2 decades. Stagnation among the worldwide youth demographic also means Japan can no longer rely on exporting to shore up the deficit. This may especially crater Japan’s reliance on China considering the latter is one of the biggest losers in that area.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I don’t understand much of your comment.

      (1) “Relying on total fertility rate or total births per country is a deceptive measure because it obscures that this trend is a global phenomenon”

      That’s like saying gallons are a deceptive measure because it obscures that water is a global phenomenon. Of course national TFR does not measure global TFR.

      (2) “The worldwide annual rate of growth peaked at 2.2% in 1970 …”

      I don’t understand your point in this paragraph.

      (3) “In Rampell’s case, she missed the bus by about 30 years as Japan’s demographic decline began in ’88.”

      No, she does not. She is describing the current situation – not giving a history. She explicitly says “One factor is that Japan has actually been aging for a long time …” – that link goes to an OECD report about Japan’s history (for those that are interested).

      (4) “For one, the 18-54 year old demographic is not nearly as stable and prosperous as you may think.”

      Japan’s per capita GDP growth is fine, just like ours. That it is not shared well is a distributional problem, not a demographic one. This is good news. We know how to fix the former. The former is a much more difficult question. Can’t fix what we don’t understand.

      1. The Inimitable NEET

        “That’s like saying gallons are a deceptive measure because it obscures that water is a global phenomenon. Of course national TFR does not measure global TFR.”

        The reason I call it deceptive is that without taking falling TFR as a global phenomenon into account, public propositions tend to skew towards either immigrant influx or myopic ones to plug holes in the dike. These are fine if the problem is provincial, not if it’s happening everywhere (especially for solution #1). It’s the same problem whenever mainstream articles attempt to account for the decrepit U.S. male labor force participation rate. It’s treated as a problem of economic incentives and education, not social incentives and lack of motivation. Therefore economists remain puzzled on how to address it.

        “No, she does not. She is describing the current situation – not giving a history.”

        True, bad wording on my part.

        “Japan’s per capita GDP growth is fine, just like ours. That it is not shared well is a distributional problem, not a demographic one. This is good news. We know how to fix the former. The former is a much more difficult question. Can’t fix what we don’t understand.”

        My point is that your previous sanguine prediction about Japan’s future was based on the assumption Japan would retain a highly educated and hard-working populace combined with strong social cohesion. These would help mitigate the impact from widespread automation and serve as the foundation for its resurgence as a 21st century economic powerhouse.

        From my exposure to Japanese society over the last decade, both these factors are slowly . decaying. In fact, they’re been in decline for far longer but the transitions were so slow and pervasive even the more inquisitive foreign correspondents couldn’t recognize them as more than fragmented phenomena like hikikomori.

  4. Pingback: “The demographic time bomb that could hit America” – Fabius Maximus website – A Curious Occurance

  5. It is rather unfair that Japan is always the whipping boy for these arguments, given that many other nations have comparable or even lower birthrates. Germany and Italy are barely ahead of Japan (1.46 and 1.45 to Japan’s 1.41 children per woman) while South Korea is at 1.27 and Taiwan at 1.13. (Source is and may be slightly out of date.)

    It is at least good that the author of this piece attributes this primarily to economic factors, leavened by cultural ones (like the overwork culture) rather than “those wacky Japanese.”

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      I believe people look at Japan as the poster child because this phenomenon hit there early and hard. They’re ahead of us, so we can learn from them.

      “It is at least good that the author of this piece attributes this primarily to economic factors,”

      It’s the fashion today to attribute almost everything to economic factors (WaPo columnists are weathervanes to the current winds of elite fashion). That is, imo, unlikely. Cultural factors are immensely strong. We ignore them at our peril. But our insanely confident social engineers will ignore them, leading to their next gen of disasters.

    1. Larry Kummer, Editor


      Interesting story! But I’ve become skeptical of these articles from very distant lands that perfectly meet the Left’s agenda. Too many have proven to be exaggerated or misleading. I’ll wait until additional reporting as verification before getting too excited.

  6. The Inimitable NEET

    Part of the reason Japan gets the lion’s share of the attention is its relative esteem in foreigners’ eyes. Unlike China, Japan was the poster child of a Asian country that adopted Western social norms and surpassed us in other areas. Places like Spain with lower birth rates don’t have the same cultural cache. They can’t invoke the same ironic juxtaposition to make an interesting story.

    Not to mention Japan functions as a cultural bellwether in many respects. A salacious example: the proliferation of incest porn in the West over the last 4-5 years was heralded by its existence in Japan. Outsiders initially it regarded with shock and bemusement back then. Professional cuddling in NYC and the burgeoning demand for sex robots mirrors the Japanese underground market for simulated intimacy – fake boyfriends, fake girlfriends, waifus, body pillows, etc. So and so forth.

  7. I offer no opinion on the potential benefit of population shrinkage in Japan, but will observe that the form it takes will be an acceleration of the current trend: lots more old people, and far fewer younger people to take care of them. That’s not a recipe for survival.

    Historically, population reductions were the result of epidemics of virulent diseases that wiped out the weakest (the youngest and older), leaving a fitter generation of reproductive age to start over again. The situation in Japan (and Spain, and Italy, et al.) is a downward spiral in which each generation is smaller. The populations to which this happens will then be replaced by immigrants taking over the property by adverse possession.

    In western society, the virulence of feminism is just as effective. When women compete ferociously with men, why would we expect them to be engaging in baby-making activities? The societies that survive will be very overtly patriarchal and strongly circumscribe women’s choices.

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