The Chinese Population Crisis

How Communist cruelty and Western folly built an underpopulation bomb.

Comments: 222

  1. One of the very real issues for China is the serious lack of women. The number of males greatly out number the number of females. This has and will continue to cause problems, to such an extent that i would not be surprised to witness conflicts, induced to gain women and or to reduce the male population.

  2. @E. J. KNITTEL Think broader. If the US can import women from conflict zones as “war brides”, why cannot China? Taiwan have been doing it for decades and I have no doubt mainland China can import women from Southeast Asia. Large Chinese cities are already more developed than most US cities so if “living standards” is what motivates those women in the world, they’d pick China over the US. Much closer to home as well.

  3. @AmateurHistorian I have read many articles, to include in the Washington Post, where foreign brides are being trafficked into China. These brides are from countries such as Myanmar, Pakistan. A lot of brides are also originating from Vietnam. The shortage of females is a social issue in China.

  4. @E. J. KNITTEL See, for example, an article in one of Pakistan's newspapers, about the trafficking of Pakistani women/girls into China:

  5. Psst, Ross- The planet is on fire! Species are going extinct in record time. The ocean is gradually dying, strangled by plastics and poisoned with acid from carbon emissions. Our groundwater is being simultaneously depleted and poisoned. And did I mention the planet is on fire, even if it is only literally true in Australia at the moment. I hate to break it to you, but Jesus isn't going to save us. He's not actually capable of heroic interventions, except perhaps to inspire us to be heroic. It isn't up to Him to extend our lease on existence on this planet no matter how reckless and heedless we are. 200,000 is the number of the net gain of human population on our planet every 24 hours. 200,000 new mouths to feed, to cut down forests for and sell poisonous products to. It's a cute phrase, but there is no such thing as a underpopulation bomb. Robotics can make up for fewer workers and produce what is needed for an aging population. Those who own the robots will just have to share a little more.

  6. @alan haigh The greatest danger of human-centric religious mythology is when it supports a lack of responsibility of human beings themselves to protect our planet. If one believes that we are a divine project to test the goodness of individual humans it becomes difficult to embrace the fact that we are a temporary species on a planet with bigger fish to fry then our survival. On this, the buck stops with us and not with God. In this context, Douthat seems like a traitor to his species in his support for an economic model that requires ever expanding human population to remain viable. This is unsustainable and unacceptable.

  7. @alan haigh Yes, robotics and less panic-at-the-border as poor people desperate for jobs, such as caring for the elderly, try to come and lend a hand. Panic fomented by Ross's party, the GOP, and its ilk around the world. Ross, you own this, now, own it!

  8. @Bo Globally the two main reasons for massive migration are failed states and excessive population growth. Check a chart of countries with the highest fertility rates and be astounded by the strong correlation.

  9. "If something cannot go on forever it will stop." China's cruelty and mistakes aside, at some point human population growth WILL stop. The more we ignore that, the longer we wait, the more painful the stop (and reversal) will be. One challenge advanced economies have not figured out is how to successfully manage aging populations with stable birthrates over a long period of time. Pointing at failures may be instructive, but it doesn't eliminate the underlying truth: One way or another the human population on Earth will eventually stop growing.

  10. Huh? I was born in the 1950s. If I live another 10 years, the number of human beings here on earth will have TRIPLED in my lifetime. How in the world can this data square with predictions of a "stagnant society", or an "underpopulation bomb."

  11. @Mary Gibbons How about, too many older people, far fewer youth in OED countries? There is your bomb and don't expect immigration to take up slack when so many are against such and don't see this problem.

  12. It’s tiresome to read the same flat and outdated theories again and again. As there is no endless economic growth, there is no endless population growth. Our civilization suffers from the mantra of growth, fed by greed and fear. It is based on the extraction of raw materials and the exploitation of people. Both inevitably will lead to collapse and both merge catastrophically in global heating. Yes, the Homo sapiens has the deep seeded instinct to grow, but that doesn’t have to be material growth as capitalism wants us to believe. Human desire for growth can be satisfied in many other ways: growth of knowledge, growth of love, growth of caring, growth of equality, growth of harmony, growth of well being and growth of the natural world.

  13. @Oliver Herfort Non extractive growth can even be economic, since value is not material. Economic growth can go on forever as long as it is a growth in added quality. Microprocessors consume very little silicon, compared to concrete, and software consumes none. If you could turn a ton of coal into a ton of diamond that would be economic growth without increased material consumption.

  14. @Oliver Herfort "Human desire for growth can be satisfied in many other ways: growth of knowledge, growth of love, growth of caring, growth of equality, growth of harmony, growth of well being and growth of the natural world." A beautiful idea! If we thought that way, we could have paradise on our beautiful planet.

  15. @Oliver Herfort Yes! Juliet Schor has written about a new and prosperous economic model that does not rely on population growth: Plentitude: The New Economics of True Wealth A lot of it is around a knowledge economy and green energy development, rather than buying and selling material products that deplete material resources.

  16. I have noticed that almost every "population crisis" article in the NYT is about declining fertility rates and declining population growth rates, just the opposite of what, I believe, the actual "population crisis" is. In less than 70 years, our planet's human population has more than tripled, and doubled in 46 years, while the population of most other species has precipitously declined. The human population growth "rate" may be declining, but the "absolute" population growth continues to be north of 80 million a year. Growing human population, combined with increased consumption/consumerism, and not carbon emissions or plastic straws, are the culprits behind our climate crisis. If China has become a prosperous nation, it's partly because of its success in controlling the growth of its population. As proof, look no further than at the comparatively appalling conditions in its fast-growing neighboring countries of South Asia (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh). I would hope that more people would applaud China's population policy rather than ring the alarm bell.

  17. Overpopulation is straining our planet (climate change), resources, wildlife, and ourselves; so reducing the population doesn’t seem like a bad thing. True, it may present new problems, such as caring for an aging population, but it seems the direction we must go for the health of the planet and life on it.

  18. The issue with an aging population is that there are fewer young people to support the elders. However, we also have a robotics revolution. If properly designed, exploitation of automation could support all. We do not need to keep growing global population in order to maintain standards of living.

  19. The alternative, which was unlimited population growth, is more untenable that this issue. We have 7,600,000,000 human persons on this earth. The notion that we can grow our way out of the problems of over-population by MORE EXTREME overpopulation is basically insane. We needs limits to growth. Allowing unfettered, unregulated, uncapped growth means that nature will provide the solution. That is either starvation, disease, or conflict. China's use of sex-selection abortion and putting girl babies up for adoption means that China has selected another approach to population control. By having a male-majority sex ratio, a certain % of the population will not reproduce. In parts of China, this is a large proportion.

  20. "... (An aside to answer a predictable objection: Yes, in an age of stagnation, CO2 levels won’t grow as fast, delaying some of climate change’s effects — but at the same time a stagnant society will struggle to innovate enough to escape the climate crisis permanently. And yes, an empty planet wouldn’t have a climate change problem at all, but if that’s your goal your misanthropy is terminal.) …" It is predictable because it is true and most blatantly obvious even to the most blatantly oblivious. If there is one thing this old planet does not need is more humans (7.7 billion, increasing 80 million annually, equivalent every 4 years to the population of the USA). It is NOT just CO2 that is a major threat. There are a countless multitude of variegated looming environmental disasters already on a roll, ramping up over time, and baked in for decades to come. Think resource depletion (aquifers, arable land, etc). Think pollution (do I need to enumerate?). This list is very long. How about the mass extinction, and mass migrations that are already on a roll? OK, forget it. This planet is already over its carrying capacity. It was fun while it lasted. Thank god (any god, Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, any god will do) I won't be around to see it.

  21. @oldBassGuy A planet with fewer people can offer greater opportunities to its population. Even now there is a huge amount of wealth in this world but it is held by only a few. The top 1% control 50% of the world's wealth. You can improve the lot of the average person by redistributing that wealth or drastically cutting the number of people in the world. Many of those alive today have no job opportunities or any way to support themselves. Continually giving them aid does not solve the problem. You an bet on which option the 1% are in favor of. We are on our way towards fewer people in the world but will we last long enough to get there? Rethink the world. Produce long lasting, repairable goods. Eliminate waste, limited use products and a 'consume more' economy. Fewer people sharing the same amount of wealth rises the average standard of living. The Black Death left a more prosperous world in its wake as fewer people were left to share the resources available. Think of a world where everyone was free to reach their potential. Unfortunately I suspect we are doomed to a Soylent Green scenario that leads to human extinction.

  22. If our became planet empty of humans it would be a great loss (for us, at least), but it would not be empty.

  23. Well said.

  24. They need a decent pension plan. The age where young people supported their elder generation was left in the last millennium as well, together with the age of no contraception.

  25. 14 million babies were born in China last year, more than the entire Western Hemisphere combined. With well over a billion people, China is more than sufficiently populated. Japan is pioneering a society that is prosperous without continuous growth. Maybe China (and the rest of the world) can learn from Japan before overpopulation destroys the world.

  26. @Rick you're articulate, but not truthful. A simple Google search would reveal that Japan's elderly population are still coasting on the fruit of decades of economic growth -- but that prosperity is steadily declining. And Japan is worried.

  27. @TC By what metric is their prosperity declining? Are they seeing declining infant mortality? Declining life expectancy? Declining HDI? Increasing political polarization and populism? Declining trust in institutions? What prosperity, I wonder, is "steadily declining" in Japan? Because going by a lot of actual numbers, the Japanese approach seems to be a lot more attractive than the US or EU ones when it comes to prosperity and stability.

  28. What seems to me obvious is that we need to devise an international program of global refugee resettlement. The agency that should probably spearhead this is The United Nations refugee agency. Climate change, war, and crop failures are seriously affecting the entire Southern Hemisphere. Coincidentally, their populations skew young. We need to have a plan in place to resettle these future workers in countries in the northern hemisphere whose populations are aging so quickly. No one is talking about this!

  29. There were 4 billion humans on the planet in 1974. Now there are over 7.5 billion. Reducing our population through fewer births is kinder than the alternatives: malnutrition, heat stroke, lack of clean water, wars over increasingly scarce resources. Mass extinctions are underway. The oceans are warming and acidifying. Plastic pollutants are found everywhere. Exhortations to increase the human population are tragically misguided.

  30. Its incredible to be ringing the alarm bell and blame the West, for China's demographic "problem". The fact that China's population might start shrinking is something to celebrate. The same as Japan. Why are we so worried about these nations that are so populous, when we worry about our environment and the damage continuous growth does to it? There are nations in Europe, that have seen declining populations for a lot longer and they're hardly mentioned. Bulgaria has lost over 2 million people and is down to less than 7 million. Greece's population has been declining for years. These nations are small and there's very little hope that population decline will be reversed. Cultures and languages are disappearing daily and Russ Duthat worries about a nation that has over a billion souls. Give me a break.. Worry about something else

  31. If you’re going to discuss population in China, you need to compare it to India. China has left India in the dust in terms of economic and social development. Three of China’s top ten billionaires are self-made women. Women’s safety isn’t the issue in China that it is in India. GDP per capital in China is far higher and they have a middle class approaching western standards of living. None of this might have been possible if China didn’t make the tough decision to limit its population.

  32. @You Know It I don't know how and why this comparison even matters in this discussion. IMO, the population of China ought to stabilize at 600 million and India's population should stabilize at 350 million and both countries will benefit immensely not to speak of the benefits for the Planet as a whole.

  33. @Subhash Reddy India's population is going to exceed that of China's in about 2024.

  34. The alternative to China (or any other country) limiting its population is for China (or any other country) NOT to limit its population. How’s that working so far? Not so well, including in the United States. It’s as though all the articles about environmental disaster in the here and now have absolutely no impact on the economic health requires population growth equation. The only answer is to move to a nation and a world where each population cohort will ultimately be smaller than the older cohorts that we have today that we’ll be able to imagine solutions. And those solutions aren’t hard; it’s a matter of wealth / tax revenue diatribution. The hardest part will be supporting the largest, older generations. Ultimately, each generation will be of equivalent size and it will be a privilege (especially for wealthier countries) to be able to have a sustainable place to live. Supporting one’s countrymen and women across the generations is totally doable. Imagine, for example, if the population of China were only 1 billion. That country would not be an economic powerhouse? Try the same exercise with the US at 259 million.

  35. This article reflects the severe anthropocentrism of the writer. First: China's population was 670 million in 1960. Now it is 1.4 billion--more than doubling in 60 years. It is very over-populated. Second: we don't need population growth--we need to stabilize our population or even allow it to decline in order to begin to let other species have room to live their lives. Must every scrap of the planet be consumed by humans? Third: the Earth is a finite place and cannot sustain infinite population growth. The handwringing over women refusing to be bred over and over is everywhere. Men: get over it. We will transition to a smaller, more sustainable population or our planet will be completely destroyed.

  36. @No Planet B We Asian neighbors are counting on China's dropping birthrate to work in our favor. China will soon lack the younger workforce needed to run its factories, its services sector (including health care for the rapidly growing population of elderly) -- and its military. This is in fact a major impetus for their development of artificial intelligence; but AI can only go so far. Maybe this population shrinkage will help to curb their territorial aggression in the region, particularly its ongoing takeover of adjoining seas. And maybe even curb the xenophobia carefully cultivated by Beijing to offset internal dissent, as they will need somehow to work with other nationalities, e.g. by importing foreign labor, or collaborating on climate change initiatives. Of course, it could also work the other way, and China's worry over its weakening population may make it even more aggressive in the coming years, in terms of grabbing territory or establishing what control it can over resources in the rest of the world, even as its Asian neighbors grow increasingly resistant. So the next few years will be tense. In the 1930s, it was Japan's perception that it was a victim being hemmed in by foreign powers that fueled/justified among citizens its invasion of its neighbors, including China. Beijing has been playing the same victim card for decades now, and this sense of victimhood is deeply implanted in the national psyche; let's hope it doesn't lead to another major war.

  37. The planet will not be destroyed. Whatever the effects of H. sapien to the biogeosphere the effects will quickly diminish proportional to the reduction of the size of the population of H. sapien. Following the extinction of H. sapien the vacated niche spaces will be populated with new species and the expansion of existing species. As to remnants of the human endeavor, anomoulous artifacts will be found in relatively thin horizons of a future stratigraphic record. Earth abides.

  38. @Just So Agreed. Also, it may be that planet Earth is in the process of rejecting the human species as a foreign organism. It's just doing it at a pace that human perspective is not able to be aware of it.

  39. If the human population declines, if 'economic growth' slows, then we might just get through as a species to the next century, and so might some of our fellow species on this beautiful planet. If we follow Ross Douthat's advice, we are done for.

  40. @Malcolm He always certain, nearly always wrong. Seriously.

  41. Unacknowledged by the horde of dissenting voices in these comments who decry overpopulation and “inevitable” despoliation and starvation as a consequence: even as populations have skyrocketed worldwide, starvation and poverty have plummeted due to economic and political liberalization. That which is sadly falling out of favor has saved literally hundreds of millions of lives. If people are allowed to be free - to move and think and act and buy and sell and live freely - they tend to develop solutions to their problems. Institutional coercion will not save us. Only innovation born of freedom can.

  42. @Half Sour Yes, these comments seem quite ignorant of history. China has 1.4 billion people today and plentiful food (in fact, there is a growing obesity problem). Past famines in China were man-made, not the result of overpopulation. The Chinese famine of 1960 was caused by poor Communist policies. China only had 600 million people then, less than half of what it has today. The Chinese famines of the 1940s were caused by World War II. China only had 500 million people then, a third of what it has today. The Chinese famines in the late 1800s and early 1900s were caused by foreign imperialism and civil war impoverishing the country. China only had 400 million people and no population growth during this period, a quarter of what it has today, yet zero population growth didn't prevent famines then. Overpopulation does not cause famine. In fact, the countries today that are most at-risk of famine are places like South Sudan that are extremely sparsely populated. The Central African Republic, the world's poorest country, has a lower population density than Russia. Famine risk in those countries comes from the fact that people are so spread out that it's too hard to keep the country in order, distribute food, and build up manufacturing industries that rely on mass labor!

  43. A country like China, whose population growth hasn't peaked yet, will grow to be 1.5 Billion which will be 3.5 times larger than ours in the same period. That is too big a population to have considering both countries are of similar size. China and the Planet will benefit much with decreasing population. I don't think China and the world will worry about having too small a population.

  44. @Subhash Reddy The Economist Intelligence unit projects China's population to peak in 2026 at 1.4billions. It should then start declining rapidly to reach 750 millions by 2100.

  45. I'm pleased to see the large number of well-written responses from NYT readers and can hardly improve on them. Our economic systems are based on population growth but that doesn't mean it's right. Population growth is ultimately unsustainable and we need to find a better way.

  46. @Tim W Maybe Douthat should read "Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered" by E. F. Schumacher; a book Jerry Brown seemed to pay a lot of attention to when he was Governor of California.

  47. Ross, I really don't understand your position on declining population whether in China or elsewhere. From my perspective a lower population is a great opportunity for humanity. It will reduce the strain on Earths resources and help reduce the scope of climate change. Please take a deep breath and chill.

  48. @Paul While not sharing Douthat's political orientation in general, I have long perceived that he is a very intelligent man who has admirable skills at putting his thoughts into words. But so much of what he writes is colored by his vigorously held Catholicism, and whether he sees it or not, I suspect that is the explanation here, at some deep level. Interestingly, he was not raised Christian, but his family first converted to Pentecostalism, then Catholicism. I was raised Catholic (though I no longer believe), and to my eye, converts have always been more rigid and vociferous, on average, than those of us born to the faith.

  49. @Paul It’s mostly about breeding of the Livestock. Women.

  50. Douthat sometimes writes excellent articles. This is not one of them. The mistakes are so abundant, 1500 words does not suffice to record the corrections. Let me say first that low birthrates are NOT a cultural trap. Chairman Mao urged large families, and that was partially responsible for the Great Chinese Famine of 1959-61 which killed 10-40 million people. The one child policy was initiated by Deng Xiaoping in 1979. To see its effects, one should compare China with India which had no such policy. Both countries are overpopulated, but China has been growing less rapidly. Both countries are congested. India will soon overtake China in total population. But China's economic growth has been phenomenal. in many areas, China's production rivals the US. China has built an electrified high speed rail system that stretched to 18,000 miles. The US can't build rail from LA to SF. Douthat mentions global warming. Barring some miracle, average world temperatures will increase by 3.7 to 4.8 degrees C by 2100 over preindustrial levels. How will this affect the tropics? The people in Bangladesh may have higher GDP because they all have i-phones but it will be scant comfort as their land becomes submerged in the rising ocean. Global warming will DECREASE carrying capacity of planet earth. It is journalistic incompetence to suggest that underpopulation is a problem. The doubling of population since the Population Bomb was published makes global warming worse.

  51. @Blaise Descartes Ross always starts with the answer and works his way back to the question. Once aware of this, his word salad is easier to understand as well as digest.

  52. @Blaise Descartes. "China has built an electrified high speed rail system that stretched to 18,000 miles. The US can't build rail from LA to SF." Of course we CAN. We just don't have the political will to commit the resources and overcome the social obstacles that would be required to do so. In addition, when a nation already has an extensive infrastructure, the incremental benefits of upgrading it are less than for a country which doesn't have the infrastructure at all.

  53. I highly recommend that India follow suit and institute a one child policy.

  54. If the choice is more people living less well or less people living better, I think the later is the best choice. You also need to factor in that Chinese life expectancy was around 43 years in 1960 and 74 years now. Basing economic growth on population growth seems to have a limited time frame in a finite world.

  55. Increased growth is necessary because? Oh yeah, because Capitalism requires ever increasing production so that the money/profits keeps flowing. Why then, is the population supposed to adapt to Capitalism instead of giving consideration to an economic structure that does not require ever increasing production of profit? Maybe unfettered, unregulated Capitalism is more of a problem than an underpopulated Earth.

  56. @Vanessa Hall Worse yet, is that increased growth is required to help mitigate the impact of the enormous debt we have accumulated by our government budget deficits and our own personal borrowing. Traditionally, we have foolishly assumed that debt will be easier to repay in the future given a larger population with a larger economy. Greed aside, sadly, this is one of the reasons Wall Street is always looking for growth. For China's part, their debt is far less and they are not hemorrhaging their wealth via trade imbalances.

  57. You rock! I hope Douthat reads this.

  58. We need to look for alternatives to the continual growth that every governmental official and economist call for. Even the most uneducated person knows that you cannot have unlimited growth on a planet with limited resources. We waste materials, energy, and labor producing throwaway goods and limited use goods. That needs to end. These calls for growth come because we have Ponzi schemes like Social Security where benefits are paid for by people coming into the system. In other countries lacking such plans old people depend on children to support them in old age. We need a different approach to dealing with our old. But more than that we need to rethink how our world works. The systems we have don't work. A DECLINE in population is needed world wide. People are naturally following this path. The problem is getting through the demographic bulge where old people outnumber young.

  59. @cynicalskeptic Stop with the tired old epithet "ponzi scheme" for social security. It is the most popular and successful government program.

  60. The claim that a lower population is “necessary”—whatever that means—is a staple of the use-your-intuition, anti-capitalist, environmentalist Left. It also happens to be mistaken. The question is, Has anyone ever encountered someone who demands a decrease in population suddenly changing his or her mind? These people are the fanatics of all fanatics, the dogmatists of all dogmatists. Every single time they have an opportunity to run their record on these pages, they take it. It’s like there’s a secret society ever ready to recite the mantra.

  61. It is impossible to not be aware of the results of population increase today. In the next few decades, this will result in an extinction event for most of the higher life species on the earth. The authoritative approach of the Chinese leadership was a one child family as a brutally enforced law. [see the film: one child nation] Overpopulation will have to be addressed by each nation but the policy should be educational rather than brutal laws.

  62. In addition to the other benefits of population decline noted by other commenters, I wonder whether population decline at a lower per capita GDP in China (compared to other wealthy countries) will encourage China to democratize. Western countries with low birth rates can attract young immigrants to compensate (and maintain economic vigor). An authoritarian and repressive China can't do so -- who would want to move there? Indeed, many Chinese move here to Canada if they can, and thousands of them every year come to Canada to give birth so that the newborn child will have a Canadian passport (and access to life in Canada). I guess that there is little immigration in the other direction into China. Only a more democratic and open China seems likely to attract young immigrants to support the aging Chinese population.

  63. @Mike China has the ability to deal with a large elderly population and has shown a willingness to deal with problem in a way that the west would never openly tolerate. China had 20 million opium addicts when the Communists took power in 1949. In short order they had none. While 'communities rallied and addicts willingly complied with government orders' the truth is that dealers were simply killed along with addicts that could not overcome their habits. The Great Leap Forward caused the deaths of 30-45 million. Past non 'man-made' famines had also killed millions in China. In comparison it is estimated that 12-20 million died in WWII (military and civilian). It would not be beyond belief for a pandemic to strike China killing many elderly and weak in the population. Viruses are crossing over from livestock to humans on a regular basis in China causing health alerts. Think of what happened in 1919. It could happen again.

  64. The only misconception is that the "dynamism" of a country must diminish with its population growth. Having young support the old is a hoary concept that needs to change. Capable older people should contribute to their own upkeep and not expect the young to subsidize some outmoded image of retirement. I could retire right now, but I haven't and I won't. It is no coincidence that my uncle who still works at 84 is outliving his relatives who are basket cases of illness in their myopic retirement.

  65. Dynamism depends who is in the mix at a given time. Most people, while likely working hard, don’t add a lot of dynamism. They just tread water in a current that carries them along. Instead of having 250 million in a generation, you have 175 million. That still seems like a lot of people to be Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mike Dell, etc.

  66. @Victor Lacca I think you underestimate the extent to which retirement opens up opportunities for young workers entering the job market, the incipient upward pressure on their wages, and potentially positive increases in productivity which result. In any event, there are many of us who will choose to enjoy a productive (neither outmoded or myopic) retirement funded by the efforts of our working years.

  67. My parents' savings supported them, luckily we could not afford a nursing home for my mother, so it was at home care, then I cared for her nights and weekends. What was left of their savings paid hefty inheritance/estate taxes. They paid school taxes and subsidized the local PreK until they died. So it's not just the young paying for the old, the old also pay for the young. After paying school taxes, I don't have much left to live on. Most of my income subsidizes your children.

  68. As a parent of young kids in the U.S., it is rather infuriating to read ever more hand-wringing about falling birthdates in the West and around the globe, bereft of any constructive ideas on how to stimulate population growth. In some places in the U.S., it can cost $30,000 + per year to have two children in daycare. Not college, not private school; just a safe, licensed daycare facility. And there are practically no governmental supports (except for paltry child tax credits and a meager child-care deduction) available to families with two breadwinners with children. If any conservative (commentator or politician) truly wanted to support bigger families, they would advocate policies that financially supported such larger families. In reality, economists of a certain political bent are not concerned about population decline because of a feared productivity decline, but rather because a smaller population results in a tighter labor force which can command higher wages (see the effectiveness of freestone mason guilds of post-plague Europe).

  69. @Nathan You are spot on. The conservatives raise no policies to encourage people to have children, nor do they offer up policies to truly help the children that are not in the upper middle or higher classes. The population reduction and resultant labor shortage after the Euro plague of the 14th century led to more power transferring from the wealthy of the day to the workers. Noblemen has to till their own fields. Yes, modern economists definitely have that fear in mind as it relates to population reduction.

  70. I pay $10,000 a year in school taxes to support your children. I have no children. The PreK across the street is subsidized by my taxes. People with kids get tax credits. My mother paid school taxes until she died in her 80s, but there were no services to help her when she developed Alzheimer's. The cost of her at home care was more than my income (we could not afford a nursing home). People here are breeding like rabbits. My taxes aren't helping the homeless get off the streets, but they are subsidizing rich yuppies who are having too many children.

  71. @Stephanie Wood: Did you attend public school? Did your mother have Medicare?

  72. Anyone who visits China can see that China is still overpopulated, albeit with an imbalance in age groups. Wouldn't it be better to get through a period of imbalance, and then have a sustainable population with a better quality of life, rather than maintain overpopulation with balance among age groups? Americans thinking about this issue from homes with yards and gardens need to think about it from the 20th floor of a housing block, where a typical Chinese family might live. (Having spent a decade in China myself.) And I don't mean to target the Chinese only with these comments. I think the same reasoning holds true around the world.

  73. Underpopulation is a non-problem. If GDP per capita is steady or rising, who cares if GDP falls? All else equal, that is better for the environment. Regarding ratio of workers to retirees? Another non problem. This ratio has been declining for decades, but increasing productivity (efficiency) has more than compensated - leaving humans on average, better off. Worker shortage? Until we start seeing rising wages, disappearance of low productivity jobs on a massive scale, or supply shortages, this is a totally imaginary problem. Dean Baker explains this really well in his most recent blog post.

  74. Some of the greatest advances in human thinking came from tiny populations. The idea China needs more than 1.4 billion people to avoid economic and cultural stagnation is absurd.

  75. @Herne I think absurd is a bit too gentle. The op-ed is completely insane. If I was in a very conciliatory mood I might say the arguments are illogical and the premise fallacious.

  76. What Mr. Douthat can't acknowledge (because of his conservative blinders) is that the countries that are most successful in avoiding demographic decline are those that do the best in granting women true equality in society. That includes the Scandinavian countries that conservatives loathe. Countries with the lowest fertility rates tend to be ones where conservative values still reign, where women are expected to do all of the housework and raising of children, such as Italy, South Korea, and Japan. And guess what? Women in these countries have collectively said a big fat NO to this expectation. It looks like China is falling into this category as well. I know Mr. Douthat is keen on promoting "traditional religious values" as the cure-all for every modern ill. Too bad he doesn't realize that with "traditional religious values," women get the short end of the stick. And unless you go the Gilead way, women are not going to have children in a conservative culture where they get stuck with all of the work and men aren't expected to do any of it.

  77. Norway’s birth rate is 1.65, Sweden’s is 1.85. Replacement is 2.0. Both have been consistently dropping for more than a decade. Guess again.

  78. @Scott I'm not sure the facts support your premise. The HIGHEST fertility rates in the world are actually in even more conservative areas like the Arab countries, Africa and parts of Central and South America.

  79. @Michael Blazin Firstly the replacement rate in the long term must be above 2.0. Secondly the op-ed is beyond meaningless just as the belief in the 70s gave us a doomsday scenario of population growth going on forever.South Korea has abou the lowest fertility rate in the world 1.17 yet its population continues to increase. North Korea has a much higher fertility rate still well below replacement 1.91. Both Koreas have the same population growth rate. The world is at about zero population growth because of fertility. I trust scientists not Abracadabrans. I live in a humanist society where experts study human populations and all the factors that determine population growth and decline. I understand the USA is God centered and the holy books say be fruitful and multiply. It is hard enough to tell humans enough is a feast but your gods sure are gluttons.

  80. I think there is a consensus with most intelligent people that our population explosion cannot be sustained with the fixed resources that the earth can provide. Reducing the global population through low a birth rate is much more civil and palpable to the alternative to war, disease or famine.

  81. @Ted Siebert As a professor of environmental studies who's looked at this issue over several decades, I can assure you that there most definitely is not a consensus on the significance of population for resource depletion. There is no consensus on population alone, and when we add in the perpetual economic growth required by capitalist economies, the consensus among intelligent people who actually look at the data swings, if anything, in the other direction, towards economic growth as the bigger problem. Considering the looming climate catastrophe, if we were to stop population growth tomorrow capitalist growth would still take us down. Fewer people is probably good in the long run, but to put population at the head of our list of problems is, whether intentionally or not, flat out racist. (Wow, I agreed with Ross Douthat, amazing!)

  82. Sadly, all the "intelligent" people in my town are breeding like rabbits, driving SUVs, and using too many school buses to send their kids to school. "Stupid" people like me, who have lower incomes, no kids, no central air, no car, are in the minority here.

  83. A lot of nonsense has been written about the economic consequences of declining population. Chiefly by Paul Krugman, who looked at the GDP without adjusting for demographics. And declared "stagnant economy" In fact, if you plot the GDP per capita, the slice of the economic pie that each person gets from the National economy, of Japan 2001 to 2008, and the US, for the same period, you find that the GDP per capita increased FASTER in Japan than in the US. And that when the US was in the throw of the housing bubble! Eventually, Krugman apologized - sort of - for his mistake but the damage was done

  84. China has almost 1.4 BILLION citizens, which represents close to a quarter of the planet's total human population. So, I don't think the Chinese are collectively concerned about an "underpopulation bomb". But, I do think that their real concerns are universal: they want plentiful food, plentiful clean water, housing to shelter themselves and their families, and a belief that there's a future worth living for. Charles Bukowski once said, "We're all going to die, all of us; what a circus! That alone should make us love each other, but it doesn't." So, let's not worry about the world's headcount, but rather worry that we might find ourselves, sometime in the future, in a world without love.

  85. @Stone This is my favorite quote. I have it framed above my desk. We are eaten up by nothing.

  86. Douthat equates "stagnation" with depopulation. In doing so, he sidesteps a critical question for the future of humanity. Namely, what is the minimum number of people needed in the world to maintain the best aspects of advanced society as we know it? In such a minimally-populated world every child and family would be needed, cared for, and properly fed, housed, and educated. And enough parts of the earth would be left untouched for the other animals on the planet to sustain their own healthy societies. What is the population of this world that would be so much better than ours?

  87. I'm sure there are plenty of people in poorer areas of the world and in areas that will be hard hit by climate change that would be willing to migrate to China and help them with this issue

  88. Whether or not a lower and lower birth rate will lead to a stagnating economy and culture, the main thrust of this essay is that China chose cruel and invasive methods to limit population growth, and that Western intellectuals also advocated and pushed methods like forced sterilization that are based on using any means to lower population growth. These are very different from advocating birth control or making it available, from educating women, from improving infant survival, and other methods that have been shown to reduce birth rates without the government forcing people to use abortion, infanticide or sterilization. The point of this essay is not that population must grow like a tumor. It is that the ends do not justify the means, and that when you policies that do so end up with unintended but entirely predictable consequences, including distrust of government and experts. Every comment missed this, apparently because saying stagnant population growth may have bad results is deemed far more unforgivable than government controlling people and their lives.

  89. "The Western effort died away as the population bomb fizzled, and while its Malthusianism endures around the edges of environmentalism and in European anxieties about African migration, mostly the population control crusade is recalled as a mistaken extrapolation, a well-meaning mistake." I wish that were so. Just read these comments and you'll find plenty of misanthropy masquerading as sober social science.

  90. First of all like so many comments pointed out the earth is overpopulated and it's getting worse by the day. As for aged population in China (or anywhere really) one solution would be to allow for specially young people to immigrate into the country.

  91. The last 125 years or so have been characterized by human multiplication and metastasis across planet Earth, leaving damage, death, and destruction in our wake. The best news of the past several years, to my mind, has been the beginning of a human population decline. Time for the best economic minds to get together and figure out how our economic models need to be tweaked to accommodate a declining, rather than ever-increasing, population. While difficult, this seems like an easier problem to solve than - for example - the problem of how to provide food, clean water, and living space for 12, 15, 20 billion people while concurrently counteracting climate change.

  92. Our economic systems are not very sophisticated. If we have the need, desire, willpower, resources, skills, and organization to do something and the only reason it doesn't get done is money, then there's something wrong with that system. Also, every country with significant national debt is subject to manipulation by those holding their paper. It is a source of weakness. If we must operate within the confines of an economic paradigm, it needs to be modified and improved.

  93. "...but at the same time a stagnant society will struggle to innovate enough to escape the climate crisis permanently." Stagnet society? People in China will still have kids. Those kids will still grow up to innovate. A decline in population, in birth rate, does not dictate stagnation in ideas or creativity.

  94. Do some basic arithmetic, please. A slower growth rate is not zero growth. Zero growth of population is not zero population. Yes, the slowing of China's population growth presents some challenges, for the country, but it is certainly far from the sky falling. China is a very crowded country. Every day the population of China increases by 20 thousand people. That rate is by no means too low.

  95. An explanation, not an excuse. The 100 hand-picked scientists from the Ministry of Agriculture (2 from each province) I taught in Nanjing for a year in 1989 were mostly new parents. As government employees, they understood the consequences. At the time China was feeding 25% of the world with 6% of energy expenditures. The US at the time was inverse (6% population, 25% energy use). They were well aware they had to make sacrifices for the common good. It worked. Or at least is has until now. They are ready to retire, and their children will take over, much like what we are seeing in Japan. China's was intended, Japan's is cultural (low status of women). Why criticize one and not the other?

  96. We still have plenty of people, Ross. The world population, as Alan Haigh has pointed out, still increases by a couple of hundred thousand each day. Of course, for the most part, they are not "the right kind" of people, are they? They are mostly poor, mostly brown and black. I don't see most commentators who worry about population decline in developed countries talking about allowing some of those people into said developed countries to take up the slack. They'll put too much strain on our limited resources, it is said. And if that's true when poorer, darker people enter richer nations, it doesn't seem to be any less true when they don't. We really need to reduce the number of people trying to use the resources of this planet, through raising standards of living and educational attainment so that people will willingly use the technologies of family planning. If we don't reduce the total population that way, it'll be reduced in a lot crueler and haphazard ways.

  97. @Glenn Ribotsky Exactly. I’m glad that someone is allowed to say it. Cheers.

  98. One of the biggest problem China faces is underemployment. Every apartment block has a listless security guard who doesn't even look up when people enter. Shops are overstaffed and do very little business. It is a problem faced by all countries with low wages as only high wage countries have the incentive to use staff efficiently. So there is massive potential to increase productivity which makes the fears of not enough workers overblown.

  99. Too simplistic a view. It is accepted that in poor countries when women acquire status through education and jobs the fertility rates plumet from 4 or more children to 2 or less per mother/household. Standards of living increase and life expectancy also rises, sometimes dramatically like in Latin America by more than 20 years. How is that a negative development? Only Rick Santorum and Douthat believe that having more children is the solution to rebalance the costs of the Social Welfare programs both here and in poor countries. The reality is that such imbalance is due to political reasons.

  100. They don’t want the obvious solution, which is to accept more immigrants.

  101. “Yes, in an age of stagnation, CO2 levels won’t grow as fast, delaying some of climate change’s effects — but at the same time a stagnant society will struggle to innovate enough to escape the climate crisis permanently. And yes, an empty planet wouldn’t have a climate change problem at all, but if that’s your goal your misanthropy is terminal.” Reply: The author of this piece appears to present the reader with a false dichotomy (eg, population growth versus an “empty planet”). Stagnation simply means little or no growth, but does not denote extinction.

  102. The idea that depopulation is a problem is simply mind boggling to anyone with the least awareness and concern for the millions of other species that inhabit this planet. Is Mr. Douthat aware that we are in the midst of what is called the Holocene or 6th Mass Extinction event? Is he aware that a reduced human population is absolutely necessary to preserving some semblance of global biodiversity? As a Christian, does he value the Creation for its power to reveal God or is it merely a material resource, without a spark of divine creativity?

  103. @Paris Spleen Exactly!!!

  104. There is no "fertility crisis." China already has more than a billion people, and the earth has many billions more. We are all struggling with shortages of water, clean air, arable land and other natural resources. As it is, there will still be several billion more people on earth by 2050 than there are now. The decline in fertility in China and much of the Western world is an opportunity to rebalance the relationships among humans and our God-given earth. We must become better stewards of the earth we have been given, or our progeny will suffer. That unnecessary suffering is not part of any divine plan.

  105. China is doing just fine. I think the underpopulation is due to the migration of the youth from China to the west especially the US and to Australia and New Zealand and not so much due to the one child policy. China is still the most populated country in the world. Yes China has a big population of seniors but not all seniors are sitting around as shown in the picture. A lot of the seniors still work and still move around and live longer because of healthy life styles. China has over taken India economically because India as the second most populated country in the world is over populated and has a much larger population density. The youth unemployment in India is slowing down the Indian economy and although India's middle class has lifted itself out of poverty and India has made great strides in its economy. The lack of population control in India similar to that of China, will never allow it to be where China is today. Although like China many Indians migrating to the middle east and the west keeps the population somewhat manageable but still burdensome especially the farmers who would not plan on compact families but keep families large to have as many farm hands as possible.

  106. Conservatives, like Douthat, are the only politicians in the population shortage trumpet section. Conservatives are the most fervent believers in the advantage of overpopulation to preserve the industrial reserve army of surplus labor. What could be more fearsome than the prospect of various minorities rising in income and status in a labor force hungry for talent?

  107. Not true - sadly, it's not just conservatives. All the liberals in Montclair are having lots of babies. Then they preach "sustainability" at the rest of us, while driving their 3 kids to soccer practice in their SUV.

  108. Although a decreasing population will have a negative impact on the whole economy (less labor and market), it doesn't necessarily mean that the individual income will decrease and it is still possible that individual's living standard continues to improve. And innovation has more to do with education and culture than the number of people (the scientific and technological innovation in the 19th century were mostly in Europe, not in Africa or Asia which had the most population), so innovation in a society with a decreasing population but better education can still gain its steam as well.

  109. The population certainly hasn't decreased here, it's increased, and the economy is much worse for anyone who isn't rich. The privileged are breeding and breeding. The rest of us are paying and paying.

  110. These stories on Western, Chinese, and essentially global fertility make me smile. We are just twenty years removed from the historical apocalypse of the 20th Century and people are worrying about having less people? It’s incredible to dismiss the catastrophes that come irregardless of healthy female fertility rates. We just might survive if China and the US can’t or will not field enormous armies.

  111. TypIcal Times blindness about population, no matter how many times they’ve been told in comments on a number of articles about it. And not just articles by conservatives. Whether the damages from growing numbers of people can be avoided for a while (and even then I wonder about certain environmental consequences that may be missed—until they’re not, like loss of pollinating insects), or if they’re not the single biggest factor that could be pointed to, the logic still holds. More people, more use of resources, including the earth’s ability to assimilate waste, more garbage in the ocean, more crowds. Probably more conflicts, too. Yes, fewer people can create its own challenges. But as some other commenters have said, sounds like they should let in some refugees (including climate refugees) and treat them well. There’s Only one earth, Ross. As they say, “It bats last.” It’s looking more and more like it’s batting now. Maybe we should pay more attention to the score it’s racking up (fires in Australia, California, Brazil; projected loss of 1 million species; cities like São Paulo) coming close to no water) and re-think the ideologies, mindsets, and population and other causes leading to it. If the previous Chinese way of dealing with birth rate was cruel, give them a better way. And denial isn’t it.

  112. Agreed. The Chinese were between a rock and a hard place. At least they did something to try and help, as opposed to keep having lots of babies and hoping God will provide.

  113. Mr. Douhat, you didn't really address the "predictable objection", i.e. that a shrinking population would mitigate rising CO2 levels (you didn't mention plastic, phosphate, PCB, etc, pollution) by stating that one who suggests reducing human population is equivalent to championing the demise of our species. The two are entirely different things. Ten billion humans in 2050 is still a huge burden on our biosphere.

  114. It is not the number of humans on the planet alone that creates problems. It is how much pollution they create per person. Ironically the best way to reduce population growth is to increase per person consumption and pollution.

  115. Mr. Douthat misdiagnoses the problem as too few people, leading to economic stagnation. The issue we should be fearing is that each person consumes in developed nations so much more than the planet can support. We can't possibly stem the tide of climate change without total economic restructuring. As long as the "fairytale of infinite economic growth" as Greta Thunberg put it, is still being told, humanity is in danger of a far more violent end than the simple petering out Douthat envisions.

  116. @Judy -- China and the world at large do not have "too few people." There are more people than ever, and will continue to be more to a troubling total. Only then might projection of existing trends produce something never seen before -- and such straight line projection denies the power of people in the future to run their own lives. Who predicted the "Baby Boom?" Which one? It has happened often. What could cause another one? A lot of things.

  117. We're having a baby boom in Montclair, thanks to everyone fleeing Brooklyn and coming here to breed. It's complete chaos and absolutely unsustainable, and much worse than the boom of the 40s-60s, because they use school buses and SUVs, the pollution and traffic are much worse.

  118. Solution underway. A SARS like virus is spreading in China and has made it to Japan. One good pandemic will substantially reduce the number of elderly and infirm. Wouldn't be the first time it's happened and China regularly has viruses crossing over from livestock to humans. It's only a matter of time. To think that the human population will keep growing without some kind of major event is naive. Look at what the Spanish Influenza did in 1919.

  119. @cynicalskeptic Spanish Influenza killed about 50 million people, but the long-term impact on the total human population was minimal, you can barely see the effect on the graph.

  120. I’d rather we reduced the population by using birth control rather than waiting for Mother Nature to do it with disease or starvation. Seems a lot less painful that way.

  121. While the fertility rate in China is way below replacement, its population is still increasing by 6-7 million a year. India is still undergoing a population explosion, adding 15-16 million people a year to an area only 1/3 the size of the lower 48. With the ecological stressors hitting India all at once, is it any wonder that its economy is slowing down? Ecological problems (incl. food contamination, and rapidly increasing numbers of highly polluting power plants) are also multiplying in China, except that the latter has the luxury of a much larger area and a more temperate climate. But a time of reckoning is coming for both countries. A nation can’t increase its population by 800 million in a matter of decades without paying a horrible price

  122. @cj You have seen massive famines in China and India in the past - on a scale the west cannot imagine. Major epidemics have also taken a toll on their populations. Don't for a second think that it isn't possible again.

  123. @cj Personally I think China should get carbon credits for reducing population growth. It is pleasing to read more Chinese women are determining when and if they will bear children. As a species we are victims of our own success. Our sheer numbers endanger our future and that of the planet and all its species. "Populate or perish" was once the adage of religious folk and their mountebank politicians. As a species unless growth rates are slowed, particularly in India, it will be a case of 'populate and perish'.

  124. The real demographic crisis is way too many years of fertility rates far above the replacement rate. Part of that is because that replacement rate fell as people stopped dying so young. If the crisis is that a less youthful society will lose its dynamism, the cure would be to kill all the older people such as myself, thereby making a more youthful society.

  125. We don't have many elderly people left in our town, but lots of young people breeding like rabbits. The overdevelopment, traffic, pollution and chaos are out of control. I don't see the old people destroying this town, but the young breeders are doing a good job of making it completely unsustainable.

  126. Re: (An aside to answer a predictable objection: Yes, in an age of stagnation, CO2 levels won’t grow as fast, delaying some of climate change’s effects — but at the same time a stagnant society will struggle to innovate enough to escape the climate crisis permanently. And yes, an empty planet wouldn’t have a climate change problem at all, but if that’s your goal your misanthropy is terminal.) In this aside Douthat falls prey to the extrapolation error he accuses the population bomb prognosticators of. Then he over-reaches with an unfounded label: stagnant society. Look at Japan with its “stagnant society” and compare its ability to cope with shocks to any country that is over-populated and facing food shortages and disease.

  127. Japan also has an insurance plan like social security to take care of their elderly. It's like long term care insurance in the USA, but I'm sure it's much cheaper.

  128. As do most here, I do not see a "bomb" here and I always stand to protest any such incendiary language. What's happening is that China's young are getting smarter. Have you been to China ? The environment is very poor for child rearing. Adults have a hard enough time keeping healthy. With population density at 4x the U.S. level for the same land mass, most are delaying parenthood if they have plans for it at all. Why must we inch our way to an increasingly unsustainable level of humans in order to be "rich" ? Take a tour of the country side say 30-60 minutes from say Shanghai, then come back.

  129. A lot of comments here seem to be strongly in favor of China's policy of forced abortion. So much for pro-choice. Those women had no choice. If there is one thing worse than forcing a woman to keep her child, it is forcing her to abort her child.

  130. The author celebrates "growth" as if it is the end-all to human accomplishment. The remarkable transition of China's socialist population may have only been obtained through its prescribed limits on growth. The West would do well to consider ways to produce healthy economies without rampant unsustainable expansion.

  131. I think the Chinese feared a famine if they didn’t do something about their growth rate. I really don’t blame them for taking drastic measures, starving to death is a horrible way to die.

  132. The explosion in the human population over the last 70 years, coupled with climate change from fossil fuels, has resulted in a mass extinction, the likes of which the planet has not had in many millennia. Whatever technology solutions may help the planet in the future, a decrease in human population is a salient remedy for the planet. I know Mr. Douthat supports the Catholic position that contraception is wrong, but it is irresponsible to favor continued population growth. It is a path toward suffering, not just for humans, but for all species. Slowing population growth will cause some problems, but it is by far the lesser of evils.

  133. Lots of talk about over population and climate change, but no one has mentioned one of the main culprits. We currently have 70 billion animals being used as livestock. Even if China’s population begins to reduce in numbers, their adoption of the grotesque western diet will negate any of the positive climate effects. For all those out there that care about this issue, the answer is simple. Adopt a plant based diet. May all beings everywhere be happy and free.

  134. This one is sort of all over the place. His argument is worthy but the stats he cites and the conjecture he uses is not enough to justify his hypothesis. As RD indicates its happening in Western countries too. How this conversation can be shielded from the effect of educating women and allowing them to compete and work in areas of the economy where they were falsely thought not competitive or useful. Bottom point, educating women and letting them have careers will drop the fertility rate. Seems like he desires a society where women stay in the house and have 4-5 kids because "conservatism" seems to indicates that's what good to do.

  135. Educated women are having MORE children, not less, because they can afford them.

  136. @Cool Dude And interestingly, Ross apparently only has three kids, and, based on a comment in a recent column about how his kids thrived in a good day care program, I am assuming his wife works. So, good ol' conservative do as I say, not as I do.

  137. An innovative society like ours fosters creative ways to avoid or get around the rules it makes for itself. We continue to creatively promote diets that lead to diabetes. When we emphasized the dangers of smoking, especially for children, the tobacco industry answered with Joe Camel. Big oil answered the threat of lost sales and influence with a campaign of global warming denial. A society that thought it could tell this sort of innovation from other, more useful sorts, and discouraged this sort of innovation would seem stagnant to many. It would be a society that would shut down the Sacklers before more than a few thousand overdoses were connected even indirectly to their products. Since our planet is finite, we need a type of growth that does not involve outgrowing our planet. Our present notion of economic growth does not belong on a finite planet. How many people is too many depends on our available technologies. Assuming that technological advances will always be able to keep up with population enables the question of how many is too many to be sidestepped. If technology fails to develop quickly enough, we find out how many is too many and discover what we do about it, but without thinking it through beforehand. This is how our religious leaders deal with the situation.

  138. Why wouldn't a healthy, well educated but smaller world population generate the same level of innovation as a larger population? It isn't quantity but quality, and we only need a percentage of our population engaged as change-makers for the common good to make life better for all. A smaller population would have more resources to share, a better educated population, and ensure a higher quality life for individual humans while generating fewer crises out of which we'd need to rescue ourselves. Douthat's idea that we need millions more human beings, likely less well off in the aggregate, residing on a crowed planet to ensure some dynamic in innovation seems specious. I'd rather have a smaller pool of better fed, better educated, and healthy humans upon which to rely.

  139. In transitioning to lower population you have older population. Older people live and vote differently, and that is the source of breaks on innovation. 'ok Boomer' doesn't come from nothing. For example Old people reactions to the need to change habits for environmental reasons is not the same as younger ones with a longer-term prospect on the small spaceship 'earth'.

  140. @Plou In transitioning to lower population you have older population. Just for a while, then demographics even out. And why do you imagine boomers all think the same way? Some boomers went back to the land, pioneered environmental-friendly ways of life, cleaned up air and rivers. Older people often use less resources, and know the true value of acquiring consumer goods. Many older people decided not to have children yet contribute to the tax system that supports education and other common goods that help young people become innovators, and many work tirelessly even in retirement for the betterment of their communities. Local environmental committees are full of hard working gray haired volunteers. Innovation can come from any demographic.

  141. @Scott Exactly!

  142. I don't think the one-child policy made a big impact in birth rates. China's fertility rate was about 6 in 1950, and was already under 2.5 by 1979 when the one-child policy was enacted. Thus, most of the decrease in Chinese fertility happened before the one-child policy was passed as a result of rising life expectancy and decreased mortality between 1950 and 1979. Other countries in Asia like South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan have even lower fertility than China even though they never put in a one-child policy. I also don't think lower population growth is going to be that big of a problem for China. Unlike most developed countries, China still has hundreds of millions of rural peasants who produce little economic value; by bringing them into the modern economy, China can effectively achieve the same thing as population growth. Moreover, while there will be more old people to take care of, they will also lower expectations of what constitutes a decent standard of living compared to old people in the West, and thus be cheaper to take care of. China can also raise its retirement age (right now only 60 for men and 50 for women) to 67 like it is in the US. Ultimately, lower population is probably going to be beneficial for Chinese living standards. That doesn't mean lower population is good everywhere; many third-world countries are poor because they are too sparsely populated, making it hard to connect people to infrastructure and achieve economies of scale in industry.

  143. Which third world country is sparsely populated?

  144. Shouldn't climate worriers be jumping for joy? One of the best ways to reduce climate pressures is to reduce economic activity, and the best way to do that is to cut population growth.

  145. Wrong, wrong, wrong. The population bomb has not fizzled, it has merely been delayed. The population bust in countries that are wealthy (e.g. OECD countries) or have grown wealthier quickly (China) is a problem, but a -good- problem to have. The -bad- problem to have is poor, 3rd world countries whose populations continue to increase, outstripping needed services like medical care and needed resources like food, water, and energy. The challenge for the richer countries is to reduce their disproportionately resource-intensive consumption, e.g. the US, with less than 5% of the world's population, consumes 20 to 25% of the world's natural resources. The challenge for the poorer countries is to better utilize the limited resources they have, and for the rest of the world to help them with more. Good governance, a rarity, would go a long way. We run capitalist economies which require unending economic growth. Nothing, not even disease or cancer, grow unendingly. We need to figure out how to modify capitalism to create more equitable distributions of income and wealth, so that we can modify it to work better with economic shrinkage. It's bad enough that the world consumes 30 billion barrels of oil and 7 billion tons of coal annually. It's worse that even with such profligate consumption, many have too much and many don't have enough. For the sake of a continued healthy planet and for a continued healthy human race, we need to get those numbers way, way down.

  146. Our town is not poor. The wealthy and privileged in the USA are breeding at baby boom rates.

  147. Certainly a shrinking population will temporarily bring higher rates of old-age dependency. But with continual gains in labor productivity, a smaller workforce can produce just as much and support just as many people. People like Mr. Douthat and those who write for rags like National Review have not yet discovered that we live on a planet. Here's hoping that they will figure this out soon.

  148. @Steve Haven't you heard. Our nation's elites have places reserved for them on our Moon and Mars colonies guarded by Trump's Space Force. The rest of us will be stuck on Earth to deal with the consequences of their failed policies.

  149. A further aggravation of China's population problem which might have been mentioned is the gender skew towards males. Selective breeding has produced many more males than females (as it has also done in India for different reasons), so there is now a significant shortage of women among the generations who should be reproducing.

  150. Thanks goodness for that. We have loads of overprivileged women moving in to our town who are breeding out of control, and it's complete chaos. I'm no fan of "too many men," but at least they don't have kids.

  151. @Stephanie Wood . Some of these men might have created kids that they don't know about.

  152. That’s not what selective breeding is. Selective breeding is what racehorse breeders do, breeding the fastest to the fastest to hopefully get a speedier horse.

  153. I hope to live long enough to see China implode as its population ages. It won't be pretty for that country or the rest of the world, but it will be gripping to watch. Japan's and Iran's population declines also will be fascinating to see.

  154. @BP The United States also has an aging population and declining birthrate. We are not replacing ourselves either. The same thing is happening here as in China. We will not be able to pay for the medical and living costs of our aging population on the backs of declining younger generations. Do you hope you will live long enough to see the US "implode" as well? And by the way, it was immigration of younger families that was helping the US with this situation. So all our efforts to solve the "immigration problem" have made it worse from the aging population point of view.

  155. The earth population levels stabilizing is almost miraculous, it gives us time to achieve the scientific progress necessary to abate and hopefully solve existential climate/ security threats. The idea of governments encouraging or discouraging people to have children is obscene, a decent society with reasonable expectation for the future does not need government advice on this issue.

  156. @A Nootka Nerd In lieu of a decent society, I do want the government to discourage having children in the form of limiting child tax credits to 2 children. Any family having more than that would have to apply for welfare which would be made available on application. I do take your point, however, that a "decent" society would not need any suggestions from government.

  157. This is not the end. The global population bust, if it comes to pass, is not the end of progress. When Europe's population rapidly decreased, during the plague, what followed was not the end of the world, but the Renaissance. We can hope that this particular part of history will repeat itself. Absent the increasing pressures of population growth, those who are already here have more resources to draw from. As with the Renaissance, we can hope that our remaining prodigy will benefit from this abundance of resources rather than wasting it as seems so likely now.

  158. Humans are laying waste to the world: we have fished out the oceans, deforested continents, driven many species to extinction and are on a possibly disastrous course of warming up the planet. One of the driving factors behind this destruction, whether the mainstream media or religious believers care to admit it or not, is the massive increase in human numbers. It took humans 150,000 years to reach a billion, and then just 200 to reach eight times that. With consequences that no one can forsee, but which may be severe. Humanity and the natural world alike would be much better off if we reduced our numbers to a billion or less. Instead we have commentators whose world view is based on the Bible instead of facts opining that we need to go faster on our already questionable and risky trajectory. Delusional.

  159. The world and its resources are finite, full stop. Sooner or later, preferably sooner, we'll have to adjust our economic ideas, including the quasi-theological fetishization of 'growth', to comport with that reality. A maturing organism doesn't grow endlessly, or shouldn't if it's to retain health, so why is it that we expect against all reason that the human population and its economy should? Of course, we've been bingeing on growth for the last three hundred years or more so that tapering off our addiction to 'more, more, more' will be hard. All the more reason to start that process now.

  160. Shrinking the human population on planet Earth is a solution, not a problem. Obviously the human population cannot continue to grow forever in a finite Earth. Better to manage the population in a planned, sensible way than through wars or environmental catastrophes.

  161. Birth is not the problem...Greed is the problem... One person does not need to own 1000 acres of land. One person does not need to own 10 houses. One person does not need to own _________. There are sufficient resources to give all a very good quality of life. However, if we continue on the current trajectory, then we should expect the few to rule over the many in all indicators that matter. China will figure it out just like other nations will figure it out. Let’s hope America figures it out given our fractured democracy. As Americans, I would suggest we stop predicting doom for others while we ourselves are on a downward spiral and trajectory to Third World Status. At least China has an efficient public transportation system to transport its population. Something we can’t say for America. And the modern, robust, and smart cities in the world are everywhere but in the USA. Our cities are traffic nightmares with income inequality rampant, public transportation noticeable absent or no adequate, and our buildings very old and outdated. So, while we focus on China’s population challenges, we better change our focus to America’s challenges. It appears China’s form of government may be a better model for the 21st Century while America’s form of government may have been adequate for the 18th and 19th centuries but now posing serious challenges for the 21st century. And if refuse to acknowledge this due to pride, then we will have no one to blame but ourselves.

  162. @Truth Today Excellent post.

  163. I don't buy the argument about the self-reinforcing cycle, where low birthrates and low dynamism and growth just keep going forever. Does that mean as soon as a country's population or the world's population starts to shrink it will shrink forever? Until there's zero people? The economic analogue is deflation: when prices drop, people don't spend, so prices drop even more, so people spend less, etc. That happened once in the US, and we did get out of it. That and common sense should indicate that a declining population can stabilize at some point.

  164. I have for decades held a strong belief that human population growth must be controlled if we are to prevent civilisation-scale environmental disasters. I am therefore grateful to Douthat for introducing me to Charles Jones' new working paper, which forms the intellectual core of Douthat's article. The Jones paper disturbs me: I'd like to be able to reject it, but don't yet understand it well enough to see how. I had hoped that other readers' comments would provide insight into its flaws, but have not seen that any do.

  165. When families go from having 5 children on average to 1,6. The playing field for boys and girls start to level out. Father’s and mother’s raise their children regardless of gender to go after their dreams. Beyond that when women aren’t brood mares they have the time to contribute to the creative and innovative solutions that will shape the world of the future to look more like its citizens. A world with fewer people and more equity sounds like a beautiful ambition.

  166. Necessity is the mother of invention. The standard of care demanded by Chinese elderly is not the standard of care demanded by American elderly (which, for the plurality poor, is worse than the standard of care provided in Canada). Living in China, working with highly educated upper middle class people, the elderly are not cared for - they are caring for their grandchildren (and still have dinner ready when their child and spouse return from work). Also, many elderly still “work” - retired Drs working in private clinics a few hours each morning, retired teachers working for private tutoring companies. These jobs may not even be captured by data as smaller companies seem to exist under the radar (at least in the Chaoshen area I live in)... in New Brunswick (where I have my house) people over 60 feel they are “owed” by everyone, in China, from my observation, people over 60 still feel they owe their families and society. I feel the crisis looming in NB, I don’t “feel” the crisis written about in the NYT.

  167. People over 60 and over 70 in the USA are also still working because they can't afford to retire and are also raising their grandchildren.

  168. @Stephanie Wood yes, my point was that these Chinese elderly were not sitting there waiting to be taken care of by the State and they were providing much needed service to society still (childcare, etc). An aging population is not a guaranteed ticking time bomb...

  169. Actually, the world does not need more people, we have plenty already.

  170. Mr. Douthat, "an empty planet wouldn’t have a climate change problem at all, but if that’s your goal your misanthropy is terminal." Some perspective here is helpful. In 1950 population was 2.6 billion vs. 7.7 billion today. So, we produced FIVE (5) BILLION more people in 70 years! Wow. And you want to start name calling those of us who think it would be good to have a few billion less people in the world, Misanthropes? Is there any population number possible where you would think, "Whoa, we'd better slow down now!" I disagree with most of the points in your column, including the glancing blow on "environmentalists". As far as the concerns for China's capacity to handle the elderly situation, I suspect there are some creative answers to that rather than endless growth. One of them might be that they could change the rules on internal migration and plenty of jobs would be created to help those without family support. How would they pay for it, you ask, if individual wealth would not cover the care? Well, maybe, if its this HUGE problem, the Chinese could figure out that maybe they should save that money they've been spending on Belts and Roads Initiative to anticipate this economic tsunami, if such it is. I don't see the problem. Maybe, instead, it'll give us time to think and figure out better ways to live.

  171. Reducing population levels is not the disaster some are claiming. This will reduce environmental stress, make housing more affordable, and increase the standard of living .

  172. People have a better standard of living now than they did a hundred years ago, even though we have had exponential population growth. More people doesn’t have to mean more problems. Technology also grows exponentially with population giving us new and better ways to support ourselves.

  173. @Ben Humanity is racing towards a cliff. infinite growth is not possible in a finite system. Reducing our population instead of 'extending and pretending' is the only way to avoid catastrophe.

  174. @Ben Have you counted the number of species lost since 100 years ago?

  175. Happy to note that Mr.Douthat mentions that India more-or-less would achieve a stable population without resorting to the forced sterilizations (except during the disastrous Emergency in 1970s) or abortions. Even within India, the Southern portion has almost achieved stability while the poorer states in the northern heartland have yet to see similar achievements. Teh problems of ageing populations is a ticking timebomb for India and China in the mid-21st century.

  176. Douthat completely fails to understand the Chinese economy. China is huge. It has more than four times the US population. The coastal region got rich. That is more than the entire US population, and it is very rich, and very developed. The interior of the country is very nearly what it was before. It is poverty stricken, subsistence living. That is several times the size of the US. That is a large part of the point of the Belt and Road Initiative, which is meant to open up the interior of the country to development, putting it in communication with the neighbors to the West of China, all the -stans and India and more, all the way to Europe without going across all of China to the East and then around Asia by sea. An important part of China's population crash is among the developed people of the coast. China's interior was limited by the "one-child" policy, once viciously enforced, but now lifted. It is not clear how rural China will react to lifting of that pressure. It is clear that China is not either poorly developed nor fully developed. It is some of each, on such a vast scale the its parts are each bigger than the US, bigger than the EU, and many times bigger than Russia.

  177. @Mark Thomason We should refrain from describing the nation’s interior as though it could be countryside in north Korea, although to an extent it might be true? I do not know. I have traveled through a swathe of China and have seen, among other things, panels on house roofs for harnessing radiation or the sun’s energy. Some coastal cities are perhaps wealthier but the cost of living there I believe unable to be supported as fair; this I think right. Some might suggest its inhabitants, and it could be right, earn more on average than the people living elsewhere in the People’s Republic: China.

  178. @Mark Thomason One might do better if one refrains from describing the interior of the PC’s nation as though the countryside areas in the north of the peninsula that is of Korea

  179. @Mark Thomason Wrong on Russia and its eleven time zones, but a wiz population wise. With estimated National Income to pass the USA in 2025 and urban population to reach a staggering one billion people -- filling the “ghost cities” of China. This would make China’s cities more populous than the entire North and South American continents combined. The World Bank already ranks PRC about 4 trillion ahead of the USA in GDP.

  180. Population control is still important, China's was just far too extreme, they panicked when their population hit 1 billion people back in the 1970s when they were still a very poor country. Mr. Douthat misses the point - population control is about limiting population growth, not rendering the human race extinct.

  181. Those who write in support of smaller human populations do not implicitly support China's forced abortions or sterilizations as some assert. When women become better educated fertility declines. It has long been known that the most effective population policy is about education, not forced birth control (or lack of access to it). I dream of a world that slowly and naturally equilibrates the human population in balance with earth's productivity and resource use would match resource recovery. Ecosystems would be healthy and productive, naturally purifying our air and water. With restored open space, biodiversity would recover. We would become carbon neutral and develop technology to reduce carbon dioxide levels to control or reverse warming. Economists would model the dynamics of growth, innovation, replacement, and restoration such that a stable GDP would lead to increased quality of life. Hybrid forms of government--democratic, with some central planning--would assure progress. Accumulation of wealth would not be the measure of success. It is a world very different than the one we live in. Already, 7 billion people cannot be supported with quality of life assured for all. Achieving a smaller, stable population won't be painless, but if we don't begin to envision the possibilities, we are doomed to eventually outgrow our resources surrounded by filth, decay and despair for all save the wealthy. I don't want that world for my grandchildren and neither do you.

  182. @Christine Flanagan - - - Similarly, I dream of an America where politically-connected businesses like Planned Parenthood don't hide their founding as a white racist reaction to the arrival of freed black people to the large cities. My parallel fantasy is that the taxpayers are no longer forced to fund this politically-connected business to the tune of half a billion dollars a year.

  183. no, no I certainly don't want that world but I fear your dream is just that...

  184. @L osservatore Citations? Evidence? I'm afraid you've been snookered, my friend. There are plenty of racist people and policies in the USA but Planned Parenthood was created to provide choice to all women, regardless of race. Let's not whitewash either Margaret Sanger's eugenicism OR the fact that WEB DuBois worked with her. Rejecting PP because its founder was problematic is like rejecting the Bill of Rights because the Founders owned slaves. Try to separate the wheat from the chaff. Great ideas can arise from imperfect people. For more facts rebutting the "PP is racist" trope, see

  185. In the 60s & 70s, my grandfather can only afford elementary school eduaction for each of his 5 children, and my father left home to work as apprentice at age 12. My only memory of my preschool was that of a collapsed brick wall next to where kids take afternoon naps. The rural population were poor, and the state did not have enough resources. China then was surrounded by enemy states including the powerful Soviet Russia to its North. In my view, the one child policy was for our survival. Together with the privatization of rural economy, my family was able to send me to college. To those in the West who used to demonize China for its one child policy and who now call it a good thing when climate change and sustainability becomes a problem: no thanks, we don't need your advice on how to run our country.

  186. @Wang This will not be published but if it is China's economy, according to the World Bank, is already about four trillion dollars larger than the U.S. economy. Population policy did not damage it and with further development should be a model for others. Poor before Rich hardly a Chinese concern. Press Freedom seems to be however.

  187. Anyone who visits China (I live there) knows that there are not a shortage of people in China, or for that matter Japan or any other country in the region. It is obvious every single day that there are far too many people.The issue is one of age imbalance. The very large, rapidly aging populations and intense pressure on space are a consequence of large family sizes in the 1950s and thereabouts. The pain of ageing society is real but its necessary to return the country to somewhere that people and wildlife have space. Therefore the correct conclusion from what is happening is to redouble the efforts to get birthrates under control in countries where it is still high, especially much of Africa. Because otherwise there will be decades of economic pain, or complete environmental catastrophe, later.

  188. Shrinking populations are a problem only if the current political/economic model is maintained. The human race, and the flora and fauna to which the planet was bequeathed as well, can be healthy and happy with a stable, much smaller human population, in a world where economic benefits are distributed more evenly. Inevitably, human population will be reduced. If we don’t do it on our own initiative. Nature will do it for us.

  189. Overpopulation is a major problem. It drives use of more resources that depletes nature's ability to replenish. It also directly affects climate change. Reducing overall population is an important goal. The challenge is to reduce it without major disruption. Economic growth is not the right measure for sustainable living on earth.

  190. Population can't grow forever. That's just math. Eventually the carrying capacity of the Earth will run out. The population pyramid economic systems of the last century must eventually be replaced with something sustainable. So what if some countries are experiencing a population decline? It just means they will need to find ways to adapt to it. Human ingenuity being nearly limitless, it's a good bet they will.

  191. @Jack I agree with the first part of your statement, and am discouraged by the fact that so many people appear to have a poor foundation in science. It would be helpful if HS biology courses started including a well written, intelligent section on population biology. Unfortunately the world is better at solving technical problems than social problems, so I'm not as sanguine about finding good solution.

  192. @Jack The carrying capacity of the Earth has run out.

  193. I'm sympathetic to the environmentalist argument that human overpopulation is detrimental to the world's ecosystems and natural resources. But I could never bring myself to "applaud" China's one-child policy. It was cruel and inhumane and misogynistic, voiding a woman's right to choose and the right to control her body. Hundreds of thousands, more likely millions, of women (mostly poor women) were forced to undergo physical and emotional trauma as a result of this policy. There was never a need for such an extreme population-control policy in the first place. Provide women with access to higher education and employment opportunities, grant them full autonomy over their bodies, instill a respect for women's rights and capabilities, and you will create a healthier, happier society that doesn't suffer from overpopulation.

  194. China's one-child policy was horrible, but educating women doesn't stop them from breeding like rabbits. Check out Montclair, where the wealthy and privileged are breeding at baby boom levels, because they have great jobs and can afford to have big families. The overpopulation, traffic, pollution from school buses, SUVs, and overdevelopment here are out of control, but that doesn't really effect the overprivileged whiter neighborhoods as much. They are mostly dumping all their mess on us.

  195. Strange writing style. There the writer accuses the audience of terminal misanthropy if they have a certain belief, then underlying is his conviction that growth is good, shrinking is bad and in his last sentence he acknowledges that population control is the task of the century all the while touting our or even India's system as better than what China did. I dare to say that the misery level among India's poor is far higher than among the Chinese.

  196. The statement on misery levels in India v China is curious. Having lived in both countries in rural low income villages I can easily say the people I met and worked with were truly happy and had found balance in life labor and love few seem to have found stateside.

  197. One of the reasons environmentalism tends to facilitate fraud is that environmental myths are believed all too readily since believing and repeating them is easier than changing our own behavior. Overpopulation is one such myth. People can live sustainably, we just have to live sustainably. Battery electric cars that run on natural gas are only a modest benefit with respect to climate change and subsidizing them could lead to capital investments in fossil fuels that we could be stuck with for decades. High speed rail has no future in most of the USA; the way to fly less is to fly less - not wait for the Great Pumkin. And these are largely a consequence of the biggest environmental myth: that our individual actions are insufficient without massive policy changes. Effective policy changes will only happen consistently after people change their behavior, and plenty of scammers will squeeze some subsidies out of the public coffers in the mean time. Economic data is not perfect, but it is far more compelling that nonsensical surveys. Vote with your wallet and vote with your feet.

  198. Check out my town. There IS human overpopulation. The traffic and pollution and overdevelopment are out of control, and so is the baby boom level excessive birthrate. Ask the animals we slaughter if there is human overpopulation. This earth cannot sustain billions of humans. It does so only at the expense of all other species and the environment. Humans DO NOT and WILL NOT live sustainably ever again, if humans ever did. They drive cars and take buses because walking and biking aren't going to take them everywhere they need to go. And they have to eat. Agriculture alone will destroy this planet and all other species.

  199. @Alan Voting for your wallet is what got us into this mess. Vote for society!

  200. We don't have a population time bomb but a population bulge. Getting through the period where we have the silver tsunami to take care of is going to be tough and expensive. But the period after that - assuming the planet isn't dead by then - will be much better for everybody, as housing and other resources get freed up. A smaller population won't represent stagnation, but opportunity.

  201. Talk about Western folly, the United States is restricting immigration when we have both an aging population and young people who are waiting to longer to have children, if they have them at all. The pyramid schemes of Medicare and Social Security collapse without many, many people in the workforce.

  202. I find it interesting the number of comments on how population growth is "destroying planet earth.." The truth is humans will likely destroy planet earth only for other humans & species, the planet itself will go on happily spinning around the sun for billions of years after we've made ourselves extinct through one mechanism or another. Planet Earth could care less about what humans do. Ultimately only economics drives population growth/decline. The need for large families to help on the farm is now past us and job growth in high-density urban areas dictates that people will have no room or money for large families or any family for that matter in the future. If a country limits birth rates - they can do so only on a temporary basis - ultimately humans will do what they want - (officially or unofficially - legally or illegally). People are simply rightsizing what they believe they can handle in this world as presented. If economic benefits arise from having larger families in the future, people will adjust upward again. Hopefully, technological innovation will provide some buffer against population declines and the resulting shortfall in coverage for an aging global population. TBD

  203. I can agree with Ross Douthat that trying to manage demographics is likely to fail, and fail in unforeseen ways. China's one-child policy is an perfect example. However, I don't agree that only an expanding population can deliver dynamism and growth. It would probably provide a few historians with a lifetime project to sort all that out, but maybe urbanization has as much to do with dynamism and growth as population growth does. Even if that correlation is incontrovertible, there must be a level of population from which more growth diminishes returns. Where that level is, of course, is debatable, and it will be heavily influenced by the life styles and standard of living of the population. But population growth is not an unalloyed benefit nor an end in itself (even if it adds to GDP).

  204. Actually, there is a whole lot more nuance to the China demography problem than Douthat would have us believe. His article is an exercise in hindsight. In the 1960's and 1970's, China did indeed face a catastrophically exploding population. It is way too glib to suggest that the problem would have been ameliorated naturally when, as we now understand, birthrates decline as nations become more prosperous. First, the relationship between prosperity and declining birthrates was not fully appreciated in the 1960's, because only a few nations, the US and a handful of European countries, had experienced it. Second, in the case of China, there was absolutely no rational reason to believe the nation was actually going to become prosperous. 1960's China was a dystopian state in the midst of insufferable political convulsions, recovering from a famine that had just killed 20 million. To suggest that it would soon be a rich nation would have been preposterous in 1965. So decisions to limit population growth, which were extraordinarily painful in a society that revered children and families, were not unreasonable under the circumstances that existed at the time.

  205. @Chuck French the decision to force women to have abortions is reasonable? So much for women’s choice.

  206. i'm puzzled that the underproduction of more humans is "the great problem of the 21st century." but then i always prefer data, such as the mauna loa daily CO2 readings, or scenarios grounded in explicit assumptions, such as the IPCC SR-15, to moralisms such as: "classist, sexist, racist, anti-religious program." personally, i can't see any reason why there have to be more than 500 million people on the planet at any one time. i just can't. especially with all the knowledge, resources, wealth and technology we have accumulated. it's not misanthropy, truly, it's just that human looks more noble to me when it isn't clogging the turnpikes. true, you can add more people, but the imperative for that is capitalism, not demography. read your adam smith: a "continually increasing population" is one of the essential ingredients behind "the wealth of nations." forget free markets, specialized labor, colonial inputs, return on investment ... just make more people, and make them work, and burn lots of carbon, and profits will grow forever. it's been the capitalist secret sauce for almost three centuries. meanwhile, what is there really to fear? in the 14th century the european population declined by one third due to plague. what happened after? they call it "the renaissance." wouldn't a renaissance be something fine to give to future generations? no selfies, no snacks -- just a rebirth, a high cost of labor, cheap land, cheap housing, and a healing planet?

  207. I'm sure a global population of 5 billion diverse individuals will find ways to innovate too, just as a population of 7 or 9 billion. Why do we need to crowd out every resource in order to progress?

  208. Ross thanks for a mid-20th century economic analysis for mid-21st century China. The planet cannot sustain this much longer, population must shrink and there are more or less pleasant ways to get there (we have no choice). China will be much better off once that enormous generation is gone, they are playing the long long game.

  209. Perhaps a terminal misanthropy is what’s needed to save the billions of species that aren’t destroying the planet for greed. We’ve had our time.

  210. The same thing is happening in Iceland.

  211. My slightly misanthropic goal isn't exactly an empty planet, but a human population that is proportional to the size of the Planet Earth and sustainable. That would be, according to E.O. Wilson, roughly 3 billion humans. I can live with that--even though none of us will be around to see it happen.

  212. China's main demographic dilemma is the imbalance of men and women. Because of the one-child policy in an ancient agrarian culture that values boys over girls as farm labor and property heirs, male preference has skewed China's demographics with more men and fewer women. According to The NYTimes, there are 33 million more men than women in China. Overall 48.78% of China are women while the global average is 49.55%. The problem is exacerbated in the interior of China, which is less developed than coastal provinces. But gender disparity isn't the only or even the main reason for China's birthrate decline. Post-WW2, economic growth with greater access to education and jobs for women is credited with declining national fertility rates and smaller average family size. Given a choice, women decide whether they want to be mothers and keep house or if they prefer independence. China's rapid economic development with a surging middle class is why China's birth rate has declined. Is it a disaster? Unlikely for both its aging population or its economy. Chinese may not have large families now but clans and villages are alternative forms of elder support, reinforced by a powerful cultural deference to elders. Also Chinese are intensely social so there's less isolation. Chinese are voracious savers not spenders. They save more than they spend, which is the basis of China's national surplus. China's not in crisis but we are with Trump.

  213. The tragedy of the one-child policy is brilliantly depicted in the recent Chinese film "So Long, My Son."

  214. Demonstrates the ultimate weakness and failure of Capitalism: the need for continued growth to infinity. Obviously not sustainable or desirable and will only lead to misery. Someone please explain the details of how you can have growth forever. Of course you can’t. War, pollution, disease, starvation, etc will take care of that problem since our species will never have the will to control ourselves. This is the great, rarely addressed truth. We did not evolve with the will to limit our population but evolution will ultimately do it for us whether we like it or not and it won’t be pleasant.

  215. Sadly, Ross is trapped in a false choice. It's not between an "empty Earth" and his idea of "Earth Paridiso". It's between a planet that committed suicide and a planet with a sustainable biosphere. When it comes to population growth Mr Douthat, please don't "Do that".

  216. Global population is increasing by 1% annually or 82 million per year. The rate of increase is slowing somewhat, but the issue Ross highlights is more a national one rather than global. Nonetheless, the impact on developed nations is and will be real.

  217. Sadly, Ross is trapped in a false choice. It's not between an "empty Earth" and his idea of "Earth Paridiso". It's between a planet that committed suicide and a planet with a sustainable biosphere. When it comes to population growth Mr Douthat, please don't "Do that".

  218. I can only hope that the rest of the planet would experience the "underpopulation" that China is now facing. Our planet is overpopulated with people, resulting in global warming and environmental pollution on a massive scale. While we all need to live more sustainable lives, our population also needs to decrease to save our planet. We need to figure out how to care for all generations while transitioning to a more sustainable human population.

  219. Ross, you should also comment on the other demographic crisis awaiting China: the fact that so many abortions specifically targeted girls to ensure that the only allowed child would be a boy. That has resulted in a very skewed gender ratio which points to trouble as millions of young adults fail to find partners.

  220. "China is growing old without first having grown rich." Mr. Douthat: The young people of China should not be counted out so rapidly! Yes, the pure numbers (people numbers and ages of said people) tell one story, which you outline as progressively reduced productivity. The numbers you don't note, and, are hard to both see and write about is: The relative productivity of a young Chinese person (worker) and a young American or European person (worker). We have a little bit of a window into this right now IF you want to look. The private schools of America, in need of money, have admitted large numbers of the children of the new wealthy in China. Indeed, my kids are going to school with them. Those children of China, at those private schools, all across America, define the meaning of sustained, willing, enthusiastic, hard work. I mean, hard, hard work. My children, both currently at expensive private schools in the Northeast, who have friends in the Chinese community, will tell you that the average Chinese born student know how to really work, how to really study. The Chinese students are simply tireless in their efforts to succeed. My children, who, by American standards, do have a great work ethic, are routinely amazed at how long a Chinese born student can sustain a library study session. So, Mr. Douthat, don't count China out based on Demographics. The average Chinese person can do the work of four Americans - and easily.

  221. @Michael What an excellent point. I notice the same thing myself. We have been underestimating China for several decades now, always thinking China will start to decline, that America will prevail because somehow we are better. Not when it comes to work. Chinese-born students usually do work much harder. Ultimately, a nation's most valuable resource is its people, and while Chinese growth may stumble at times, China is going to blow right past us. The Chinese as a group are harder working, they are becoming better educated, their creative juices are beginning to be freed and there are many more of them than us. It is not really a competition any more -- just a matter of time. The only likely thing to upset this is climate change, where North America, for many reasons, is better positioned than the other continents.

  222. @Malcolm China does have one more threat to its future: Too many people. Talk to anyone who was born in China and they will tell one tale after another of trash piled high in streams and waterways, unbreathable air, chemical pollution from factory smoke deposits, there are no trees left in China (hence their aggressive deforestation of jungles worldwide). So, working hard can compensate for a lot of things, but, a dead landscape is not one of them. Since the US was nearly completely de-populated of humans as part of European resettlement here, we still have some natural resources that are not completely exhausted, and, although Trump is doing his best to poison the environment again, people will push back. I am not optimistic about America, but, I would not count us out quite yet.