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Jewish World Review
Oct. 23, 2006
/ 1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5767
Fear of too many babies is hard to bear
Last Tuesday morning, in a maternity ward somewhere in the United States, the 300 millionth American arrived. He or she got a marginally warmer welcome than Mark Foley turning up to hand out the prizes at junior high. One could have predicted the appalled editorials from European newspapers aghast at yet another addition to the swollen cohort of excess Americans consuming ever more of the planet's dwindling resources. And, when Canada's National Post announced "'Frightening' Surge Brings US To 300m People," you can appreciate their terror: the millions of Democrats who declared they were moving north after Bush's re-election must have placed incredible strain on Canada's highways, schools, trauma counselors, etc.
But the wee bairn might have expected a warmer welcome from his or her compatriots. Alas not. "Three hundred million seems to be greeted more with hand-wringing ambivalence than chest-thumping pride," observed the Washington Post, which inclines toward the former even on the best of days. No chest-thumping up in Vermont, either. "Organizations such as the Shelburne-based Population Media Center are marking the 300 million milestone with renewed warnings that world population growth is unsustainable," reported the Burlington Free Press. Across the country, the grim milestone prompted this reaction from a somber Dowell Myers. "At 300 million," noted the professor of urban planning and demography at the University of Southern California, "we are beginning to be crushed under the weight of our own quality-of-life degradation."
I, on the other hand, was feeling pretty chipper about the birth of the cute l'il quality-of-life degrader. The previous day, my new book was published. You'll find it in all good bookstores it's propping up the slightly wonky rear left leg of the front table groaning under the weight of unsold copies of Peace Mom by Cindy Sheehan. Anyway, the book mine, not Cindy's deals in part with the geopolitical implications of demography i.e., birth rates. That's an easy subject to get all dry and statistical about, so I gotta hand it to my publicist: arranging for the birth of the 300 millionth American is about as good a promotional tie-in as you could get and well worth the 75 bucks he bribed the guy at the Census Bureau. But, even if you haven't got a book to plug, the arrival of Junior 300 Mil is something everyone should celebrate.
So why don't we? The answer is that too many people who should know better are still peddling the same old 40-year-old guff about "overpopulation." What does Professor Myers mean by "quality-of-life degradation"? America is the 172nd least densely populated country on Earth. If you think it's crowded here, try living in the Netherlands or Belgium, which have, respectively, 1,015 and 883 inhabitants per square mile compared with 80 folks per square mile in the United States. To be sure, somewhere such as, say, Newark, N.J., is a lot less bucolic than it was in 1798. But why is that? No doubt Myers would say it's urban sprawl. But that's the point: you can only sprawl if you've got plenty of space. As the British writer Adam Nicholson once wrote of America, "There is too much room in the vast continental spaces of the country for a great deal of care to be taken with the immediate details." Nothing sprawls in Belgium: It's a phenomenon that arises not from population pressures but the lack thereof.
As for other degradations the weight of which is so crushing to Myers, name some. America is one of the most affordable property markets in the Western world. I was amazed to discover, back in the first summer of the Bush presidency, that a three-bedroom air-conditioned house in Crawford, Texas, could be yours for 30,000 bucks and, if that sounds a bit steep, a double-wide on a couple of acres would set you back about $6,000. And not just because Bush lives next door and serves as a kind of one-man psychological gated community keeping the NPR latte-sippers from moving in and ruining the neighborhood. The United States is about the cheapest developed country in which to get a nice home with a big yard and raise a family. That's one of the reasons why America, almost alone among Western nations, has a healthy fertility rate.
Everywhere else, for the most part, they've taken the advice of Myers and that think tank in Vermont. In America, there are 2.1 live births per woman. In 17 European countries, it's 1.3 or below that's what demographers call "lowest-low" fertility, a rate from which no society has ever recovered. Spain's population is halving with every generation. These nations are doing what Myers and the Vermont "sustainability" junkies would regard as the socially responsible thing, and having fewer babies. And as a result their countries are dying demographically and (more immediately) economically: They don't have enough young people to pay for the generous social programs the ever more geriatric Europeans have come to expect.
By the way, I wonder if any helpful reader would care to provide a working definition of "unsustainable." We hear it all the time these days. You can hardly go to an international conference on this or that global crisis without Natalie Cole serenading the opening-night gala banquet of G-7 finance ministers with a couple of choruses of "Unsustainable, that's what you are." Two centuries back, when Malthus warned of overpopulation, he was contemplating the prospects of a man "born into a world already possessed" that's to say, with no land left for him, no job, no food. "At Nature's mighty feast," wrote Malthus, "there is no vacant cover for him." But that's not what Myers and Co. mean. No one seriously thinks 400 or 500 million Americans will lead to mass starvation. By "unsustainable," they mean that we might encroach ever so slightly onto the West Nile mosquito's traditional breeding grounds in northern Maine. Which is sad if you think this or that insect is more important than the developed world's most critically endangered species: people. If you have a more scrupulous care for language, you'll note that population-wise it's low birth rates that are "unsustainable": Spain, Germany, Italy and most other European peoples literally cannot sustain themselves which is why, in one of the fastest demographic transformations in human history, their continent is becoming Muslim.
As a matter of fact, you don't have to cross the Atlantic to see the consequences of a loss of human capital: The Burlington Free Press would be better occupied worrying less about the 300 millionth American and more about the ever emptier schoolhouses up and down the Green Mountain State. I used to joke that Vermont was America's leading Canadian province, but in fact it's worse than that: demographically, it's an honorary member of the European Union.
The reality is that in a Western world ever more wizened and barren the 300 millionth American is the most basic example of American exceptionalism. Happy birth day, kid, and here's to many more.
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"America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It"
It's the end of the world as we know itů
Someday soon, you might wake up to the call to prayer from a muezzin. Europeans already are.
And liberals will still tell you that "diversity is our strength"while Talibanic enforcers cruise Greenwich Village burning books and barber shops, the Supreme Court decides sharia law doesn't violate the "separation of church and state," and the Hollywood Left decides to give up on gay rights in favor of the much safer charms of polygamy.
If you think this can't happen, you haven't been paying attention, as the hilarious, provocative, and brilliant Mark Steynthe most popular conservative columnist in the English-speaking worldshows to devastating effect in this, his first and eagerly awaited new book on American and global politics.
The future, as Steyn shows, belongs to the fecund and the confident. And the Islamists are both, while the Westwedded to a multiculturalism that undercuts its own confidence, a welfare state that nudges it toward sloth and self-indulgence, and a childlessness that consigns it to oblivionis looking ever more like the ruins of a civilization.
Europe, laments Steyn, is almost certainly a goner. The future, if the West has one, belongs to America alonewith maybe its cousins in brave Australia. But America can survive, prosper, and defend its freedom only if it continues to believe in itself, in the sturdier virtues of self-reliance (not government), in the centrality of family, and in the conviction that our country really is the world's last best hope.
Steyn argues that, contra the liberal cultural relativists, America should proclaim the obvious: we do have a better government, religion, and culture than our enemies, and we should spread America's influence around the worldfor our own sake as well as theirs.
Mark Steyn's America Alone is laugh-out-loud funnybut it will also change the way you look at the world. It is sure to be the most talked-about book of the year.
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JWR contributor Mark Steyn is North American Editor of The (London) Spectator. Comment by clicking here.
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