January 18, 2006
How Demography FailsBy J.R. Dunn
'Europe will be Islamic by the end of this century at the very latest.'
The floodgates opened with that comment from Bernard Lewis. Since its publication in Die Welt in July 2004, countless responses have appeared from writers as varied as George Weigel and Patrick Buchanan. The latest is Mark Steyn, in a New Criterion essay (reprinted in the Wall Street Journal) titled, in his customary understated style, 'It's the Demography, Stupid.'
An unusual unanimity has prevailed — almost every writer concurs with Lewis that Europe is a lost cause, a casualty in the war against Islamofascism.
The argument is straightforward: the native European population is dropping, with birthrates in all countries below replacement level. The Muslim populace, for the most part unassimilated, is still expanding. One curve is going up, the other down. When they cross, Europe will have effectively come under Muslim control.
But is it truly that simple? After all, there's a reason why you're not reading this in a U.S. with a population of 500 million+, which is what demography foresaw in 1950. Or in the 2006 world of 8 billion souls, as predicted ten years later. And certainly not in the 21st century universally forecast in the 70s, in which a few survivors grub about in the ruins left by the Great Crash following a runaway population explosion.
The reason these futures never came to pass is that predictive demography is not a science.
Oh, it's dependable in limited cases —— in telling us how many teenagers will be around in five years, or how many deaths of old age will occur per annum. But farther than a generation ahead, it's about as valuable as Tarot cards, and not as interesting.
The shortcomings of predictive demography were apparent even as the discipline was being founded. In 1798, Thomas Malthus published An Essay on the Principle of Population in response to the many utopian tracts then in circulation. Malthus pointed out that population would always outgrow the food supply, rendering a utopian future untenable. While food increased at the arithmetical ratio of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, every twenty—five years, population growth was geometrical, growing at the rate of 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32... At the end of two centuries the ratio would be 256 to 9. In three centuries, 4,096 to 13.
Put in simple arithmetic, Malthus' conclusion was powerful and unforgettable. His pamphlet was widely read, influencing economists and social thinkers throughout the 19th century.
But Malthus began having doubts. What he'd done was simply plot the curve of recent population growth and extend it into the future, the same method used by demographers to this day. After reconsidering that procedure, he published an expanded version of his pamphlet in 1803, '...to soften some of the harshest conclusions of the first Essay.' Malthus now postulated a form of 'moral restraint' that would cause people to abstain from sex and thus lower the growth curve. (This was the only way out Malthus could conceive — he was an ordained parson and had a horror of birth control.)
That solution may sound impossibly utopian in and of itself. But Malthus was on to something, though you wouldn't have known it from the public response. The second edition lacked any stark, easily—grasped formula, and went largely unrecognized by readers. Despite all his efforts (he was to publish several further editions), Malthus remained famous as the man who predicted mass starvation as the inevitable fate of mankind.
Demography grew no more cheerful in the ensuing century. It was a factor in the brutal shift in Southern slaveholding policy in the 1830s. A series of abortive revolts convinced Southern aristocrats that blacks were 'outbreeding' whites and would soon overwhelm them. Punitive slave codes went into effect caging blacks on plantations, establishing curfews, and punishing signs of insubordination. It was a self—defeating program, underlining criticism by Northern abolitionists and further isolating the South.
A similar school of thought lay behind opposition to immigration to the U.S., with claims that 'uncivilized' Italians, Poles, Slavs, and Jews, with their enormous families, would eventually outnumber the native population (itself a mixture of ethnicities). The campaign ultimately abolished mass immigration, but only in 1925, decades after the peak of European influx.
At the turn of the century, Kaiser Wilhelm II's sick vision of Die gelbe Gefahr — the Yellow Peril — in which the 'yellow races' would outbreed the stodgy West, spilling across the continent. The Kaiser's obsession helped fuel worldwide animus against Asians and needlessly embroiled Germany in Eastern politics at a time when she could least afford it.
Comic relief at last arrived in the person of Paul Ehrlich, an insect biologist who achieved fame in the 1960s, that levelheaded and common—sense decade, through The Population Bomb, which postulated an uncontrolled population explosion (a possibility suggested by a number of previous writers, though never with Ehrlich's success), which was beyond human solution and would end in universal famines leading to the collapse of civilization, if not the extinction of mankind. (How population could continue growing under conditions of mass starvation —— the famines were supposed to begin in 1975 —— was only one contradiction of many.)
The original volume was followed by endless sequels, by Ehrlich and others, with the concept becoming received wisdom. While the 'population bomb' led to none of the squalid reactions of previous demographic panics, it did result in the waste of hundreds of millions of dollars on 'studies' and 'programs' to meet the nonexistent threat, along with some truly odious proposals. Among them was the concept of 'triage', in which certain developing nations — India always first on the list — would be cut off from trade and humanitarian efforts in order to preserve resources for other, presumably more deserving states. Triage was supported by such figures as Robert S. McNamara (then head of the World Bank) but fortunately never got beyond the study stage.
Ehrlich ended up as something of a legend: a prophet whose every last prediction proved wrong. (Quite an achievement — crystal gazing or palmistry will give consistently better results.) He did very well regardless, establishing his own heavily—endowed foundation, receiving a MacArthur 'Genius' grant, and being nominated several times for the Nobel Prize. The population bomb thesis survived, usually found in half—educated types who recite it with the intensity of the convert. Al Gore was ringing the alarm bell over it as recently as the 2000 election.
That's the record of predictive demography, always based on the same flawed premise, always mistaken, at worst a mask for racism, at best a selling point for intellectual hucksters.
So what do we make of Lewis and Steyn, who are neither?
I've always taken Lewis's statement as a warning, put in that form to force discussion, at which it has been an unqualified success. But many writers seem to view it as prophecy, a guarantee that Europe is already lost, with nothing remaining but the sackcloth and ashes.
This stems from the same error as Malthus, Ehrlich, et al — taking the current statistics as given, drawing a curve stretching across the next century, and shouting apocalypse.
Of course, the numbers are not solid and unchangeable, because the main factor in demography is not statistical at all. As Malthus seems to have realized (though he erred as to the precise cause), it's human nature, the most unpredictable force in the universe. One of the analogies used to underline the danger of the population explosion involved how little time it takes algae to fill up a pond. But humans aren't pond scum. What tripped up Ehrlich and his followers was an effect known as the 'demographic transition' — a byproduct of the same flaky 60s that gave Ehrlich his platform, in which young adults across the developed world began postponing families in order to enjoy life during their 20s. The result was fewer children and a collapse in population growth that has continued to this day and generated a counterpanic over deflating populations.
It's this drop that's causing the concern for Europe, coupled with Muslim immigrants importing their traditional large families. The numbers seem to bear these fears out, with all of Europe below replacement level of 2.1 children per woman. The Muslim rate is not as certain, but seems to range from 4 to 6, depending on country, two to three times more than native
But how likely are these trends to continue? Are Arabs and North Africans immune to demographic effects that have overtaken the rest of the world? 'Spengler' thinks otherwise. The political columnist for the Asia Times, and one of the most formidable intellects working in the international press (for a cheap, nasty laugh, compare any of his columns to one on the same subject by, say, Thomas L. Friedman), Spengler has devoted several recent columns to the problem of Muslim demography.
According to Spengler, the Islamic world is facing its own demographic transition, and (no surprise here), is unlikely to handle it as well as the West:
Algeria has a population growth rate of only 1.4% per year, Qatar of just 1.2%. Iran is falling below replacement level, with much of the Arab world (Spengler has gone to the trouble of graphing the calculations) poised to follow circa 2030. Muslim colonies in Europe, surrounded as they are by Western influences, are enduring the same process. The rise in hideous 'honor' killings throughout the region strongly implies that Muslim women are revolting against their Koranic status as brood mares, and the attitude of women is a key demographic factor.
What this means for Europe is that Muslims will have neither the time nor the numbers to turn the place into Greater Andalusia. Even if the Muslim population were to quadruple over the next generation in such countries as France and the Netherlands — an unlikely development, particularly if further atrocities slam shut the immigration door — they won't be numerous enough to challenge the native population. And due to the demographic transition, the next generation is likely to be their last opportunity.
It would a smart move for the Jihadis, having failed in the Middle East, to shift operations to the Western heartland. It's interesting that both Abu Musab al—Zarqawi's Al—Queda in Iraq and Ansar al—Islam have been building up their European networks in recent months. The Ramadis and Fallujahs of the 21st century's teens—decade may very well be notable European cities, with our eager and loyal NATO allies begging us for troops and military assistance.
And as WW II taught us, there's nothing like a bit of adversity to spark the birth rate.
Nothing can be expected from the EU, whose bureaucrats will continue deepening the same groove until they're at last ordered to grow beards and wear turbans.
But the European people are another matter. The mass rejection of the EU's phone directory/quantum—physics textbook 'constitution' is a good sign. So is Holland's reaction to the assassination of Theo Von Gogh. If Jihadi savagery can animate a people as politically lethargic as the Dutch, anything is possible. We also have the ascension of Pope Benedict, who, like his predecessor, may succeed in mobilizing the Pope's divisions.
The spirit of Europe, the barbarian backwoods that became the dynamo of the world, may not yet be dead.
Or it may well be, with Europe doomed to become the Byzantium of the 21st century.
But demography is an awfully weak peg on which to hang such an argument. Earlier demographic visionaries would have been closer to the truth if they'd taken their vision and made the exact opposite predictions. You can't view statistics fifty years down the line as if they were facts; too much can happen in the long years between.
Like Malthus, we need to have more faith in human nature before we write off the gardens of the West. For the moment, and in spite of the numbers, my money remains on Europe.
Among many other things, J.R. Dunn was the editor of the International Military Encyclopedia for twelve years.