What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster by Jonathan V. Last, Encounter Books, 2013.
After years of hearing that we have too many people on this planet and that we have to decrease our population, here comes Jonathan V. Last to tell us that if we don’t start having more children, we’re in trouble. We’ll have a population of old people with no young ones to support them. Other authors tell us the exact opposite. Whom should we believe? This book is a slow read, a scholarly compilation of statistics that show the birth rate going down below replacement level in most first-world countries. Last blames it on many factors of modern life, including the cost of raising children, women going to college and having careers instead of babies, the decline of marriage and religion and the general belief that having children will take all the fun out of life. He details the efforts, mostly unsuccessful, that have been made to encourage people to have more children and makes suggestions for how to encourage more births. Last has a strong conservative bias and occasionally laces this footnote-fest with sarcasm, but there’s a lot of interesting information here, and it certainly provides food for thought.
There’s no doubt the birth rate has been going down. In some countries, such as Germany and Japan, the population is shrinking at a rapid rate. The question is whether this is a problem. I had this book with me at the doctor’s office a couple days ago. When I showed my doctor the cover, she exclaimed that a smaller population is a good thing, that this world has too many people in it. That’s what most people think. Just visit any large American city at rush hour. Wouldn’t fewer people and more open space be good? Yes, we’d have to work out how to manage things like Social Security with fewer workers contributing to it, but wouldn’t it even out in time?
And how does this affect our individual decisions on whether or not to have children? Certainly overpopulation is often cited by the childfree crowd as a good reason not to have kids. If we’re to believe Jonathan V. Last, anyone who has more than two children should be rewarded with tax breaks and other incentives. But Laura Carroll maintains in The Baby Matrix, reviewed here in February, that couples should be given tax breaks for NOT having children.
So what’s the answer? I think if you want to have children, you should have them, and if you don’t want them, don’t have them. The population will sort itself out.
What do you think?