Tuesday, July 01, 2008


Sunday's Times Magazine ran an interesting piece on the dropping birthrate in Europe. Granted, there are concerns about the death of towns or the drop-off in a society's population that are worth discussing, but what struck me about the piece is the implication that a society must reproduce at or above its current population. Or more to the point: the implication that our societies must continue to grow. I suppose it's a reasonable assumption to be made by a society in which average family size continues to grow. The fallacy comes, however, when you consider questions of an exploding population—how people will continue to feed and be housed in an ever-more-stressed environment?

I wonder about such things whenever I see a family with two kids about to add a third, three kids about to add a fourth, and beyond. Granted, I would never tell any of my friends who do have more than two children that they should have made a different choice, but I still wonder about the long-term prognosis of a society where the norm is becoming R + X (replacement plus extras). When we've gone from 2.1 children as an average to 2.9, mustn't all of our institutions, stores, cars, and so forth continue to grow? Aren't they already expanding past the point of sustainability? If that's the case, what should our long-term prognosis be?

Just thinking out "loud"...