It’s not so much that the old post-WWII order is crumbling irretrievably that it almost immediately started declining in certain niches – effective representation of newly formed nations – and thriving in others – establishing frameworks for global trade – from the moment it was birthed. Signposts such as the collapse of the Bretton Woods agreement to the gradual evolution of healthcare within developed nations into an entrenched, innovation-resistant monolith challenged by politicians at their peril to the inexorable rise of China on the strength of its hybrid of Communism, state-sponsored capitalism and demographics have marked the way over the past several decades. Every human institution experiences such cycles, with evidence of their status masked in part by sheer size. Accordingly, even as the inefficacy of institutions such as the United Nations and the International Monetary Fund in many areas grows even more glaringly apparent, they will still be able to make significant advances in others.
Meanwhile, the roles of global powers will continue to be recast, slowly but surely. Soft power will swirl nebulously among the formerly prominent Western European countries of the United Kingdom, France and Germany, even as their hard power primarily exists in concerted form. They should not be counted out just yet – the European bloc can never quite be counted out unless the timescale is stretched out into that of centuries – but the global world order will no longer be influenced by the American-European coterie.
This is nothing new, as many pundits have predicted a shift in power to center somewhere in the Pacific near to China, as the United States remains the only true superpower yet China and India boast multiple advantages ranging from demographics to trappings of democracy disguising currently more-cohesive political systems. But the path to this new world order is more complex than many suppose, and moreover, it is far too soon to count out the United States’ resiliency even amid the very public airing of all its current issues. In this inaugural post, I outline one prominent issue that is fairly well discussed but usually from all the wrong angles: demographics.
Demographics As Destiny
For better or worse, our world is run by its apex species, homo sapiens. Whichever vaguely drawn boundaries of nation-states contain clumps of people primed to produce talented individuals generally tend to perform better in the long run. Historically, the greater the population, the greater the pool of laborers and consequently prosperity (if frequently accompanied by famine). Although the role and economics have shifted, the basic principle can often remain the same: More people under one political system can lead to more economic growth powered by consumption and potential productivity as well as the greater probabilities of individuals of merit rising to the top. This is mainly predicated on the particular attributes of a given system, to be fair, as well as technological levels.
In addition, however, the diversity of a given population pool in terms of age, race and culture, among other attributes, can end up resulting in a net positive. In these times, racial and cultural disparities prompt the most skepticism from both sides of the political spectrum, with some claiming it is impossible to reconcile some tribal identities and others prioritizing the supposed equality of all tribal identities above all else, or rather, to the detriment of all else. Both sides are wrong – as annoyingly is often the case, the golden mean lies in the middle. Too much cultural disparity can produce havoc, while racial disparity only usually matters as much as people ascribe meaning to said race, but both are trumped by and large by a commonly accepted rule of law, however perverted the law can be by prejudice. Multiple historical cases such as the Roman empire’s golden age, the late medieval period in Andalusia and more testify that cultural and racial disparities can be trumped by common economic interests. It is a delicate balance, to be sure, but it can be achieved nonetheless.
When it comes to age and overall diversity in terms of background, it isn’t the demographic-predicated social welfare programs common to most wealthy Western nations that only matters. It simply is a measure of an ecosystem’s health, and whether we like to think it or not, humans’ reality as biological animals entails that what we create and live in is an ecosystem, however advanced. The health of an ecosystem is frequently an uneasy balance between the aged and the young, the native and invasive species, the predators and prey. All health is derived from conflict between players of relatively equal terms should all go well, in the end.
Consequently, maintenance of diversity within an overall homogeneous structure – think the vast variety of Caucasian tribes within the Anglo-Saxon strictures that was the original 13 colonies founding the US – is what best forms a thriving ecosystem, at least as far as ecology and biology can tell us thus far. All factors must be balanced to at least some degree, though perfect harmony won’t ever be achievable. Race remains a topic few wish to discuss in perfect amity, because in the most discourse-laden nation, the US, it is probably the most divisive topic given American history. After all, the unique tragedy of America, its true original sin, was the attempt to classify an entire race as sub-human in order to defend the institution of slavery. From that stems the entirety of America’s unique racial order, and its attending, massive misery. But nobody wants to talk about that, because it is a problem that can’t really be solved, only acknowledged and imprinted in memory as an example to avoid, with a consequent timeline to rectify matters long enough it can make anyone quail.
Hence the most attention has been paid to the discrepancy between rich nations growing older in aggregate as opposed to developing economies, although that shouldn’t have been surprising to anyone who studied human nature and knows that procreative instincts are often most pronounced in those who value life the most intensely given their proximity to want.
The coming demographic crisis in several advanced Western nations – which will be even more severely pronounced in China – is therefore often analyzed and proclaimed as a coming doom. Amusingly, few seem to propose the obvious solutions. Stipends for parents such as occur in Russia aren’t enough to persuade people to procreate, primarily because procreation is nearly entirely tied up in cultural beliefs. Sadly, cultural beliefs are very, very hard to change, and even if you do succeed in exerting change, they are very slow in shifting. In fact, the more you attempt to persuade people their culture is erroneous in even some degree, the more you will incite them to push back against you, whether or not they are actually in the wrong. As this mental bias is common to all humans, one can hardly judge any other for doing so.
Immigration As Solution
So if one can’t change culture, what can one do? The obvious solution is to implement an immigration policy that is both restrictive and welcoming. This isn’t a contradiction in terms – it is simple common sense. Import those whose native culture promotes diversity within your extant ecosystem, in order to induce enough of a change, while at the same time doing one’s best to promote change based on either demographic or meritocratic or racial or social inequality to contribute to diversity. Prioritize whatever criteria you wish – but the catch is that the criteria can’t exclude any type of diversity, only prioritize some over others.
You could try to embrace a truly meritocratic approach and prioritize immigration only by those who score highly enough on aptitude tests, but then you would have to determine what aptitudes truly matter. People with very high IQs often fail to produce any meaningful value to society, after all. But one can’t blindly promote pure diversity and seek to admit only those of cultures and races differing from the majority of the host nation. In addition, relying on the fact those who apply may be more determined to succeed isn’t enough, given the potential appeal of a perhaps safer socioeconomic system and/or welfare safety net. Frankly, it comes down to a mix of multiple elements, with merit being the primary. How best to measure merit? Assign weighting to academic credentials and job history, with an allowance regarding socioeconomic status and age. Prioritize entire families, not merely out of common human decency but because frankly families are the stable, basic building block of human society. Tribalism can be a useful instinct to tap when it comes to immigration – after all, the age-old tradition of some immigrants coming to, say, America and saving up to bring relatives over is a highly useful trait to promote. From there, it is difficult to assess allegiance to a particular governing rule of law or cultural mores, but the degree of allegiance doesn’t really matter once conduct is sufficiently established over a fair duration.
Especially as declining fertility rates and advancing median ages will be far more of a problem in coming decades than many anticipate – few have calculated beyond the simple math of the additional burden welfare programs will have to bear – immigration policies that can shrewdly induce a greater influx of immigrants prepared to embrace the mores and advantages of the host nation will be a hallmark of those states best prepared to thrive. It isn’t enough on its own – there has to be enough of an extant system for newcomers to strike out on their own as opposed to subsist on welfare, which will be the topic of my next post in this series.
Bluntly speaking, humans aren’t as special a species as we like to think when it comes to the evolutionary churn of competition. We all benefit from exposure to different individuals, and resulting competition. But it is not a zero-sum game, which is the most common fallacy about immigration. Welcoming those who wish to do well and are more willing to sacrifice what it takes to do so than those who have enjoyed the largesse of a wealthy nation their entire lives is not popular politically, but can be presented as canny by those savvy enough to nail the narrative.