Pope Francis has raised the alarm about the demographic crisis and told millennials in Italy to stop being “selfish and egotistical” and to start families instead of substituting pets for children. Philip Pilkington has looked at the issue in the Telegraph and concluded the Pope is right. What’s more, immigration won’t solve the problem, he says, because it is a Ponzi scheme that fails to make a country younger. Here’s an excerpt.
It looks like the West is finally snapping out of its Malthusian trance and realising that it is in the process of falling off a demographic cliff. Conservative MP Miriam Cates has suggested that falling birth rates are the biggest threat to Western civilisation. She has called on the state to step in and encourage young people to start families by rewarding stay-at-home mums with tax breaks.
This sort of rhetoric is not popular on either the small government Right or the culturally radical Left. Small government conservatives simply do not want more state intervention in people’s lives, while the culturally radical hark back to 1960s era rhetoric against the stifling impact of the nuclear family.
Yet both would have a hard time arguing against the deleterious effects of an ageing population on society and the economy. If there are too many old people relative to young, then there will not be as many resources to go around.
The shrinking number of young people will have to work longer hours to maintain the same level of output and, as the number of older mouths to feed increases, they will be compensated less and less for their effort.
Already, the state pension is looking like it will soon be a thing of the past.
The solution floated by both the small government Right and the culturally radical Left is simple: immigration.
As the domestic population ages, they tell us, we can simply import workers from abroad. Any objection risks being branded xenophobic and sparking a row.
Yet the very terms of the debate are misaligned because most people making these arguments believe immigration can solve the problem of an aging population.
But the data are clear on this: it cannot. It may be able to address the decline in labour force growth, but that is a separate issue.
For evidence, look at the land of ‘fur babies’ decried by the Pope: Italy. The country has seen such a severe decline in its birth rate and over such a long period that it provides a perfect object of study.
Italy is a nation that has tried to immigrate its way out of its demographic problems, meaning we can fruitfully compare it with Japan, a country with similarly dire demographic problems but which is more averse to immigration.
The period that is worth looking at is between 2000 and 2013. Within this timeframe, Italy experienced a significant wave of migration. Over 3.72 million more immigrants arrived in Italy than emigrants left.
Over the same period, Japan’s net migration levels were half that, at 1.88 million. Consider also that Japan has over double the population of Italy, meaning that between 2000 and 2013, on a per capita basis, Italy saw almost four times as much net migration as Japan.
At the same time, Italy and Japan had roughly identical fertility rates. Italy’s total fertility rate stood at around 1.37 on average, while Japan’s was around 1.35.
The difference between the two is basically a rounding error, making the comparison extremely precise.
Now, if immigrants can indeed offset falling birth rates, we should see the median age of Italians rise much slower than the median age of Japanese in this period. After all, Italy had four times the number of net migrants on a per capita basis.
Do we see this? No. The Italian and Japanese median age move in lockstep. Italy’s larger number of migrants made no difference.
Philip suggests two reasons for this unexpected result: that migrants typically arrive in their 20s rather than at age zero like a baby, and second that migrants tend to assimilate to domestic birth rates.
A third reason may be chain migration, whereby migrants bring over older relatives, cancelling out any impact on average age.
“The reality is that there is simply no easy way out,” Philip concludes.
These issues were major talking points at the National Conservatism conference yesterday, with many speakers – including Suella Braverman, Louise Perry and Mary Harrington – talking on themes of lowering immigration and raising birth rates.
Worth reading in full.
Stop Press: Ross Clark has noted in the Telegraph that the Conservatives are on track for a thumping election defeat in no small part due to upsetting everyone by constantly talking tough on immigration but never delivering:
There are votes to be won in reducing migration; there are some votes to be won (though almost certainly far fewer) in extolling the virtues of a liberal migration policy. What certainly won’t earn you votes is barking at migrants every five minutes, threatening deportation, establishing a ‘hostile environment’ – while simultaneously practising a policy of mass migration. That just makes a Government look silly and ineffectual.