Re: China’s Demographics Spell Decline Not Domination
Written by Olivia Nater | Published: September 2, 2022
Niall Ferguson’s op-ed “China’s Demographics Spell Decline Not Domination,” published in Bloomberg on August 14 and reprinted in The Washington Post is a typical example of the incredibly narrow-minded and unhealthy view espoused by mainstream economists and growth-obsessed capitalists that declining birth rates are a disaster. We sent a letter to the Bloomberg editor in reply, but have not received a response, so we are featuring it below.
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You can also see other common population myths busted on our Myths and Misconceptions page.
Niall Ferguson’s article “China’s Demographics Spell Decline Not Domination” (August 14, 2022) claims that slowing population growth “is not cause for celebration” and paints a doom-and-gloom picture of the United States’ and China’s demographic futures. The need to restructure economies to accommodate population aging and decline does present challenges, but these can be successfully managed, as exemplified by Japan, which has been shrinking for a decade.
A far greater problem is our escalating environmental crisis, from catastrophic climate change to the sixth mass extinction and resource depletion, all of which, astoundingly, the article ignores. Smaller populations in the U.S. and China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitters, is undoubtedly a positive development. As Kenneth Boulding once said, “Anyone who believes in indefinite growth in anything physical, on a physically finite planet, is either mad or an economist.”
Mr. Ferguson rightly points out that the primary reason for reduced population growth is women gaining the freedom to pursue careers and choose their family size. This is, in fact, good news. Countless women still lack this freedom, however — according to the UN, 257 million women globally have an unmet need for family planning. We must accelerate women’s empowerment and strive towards a smaller, more sustainable human population. Fearmongering about declining birth rates is not only absurd but also potentially harmful in light of political environments around the world that are already hostile towards reproductive rights and bodily autonomy.