The main idea of this book is that the demographic is very important part of any society’s survivability and prosperity. This feature to significant extent defines society’s economic and military power and place in the world among other societies. The secondary idea is that there is quite consistent path of development that occurred over the last few centuries:
Step 1: scientific, economic, and cultural progress lead to decrease in childhood deaths, while level of births remains the same causing population explosion
Step 2: increase in survivability, new opportunities for improvement of quality of life, decrease in dependency on children in old age, and reproductive control technologies lead to decrease in births, which lead to stabilization or even decrease in population
Because different countries go through this process at different time and at different tempo, the end result is that countries that got there first, specifically Anglo-sphere and then Europe end up with materially smaller populations than countries that got there later eventually changing balance of power between different populations of the world.
Part One: Population and History
It starts with the story from 1754 in London when life was nasty, brutish, and short, killing lots of children who died very young, living population numbers very stable despite high number of births per woman. Then author briefly retells the story of the last 250 years when improved hygiene and medical services dramatically decreased number of deaths, while social welfare, emancipation, education, and growing opportunities greatly decreased number of births. Finally author defines the objective of the book: discuss role of population in history. Author cautious to stress out that demographic is not the destiny, but it is material part of it.
- The Weight of Numbers
Here author defines time scope of this book as starting from 1800 and Malthus and ending in the future. He then presents demographic history of British royals, which he shows to be quite representative to overall trends. Author then expands this discussion to overall population of the world and its dramatic increase. He also introduces idea that because process started with developed nations the cycle: improvement of living conditions – decrease of infant deaths with corresponding dramatic population growth – further improvement in living conditions leading to decrease of births and pursuit of happiness leading to decrease of births below replacement level – probable stabilization of population. This process seems to be common for all nations, religious, and other groups with the once that delayed process had stabilized at higher levels of population, sometimes much higher. Finally he discusses the difference that demographic makes in military balance of power and economic clout and applies this logic not only to balances between countries, but also to balance between various groups within countries, specifically referring to USA. Finally he provides a nice graph demonstrating current status:
At the end of chapter author identifies his own point of view on demographic issues:
“First, human life is an inherently good thing, and the saving and extension of it is a worthy pursuit. If it is good to save the life of a single child then all the more is it good to save the lives of millions of children, which is what happens when infant mortality is brought down. Healthy, civilized and long lives are better than nasty, brutish and short ones. Violent and catastrophic mass deaths are an inherently bad thing; if we regret the loss of a single life then the regret at the loss of multiple lives should be proportionately greater. What we do not wish for our families and friends we should not wish for other human beings, whether this is in the name of equality or environmentalism or any other potentially worthy but abstract goal.
Second, when women have control over their own fertility, they collectively make wise decisions, with or without input from their male partners. When women are educated and have access to contraception, they will not choose to have more children than they can support and, just as the hidden hand of the market works in economics, so the hidden hand of demography will work if allowed to do so. Enforced limitations on childbearing are not only wrong; they are unnecessary. In matters of demography as in so many others, the decisions of ordinary people, given the educational and technical tools to take them, will turn out to be best for their societies and for the planet as a whole.”
Part Two: The Gathering Tide: Among the Europeans
- The Triumph of the Anglo-Saxons
This chapter is about Britain being the first country that successfully broke through Malthusian trap by using scientific approach and industrial revolution. Author discusses here also other countries of Anglo-Saxon sphere, especially USA, claiming that its dominance of the world was derived from the rapid growth of population that resulted from being the first in this change.
- The German and Russian Challenges
This chapter is about similar processes in European countries that picked up steam in late XIX / early XX century. Author specifically discusses how it changed balance of European power making France fearing Germans who ran ahead in population growth, then Germans fearing Russian who did the same.
- The Passing of the ‘Great Race; 6. The West since 1945 From Baby-Boom to Mass Immigration; 7. Russia and the Eastern Bloc from 1945
Here author moves to the overall picture when Europe started falling behind in population growth because its advancement in technology, including medical, public services, economy, and overall prosperity that makes families smaller, promoting quality over quantity. Author also discusses here Europe self-inflicted tragedy of World Wars, massive epidemics that still occurred, and immigration with racial issues related to it. Finally author discusses European dictatorships of the first half of XX century and their demographic impact. At the end author poses the question “Is the Europeans in Retreat?” and pretty much replies that they are based on decrease in European population as percentage of the world.
Part Three: The Tide Goes Global: Beyond the Europeans
- Japan, China and East Asia The Ageing of Giants; 9. The Middle East and North Africa 10. Nothing New Under the Sun? Final Frontiers and Future Vistas
In chapters of this part author applies the same logic to all other countries of the world where he finds the same processes under way: Improvement in quality of life, leading to decrease in early death, which initially results in dramatic growth of population, but later on it leads to decrease in family sizes and stabilization or even decrease in population. Author ends very reasonably refusing to make any predictions on future demographics either of the worlds or specific countries. He only stresses his believe that whatever will happens demographics will be intertwined with destiny as it had always been before.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I completely agree with author’s presentation of demographic trends and history as it developed over the last couple centuries. However I do not think that division of people of the world in different populations makes a lot of sense presently and would make any sense in near future. Whatever is racial and cultural breakdown of the world population we find up at the moment in next 50 years, when population growth stops, it will become less and less relevant due to continuing mix of all populations both genetically via interracial births and culturally via expansion of popular culture in which input of population of western developed countries is completely dominant. I believe that in relatively short period of time, a hundred years at most, an average person would have as hard time answering question about his/her genetic roots, as average American with all 8 great-grandparents being non-immigrant with various roots: English, Scottish, German, Italian, or whatever else went into the mix. The only question in my mind is not about genetic demographics, but rather cultural dominance: which of European traditions become dominant in future genetically intermixed world: hierarchical, even totalitarian big state with suppression of individual freedoms and control from the top down, or flexible free association society based on individual freedom with minimalistic state restricted to prevention of wars and maintenance of law and order. The future answer to this question will define whether people of the world will live in misery or relative happiness.