Colson on “Demographic Winter”

Chuck Colson recently completed a 3 part series on what he called “demographic winter,” a supposedly devastating (and imminent) financial and economic crisis caused by declining population. In the article on “Demographics and Prosperity,” he writes:

[B]uying stocks is essentially betting on the future of the economy, and the best guide to that future is the actions of policymakers and financial markets. Correct?

Well, not necessarily. There is another—arguably more reliable—predictor of economic health: demographics…

In other words, future prosperity is determined, to a significant degree, by the number of children being born today.

In hindsight, this ought to be obvious: Consumer spending drives the economy. The more people you have in their peak spending years, the more spending you have on everything from housing, to travel, and taxes paid. As a population ages, it spends less.

The ultimate cause of this problem? An amazingly simple one.

But, as Spengler and others have pointed out, the root of the problem is “the decline of religious faith.” Loss of faith in the world to come leaves us grasping for everything we can get in this one, even at the expense of future generations.

Myself, I’m going to reserve judgment on whether or not the problem even exists. Clearly, the movie that Colson saw impressed him very much, and gave him enough material for 3 separate blog posts. The “facts” he cites, however, seem a bit inconsistent. First of all, it’s hard to pinpoint “lack of faith” as the root cause when you’ve got religious leaders like Jesus telling us, “do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Religious people aren’t any better than any other group in terms of anticipating future problems and making sacrifices today in order to forestall them. If the response to global warming is any indication, they might even be worse.

Secondly, it’s hard to take “declining population” as a serious threat when the other big “problem” conservatives are ranting on about is the “inundation” of Mexicans and other would-be immigrants just barely being kept at bay by our Homeland-defending Border Patrol. Colson’s answer is that Mexico, too, and other 3rd-world countries, are also facing a declining birth rate.

In 1965, the average Mexican woman gave birth to seven children. Today, it is 2.1—the same as their American counterparts. It is estimated that, within the next several decades, Mexico’s population will be older than ours.

This is part of a worldwide trend. We usually associate low birth rates with the industrialized nations. But according to Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, up to half of the world’s population lives in countries with below-replacement level fertility.

Thus, it is not only Japan; it is Korea, China, Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka . . .

In other parts of the world, the threat may be graver. In 1980, Iran’s birth rate was 6.5 births per woman. Today, it is 1.7 births per woman—well below replacement level.

The problem with these statistics (aside from the lack of documentation) is that they rather contradict Colson’s claim that the problem is loss of religious faith. Mexico, for example, is still pretty heavily Roman Catholic, and Iran is not exactly famous as a hotbed of atheism.

Birth rates are influenced by a number of factors, of which the economic environment is a major influence. Who wants to give birth to a baby that’s just going to starve to death after depleting a family’s already-strained resources? Hope, and not selfishness, is the major criterion by which people decide whether or not to have children. You have kids because you hope they will do well and bring you happiness.

And let’s not dismiss hope as just another form of selfishness. You can be just as selfish in deciding to bless yourself with a “quiver full” of offspring as in deciding to forego the chance to have someone to take care of you in your old age. Is it selfishness which leads priests and nuns to pursue a vow of chastity? (Ok, maybe it is, but would Colson admit it? Either way, it doesn’t look like the “loss” of religious faith is the real problem here.)

Ultimately, Colson’s fear-mongering is just another thinly-veiled excuse to insinuate that Christians (i.e. his kind of Christians) are better people than everybody else. People who “lose” his religious values and faith-based worldview are people who become selfish, and who throw away the future for the sake of materialistic indulgence. Never mind that the true causes are complex and that the “religious values” only change how people justify their selfish behavior. If it hypes the faith and disses the doubter, it’s all good.

If this were indeed a problem, I personally would be more inclined to follow the advice of someone who wasn’t quite so sure that some deus ex machina necessarily has to get us out of any jam we might bring upon ourselves. Let’s see this “problem” show up on the real-world radar, and not just as a self-congratulatory smear against non-believers. If Colson is right, and this is a genuine problem, then it’s going to affect all of us, and we ought to be working together to understand it and resolve it. Merely exploiting it for faith-based propaganda, however is counter-productive. And selfish.

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6 Responses to “Colson on “Demographic Winter””

  1. valdemar Says:

    In other words, Colson thinks that the world’s population should be increasing more rapidly than it is? Yeah, that’ll take the pressure off.

    Worst of all, though, is the assumption that having children is somehow better than not having them. Both are valid choices. But freedom of choice is something Christians never seem comfortable with, especially when it comes to a woman’s rights over her own body.

  2. David D.G. Says:

    Population decline is a problem?!? Heck, this planet — and even our species — would seriously benefit from our having such a “problem” for a century or three, to bring the human population down to a more sustainable level. Sadly, I think that this “problem” is pure fantasy, since our population is over 6.6 billion and still rising overall, despite zero or negative population growth in some regions.

    The problem, I think, is that he doesn’t mean HUMAN population is declining, but that the population of “preferred humans” is declining — i.e., White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. This is a bigoted, xenophobic viewpoint on the basis of religion and race (not necessarily in that order). He’s not concerned about humanity dying out; he’s just concerned about “his own people” being overwhelmed and displaced by “others” that he considers unworthy. If he wants to make a claim for that being a legitimate problem, fine — but at least he should address the situation that actually exists, instead of addressing an almost unrecognizable caricature of it that blatantly contradicts reality.

    ~David D.G.

  3. B8ovin Says:

    Loss of faith in the next world leads to less children in this one? How about, realistic views about this world leads to more responsible choices for THIS world. Heck, it aint the atheists and agnostics who think the end of the world is God’s choice, and he’s coming any day now.

    Also, wasn’t there a similar warning about over-population? And how does Colson qualify the food shortages in relation to population growth? What is the minimal and maximal population the Earth can sustain?

    None of the above questions answers economic worries but some of us might think that sustainability trumps the concerns of economic growth.

  4. MediaGuy Says:

    I am astounded at the intelligence and ignorance about the Gospel in the same breathe. People quote random verses out of context and without the full intention ever being conveyed and then take a bow as if they know so much. Wow, it is true you can’t see the Kingdom of Heaven unless you become like a little child.

    P.S. Just a comment on Valdemar’s statement about Christians not wanting to support women having the right to control their own body. Look Val this isn’t only about women its also about children. People who deny that only show their ignorance of the REAL issues. If you want to be a baby killer your free in this country to do so, but I will not take your slander sitting down.

  5. Deacon Duncan Says:

    Hello MediaGuy and welcome to the blog. I take it you think my application of Matthew 6 was too shallow? You might have a point.

    You might feel that Jesus’s remarks in Matt. 6 were not intended to promote a kind of fatalistic assumption that things will take care of themselves without our help. You might say that Jesus was speaking about how we feel about the future and not about what we should do about the future. And in a more in-depth discussion of Matthew 6, I would agree with you.

    I’ll even agree with you that my original post, as written, is rather clumsy and does not clearly portray Jesus’s intentions. However—and this is the main point I was trying to make—I am not alone in misapplying Jesus’s lesson in that way. I’ve heard Christian preaching along the same lines, i.e. that Christians don’t have to worry about things like global warming, hazardous wastes, and other environmental concerns because God is in control and would never let anything that bad happen. After all, there wouldn’t be any point in having a Second Coming if all the humans were dead of poisoning and starvation, right?

    So I embrace your rebuke, and welcome it as a cogent and useful counterpoint to my original post, and I will try to be more careful next time. However, though my Scriptural illustration could have been better framed, I believe my main point still stands. Thanks for contributing, and I hope you stick around. I could use a good critic.

  6. B8ovin Says:

    While not entirely on topic, I am somewhat dubious that random biblical verses taken out of context is a failing of atheists alone:
    Genesis 2:7- “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
    Exodus 21:22- “If men strive, and hurt a woman with child, so that her fruit depart from her, and yet no mischief follow: he shall be surely punished, according as the woman’s husband will lay upon him; and he shall pay as the judges determine.”
    According to the Bible, the soul is imparted with breath, and breath comes post-birth (prior to that the mother does all the breathing). Also, the accidental abortion seems to be only a civic matter and simply involves the father only. The child doesn’t even seem to matter. According to the Bible that is. Given that you’d be hard pressed to convince anyone that a woman is the property of the husband in this day and age, is there really a biblical reason to deny the validity of Valdemar’s statement?