Tuesday, May 20, 2003

On European Demographic Decline

The following comments originally appeared on Brad Delong's blog, in response to a posting he made with regards to immigration from North Africa as a solution to Europe's demographic decline. To quote Brad:

The MinuteMan (Just One Minute: Pension Reform in France) wonders what's going to happen to the social insurance state in western Europe if birth rates don't jump soon. At the moment western European populations look like they are shrinking at about 25% a generation.

I used to think that the answer was "North Africans": move across the Mediterranean and get a first-world standard of living and a real education for your children in exchange for having to pay high payroll taxes and having to listen to your children repeat their lessons about how "our ancestors the Gauls" had nearly defeated Julius Caesar at Alesia (or about how "our ancestors the Lombards" had kicked some Byzantine *** and conquered the Po Valley).

But now that the third millennium is almost 2 1/2 years old, it's no longer clear that this can happen...

My response:

Given my own background, I hate to say this, but there is a limit to the rate at which any society can absorb immigration, particularly when the immigrants in question have values so different to those of the host nation.

Not being exactly another face in the crowd myself, I don't feel the slightest bit bothered by the ethnicity of immigrants as such, but there are some cultural differences that strike me as unbridgeable. To illustrate, I've known very many honest and decent muslims in my time, but having lived in a society where they constitute half of the population, I don't have some of the romantic illusions about Islam as a political force that a lot of westerners tend to possess.

A society in which Islam constituted a powerful enough force to be accomodoted to any great extent is one that I have no interest in living in, and this aversion is one I certainly wouldn't feel if it were, say, Shintoism or Buddhism that were at issue. There is a real clash of values between Islam and western liberalism that cannot be brushed aside, and it means that large scale immigration from North Africa, of all places, is not something I would ever be willing to endorse.

Then there is the whole issue of just what sort of immigrants one should take in; the educated ones, at the risk of being accused of initiating a brain drain, or the unskilled sort, who will likely prove far more unassimilable and resistant to the values of the host culture? To be honest, this issue doesn't worry me to such a great extent - America has shown that it is possible to successfully absorb large numbers of relatively unskilled immigrants, given the right framework.

However, amidst all this blather, one mustn't forget that this is EUROPE we're talking about, where 3rd generation non-white immigrants are still regarded as foreigners, despite never having known any cultures other than the ones they reside in. One of the strangest things I have ever experienced is that in America hardly anyone questioned the assumption that I was an American just like they were (though I wasn't), while in Europe hardly anyone accepts that I am a European (even though, on paper at least, I am). If people like myself can't find acceptance here, who can?

Frankly, I don't see any realistic escape for Europe from the demographic decline it is experiencing. The consequences of this are clear: EU expansion or no, there is absolutely no chance that Europe will be a serious military or economic challenge to American "hegemony" in the long run. It just doesn't have the (young) men, the ships or the money either.