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118 of 140 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves study worldwide, October 23, 2004
This review is from: Fewer: How the New Demogrpahy of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future (Hardcover)
Ben Wattenberg's "Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future" is a remarkable book and, in terms of its importance for our country and the world, it should attract a great deal more attention than most of the presidential campaign advertising.

Mr. Wattenberg reports conclusively that the world will have far fewer people than was expected even a decade ago, that in numbers and age and gender patterns this smaller population will be distributed in ways that will be significant, and that the implications for the environment, the economy and national security will be quite profound.

The biggest news is that in sheer numbers the human race is now likely to peak at 8.5 billion people instead of the United Nations projection of 11.5 billion. Even the U.N. demographers now agree that the population explosion will never reach the numbers they had once projected.

The biggest reason for this dramatic decline was captured in an earlier book by Mr. Wattenberg, "The Birth Dearth." Women are simply having fewer children and the result is that in some countries population is already starting to go down.

As Mr. Wattenberg notes, in order to sustain the current population, the average woman would have to have 2.33 children. Falling below that average will result in a population decline. Today some 40 countries are already below the replacement rate and Mr. Wattenberg expects virtually every country to be below the replacement rate by the end of our lifetime.

Fascinatingly, after all the focus on Chinese compulsory population control, it is not China that has had the most rapid change in birthrates among Asian countries. That honor goes to South Korea, where women now average only 1.17 children (even lower than Japan). China has dropped to 1.825 and is still declining.

Mr. Wattenberg makes so many fascinating points in this thin book that it is impossible to cover them all in a review. However, a few deserve to be singled out.

Europe is going to lose population dramatically by mid-century and therefore become significantly older. This will almost certainly entail a significant shift in power and in economic competitiveness away from an aging and shrinking European Union.

Mexico is on the verge of dropping below the replacement rate; over the next generation this will almost certainly slow the rate of migration to the United States. Russia is facing a demographic crisis, with the shortest lifespan for males of any industrial country and a catastrophic decline in women willing to bear children.

Mr. Wattenberg highlights the intellectual dishonesty of the Paul Ehrlich, left-wing environmentalists and their factual mistakes over the last generation. Mr. Ehrlich had predicted famines beginning in the 1970s. They simply haven't happened. The global warming projections all assumed a population of 11.5 billion. If the human race peaks at only 8.5 billion people - 3 billion fewer than predicted - and then starts a long-term decline, how that changes all those gloom-and-doom predictions.

Mr. Wattenberg highlights the unique role of the United States as the one industrial country that will keep growing. American population growth is a combination of the highest birthrate of any industrial country (2.01 children per female) and our willingness to accept immigration. Mr. Wattenberg projects that the United States will continue to grow in economic and other forms of power, while Europe and Japan decline dramatically. Indeed, in the Wattenberg vision of the future, there are only three large nations by 2050: China, India and the United States.

This is a book that should lead to very profound discussions, given its implications for pension programs in Europe and Japan, its implications for economic development throughout the world and its implications for environmental management and an honest assessment of the future.

Finally, this book is a tribute to the continued, persistent willingness of Mr. Wattenberg to take facts as they are presented and follow them without an ideological or political agenda. Hopefully it will lead many policy-makers to think deeply about how much the future will differ from their current expectations and then to ask how those differences should change American and world policies.
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 24, 2006 3:07:57 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Oct 24, 2006 3:09:00 PM PDT
Gingrich is a propagandist and a fool. 'Environmental management'? Global warming assumptions? Honest assessment of the future? What does Gingrich and his party know about these issues except the economic idolatry contained in the capitalist motto: GROW OR DIE? ? You'll find virtually NO ONE within the international scientific community who believes that human population growth is beneficial for current or future inhabitants of this small planet, let alone the earth's ecology. Ehrlich's dated predictions-- that Newt cites for his strawman argument --are no longer the issue here. ALL of the indicators of global environmental stress are upon our species and the planet, and are in the news daily. And 80% of Americans polled know (thankfully) that the env. must take top priority if we are to survive. Note:
Take a look at China through the works of V. Smil if you want to get a grip on what population growth has done to that country.

In reply to an earlier post on Sep 18, 2007 3:38:34 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 18, 2007 3:38:54 PM PDT
Douglas says:
Wow! Such a soft spoken review and it gets hysterics like this in response. In Safranek we see the common tactic of making a claim, insisting that it's true and that everyone who counts believes it so you should too. The problem is that the everyone who counts tactic depends on defining who counts based on what they say. Say the wrong thing and you don't count -- no matter how much evidence you have.

I'm all for a smaller population and would end most immigration (legal and illegal) immediately if I had my way. It's funny that Safranek and I probably agree on a lot of things but his tactic in this post shows the fault that keeps him (and those who argue like him) from having any significant impact. Hysterics only appeal to the immature and the immature tend not to vote.

Posted on Sep 19, 2008 8:10:17 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Sep 19, 2008 8:15:34 PM PDT
"below the replacement rate and Mr. Wattenberg expects virtually every country to be below the replacement rate by the end of our lifetime."

The end of whose lifetime? Over the next few decades, with genetics and nano-technology driven by A.I. (Perhaps strong, or even weak), our lifespans will be slowly extended. Perhaps, slowly at first, which is bad news for us older individuals, but faster in the not too distant future.

Is it possible that the timing of this transition to lower birth rates at the beggining of the bio/nano-tech revolution is a synchronistic development?

Posted on Feb 7, 2009 8:40:33 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 8, 2009 4:42:23 AM PST
John Loken says:
It seems to me that Speaker Gingrich is too optimistic in his praise of Ben Wattenberg's book "Fewer."

For example, Gingrich writes: "Wattenberg reports conclusively that the world will have far fewer people than was expected even a decade ago." That prediction, and especially the word "far" in it, is dubious. Such a situation is possible, yes, but does not seem probable, much less "conclusive." We're talking about the future behavior of all humankind here. Wattenberg's attempt to predict it from the fertility patterns of a minority of the world's people over a few recent decades was a real gamble.

Gingrich then specifies the number he expects: "... the human race is now likely to peak at 8.5 billion people...." Sorry, sir, but that projection is already obsolete. The U.N. population researchers who made that 8.5 billion projection in a startling 2002 U.N. study have already, in 2006, revised that projection upward. They now expect 9.2 billion by 2050, with that number then continuing to grow by thirty million more yearly. Moreover, the 9.2 billion is only their "medium variant." Their "upper variant" is about 10.8 billion. And both of those variants, they wrote in 2006, depend on the rapid expansion of family planning clinics around the world, especially in the poorer countries. They even call such an expansion "urgent." (Please check the "Highlights" section of the World Population Projection: The 2006 Revision, put out by the U.N.). Unless that expansion occurs, they write, the numbers could go higher than even 10.8 billion.

Speaker Gingrich writes again: "Fascinatingly, after all the focus on Chinese compulsory population control, it is not China that has had the most rapid change in birthrates among Asian countries. That honor goes to South Korea, where women now average only 1.17 children (even lower than Japan). China has dropped to 1.825 and is still declining."

Speaker Gingrich here seems to be downplaying the compulsory Chinese system of low fertility, but the probability is that the Chinese "one child" policy in force since 1979 has had its influence on the South Koreans, too. They are neighbor countries, after all, and share many traditions. So the low South Korean fertility rate would seem partly, perhaps even largely, due to the influence of the compulsory low rate in neighboring China. Actually, the Chinese system has not been a complete success. It officially allows "one child only," with some exceptions for rural people, but in fact the average Chinese fertility rate, as Gingrich notes, is 1.825. Although Gingrich doesn't realize it (or admit it), that statistic shows how very difficult it can often be to lower a nation's fertility rate much below 2.0, even by collective effort and strong government policy. And remember, we are not talking about two populations equal in size. China today has 1.3 billion people, an enormous number, while South Korea has only a small fraction of that.

Gingrich again, following Wattenberg: "Mexico is on the verge of dropping below the replacement rate." This claim seems weak. Mexico's fertility rate has declined quite a bit, yes. But it is still around 2.4 in 2009. Why should we suppose that it will soon, and necessarily, drop to 2.1 and then even below that? Mexico remains a poor, rural, Catholic country. Those three factors could just as easily keep its fertility rate above replacement level for decades to come (unless government policies on fertility change). Another factor encouraging a high fertility rate there is that they still see the U.S. as a ready outlet for their excess people. Mexicans have been flooding northward over the U.S. border for decades. As long as they have that easy escape option, there is no strong reason to think that they will reduce their fertility rate much further. And what about the other peoples of Central America, whose fertility rates are still very high (4, 5, 6 children per woman)?

Gingrich again: "Wattenberg highlights the intellectual dishonesty of ... Paul Ehrlich...." Well, yes, Ehrlich made some very unwise predictions in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb. But Ben Wattenberg seems at least as irresponsible now with his own wildly optimistic predictions of low world population levels in the 21st century. Besides, in 1968, when Ehrlich's book was published, the dramatic decline in birthrates in many countries around the world had not yet begun, or only minimally. And nobody else at the time foresaw that development. For 35 years, Ehrlich was criticized mainly because his predictions of mass starvation had not borne out, not because people noticed that world fertility rates were declining.

Speaker Gingrich again: "If the human race peaks at only 8.5 billion people - 3 billion fewer than predicted - and then starts a long-term decline, how that changes all those gloom-and-doom [global warming] projections." This seems a weird statement by Gingrich. First, there is that big IF in his sentence, "If the human race peaks at only 8.5 billion people," an optimistically low number that was discarded a few years after it was first projected in 2002. Second, there is Gingrich's assumption of a "long-term decline" after that peak number is reached, an assumption that oddly foresees all the peoples of the world voluntarily having fewer than two children on average per couple. Third, there is Gingrich's notion that the disastrous effects of global warming somehow lie only in the distant future, as if they are not already being seriously felt around the world today. Fourth and finally, there is the general irony of Gingrich claiming that the number of people on earth will peak at only 8.5 billion, when the very book that he is praising, Wattenberg's "Fewer," was written in order to promote increased fertility rates in much of the world (all for the sake of capitalism and prosperity). Therefore, if many people read the book or are otherwise influenced by it, it will surely raise those population numbers much higher.

All in all, then, Gingrich's praise of "Fewer" seems to me very questionable.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 9, 2009 10:46:07 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 9, 2009 10:46:30 PM PST
Yes, we can only hope that the predictions in "Fewer" are correct, but it is questionable.
"was written in order to promote increased fertility rates in much of the world (all for the sake of capitalism and prosperity). "

In reality, for the sake of those who have capital and make low effort returns on it based on cheap labor.

Thank you for some good thoughtful input into this thread.

Posted on Jul 8, 2009 9:18:43 AM PDT
Matt Holbert says:
In order to have a comprehensive grasp of this topic, individuals have to read a broad range of material - including books by Erhlich. The bottom line is that the earth can only support a population of about 1 billion once easily extracted oil has been transferred from the ground to the atmosphere. While we may have or will come up with alternative energy sources, none will be as potent as the oil and natural gas that we are burning through at a rapid rate. Life in the future will be very different and if it is to be sustainable, it will have far fewer humans.

Pension plans as we know them will not exist in the near future. They are based on ever-expanding growth and that is about to come to an end. We will all -- including those with an ideological bias like Newt -- have to deal with this contraction of population and consumption.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 27, 2009 11:20:48 AM PDT
John Loken says:
I agree with Matt Holbert that the earth can probably only support around a billion people once fossil fuels are gone (and that pension plans and welfare for retirees will have to be downsized). So yes, "fewer" people can eventually be expected.

But between now and then a crucial interval period is coming. Wattenberg and Gingrich (if they haven't changed their views), by ignoring our still looming overpopulation problem, are actually stoking it.

"The bigger they come, the harder they fall." That adage will probably hold true for humankind and its numbers. Do we want a mild adjustment downward, or a catastrophic adjustment downward due to widespread famines if world population gets extremely high?
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