Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Asia Times

Asia Times: "Why Europe chooses extinction
By Spengler

Demographics is destiny. Never in recorded history have prosperous and peaceful nations chosen to disappear from the face of the earth. Yet that is what the Europeans have chosen to do. Back in 1348 Europe suffered the Black Death, a combination of bubonic plague and likely a form of mad cow disease, observes American Enterprise Institute scholar Ben Wattenberg. 'The plague reduced the estimated European population by about a third. In the next 50 years, Europe's population will relive - in slow motion - that plague demography, losing about a fifth of its population by 2050 and more as the decades roll on.'

In 200 years, French and German will be spoken exclusively in hell. What has brought about this collective suicide, which mocks all we thought we knew about the instinct for self-preservation? The chattering classes have nothing to say about the most unique and significant change in our times. Yet the great political and economic shifts of modern times are demographic in origin. Three examples suffice:

1) The great trans-Atlantic rift. Europeans are pacifists, not merely in the Persian Gulf, but on their own Balkans doorstep. If they cannot be bothered to reproduce, why should any European soldier sacrifice himself for future generations that never will be born?

2) The shift in global capital flows to the United States: old people lend money to young people. The aging populations of Europe and Japan lend money to younger people in the US.

3) The deflation danger. To illustrate, an economist of my acquaintance proposes a thought experiment. Suppose by a magic spell all the inhabitants of the United Kingdom instantaneously aged by 30 years. What would be the effect on the current account balance, the rate of interest, the price level and the exchange rate? (Answer at the end of this essay).

Little enough has been said about the "how" but almost nothing about the "why" of Europe's demographic suicide. Suicidal behavior is common among (for example) stone-age tribes who have encountered the modern world. One can extend this example to Tamil or Arab suicide bombers (See Live and Let Die, Asia Times Online, April 13, 2002). But the Europeans are the modern world. Have the Europeans taken to heart existentialism's complaint that man is alone in a chaotic universe in which life has no ultimate meaning, and that man responds to the anxiety about death by embracing death?

Detest as I might the whole existentialist tribe, there is a grain of truth here, and it bears on a parallel development, that is, the death of European Christianity. Fifty-three percent of Americans say that religion is very important in their lives, compared with 16 percent, 14 percent and 13 percent respectively of the British, French and Germans, according to a 1997 University of Michigan survey. Here I draw on the German-Jewish theologian Franz Rosenzweig (1886-1929), an existentialist of sorts. Few Asians (including Jews) can make sense of Christianity's core doctrine, namely, original sin, handed down to all humans from Adam and Eve. Original sin motivates God's self-sacrifice on the cross to remove this stain from mankind; without it, Jesus was just an itinerant preacher with a knack for anecdotes.


No comments: