How Declining Fertility Rates May Deliver Us to Oblivion

For much of the last half-century we have been living, even cowering, under the threat posed by what Paul Ehrlich in 1968 called the “population bomb.” In Ehrlich’s scenario, widely adopted by the environmental movement and its corporate supporters, ever-increasing numbers would overwhelm the resource base and the food supply and would cause dystopian mayhem across the planet.

Yet it turns out that the “explosion” is heading toward an implosion, as data reported by the World Bank indicates. Rather than being doomed by a surfeit of humans we may be experiencing, certainly in the West and in East Asia, dangerously low fertility rates that threaten to slow world economic growth and innovation.

This also reflects a dangerous shift in civilizational values, with more focus on the self and abstractions and less on the basic relations upon which all civilizations have been built. Conversely when fertility rates drop—for example in imperial Rome, renaissance Venice and early modern Amsterdam—it’s a sure signal of societal decline.

As world poverty has eased, the world fertility rate has plummeted. When Ehrlich published his alarm, the average woman had 4.92 births in her life (total fertility rate). By 2018, the fertility rate had dropped by more than one half, to 2.41. Perhaps the best indication of this is fast-growing, poor Bangladesh, formerly East Pakistan, which has seen its fertility rate drop by more than two-thirds, from 6.94 in the 1960s to a 2018 figure of 2.03, which is below the replacement rate of 2.1. Many of Ehrlich’s other predictions turned out to be at best exaggerations, as resources did not wear out as predicted and mass starvation has been reduced dramatically since his book was published.

This is not to say that lower population numbers, particularly in developing countries, are an unwelcome sight. But the decline could prove troublesome for the world economy. China’s expanding workforce—by 350 million between 1980 and 2012, according to the China Yearbook—drove a world-shattering economic boom. Now, the National Bureau of Statistics indicates that from 2017 to 2018, the birth rate in China dropped more than 10 percent, despite the repeal of the one-child policy. It stands at a historic low, down more than one half since the early 1980s. Over time, we will see the already shrinking workforce accelerate and drop 20 percent by 2050.

The situation is even more dire in two of the world’s most affluent regions: East Asia and Europe. Japan had long been leading this trend, with the oldest population of any major country, and decades of a stagnant economy. Similar challenges are emerging elsewhere in East Asia: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Hong Kong, and South Korea, which has the lowest birthrate of any society on Earth, one third below that of Japan, according to the World Bank. Europe too has experienced plummeting birthrates. And the United Nations projects population losses of one-third in Southern Europe, one-quarter in Eastern Europe, and just a few percentage points in Western Europe, mostly due to immigration, between now and 2050.

Until recently, North America—the United States and Canada—faced a healthier demographic outlook, posed by both a less dense population (almost everywhere high-density areas have low birthrates) and rising immigration. Migrants accounted for 14 percent of the population in the United States and 22 percent in Canada.

But more recently legal immigration has declined, and prospects for more newcomers has declined with the pandemic-era economy. The latest wave seen at the U.S. southern border is made up largely of poor and destitute people from south of the border. This situation seems rife with instability, as even Latino Democrats have raised alarms about the new influx, particularly in the light of high COVID rates in Central America.

Read the rest of this piece at the Daily Beast.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: Ahmet Demirel [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

Climate Policy: COVID on Steroids?

For most people around the world, the Covid-19 pandemic seems a great human tragedy, with deaths, bankruptcies, and fractured mental states. Yet for some, especially among the green Twitterati and in some policy shops, the pandemic presents a grand opportunity to enact permanent lockdowns on economic growth, population growth, and upward mobility.

Pointing to reductions in greenhouse gases due to the lockdowns, some see the pandemic’s wreckage of much of the economy – including the mass destruction of businesses and family budgets – not as a plague of its own, but, as a British Climate Assembly put it, as a “test run for a new climate-driven economy.

“We have an “incredible responsibility” to “actually converge the solutions – at least the financial solutions – to coronavirus to the financial solutions for climate,” hyperbolized former UN Climate Chief and UN Paris pact architect Christiana Figueres, “because what we cannot afford to do is to jump out of the frying pan of Covid and into the raging fire of climate change.”

President Donald Trump may have been responsible for the vaccine success of Operation Warp Speed, but now his fast-track approach, ironically, is being adopted by climate campaigners in a drive to change our entire economy in short order. After all, they argue, the lockdowns demonstrated that governments can impose without constitutional constraint virtually any restrictions to address a perceived crisis. And the pandemic, by killing much of the economy – particularly travel – temporarily succeeded in reducing greenhouse gases by as much as 7 percent worldwide and 12 percent in the U.S.

The pandemic has also generated a social crisis, with its effects being felt disproportionately by the poor and working class in virtually all countries. It has depressed further the already historically low fertility rate throughout much of the world, including in the two remaining superpowers, China and the U.S. Covid, suggests a recent study by Brookings, has accounted for a half million fewer births in America alone.

Death to people – one way or another

In a sense, the call for semi-permanent lockdowns reflects deep-seated ambitions long nurtured in the green movement. The idea of limiting family life has been central to the environmental movement for a generation, at least since the days of Paul Ehrlich’s Population Bomb (1968) , which suggested, among other proposals, adding sterilant into the water supply. This approach was amplified four years later by the corporate-sponsored Club of Rome report, which sought to reduce consumption, economic expansion, and population growth to stave off mass starvation and social chaos.

Creating a sense of imminent crisis – just as in the justification for lockdowns – has long been critical to the propagation of environmental gospel, as longtime green campaigner Michael Shellenberger amply demonstrates in his new book, Apocalypse Never. Many of the predictions made by Ehrlich and the Club of Rome proved to be at best exaggerations, as resources did not wear out as predicted and mass starvation has been reduced dramatically since the 1960s.

Perhaps the one thing some greens may not like about the pandemic is that it was not lethal enough. The late Jacques Cousteau, for example, believed that curing viruses presented “enormous problems.” No longer, he complained, could epidemics compensate for excess births over deaths. Admitting that it was “terrible to have to say this,” he suggested stabilizing world population by eliminating 350,000 people per day. “This is so horrible to contemplate that we shouldn’t even say it” – but Cousteau said it. These are not the views of a lunatic fringe. Former National Park Service biologist David M. Graber deemed humans “a plague upon ourselves” that needs to be culled.

The political dilemma

The big problem, of course, lies with selling the agenda of permanent lockdowns, as well as advocating against human existence. The pandemic represented arguably a clear and present danger, though there is room for debate on how best to deal with it. In contrast, the climate “crisis” has been warned about for years, often in hyperbolic terms; however serious the problem, it certainly does not possess anything like the immediacy of the pandemic, or, for that matter, the economic and social devastation left in the pandemic’s wake.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Politics.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo credit: COPPARIS2015 via Flickr under Public Domain.

Economic Civil War

Our national divide is usually cast in terms of ideology, race, climate, and gender. But it might be more accurate to see our national conflict as regional and riven by economic function. The schism is between two ways of making a living, one based in the incorporeal world of media and digital transactions, the other in the tangible world of making, growing, and using real things.

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Environmentalism is the New War on the Working Class

“There should be a real liberal party in this country, and I don’t mean a crackpot professional one.” – Harry Truman.

John Kerry, President Joe Biden’s new climate czar, took a private jet to accept an environmental award in Iceland in 2019. “It’s the only choice for somebody like me, who is traveling the world to win this battle,” he unironically told a reporter when asked about it.

If this sounds like a clueless joke, it’s not. President Biden’s chief environmental officer took the least carbon-efficient means of travel known to man because it was “the only choice” he could think of for a member in good standing of the indulged upper classes.

But this is no anomaly when it comes to liberal climate activism; it is a perfect encapsulation of what it has become: a vanity project of the jet set that directly harms working-class interests. And it’s this green agenda that directly threatens the working class that Biden has prioritized as he has taken command of the federal government.

The first victims of this agenda include the upwards of 10,000 people, many of them union members, who expected to work on the now cancelled Keystone XL Pipeline. But this draconian climate agenda that cost so many jobs should not have come as a surprise. As a Rasmussen Reports poll found, most Americans—52 percent—predicted that Biden’s decision to re-join the Paris Climate Agreement “will cost American jobs and force households and small business to pay higher utility bills.”

Regions from the Appalachians to the Rockies could experience massive job losses, particularly if Biden embraces the green demand to ban all fracking, even on private land. In Texas alone, as many as a million good-paying jobs would be lost. Overall, according to a Chamber of Commerce report, a full national fracking ban would cost 14 million jobs, far more than the eight million lost in the Great Recession. That could turn even vital smaller towns into instant slums. And in places like New Mexico, where spending on public programs hinges on the oil industry—now experiencing a 60-day moratorium on new permits, thanks to President Biden—even issues like education will be impacted.

What has happened to the party of the people?

The climate story is just one part of a bigger one, which led Ohio Democrat Tim Ryan to complain that the party of the people increasingly resembles the old , with lockstep support from Wall Street, the celebrity circuit, Silicon Valley and other elite sectors like professional service and law firms. Put simply, the Democrats have won the battle of the elites, with Democratic campaign spending more than tripling in recent years.

Read the rest of this piece at Newsweek.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Homepage photo: screenshot from CSPAN video

The Other California

California’s coastal urban centers, once the ultimate land of opportunity, suffer notorious traffic congestion, unaffordable housing, and a social chasm defined by a shrinking middle class, a small wealthy sector, and a sizable population seemingly locked in poverty. If there is a future for the region’s middle and upwardly mobile working class, it’s more likely to be found in the state’s large, generally more affordable, interior, known as the Inland Empire, or “the IE.” But for that to happen, the area’s promise needs to be better recognized—and supported—by policymakers.

Starting in the second half of the nineteenth century as a rural area with a few small cities built around affordable land and imported water—San Bernardino, Riverside, Ontario—the Inland Empire evolved as a place where, as the city of Chino’s motto puts it, “Everything Grows.” Over the years, the IE’s burgeoning farm economy attracted Mormons, Chinese, Japanese, Dutch, Basques, and Russians, and the area was also home to a large Latino workforce. By the end of the twentieth century, the IE was California’s growth hub. More than 300,000 people moved in from the state’s coast between 2007 and 2011, representing America’s largest county-to-county population shift. The IE is now one of the nation’s fastest-growing economies, and Riverside–San Bernardino–Ontario, with 4.5 million residents, is America’s 13th-largest metropolitan statistical area, ahead of Seattle, San Diego, and Denver.

As California’s overall rate of growth falls below the national average for the first time, with Los Angeles itself losing population, the IE continues to attract migrants, particularly families. It has remained, according to the American Community Survey, the only large region in the state that exceeds the national average of residents between the ages of 15 and 50 with children. Most of the area’s growth comes from the increased influx of immigrants and minorities, heavily Latino. The IE turned majority Latino in 2017, according to census data.

The Inland Empire also seems well positioned to benefit from the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. The American Enterprise Institute has found that, since the pandemic began, less dense areas, like the IE, are growing much faster than denser ones. In 2020 so far, for instance, new home sales are up 13 percent in the IE, compared with the same period in 2019, but are down 16 percent in Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Though the IE’s larger existing home market has taken a hit, its decline is 50 percent less than that experienced in Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

The employment picture is robust, too. Over the past decade, the IE grew its jobs by 25 percent, equaling the Bay Area’s pace and almost doubling that of Los Angeles and Orange Counties. Last year, the IE created more jobs than any major metropolitan area in the state.

The Inland Empire’s trajectory, however, is not problem-free, by any means. While jobs are plentiful, high-wage employment has been scarce. Overall income growth has been among the lowest in the country, and wages rank among the lowest of any of the nation’s 50 largest counties. Even as educated professionals have moved to the area, business-service growth has remained tepid, well below that of the Bay Area and, perhaps more important, of key competitor regions such as Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Salt Lake City. Some 350,000 of the IE’s skilled and non-skilled workers commute daily to the coast for work. According to its 2018 “State of Work in the Inland Empire” report, the Center for Social Innovation at the University of California found that residents of Riverside tend to go to high-priced Orange County, while San Bernardino residents head to Los Angeles. As a result, two IE communities, Corona and Moreno Valley, rank in the top ten nationally for average length of commuting time.

Read the rest of this piece at City Journal.


Joel Kotkin is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Urban Reform Institute. His latest book is The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. Karla López del Río is associate director of the Center for Social Innovation at UC Riverside.

Can We Save the Planet, Live Comfortably, and Have Children Too?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about what Zillow calls “the great re-shuffling,” as more people head out of major metropolitan areas to work, often remotely, in less dense, even rural areas. The recent surges in urban crime and disorder, in once-placid London and Paris, and once-triumphant New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are likely to make things even tougher for the urban core.

As technology shifts, particularly for white-collar workers, the economic logic behind urban densification and expanded mass transit weakens. Today, nearly 45 percent of the 155 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full-time during the pandemic, up from below 6 percent in 2019. When the pandemic ends, this portion will no doubt drop, but experts like Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom suggest that it will remain at least 20 percent of the workforce.

Some 60 percent of U.S. teleworkers, according to Gallup, wish to keep doing so, at least for now. Globally, some 80 percent of workers expressed a desire to work from home at least some of the time. Equally important, many executives believe that this shift will continue, disproportionately affecting our largest, most celebrated business hubs. Both executives and employees have been impressed by surprising gains, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms – including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter – expect a large proportion of their workforce to continue to do their jobs remotely after the pandemic.

The coming conflict between reality and the green urban agenda

These preferences counter the narrative, so popular with planners and pundits, of the need for greater density and smaller living units in metropolitan areas, amid the expansion of mass transit.

If the densification agenda was weak before, it is almost delusional now. Even before Covid, the largest core-city populations have been stagnant or declining, including fabled American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Nationwide since 2010, 90 percent of major metropolitan-area growth took place in the suburbs and exurbs. Jobs followed this pattern as well before Covid started undermining the economic rationale for high-rise office towers and massive new transit investment.

To be sure, some industries may choose to concentrate in the core by preference or tradition, and certain groups, largely the childless and the super-affluent, may remain in the urban playground for reasons of culture, social contacts, or easy access to international airports. But with the rise of remote work, most are likely to labor at home or nearby. They will travel less; upward of 33 percent of all business travel, critical to the health of many inner-city economies, could be permanently lost, as people opt for remote meetings and training sessions.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Photo credit: Frantik via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.

Ask the Experts — Revitalizing California’s Business Climate

You are invited to join Chapman University’s Vice President of Research Thomas Piechota who will host the next Ask the Experts Town Hall on Friday, January 22, from 11 – 12:30 P.M. (PST). Read more

The Case for American Optimism

Now that Trump has been edged out of office, Joe Biden may emerge as the harbinger of a brighter, better blue future or as a version of Konstantin Chernenko, the aged timeserver who ran the Soviet Union in its dying days. To succeed, he will have to confront massive pessimism about America’s direction, with some 80 percent thinking the country is out of control. The Atlantic last year compared the U.S. to a “failed state,” while The Week predicts “dark days ahead.”

Conservative opinion, particularly after the election, is also increasingly mordant. The American Conservative’s Rod Dreher thinks we are heading towards a state of “no families, no children, no future” as the cultural Left and its gender-fluid ideology take hold of the culture. Marco Rubio has already suggested that the new president’s administration will prove “polite & orderly caretakers of America’s decline.”

America as a whole is not a “failed state” but a place where people move from areas of limited opportunity to those with more. The pandemic has accelerated this process. The Congressional Budget Office has suggested that the economy could take a decade to recover, but some metropolitan areas, such as Indianapolis, Salt Lake City, Austin, Dallas–Fort Worth, and San Antonio, as well as others across the South, have recovered far more decisively from the pandemic than Los Angeles, New York, Boston, or San Francisco. Similarly, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California and New York suffered the highest unemployment rates outside of tourist-dominated Nevada, Louisiana, and Hawaii.

The pandemic has accelerated a shift away from expensive coastal cities that was already well under way before it hit. Urbanistas blame this migration on the pandemic, which was most deadly in dense urban areas, but it has been going on for years, for many reasons. Workers in New York City are the least likely to return to offices, according to Kastle Systems, because of virus concerns about public transportation and skyscrapers as well as the city’s population density.

The home office is replacing at banks and leading technology firms, the office for many and, to many manager’s surprise, with surprising productivity gains. A University of Chicago study suggests that this could grow to as much as one-third of the workforce, and in Silicon Valley, the number could reach nearly 50 percent.

Many companies predict much of the workforce will remain online, some part-time and some all the time. The impact on our geography could be profound: An estimated 14 to 23 million remote workers may relocate as a consequence of the pandemic, according to a recent Upwork survey, with half of them saying they are seeking more affordable places to live.

These trends likely will moderate, but much of the repositioning of work may continue even after the introduction of a vaccine. To be sure, lower rents could provide a great opportunity to reinvent and revitalize our cities, by luring a new generation of immigrants and young entrepreneurs. But the political wave now sweeping our cities threatens to undermine even a modest rebound.

In recent months, many of our once most attractive cities — Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Portland — have become largely dysfunctional, particularly in their downtown areas. Movements to limit the police and cut their funding have become de rigueur in our most progressive cities, and violent crime in places such as Chicago, Minneapolis, New York, and Los Angeles is picking up. Given the failures of urban educational systems, the return of fear to the cities will continue to force out many middle-class families.

The pandemic has widened the gap between the vast majority and the relatively small upper-middle and upper classes. It could widen further under an administration that appears determined to fill itself with people who have close ties to Wall Street, technology firms, and the China lobby. That tendency can be seen in Biden’s proposed choice for secretary of state (Antony Blinken) as well as his naming as head of his economic council Brian Deese, a high-ranking official at BlackRock — a firm that, like many woke corporations, has pushed “stakeholder capitalism.” In this formulation, large companies are expected to serve not only their shareholders but a specific agenda of set progressive values on such things as climate change, gender roles, and “systemic” racism.

Read the rest of this piece at National Review.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute — formerly the Center for Opportunity Urbanism. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin

Photo credit: Tim Brown via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Virtual Town Hall — Revitalizing California’s Business Climate

Join Chapman University’s Vice President of Research Thomas Piechota as he hosts the next Ask the Experts Town Hall. The installment this month will be moderated by Dean Thomas Turk of the Argyros School of Business and Economics. It will cover how best can California’s business climate be revitalized to avoid the loss of companies, Read more

Can California stop Big Tech from decamping to cheaper places?

For the past half-century, California has dominated America’s tech industry. From the development of precision farming to the incubation of aircraft, space, semiconductors and computer systems, this state has emerged time and again at the cutting edge of future industries. Read more