What once seemed to be an obvious social good now looks very different.
Permit us to resurrect a long forgotten political race that was hardly noticed even in its own time. It was a quirky contest. The stakes were not high. The names of the candidates are probably not even noted in the historical chronicles, for who kept track of City Council races in a small if exclusive suburb 50 years ago? We refer to a race for a seat on the council of Brookline, Massachusetts, in which the political stakes, if small, nonetheless rang strong with a genuinely important, civilly conducted, substantive debate on an issue that looks a lot different now than it did back then. The issue, as it was put in the early 1970s in Brookline, was Zero Population Growth.
The proponent of “ZPG” won handily. It was the zeitgeist. The opponent didn’t have a chance. To be sure, ZPG was hardly the stuff of local politics, but in liberal Brookline, issues of overarching importance occupied even those who, if they won, would deal mainly with garbage pick-up and zoning intricacies.
Zero Population Growth, of course, of course, was the only wise course for the future, it was roundly voted on in Brookline. A feisty, politically inexperienced opponent, did manage to raise a small profile. Needless to say, not only in Brookline, but all around the country at that time, and all the more so over the coming decades, the idea of limiting the size of the population became a truism, in no need of defense or even articulation.
Fast forward half a century. But before you arrive, stop off momentarily in China. Its involuntary, intrusive, freedom-robbing, “one child” policy has recently fallen by the wayside after decades of rigid, indeed cruel state enforcement. It seems that some elementary statistical demography determined that in a few decades, the Chinese experiment would collapse. There would be a drastic shortage of working people to support the massive, retired elderly class. Whether it’s too late for China, we don’t know. But after decades of its “one-child” policy, the long-term future for China looks bleak. The same for Russia, for the same reason, by the way. All the economic growth, all the military conquest, all the political bluster in the world cannot hide or change the ineluctable demographic decline, with equally ineluctable, devastating consequences.
“Zero Population Growth,” so radically out of step back in an obscure Brookline election long ago, no longer looks so self-assured, so self-evident. In fact, in the United States of America of 2020 policy analysts are beginning to speak worryingly of a ” birth rate in this country. The idea that more people ends in more environmental degradation emerges as another piece of conventional wisdom that dismisses the solutions that more people bring.
More people mean more inventors, more physicians, more techno-savvy problem-solvers, more caregivers, more food scientists — not to mention, more workers who can constitute the base to support society as its elderly live longer. There would be no talk about Social Security going bankrupt if there were more working people in this country. That is, if there were more people born. Even if in theory all political controversy over immigration into the US were removed, Social Security would still be under threat.
Social Security is not only a critical issue, it is a symbol. “Zero Population Growth” says: Humanity is a problem. Genesis says: Humanity is the crown of creation. We opt for Genesis over ZPG.
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