The New Rules: America's Demographic Edge in 'Post-American' World

By Thomas P.M. Barnett, on , Column

A growing population had long been considered a prime determinant of national strength -- at least until the "population bomb" crowd commandeered the dialogue almost a half-century ago and declared such growth to be a threat to human existence. But since then, with globalization's rapid expansion encompassing the bulk of the developing world -- and specifically demographic behemoths India and China -- we've seen industrialization and urbanization work their usual magic on female fertility. As a result, humanity is now projected to top out as a species sometime mid-century and likely decline thereafter.

To the amazement of many from my generation, who grew up in real fear of "Soylent Green"-type scenarios of over-population, our primary demographic challenge going forward is to maintain a decent worker-to-retiree ratio as national populations age at an unprecedented speed -- with the "world-conquering" Chinese leading the way. Compared to both the "old" West and most of the rising East, America stands apart in its ability to remain fertile with a birth rate 50 percent higher than Germany, Russia and Japan, and well above China, the leading Asian "tigers" and Eastern Europe. Add in our world-class capacity to integrate immigrants -- we attract roughly half the developing world's flow to developed states -- and we're more than just an odd outlier. ...

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