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

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

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.

As Joel Kotkin argues in his recent book, "The Next Hundred Million," America "should emerge by mid-century as the most affluent, culturally rich, and successful nation in human history" as we increase in size to 400 million citizens by 2050. In effect, Kotkin smashes the "post-American world" vision promulgated by Fareed Zakaria by downsizing its "declinist" diagnosis: For Kotkin, the future will not be post-American, but merely post-Caucasian. And that's a future to which America will readily adapt itself. Indeed, as global integration proceeds -- the "rise of the rest," in Zakaria's terminology -- America's centuries-long experiment in e pluribus unum ("out of many, one"), which already marked us as a national progenitor of modern-day globalization, will continue to be our greatest strength.

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