Friday, March 14, 2014

Numbers are not everything

The noted pundit Pat Buchanan, who is normally spot-on when it comes to things like international trade and the need to avoid attacking countries that don’t threaten you, recently said something very stupid: “How often in history do nations with shrinking populations invade and annex those with surging populations?” (see for the full article).

Answer: all the time!  How about this: during the Great Depression, the fertility rate of the United States fell as people were worried about having more children than they could support.  No such problems in Japan or China at that time.  So at the start of WWII the United States had an older and smaller population.  And beat the crud out of the Japanese once they got warmed up – even while spending most of their efforts fighting the Nazis – and highly populated China was so pathetically weak that it wasn’t even a factor.

Or consider ancient Rome, when low-fertility Romans routinely trounced high-fertility barbarians.

This is the sort of utter nonsense that happens when you don’t understand demographics.   With equal arms and resources per soldier, God is indeed on the side of the bigger battalions, but that’s not always the case.  Consider one modern Western soldier versus 1000 starving peasants.  The westerner is well armed, well supplied, well trained, and can move and attack whenever and wherever he chooses.  Even more important, the westerner has a chain of command, knows clearly where the enemy is and can fight and maneuver in a directed manner.  The 1,000 starving peasants, however, are malnourished and weak.  They have little if any equipment or training, and no strategic mobility.  In addition, the starving peasants have no coherent unity: unless you stir them up they spend whatever strength they have fighting each other, and more likely than not they don’t even know that the Western soldier exists.  It’s no contest.  1 vs 1,000, 1 vs 1,000,000, who cares? 

Why did a few tens of thousands of British soldiers have so little trouble conquering 100 million Indians?  Why did a handful of Westerners have so little trouble subduing the hundreds of millions of people in 19th century China?  The weakness of societies with large and impoverished populations relative to countries with smaller and richer populations is not an ivory tower fantasy, it is how the real world works.

As always we need to avoid the extremes.  It is indeed possible for a society to have so few people that it can’t defend itself.  You need a few tens of millions to maintain the diversity of talents and economies of scale that a modern industrial state requires (although very small countries can do this via trade, or incorporation into larger unions), and you need enough “boots on the ground” to maintain your claim to the land.  Hypothetically, if the population of modern Japan were only one million, it would be almost impossible for the Japanese to avoid being colonized by refugees from the rest of Asia. But today these issues are almost nowhere a factor, and rapid increases in the population result not in strength, but in poverty, weakness, corruption, and collapse.

For a low-fertility rate country to confront third-world societies by trying to outbreed them would be like committing suicide to avoid being murdered.  Developed countries only need to leave third-world countries to themselves.

Indeed, without access to the resources of countries with low fertility rates, third world countries wouldn’t even have the advantage of numbers!  It takes more than breeding to grow a population.  It takes resources.  Which in the long run societies with sustained high fertility rates cannot develop or maintain on their own.

Despite the overwhelming military superiority of low-fertility rate Western societies vs. the overpopulated third world, Western armies can still fall into a trap.  The West is immune to conventional military attack from third-world societies (although nuclear weapons are a potential equalizing wildcard: giving this technology away should be considered treason!).  But if the West tries to actually conquer a third-world country bad things can happen.  First of all: the West should not try and conquer third-world countries, there is no point!  Just leave them alone.  Secondly, you can no more conquer a third-world country with conventional military strategy than you can drain a swamp by stabbing it with a sword.  There is no head to cut off, there are no stable institutions to take over, and killing starving peasants one at a time if anything just makes them stronger, by limiting the surplus population and increasing per-capita resources. 

Western armies can successfully conquer third-world societies, but only with a nasty strategy that hasn’t been used in a while.  You simply use fear to drive the people into small enclaves with limited resources, allow nature to do the real killing for you, and replace them with your own settlers (read your Montesquieu; or consider the anti-Indian/Native American campaigns of the United States in the 19th century).  I am not arguing for this – it’s ugly, immoral, and pointless – but that is how it’s done.

The bottom line: numbers are not everything.  Societies with surging population are not strong they are weak (well at least without an open frontier or colonies – that’s pretty much everywhere now).  High-fertility rate societies can only conquer societies with more stable populations if the elites in the low-fertility countries betray their societies by letting the third-worlders in as a source of cheap labor. 

THIS is the weakness of low-fertility societies: that the resultant high wages produce an irresistible temptation for the elites to open the borders and let all that wonderful profitable low-wage misery come on in   THIS is what low-fertility societies need to guard against, NOT having too few children.

Perhaps the Russians are not having enough children – or it might be an appropriate response of the Russian people to their current circumstances.  We should let the Russian people be the arbiter of how many children they should have.  I note that, without exception, when the rich of a country use propaganda to force fertility rates higher, or import massive numbers of third-world refugees, the result is almost always disastrous. 

The only reason that the Russian people should have more children is if their circumstances improve and they feel hope for the future and see a clear path for earning a steady living and supporting a family.  If Putin wants more Russians, he should ensure that this is true – not give medals to women with seven children and declare that they need to do that to compete in a breeding war with the Chechens.

So yes, Mr. Buchanan, numbers are an important thing.  They are just not the only thing.  It’s funny how conservatives, who demonize inner city American blacks for having one or two children out of wedlock without a father present, and demand that people should wait until they have stable jobs before starting a family, nonetheless idolize societies where the norm is for everyone to have six kids starting at age 14 even when there is no hope of supporting them.  There is a logical disconnect here, humans.

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