Fun With Numbers Until It Isn’t

surprised baby

How often do you get to say, “It has been an interesting week in demography?” Pretty much never so it is best to seize the moment.

Congressman Don Young of Alaska made an infelicitous public comment that used the term “wetbacks” presumably telegraphing his view on immigration.

Susan Patton, President of the Princeton class of 1977, suggested in a letter to the editor that undergraduate Princeton women do their husband hunting while at college then spent the rest of the week defending herself.

Hazelton, Pennsylvania, a town of 25,000 in the Poconos that appears to have seen better days, wants its former mayor (now a Congressman) Lou Barletta to “chase them all out.” In 2006, then-Mayor Barletta got a law passed making it very unpleasant for Hispanics to stay there.

Meanwhile various collections of Congressmen and Senators tried to hammer out a bill to fix our busted immigration system.

Be careful what you wish for.

It takes 2.1 children per mother for a population to stay even (one to replace Dad, one to replace Mom and the last 0.1 devoted to bone-headed guy moves that take them out of the game before replacing themselves). No country that fell below 1.9 births per mother has ever recovered. Along the way you get too many old people and too few younger ones to support them. Drop below 1.3 and the math says the population can’t recover.

Where is America today? 1.93 And for those Princeton women to whom Ms. Patton addressed her controversial letter? 1.6 (actually that is for white female college graduates). Jonathan Last calls it America’s Baby Bust and says it might contribute toward explaining the slower-than-expected recovery from the recent recession.

How about this number? 97% of the world’s population lives in a country where the fertility rate is falling. Among the 10 largest world economies, the average fertility rates between 2005 and 2010 were China 1.64, Japan 1.32, Germany 1.36, France 1.97, Brazil 1.9, UK 1.83, Italy 1.38, Russian Federation 1.44 and India 2.73. Japan now sells more diapers for adults than babies.

It is safe to say that there are more political strategists, pollsters, fund-raisers and message-crafters than there are demographers in the room with our Congressmen and Senators as they deliberate about immigration. That could turn out to be unfortunate when we discover that “chasing them all out” was less than a clever plan, by which point it will be too late to fix it.

Since nothing else has worked why not try this? Delegate the nation’s immigration policy-making and implementation entirely to the admissions departments of the country’s 25 most respected colleges. They can be expected to be reliably left leaning, which is important to some, and they are really, really good at choosing the most talented people for whom we will find ourselves competing.

Call it the Importing Future Taxpayers Act to keep the spenders happy.


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Haven Pell

At the conclusion of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, a woman asked Benjamin Franklin, “Well, Doctor, what have we got, a republic or a monarchy?” Without hesitation, Franklin replied, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

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  • Haven,
    One of your most forward-looking and useful themes. Importing Future Taxpayers Act is genius and should attract a mojority from both sides of the aisle. Could not be more timely…

  • Superb idea.

    However, to work we’d need for the USCIS to forge new ground by becoming the first ever bureaucracy to make rational decisions. Else it will quickly become the Importing Huddled Masses Act.

  • In nature animals will regulate their reproduction in response to environment and food supply or with humans perhaps money supply but if so can the Fed regulate population by printing too much? That would be a grand paradox: too much money = too few humans. No, we must have too many rats in the hole. Evolution is a great leveler but we won’t be around to see the results.

  • Haven, brilliant writing …..BUT, just a comment on how we and Washington approach issues/problems.
    Just a disclaimer, I hold no strong views about immigration.
    Our approaches to issues/problems are largely one-dimensional and so are offered solutions. Yet, everything is connected. The demographer will see one aspect,the economist another etc. Unemployment, farming, industry (producing goods), communications, public works, etc etc – there are winners and losers in the wake of unintended consequences, fixing one thing (even in good faith). This may seem obvious and probably is; maybe it is beyond human comprehension to consider all possible connections (use of artificial intelligence?)and so we bumble on, hoping that after solving one problem, things will fall into place. My conviction is that we already have the tools (Academia/Congressional Budget Office/Thinktanks) to run ‘WHAT IF’ scenarios, what we lack is the discipline and political will to apply them. If one even only half-way buy’s into David Stockman’s ‘The Corruption of Capitalism in America” (so far I only read NYT article March 31) the outlook is bleak.