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Sayonara
Japan faces the iron law of demographic exhaustion.


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Mark Steyn

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the February 27, 2006, issue of National Review.

Here is Theodore Faron, fellow of Merton College, Oxford, writing in the year 2021: “Like a lecherous stud suddenly stricken with impotence, we are humiliated at the very heart of our faith in ourselves. For all our knowledge, our intelligence, our power, we can no longer do what the animals do without thought.”

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That’s from the first chapter of P. D. James’s novel The Children of Men. On the shelves at Borders, Baroness James is the Agatha Christie de nos jours, but she has other strings to her bow and her dystopian vision of a world in which the human race is unable to breed is a marvelous read, if not quite true to life: In The Children of Men, man is physically impotent; out here in the real world, it would be accurate to say we’re psychosomatically barren–at least in the non-red-state parts of the developed world.

I’ve been a big demography bore for a while now and it affords some melancholy satisfaction to see the other fellows catching up, at least apropos Europe. The literal facts of life are what underpins, for example, the Danish cartoon war–the belated realization among Continentals that they’re elderly and fading and that their Muslim populations are young and surging, and in all these clashes the latter are putting down markers for the way things will be the day after tomorrow, like the new owners who have the kitchen remodeled before moving in.

Pre-9/11, I never paid much attention to demography. A decade ago, I accepted the experts’ standard line that the Japanese economy had tanked because the joint was riddled with protectionism and cronyism. But so what? You could have said the same 30 years ago, when the place was booming, or 15 years ago, when we were bombarded with all those TV commercials warning that the yellow peril was annexing America. The only real structural difference between Japan then and Japan now is that the yellow peril got a lot wrinklier: 14 percent of its population is under 15, as opposed to 21 percent in the United States, just under 30 percent in Iran, and 40 percent in Pakistan. What happened in the 1990s was what Yamada Masahiro of Gakugei University calls the first “low-birth-rate recession.”

Nippon is the most geriatric jurisdiction on the planet, and the rising sun has now passed into the next phase of its long sunset: net population loss. Last year was the first since records began with more deaths than births. The world’s other elderly societies have complicating factors: In Europe, the successor population is already in place–Islam–and the only question is how bloody the transfer of real estate will be…

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