The Corner

Robots v. Helots

Mark, Andrew, Jonah:

There’s a thing to be said about the robots v. immigrants issue.

The trend pretty much everywhere is for birth rates to drop fast as modernity kicks in.  This is certainly true of Mexico, where birth rates have been dropping for a while: 

“Mexicans are also finding a declining birthrate a mixed blessing. Fertility there has dropped precipitously, from averaging seven births per family in the 1970s, to just over two births today. Consequently, Mexico now has the potential to have more people in the labor force than unemployed.”  WSJ, 1/24/03   

The way demography works, it’s a generation or two before the large effects show up in population numbers.  It’s a fact, though, that the world of the mid-to-late 21st century will be one of stagnant or declining populations everywhere.

The successful nations of that coming epoch will be the ones that adjusted to stagnant/declining populations earliest, not the ones that evaded the issue by importing millions of illiterate helots.

Robotics is one way to make the adjustment to a population with a severe and permanent shortage of cheap manual labor.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

The Japanes approach looks pretty good to me.  It looks pretty good to them, too.  They could easily import a few ten millions Indonesians, Chinese, and Filipinos.  The political constituency for doing so is wellnigh zero.  Of course, they could be wrong, and we could be right.  Time will tell.  The case for robotics over helotics is not a contemptible one, though.  You’d think it would have strong appeal to a nation of can-do enthusiasts, entrepreneurs, and inventors. 

John Derbyshire — Mr. Derbyshire is a former contributing editor of National Review.

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