Religious Fervor and Demography

Jason Collins reviews Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth?: Demography and Politics in the Twenty-First Century.

To give a sense of the power of this higher fertility, the Old Order Amish in the United States have increased from 5,000 people in 1900 to almost a quarter of a million members. In the United Kingdom, Orthodox Jews make up 17 per cent of the Jewish population but three-quarters of Jewish births.

…Kaufmann’s case worries me more than tales of government deficits due to demographic change. Even if you assign a low probability to Kaufmann’s projections, it provides another strand to the case that low fertility in the secular West is not without costs.

The numbers cited about Orthodox Jews in the UK struck me as fishy, based on what I know about the U.S. Suppose that there are 80 non-Orthodox Jewish women and they each have one child (a really low fertility rate), for a total of 80 non-Orthodox Jewish births. Then suppose you have 20 Orthodox Jewish women, and they have to account for 3/4 of all Jewish births, which means that they need to give birth to 240 children, or an average of 12 children each. There are in fact several sub-groups within Orthodox Judaism, and there are some sects in which families of that size are common, but there is no way that the average family size of all Orthodox Jews is 12 children.

There is a larger objection that I have, which is that the high growth of the fervently religious starts from a low base. Assume that non-fervent women have one child each, and fervent women have ten children each. If you start with 999 non-fervent women for every fervent woman, it is going to take quite a few generations for the fervent to “inherit the earth.” Meanwhile, much else will change.

[UPDATE: In a comment, Megan McArdle points out that the arithmetic in the above example leads to the fervent reaching parity in 3 generations, and then soaring to dominance thereafter. But as she points out, the discrepancy in fertility between the fervent and non-fervent is not as wide as in the examle. And if nothing else, I can fall back on “much else will change.” By the end of this century, we could very well see dramatic changes in medical science, including reversal of aging and cloning.

The Book Sounds Interesting

Erwin Dekker writes,

The rise of fascism posed an even greater threat to the values of the liberal bourgeois, and at the same time it demonstrated that socialism might not be inevitable after all. One of my book’s major themes is the transformation from the resigned, and at times fatalistic, study of the transformation of the older generation, to the more activist and combatant attitude of the younger generation. Friedrich Hayek, Karl Popper, Peter Drucker as well as important intellectual currents in Vienna start to oppose, and defend the Habsburg civilization from its enemies.

I have seen many references to the article on Facebook and on blogs, including Mark Thoma’s link.

The book seems like it might be interesting, but the publishers are evidently worried that people might buy it, so they are charging a price that should deter that from happening.

Tocqueville, Nisbet, and Kling

Near the end of an Ezra Klein podcast, at about the one hour and twelve minute mark, when asked to name three books that have influenced him, Yuval Levin lists works by those three authors. He is careful to say that Specialization and Trade is not in the same class as the other two, but still. . .

My favorite part of the podcast begins just before the 18-minute mark, when Levin recites his view of how a typical Baby Boomer would have experienced the decades starting from the 1950s. I think his take is both accurate and interesting.

Klein’s response is also interesting. He says that what Levin has just presented is the white male view of history, and his generation is more attuned to women, ethnic minorities, and sexual minorities. I think as a representation of Klein’s generation, that, too, is spot on. I get the same take from my daughters.

Previous generations of young people were insufferable because they thought that they invented sex. Klein’s generation is insufferable because they think they invented social morality.

Jason Collins reviews Jonathan Last

Collins writes,

So, if government can’t make people have children they don’t want and can’t simply ship them in, Last asks if they could help people get the children they do want. As children go on to be taxpayers, government could cut social security taxes for those with more children and make people without children pay for what they’re not supporting. (Although you’d want to make sure there was no net burden of those children across their lives, as they’ll be old people one day too. There are limits to how far you could take that Ponzi scheme.)

Keep in mind that lower birth rates are an international phenomenon, so I am reluctant to place much weight on U.S.-specific factors. My sense is that the decline in birth rates is correlated with, if not caused by, increased education of women. If that is the main causal factor, then it probably is not something that is going to be reversed.

Also, I am not convinced that there is such a down side to slower population growth and eventual decline. Yes, it messes up entitlement programs for the elderly, but that is because those programs are ill conceived, particularly in not indexing the age of government dependency to longevity. You should fix the entitlement programs to deal with the demography rather than try to fix demography to deal with entitlement programs.

What I am Reading

Jonah Lehrer’s new book, mentioned by Tyler Cowen.

Spare me comments about Lehrer’s past.

The central theme of the book is “attachment theory,” which is on the “nurture” side of the “nature vs. nurture” debate. For example, Lehrer suggests that the Flynn effect may be due to better parenting practices, with parents doing a better job of making their children feel securely attached.

This leaves Bryan Caplan with three possible reactions.

1. Lehrer is wrong. The evidence Lehrer cites for attachment theory consists of observational studies that do not establish causality and “natural experiments” that are unconvincing for other reasons.

2. Lehrer is right, but it is only through the attachment process that nurture affects children. Nothing else that parents do matters.

3. Lehrer is right, and perhaps this means that other parental behaviors matter also. Caplan’s world view has to change.

What I’ve Been Reading

Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and its Allies, by Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn. About a week ago, he was mentioned as a potential Trump running mate. His book became available on Tuesday, and I finished it on Thursday, just before the attack in Nice. My thoughts:

1. The ratio of rhetoric to substance is too high for my taste.

2. The endorsement from Michael Ledeen is fitting. Like Ledeen, Flynn views the regime in Iran as the root of much evil.

3. Flynn frequently says that “we are losing” the war against radical Islam, without spelling out his basis for that assessment. At one point, he cites a figure of 30,000 deaths from terror attacks in 2014, compared to fewer than 8,000 in 2011. He also cites figures indicating that there are now 35,000 ISIS fighters in Syria, compared to 20,000 in 2015. Otherwise, I did not find any data, anecdotes, or analysis that justifies the claim that we are losing.

4. He asserts that

contrary to conventional wisdom, Radical Islam played a major role in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq long before our arrival in 2003

He provides support for that contention. Nonetheless, he says that

It was a huge strategic mistake to invade Iraq militarily. . .our primary target should have been Tehran, not Baghdad, and the method should have been political–support of the internal Iranian opposition.

5. He argues that we should use social media against radical Islam.

6. He says that we should call for a reformation of Islam.

7. He argues that we need to gain support of local populations, and what they most value is security. They will join whatever side they believe is winning.

Relative to the goal of gaining the confidence of the local population, I would imagine that the effect of drone strikes is small, and not necessarily positive. I do not believe that Flynn offers an opinion on that issue.

For me, (7) raises the question of whether we should send troops to the Middle East to try to defend local populations against Islamic radicals.

Suppose that we were to follow the libertarian policy of avoiding all foreign intervention. One scenario could be that as a result local populations in the Middle East decide that they have to accommodate the Islamic radicals. Then the radicals become strong enough to destabilize Europe and perhaps even take over some countries there. By the time they get around to attacking the U.S., they could be much closer to parity with us militarily than they are now.

On the other hand, I could argue against intervention by saying that the local populations appear to have too little capability and motivation to defend themselves against Islamic radicals for us to try to do the job for them. I would like to have seen this issue addressed in Flynn’s book.

Here is an op-ed by Flynn.

Need Something to Read?

For those with an interest in economic history, here are some suggestions. Pointer from Tyler Cowen.

On the list, I have reviewed the following:

Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms (review)

Findlay & O’Rourke, Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium (review)

Garett Jones, Hive Mind and Joseph Henrich The Secret of Our Success (discussed in my essay on Cultural Intelligence)

I also have a soon-to-be-published review of Peter Turchin’s War and Peace and War

I have read enough by and about Mokyr, McCloskey, and Pomeranz to feel that I could hold my own in a conversation about their works. The many other books on the list are not familiar to me.

Heinz D. Kurz on Classical Economics vs. Marginalism

I was sent a review copy of the book, Economic Thought: A Brief History. A few excerpts:

The classical economists emphasized the asymmetries between social classes in terms of differences in economic property and political power. . .landlords. . .as Smith put it in The Wealth of Nations, “they love to reap where they never sowed.”

…these economists started to see the interdependence of economic units as a central analytical theme. The task of political economy was to analyze the entanglement of intended and unintended consequences that resulted from the actions of self-regarding agents.

…While David Hume had maintained that man is “but a heap of contradictions” and reason “the slave of the passions,” marginalist economic thought became preoccupied with simple, linear characters who know what they want and efficiently pursue it. . .

…While the classical authors had started their analyses with a view to society. . . stratified in different classes, the marginalists began their analysis from the single needy individual.

…The marginalist concept of given preferences, depicted in a utility function (defined in terms of a given and constant set of goods), also does not provide for the emergence of new goods and hence has no way of dealing with dynamic cases. It therefore should not come as a surprise that with marginalism attention initially shifted away from questions about development and economic growth to questions about the allocation of resources toward alternative uses.

In writing a “brief” history of economic thought, any author faces a challenge of when to cut a discussion short and when to let it go on. I did not agree with some of Kurz’s choices. My overall reaction is that I found the book stimulating but not spectacular.

I am interested in the relationship among the issues on which economists focus, the approaches that they develop, and the shortcomings of those approaches. If you’ve read Specialization and Trade, then you know that I think that modern economists have taken an approach that is defective in important respects. I offer the hypothesis that they took this approach in part because of the salience in the aftermath of the second World War of the challenge of producing the combination of ships, planes, tanks and other weapons that would best meet military objectives. They came up with methods that were useful for addressing this challenge but which were inappropriate for describing an economy with many more useful goods and services and a much higher degree of specialization.