Letter to Bonnie Ann Tuerp: Bishop Bonny and the Magic Kool-Aid
(I refer of course to the Jonestown Massacre in which a crazed religious cult leader convinced most of his congregation to drink poisoned Kool-Aid for their own good. I just wish I could convince my congregation to get to church on time.)
Think for a minute about another issue about which bishop Bonny implies that I and my like are out of touch with reality: the population explosion. Everyone knows that there are too many people on the planet and the population growth is out of control. Everyone is wrong.
The population has stopped exploding; it may well be collapsing. In order to continue to exist there must be around 2.1 children born for every woman in any given population. Remember that many women are not of child bearing age and not all women can conceive. Women are able to conceive and bear a child from around 15 years of age to about 45 years, though this is of course not a specific figure. The global replacement rate is 2.33 children per woman. Every woman in the world must have to have 2.33 children to keep the population exactly what it is now. That means that some will have to bear more children to “make up” for those who cannot or will not be mothers.
This isn’t happening. The total fertility rate throughout the world is collapsing like my Aunt Zetta’s parsnip soufflé. There comes a point when a given population enters a kind of death spiral. When families have only one or two children, those children tend to think that’s normal. It is certainly easier than having 5 or 6 children. Two children per woman are not enough to maintain the population of the world. After having lived an economically easier life because of limited family size, it is doubtful that the world is suddenly going to say, “Hey let’s go back to the craziness and chaos of having eight kids in a mud hut!” Face it. Kids are a lot of work. Two, or one, or none are plenty for most people. Two or one or none may be nice for me at the moment, but if the current trend continues, (and why would it not continue?) the world population will continue to grow from 7 billion as of this writing to 9 billion as of 2050. It will then plummet in the next four centuries to one billion.
So what’s wrong with that? It will make expressway driving at rush hour a whole lot easier and I won’t have to wait in long lines at the amusement park. The problem is that there will be no amusement park. The 18 year-old creepy carnie who runs the ride will never have been born, nor will the kid who bags your groceries, nor the young Vietnamese girl who does your pedicure, nor the ambitious young Latino who cuts your grass, nor anyone who makes our indolent service oriented society so fat and happy.
It’s already happening. There is something called the Lewis Turning Point, named for Sir William Arthur Lewis, a twentieth century economist. Essentially it means that for an economy to keep expanding, it needs a supply of cheap labor. Gradually a society absorbs the cheap labor whose work becomes more and more valuable. In short, hardworking “have-nots” become “haves” who buy stuff instead of make it. The hard working young Latino who cuts your lawn works very hard and soon has a small landscaping business and soon has a nice house in the suburbs and a lawn that he has to hire someone to take care of because he is busy running his ever expanding lawn care business.
Here we encounter another problem. Mexicans have discovered the joys of narcissism. Their total fertility rate is 2.22. That’s just about at replacement rate. That means that very soon they will have no spare Mexicans to lend us. We will have to cut our own lawns, heaven forefend! Wait, it gets worse! Virtually everything in your home and everything you wear is made in places like China and India. They have an indefinite supply of cheap child labor to keep our big box store stocked with the cheap household goods and clothing that we just adore, don’t they?
Not no more!! India is having 2.50 children, and dropping from 6 children in 1960 to 2.5 children per woman in 2014. And what about China? China is becoming a nation of old folks. In 1970, 5% of China was over 65, now 9% of China is over 65. China is right on track to become the world’s most aged society by 2030 and by 2050, 25% of China will be made up of old folks. Soon there will be no one left to make those wonderful “some assembly required” book shelves that fill our homes.
How about Japan? Remember Japan? When I was a boy everything was made in Japan; cheapo stuff like transistor radios and watches and lamps and cars and everything — decent quality, bargain price. Japan got filthy rich, started buying their own stuff and stopped having babies. Now the label, “made in Japan”, is gonna cost you. And soon there will be nothing made in Japan because all the Japanese will be wearing adult diapers. Last year there were more adult diapers sold in Japan than diapers for infants because the number of children born in Japan was the lowest ever recorded. Goodbye, Japan!
Well, there are plenty of other countries left to take economic advantage of, no? Don’t count on it. How about South Korea? They make nice stuff real cheap. Bad news. South Korea and North Korea have both decided to commit suicide with TFRs (total fertility rates) of 1.25 and 1.98 respectively. This is down from a TFR of six children per woman in 1960. It seems that Koreans like the rest of us would rather own nice stuff than make nice stuff. Brazil’s fertility decline is just as astonishing. They went from 6.25 children per woman in 1960 to 1.81 in 2011.
The same ethno-suicide is happening in the Muslim world as well. Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim country is at 2.18, right at the replacement rate down from around 6 in 1960. Iran is at 1.8, Saudi Arabia at 2.17 and Egypt at 2.7 children per woman all down from around six or seven in 1960.
You may think all this is good news. If you think this is good news, then learn to weave your own clothes and raise chickens. Have you any idea of who will change your bed pan when you are at the Sunny Valley Home for Well-Heeled childless Old People? Something huge is happening and we didn’t notice it. We have swallowed the Kool-Aid and are quietly lying down to die as the experts tell us we should. I worry that the Synod Fathers have developed a taste for the Magic Kool-Aid and are helping to prepare more.
Let us look at Italy. Ah, Bella Italia, one of my favorite places in the world! Somewhere in the Bible it says that, though our Lord founded the Church in the Holy Land, the disciples moved the head office to Italy pretty quickly because that’s where the restaurants are. Italy, the cradle of western civilization, Italy home of art, literature and the Roman faith, Italy is dying. Italy has a TFR of 1.4 children per woman. There are whole towns for sale in Italy, collections of abandoned buildings, whole towns that are deserted, or only populated by a few old ladies who hang on to their memories of vanished families and futures. It is said that if you go into a country town in Italy with a baby in your arms what few old residents there are will come out into the street just to see a baby.
Thus, I take the bold, even impudent step of asking a favor of the Synod Fathers when next they meet. Rent a few buses and drive into some of these towns. Perhaps it will remind them that the Synod is titled, “The Synod on the Family”, not the Synod on alternate lifestyles. What they do, and the decisions they make will affect the future of the world in ways they cannot even begin to imagine.
I pray that they don’t succumb to the lies the world is telling them and us. Come Holy Spirit.