One staple of American elite media is the scary headline regarding a potential fall in population. Without open borders and a warm welcome for migrants, the story will read, U.S. population will actually drop. The same papers sing the praises of middle class wage growth from 1950-1970, when the population was about half what is it today, so it is unclear why a return to that level is an emergency for the elite.
“The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague” by Dorsey Armstrong, a professor at Purdue, explains exactly why! The fall in population from the Black Death in Florence led to a dramatic reduction in the economic power of the elite. Skilled and unskilled laborers experienced at least a 3X boost in wages. She attributes the Ciompi Revolt (1378) and similar uprisings elsewhere in Europe (e.g., one in England) to the loss in elite power that occurred due to the population reduction.
The Florentine elites knew that a shrinking population was going to be bad for them. The miracle of valorizing single motherhood was in the future, so they came up with the idea of giving young single women dowries to ensure that they would get married as quickly as possible and then start to produce children. (See “When and why did it become necessary to pay Americans to have children?”)
It is interesting to see how little has changed in 650+ years!
Examples of headline hysteria:
- “America’s Biggest Economic Challenge May Be Demographic Decline” (nytimes): “Slower growth in the working-age population is a problem in much of the country. Could targeted immigration policy help solve it?”
- “Population decline spells trouble for the U.S.” (Deseret News): “Japan’s situation is dire. … If that situation hits the United States, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid all would face crises of existential proportions. The huge national debt, now at $23 trillion and growing at a rate of $1 trillion a year, would be impossible to retire.” (Perhaps the Japanese can flee their blighted land to Nigeria, which enjoys a population growth rate of 2.6 percent annually, or Equatorial Guinea, at 2.6 percent.)
- “How to Fix the Baby Bust” (Foreign Policy)
- “The Global Fertility Crash” (Bloomberg)
- “China’s Looming Crisis: A Shrinking Population” (nytimes)
- “Immigration is the Reverse Black Death?”
- “Yes, Immigration Hurts American Workers” (Politico), a Harvard economist’s calculation that low-skill immigration at current U.S. levels transfers $500 billion per year from working-class to elite Americans