Medieval Scholar explains why elites fear a shrinking population

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:


6 thoughts on “Medieval Scholar explains why elites fear a shrinking population

  1. In a flat world, as republicans called it 20 years ago, the cost of labor doesn’t depend on where in the world the population is. It would take a global virus rather than immigration laws to many any significant difference for the peasants. The mane effect of today’s large peasant population is lower interest rates around the world. As long as the rich can borrow money overseas, the peasants in 1 country have no power to raise their interest rate by limiting immigration.

    • lion2: Can this be true for child care workers, Uber drivers, and landscapers? Other than low-skill immigration, how is an upper-middle-class American able to afford an on-demand chauffeur? If the world is flat, how come it costs more than $20/hour to hire a babysitter who will actually show up? Isn’t $20 roughly what Nike pays for a week of labor in a shoe factory in Asia? 🙂

    • I think what is missing is understanding that besides quantity there’s such thing as QUALITY of population. People aren’t blank slates, and there are reasons why some cultures prosper and some struggle to stay above subsistence. (And, no, you cannot easily replace the culture one grew with, even with extreme measures such as brainwashing, – Soviets tried really hard to eradicate Christianity for 70 years – they sent priests to death camps, taught atheism in schools, and made being openly religious the career poison. All they achieved is dramatic drop in population quality and work ethics which Russia still recovers from.)

  2. “Anyone who thinks that you can have infinite growth on a planet with finite resources is either a madman or an economist (or a politician?).” – Sir David Attenborough

  3. > It is interesting to see how little has changed in 650+ years!

    That is not to be taken entirely seriously, I’m sure, but there are at least two historically unique differences. In previous eras, population reduction was an unpleasant thing in itself since it was caused by war, famine and pestilence. In today’s industrialised countries these menaces have been banished (the coronapocalypse will not amount to much).

    Yet in those same safe and prosperous countries, populations – at least, of their historical peoples – are generally falling due to a voluntary reluctance to reproduce. In less safe parts of the world, populations are rising (particularly in Africa). This calls for an explanation, which is provided by the mouse utopia theory.

    There is another interesting difference in terms of the preferred solution to a shrinking population. In previous eras, the possibility of replacing a country’s historic people with other peoples does not appear to have been considered or hoped for. Today, as you have pointed out, that objective is orthodoxy, which again can be explained as an effect of ‘mouse utopia’.

  4. We need millions of low IQ dirtworld migrants to do the work Heritage Americans won’t. As health care workers in nursing facilities taking care of old Boomers. Hope they enjoy the world they built.

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