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Suicide by Culture (250bpm.com)
235 points by rumcajz on Dec 2, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 193 comments

I was so interested to read about a somewhat similar situation with the Shaker Church in the USA:


The members took a vow of celibacy, and the church depended on new members joining. As of today, there are just two offical Shakers left, both quite old.

Without immigration US is in the same boat as Japan with a falling population. Long term I suspect cultures with positive population growth to beat the competition, but that may take a long time.

Fertility rates fall as countries get richer - it’s not a coincedense that poor countries have higher birth rates. The biggest drop in global population growth rate in the last 20 years came from massive drops in developing countries like India.

Fortunately, USA still has robust immigration (despite political efforts), so we have nothing to worry about, compared to Japan. American population and culture is in no danger of dying off.

> Fortunately, USA still has robust immigration (despite political efforts), so we have nothing to worry about, compared to Japan.

Really? So the population has to always increase? When does it end?

> American population and culture is in no danger of dying off

Neither is japan's. You could argue that japan's population and culture will last longer than america's.

I ask this honestly, I'm really looking for an answer: What is America's culture?

I look at say Japan and they've got all this history, art, literature, customs, even essentially their own religion. Their culture is very distinct.

I look at Russia, Austria, England, France, most of the rest of Europe and Asia and see the same thing. They have their own art, history, customs and behaviours that are quite distinct from one another.

But I don't see America's culture. I suspect the problem is that American culture has been exported throughout the western world so much that it's hard to tell it apart but I'm not sure.

America has historically been unusual in that it was explicitly founded on commonly shared ideas rather than ethnic, religious, or regional identities. Obviously it has fallen short of that ideal many times throughout its history, but for the most part it resembles a country trying to asymptotically approach that ideal, decade after decade.

In that sense it lacks some inherent culture because it's a collection of different people who came here from all over the world. Japan (and most other older nations) has a shared ethnic and religious identity that goes back centuries or millennia, whereas America by definition doesn't really have that. Instead it's an amalgamation of all of the different people who live here. To me, "American culture" means going to downtown Mountain View, CA for dinner and getting to choose from dozens of amazing cuisines from all over the world (with varying degrees of authenticity, but still).

Even food/cultural artifacts/etc. which are strongly associated with America tend to be things brought here from other places and cultures and adapted to local tastes.

The "blood and soil" people are especially alarming to me because what they're most passionate about is attempting to retcon America into being based on religious/ethnic/geographic identity politics rather than what actually makes America somewhat unique and successful, which is simply the fact that it's based on ideas rather than tribalism, and was designed as a haven from tribalism in other countries.

I'm sure someone will read this and get all up in arms about the gazillion times America has done horrible things that went against the very ideals that I just described. Trust me, I know. I'm not trying to idealize everything and sweep that stuff under the rug. Every country has always and will always deviate from its own principles, but it falls on patriots (as opposed to nationalists) to do whatever they can to help steer it back in the right direction. Patriotism should be about fixing things when they go wrong, not "my country right or wrong".

* Science and technology : big bang theory, anesthesia, Von Neuman computer architecture and it's implementation, telecommunications, most of modern molecular biology, Borlaug's Green Revolution, ... there is an endless chain of Nobel prizes on this one.

* Philosophy: the concept of philosophical pragmatism and big contributions to economic and political liberalism

* Music: Aron Copland, Leonard Bernstein, Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Jazz, ...

* Architecture: Frank Loyd Wright and a lot of contributions to modernism

* Literature: Hemingway, Faulkner, ...

If you want to talk about "customs", a mindset typical of a country that sets them apart from the other cultures you described, the most typical American trait is a pioneer belief, a radical optimism with very little regard for traditions. That attitude permeates the list above.

I think what you enumerated shows that "America"'s culture is immigration. Von Neuman was Hungarian, Arno Penzias (big bang) immigrated from Germany, Borlaug's ancestors came from Norway etc USA had influx of people from the beginning, both voluntary and forced immigration. It was "New World", where those who didn't like the old one or wanted to restart went. And it's ironic to see now Trump trying to cut off immigration.

Well, American culture per se is fairly new. If you want 500 year old culture, you'll have to visit a Native American reservation. If you want to know what American culture is though, here's a start: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal and are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Jazz. Rock and Roll. The Blues. Hollywood film. Hamburgers. New American cuisine. "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind." "I have a dream" Craft Beer. America started late to the culture game but certainly has put a lot of points on the board in the second half.

The Constitution had the 3/5ths rule, so I don't know how much is the fact self-evident through the lens of cultural history.

The US has only been around for 200 years. It's not enough time to create a culture like the countries you mentioned. The main overarching theme of American culture is "fuck you we do what we want", but that's about it.

Culture is not necessarily something tangible. America's culture is freedom and liberty. And that is what get's exported to other countries and what we struggle for in the USA.

are you american? perhaps it's a matter of perspective.

Japan as a country is failing to take care of its old and the young have a fertility problem.

I doubt Japanese culture will survive this century, but it is only seventy-odd years old.

I agree that the American population is safe, but I would argue that American culture is under attack. There are massive numbers of people saying that immigrants shouldn't integrate. Lots of other people fighting against our basic cultural expectations like gender norms, common language, etc. Our workers don't have common holidays anymore, particularly among the lower class who has to work during them. Job centralization and women in the workforce are splitting families apart and lowering the marriage rate among parents. There is a widespread belief that there is no right or way to live your life, which makes sense on a global scale, but erodes our sense of community on a local level.

Each one of those chip away at American culture. It _is_ in danger IMO.

edit: To clarify, I'm not saying whether or not this is a good or bad thing. All I'm saying is that our culture is changing massively, the fundamental norms of our culture are shifting, and an argument can be made that common American culture is "under attack" by forces changing it into a completely different direction.

You're implying that only conservative, Christian, Eurocentric values can be considered legitimate "American culture", and that immigrants from other cultures failing to adopt those views and conform to those principles are corrupting that culture. This despite, and perhaps in spite of, the changing demographics of the country over time.

I would argue, rather, that American culture isn't under attack. It's merely changing with the beliefs and ideals of newer generations, both native and immigrant. That's perfectly normal, as culture isn't and shouldn't be static, nor should it serve to maintain the status quo of power for any particular race, religion or political ideology.

I didn't say it was a good or bad thing, but these are fundamental changes to the basic norms of our society. Right or wrong is irrelevant, but the argument can be made that it is under attack.

If fundamental changes to a culture isn't a culture under attack, then what would you consider an attacked culture look like?

It's an illusion that American culture (or any culture) has maintained some solid state until immigration or liberal ideology forced change. American culture has always changed from generation to generation, deviating from the norm, it just happened that until recently most of those changes had been implemented by demographic groups which already held power, and therefore tended to reinforce the status of a white, Christian, conservative default.

However, it doesn't necessarily follow that the influence on American culture made by the demographic minority is less legitimate than that of the majority. As immigration to the US has increased and with it the political power of different ethnicities and religions, the locus of American identity has become distributed to reflect that greater complexity.

And that's what's happening - an increase in cultural complexity reflecting an increase in demographic complexity and distribution of political and social power.

Therefore, I submit that it's not possible to attack a culture from within that culture, as a participant of that culture.

None of those basic norms you listed were espoused by the founders of the country. Freedom of speech, belief and equality under law for all was. (However imperfectly, both then and today.)

What you consider to be under attack are echoes of a traditionalist past we're trying to put behind us. And good riddance.

There's a difference between law and culture. It's legal for a man to go around and call everyone an asshole, but it's also fine for our culture to look negatively upon that person for his actions.

Along the same vein, there can be legal freedoms provided to us while having cultural limitations placed on those freedoms. Social pressures are powerful and occur in every group.

The distinction is nebulous. Law is an artifact of culture, and reflects cultural attitudes towards subjects the law covers. Our culture is a culture of (espoused) equality, religious freedom, property rights, supremacy of secular institutions, and individual agency.

Holidays, religious traditions, and to some extent language are artifacts of where the earliest American founders happened to be from, not bedrocks of culture nor the only foundations upon which communities can be built.

Edit: The alienation you imply is happening is a direct result of our collective inability to let go of outdated traditionalism and give people space to explore who and what they truly are.

You did imply degradation of so-called "American culture" is a bad thing: "Each one of those chip away at American culture. It _is_ in danger IMO."

almost everyone in the world is a pretty big fan of the culture they grew up in. if any third world culture was actively derided and in this way it would be considered downright colonial. “so-called moroccan culture” etc.

If something is under attack, is it not in danger?

I've re-read your comment a few times and am no longer sure how to parse it. At first read it very much sounds like you are defending several backward institutions which you term "American culture" (I would not), as opposed to an impartial observation.

(Your use of words like "under attack", "our", and "danger", and negative examples of multiculturalism really make it sound like you wish women stayed at home and everyone was Christian.)

I used "under attack" and "danger" to emphasize the massive cultural shift occurring, and to imply that there will be resistance to it. This isn't just one or two minor things changing, it's several massive things, meaning current American culture is in danger of changing into something fundamentally different. Things can be "in danger" in a positive way. For example, in 1945 Nazi Germany was in danger of being defeated, but its defeat was a net positive for the world.

I used "our" because I am an American in the midwest that is part of majority American culture, and I assume most readers are too. These changes affect me.

I used negative examples of multiculturalism because people tend to react more strongly to negative stimuli, so these are the changes that most people are going to react negatively to, emphasizing the "under attack" portion of my statement.

I did edit my original comment to emphasize that I'm not trying to attach my belief of whether or not it's a net positive or negative to the situation, so hopefully that will help a bit.

EDIT: I'm no longer sure how to parse your comment. It sure reads like a defense of what you call "American culture" but given your other comments I will read it charitably as an impartial observation.


If "American culture" means women should stay in the kitchen [1] and I should pretend to be Christian [2], then good. I hope "American culture" dies.

[1] "women in the workforce are splitting families apart"

[2] "Our workers don't have common holidays anymore"

women have a substantially diminished ability to even have the option of full-time child rearing. some women absolutely wish they could. and holidays are rituals that contribute to the shared context that give us frameworks of meaning and social solidarity. christmas is practically secular already as it is.

just because things are from the past doesnt mean theyre automatically invoked in the least charitable way you can interpret them.

That's a very narrow view of culture. You're basically saying that culture is immutable and thus any changes are threats to it. It hasn't been like that for the last 250 years, why should it be like that now?

Other cultural changes in our past have been gradual and minor. Simultaneously saying that language norms are wrong, gender norms are wrong, a basic family structure doesn't matter, and there is no right or wrong way to live your life all at the same time is a _massive_ shock to the culture, and is unlike any other cultural change seen before in our country.

This is nothing new and we aren’t the first generation to challenge things like basic family structure. I’d argue they were even more so “under attack” in the 60’s. I think your interpretation is a tad hyperbolic at best. Nearly all of my friends either are or are married to working mothers with children with healthy and stable family lives.

Culture is fluid. They're not attacking American culture, they're contributing to it and helping to shape it. Just because our culture is one way now doesn't mean it should always be that way. We can debate all day whether we like the direction our culture is taking (I for one am not at all happy with the status quo), but saying that outsiders are attacking our culture is borderline xenophobic.

Not American and my culture is all about massive childbirth, but this sentiment seems strange to me. How does that solve the problem?

If your panda bears are failing to breed, surely the solution is not to just import grizzly bears and pretend the panda bears never existed there? I guess it's a type of solution to the problem of "lack of bears", but is it really a good thing?

As a child of an immigrant to the US and a native-born American (who herself came from a long line of mixed immigrant/native-born American families), I find this rather insulting. My parents are not different species, nor were my great-grandparents, nor my great-great-great grandparents.

are you a little shaky on how metaphors are employed or the difference between figurative and literal speech?

I think it's pretty obvious that I was extending the metaphor to make my point. It was the intention and the meaning behind the metaphor that was insulting. Do you take exception to that?

I think people are missing the point being made by RyanZAG, in that you are not really fixing the problem of -->childbirth<-- by having mass immigration. Imagine if these new immigrants then a few generations down start also not having a high birthrate, and the problem continuous... It's not about the damn bears...

No, they certainly get the point. They just don't like it for political reasons. The downvotes are political, not because they don't understand the issues.

So, given the chance of a graceful way to walk back your implication that people from different places are analogous to different species of animal, you are choosing to double down on that? It is not a political perspective that people are not like different species of bear: we can talk with each other, understand each other, love each other, marry each other, start families with each other. Not only can we do these things, we constantly do. If you're making a different point and just chose a particularly ... inelegant analogy, then please do clarify.

That’s exactly the point I understood, too. But for some people we are all equivalent so it’s a non-issue; for some others it’s an edulcorated form of ethnic cleansing. There are rarely be topics of greater divide where these two opposite ends cannot debate without feelings.

Because we're all people, not different kinds of bears.

Yet different groups have different cultures, religions, customs, languages, etc. It's idealistic to act like everyone is the same, when in reality, different groups are quite different, and often don't interact well together.

That you're being censored for simply pointing out a very simple truth goes to show how utterly toxic our industry has become.

I think it's stupid to downvote your parent comment (and I upvoted it in hopes of de-graying it), but 1. downvotes are not "censorship", and 2. the behavior of a few individual voters here has nothing to do with "our industry".

1. You're right and I originally had "downvoted", but after returning to the main thread and only being able to see who posted and not what they posted (in this sub-thread) from there I changed it to censored.

2. With regards to here, yes you're correct. If anything I should be calling the people in question out for using HN like Reddit (i.e. I downvote that which I disagree with).

That's true, but it doesn't contradict what I said. Cultures mixing and changing over time at different rates and with varying degrees of success is not analogous to different species of bears coexisting. We're all people.

Well, pandas and grizzlys are both mammals, not different kind of genus.

Your analogy would work if grizzly bears turned into panda bears by living among them.

Culture is not fixed at birth. People both adopt the surrounding culture and change it.

Immigration is not required, what is required is for Americans to have more children. I did my part, I had three, now the rest of y'all need to quit paying for toys for yourselves and start paying for the future.

>> what is required is for Americans to have more children.

Wow, just wow. But I'll assume you're talking about the bigger picture of - if the country is to survive long term we'll need to have a higher birth rate, what could be done to encourage that. I'd say the first thing we have to do is get people off the economic treadmill. Stop encouraging people to pile on debt. When everyone is too busy trying to pay the rent there's a disincentive to have children.

you assume correctly

Down the line, overpopulation is gonna affect all of us, as in "humanity as a whole". It's not like US American children are in any way less wasteful than other children, quite the opposite actually. Our problem isn't a lack of people, we actually have too many of them, the problem being how they are distributed.

Fixing that problem by further overpopulating certain regions seems like a rather odd fix and mostly motivated by some kind of "genetic egoism" along the lines of "My genes are so great, can't have future humanity live without them!".

My genes are so great you won't have a future humanity without them. You're welcome to save the future by not passing yours on.

> You're welcome to save the future by not passing yours on.

It is weird how you make it sound so bad and insulting. Do you want to suggest that we humans live for no other reason than to procreate?

Don't you think we, as a species, should be able to think a bit further ahead, instead of basing all our behavior and goals on procreating, like we are some kind of mindless virus?

Rabbits might not be sentient or "smart" enough to realize when they are overpopulating a region and having a negative impact on the environment. But we humans most certainly are "smart" enough to realize it, yet we still act like rabbits to it.

It seems you think we humans live for some reason, or reasons. Can you provide one or more such reason?

While I'm no biologist, I do think Dawkin's Selfish Gene gives a good blueprint for what motivates "life" in general: Spreading itself no matter what. The vast majority of life is being kept in check by geographical and other constraints, but we humans mostly have managed to bypass those constraints, at the cost of massive environmental long-term debt.

So the smart thing to do, as supposedly the "smartest beings on the planet", would be to come up with another, maybe even sustainable, reason for existing than merely "propagating ourselves" like there are no limits to those finite resources we are mostly wasting to do that, at least right now.

In those rare cases where we decide to agree to "live for bigger and more complex reasons" we often manage to build amazing things; Like whole Empires, a "Land of the free" or space stations zipping across the skies at 17.000 miles per hour. Imho that's one of the reasons why people like Elon Musk can have such an, sometimes nearly cult-like, impact: He offers visions for a "unified humanity goal" without using the clutches of religious dogma or much nationalistic fervor.

His ideas appeal because they still hold true to your original "biological cause" for existing: Colonizing Mars would be an epitomal achievement for "terrestrial life".

There's no reason. If rabbits overeat their environment and they die of hunger, and humans do the same on a planetary scale, it means we're not even as smart as rabbits, don't you think?

Can you stop responding with asinine remarks to everything?

by following your example?

We ban accounts that post like this. Please post civilly and substantively, or not at all.


I can't breed with most of the people I'm attracted to until science figures a few things out.

Same. And even if I wanted to have a kid with them it's not going to be for some ludicrous reason like maintaining the population of whites in the US.

We actually need the exact opposite. Developed countries should keep having less children as each person in a developed country consumes much more of the planet's limited resources. Our best bet at having a livable planet in a hundred years is probably controlling population. Everything else gets driven by consumption demand.

By your argument we should also stop immigration to developed countries, because once the immigrants arrive, they will consume the same amount of resources as the natives. You are claiming, that we cannot have that.

It will depend on what the remaining population of developing countries does. Developed countries have less children so if the immigrants send back money to develop their home country and also have less children like their host countries do it would be a large gain. Don't know if this has been studied but there should already be plenty of data points to choose from.

Sounds like you would be comfortable with China's Once Child Policy.

The future of who? With a widening wealth and income gap, and inability to provide for quality education/healthcare/life for one's children, what incentive do people who are struggling have?

They did make some rather nice furniture.

Wow that's well below replacement fertility. Also dysgenic since intelligent and responsible people are more likely to follow the moral fad. For me it demonstrates the importance of obeying my conscience and not caring what neighbours and other people might say. It's easier for me to do that nowadays since I'm not dependent on a local network of reciprocal favours in order to survive. But still I wonder how many neighbouring families both secretly wanted another child but were each afraid what the other might think.

I have a problem with the term "dysgenic" -- mainly because the term is applying a value judgement to things (phenotypic traits) whose value is entirely contextual.

The main idea I'm getting at is that the world is dynamic and unpredictable. Today's advantage might be tomorrow's disadvantage and vice versa.

Problem acknowledged, though revealed preferences show that humans do value phenotypic traits, and those preferences may be controlled by objective ideas. Actually my main reservation about the word 'dysgenic' would be that 'responsibility' refers to something highly emergent which could be entirely passed down by parenting traditions and not at all by DNA. So, 'dyscivic', then? Yet regardless this inheritance would also be disproportionately selected against. Another objection to my phrasing is that people who take their morality entirely from the social environment can't be wholly responsible people. 'Otherwise responsible' would have been better.

It's not a moral fad at all. Women, including highly educated women, typically prefer having more children than they have [1]. 60% of women in the EU say they have less than the ideal number children. Women all over the world want more children than the replacement rate (makes sense) and in the developed world they have fewer children than this.

The reason women have fewer children nowadays is because of women's liberation - specifically in terms of education and professions. Working and studying requires time and dedication, and that conflicts with having and raising a child.

I don't really know how to solve this problem other than force women to choose between careers and children as they currently do. The best thing I can think of is subsidizing child care, trying to get more jobs that can support a family (so one parent can work and one can child raise), better maternity and paternity leave, and maybe making it more common to take a year or two off around 18 to 20.

1 - http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/04/11/birth-rates-...

>The best thing I can think of is subsidizing child care...

Since most childcare providers are women and programs with high adult to child ratios are preferred doesn’t this lead to the strange situation where a large parts of the workforce are taking care of other people’s young children?

This story reminds me of two similar stories. One was a fad in England where middle class wet nurses were employed by the wealthy. The middle class then passed their children down to the lower class and the lower class to the lowest class. The result was the lowest class mothers wet nursing a half dozen children.

The second story was that in communist Russia the early leadership was obsessed with economic efficiency. The thought of mother’s raising their children was considered a waste of resources and so the idea was that the state would take over raising and caring for children. Professionals would be better equipped and trained and, more importantly, more efficient! The result was a nearly feral generation of children that almost collapsed the country.

Raising young children is just very labor and resource intensive. Forgoing having children frees up a tremendous amount of economic resources and can temporarily boost consumption. In economics this is known as the one time “generational dividend” that if squandered leaves society poorer and not richer.

> nearly feral generation of children that almost collapsed the country

Care to provide a source? We have kindergartens that accept children as young as 1.5 y.o, older kids (3+) typically stay at kindergarten for 8 hours a day.

Early communist attitudes underestimated the economic value of functioning nuclear families in regards to areas such as childcare and domestic services. Writings of idealists in the 1920's (https://www.marxists.org/archive/kollonta/1920/communism-fam...) reflect a gross devaluation of the economic value of labor in the home versus labor outside the home.

Nuclear families were already under pressure in by the 1920's due to the impacts of World War One which resulted in a surplus of women and internal displacement that broke up many nuclear families. This was compounded by the family code of 1918 which liberalized divorce and resulted in many men abandoning their families. A 1926 Atlantic archive summarizes illustrates the impact:


With the breakup of the nuclear family as an economic unit many women and children entered a workforce that was ill-equipped to receive them depressing factory wages. The shift of labor from child rearing to the production of consumer goods resulted in an increase in the besprizorniki, or the "unattended".

The most complete works on the subject are by Wendy Z. Goldman including The "Withering Away" and the Resurrection of the Soviet Family, 1917-1936 and Women, the State and Revolution Soviet Family Policy and Social Life, 1917–1936. Copies of the second can be found online and a quote on page 76 summarizes the cycle.

The decrease in children's homes and daycare centers inadvertently increased the numbers of besprizorniki as the needs of women and the needs of children formed the tight, alternating links of a vicious circle. Without daycare, many single mothers were unable to search for work, and without work, they were unable to support their children, who in turn ran away from impoverished homes to join the besprizorniki on the streets. The large numbers of besprizorniki then forced the state to divert scarce resources from daycare centers to children's homes, increasing the hardships of both employed and unemployed mothers, and ultimately increasing the numbers of besprizorniki.

Yeah, I agree that's a problem too. The problem seems to come from when women entered the work force, society neglected to take a roughly equal amount of men from the work force. This resulted in a surplus of labor and therefore diminished costs of labor, and therefore families needed to have two people working, and now they don't have the time and resources for children.

I'm a believer in the idea that we should be using productivity to ease the obligations of labor. Ideally we could get back to one person per household working, or even better, both parents doing part time work (though I believe this plan requires socialized medicine). This would give plenty of time for child raising and wage earning, and distribute the burdens evenly among parents.

In recent years women have faced a declining happiness according to self reported results. We also have dwindling populations in the developed world and exploding populations in the under developed world where ideally that would be reversed and we could send the developing world doctors, engineers, teachers, etc. I see these problems as connected by the fact that women are structurally limited by society from pursuing their biological drive towards children whereas men, who don't face declining happiness, live in a society that encourages their biological drive (sex).

One person per household working did not really worked for lower class. That is origin of kindergaden - four years old alone whole day because both parents work 12 hours a day (in Germany). Meanwhile rich had kids with nannies whole day, because women needed to "represent familly" (read look good and spend time at parties) else husbands career could suffer for social reasons.

Women are not really struturaly limited to have more children. Most families could afford one more child if they wanted to. Not being at home is preferable then to be at home for women. There is a reason fight for female right to have career happened when large part of population was able to have one person at home - that situation largely sux for too many personality types and on top of it, you are fully aware of your lesser status.

It would be the same with man at home. He would become restless and unhappy too.

And sex has nothing to do with anything. Contraception made it so.

> Most families could afford one more child if they wanted to.

The counter argument was made in Elizabeth Warrens book The Two Income Trap where her research showed that the single income family of the 1970’s had more disposable income than the two income family of the 90’s after adjusting for housing, healthcare, transportation and childcare and showed that the majority of those expenses were primarily driven by children.

A household with children has less ability to make trade offs in the big four than a household without children. For example affordable schools and childcare may dictate more expensive or more distant housing.

The result is that children have a disproportionate impact to discretionary income beyond immediate needs for food, shelter and clothing. If you consider children as just another discretionary way of spending income people in many cases will make the rational choice to spend less on children if the cost is vastly increased.

In other words if the choice is between a minivan and instant coffee and a Mercedes and Starbucks many women may rationally choose the later.

If children were like any other discretionary purchase this wouldn’t be a problem but children are also a societal asset (or liability). Current public policy in many countries has shifted to privatizes more of the costs while socializing the benefits.

For example Social Security benefits is a pay—as-you-go program but there are no adjustments to benefits based on the economic value of the children that a household contributed to the current generation that is paying it. If the costs of raising those children were fully socialized it wouldn’t be an issue but otherwise it is a transfer of income from those who raised children to those who did not.

That does not explain stats for European countries with good free public schools.

I did not meant money so much through. More like, overall lifestyle and your ability to do things that are not children related. With one child, mom can have work she takes seriously and is important for her. She can be competitive there, if you will. With four, nope. Whether you value yourself as entrepreneur, passionate programmer, artist, reader of books, gamer, whatever, you are more or less ok with one-two childs. With four/three, you have to forget about that other identity of yours. Forever.

Have you ever derived confidence or was praised for being good at something or achieving something? One more child may mean good bye to all that.

Moreover, 1970 had poor people too. There was less gap between poor and rich, but it existed. Poor people still exist. Taking about past families as of 1960-1970 usa affluent upper middle class were historical norm is weird. I have noticed tendency to take richest parts of society as the norm, ignoring majority of population for most historical periods.

Imo, a lot of effort and money into childrasing is consequence of widening gap between classes of people. If the difference between bad school and good school did not meant so much for future life, the good school districts would not be so expensive. That is zero sum competition and it does not matter how many incomes you have. You simply need more then competitors.

>That does not explain stats for European countries with good free public schools.

It may still hold if public policy transfers income from families with children. This could range from mercantilistic suppression of exchange rates that favors exporters to the detriment of households to public spending for the retired. France has worked to develop policy that is targeted at raising the fertility rate with some success.


The research I'm familiar with shows that both men and women want to spend more time with their children, that only about a third of women want to work full time, and that women's desire to work full time declines as they get more money.


This evidence seems to directly contradict your view that women spend less time at home because they are bored and made unhappy by it. Furthermore, the evidence I've given above, that women in developed countries all have fewer children than they say they want suggests there is a systemic oppression of women here.

Your point of view discounts taking care of children. You assume people would be unhappy doing it, or people who do it are inferior. This is a sexist opinion that devalues child raising and domestic labor.

Yeah, because being at home all the time is totally comparable to coming home from work an hour sooner. It is not nearly the same. Stay at home moms are risk group for depression and alcoholism. That is not because it is such a great happy situation. There are some happy women in such situation, but majority is not. Women expected to be like that whole their lives rebelled in sixties - not out of hapiness.

Especially when there are children in the mix, then shorter shift makes organizing things easier - for husband too. One of you two has to go to care for children and when women cant leave sooner, husband has to. If you have no career, just a dead end job you dont like all that much, going sooner is attractive. It just so happen to be completely different situation then having nothing productive to do whole day.

> Furthermore, the evidence I've given above, that women in developed countries all have fewer children than they say they want suggests there is a systemic oppression of women here.

Having one more child would in practice means complete stop of any meaningful work and career or whatever it is that they wish to do with their time. Not just having to come sooner then full time shift, but end of the game. These people are choosing to have less children. I both have less cars and less dogs then I consider optimal, but in both cases there is practical reason why I made that trade off. It is same thing with children.

> Your point of view discounts taking care of children. You assume people would be unhappy doing it, or people who do it are inferior.

And yes, they are considered inferior by large groups of society. Be it religious people or people who value money a lot. You may talk about how awesome domestic labor is, but that is just words. Women, who actually did it in the past, were actually considered lesser. And the very fact that they did childrasing was (and still is in fundamentalist subcultures) used as argument for why they should be ruled over by somebody else.

The hell, being "naturally caring" is still talked about as opposite of both intelligent and able to learn tech - every single time topic of women comes out.

Your analysis is suffering from the "lump of labor" fallacy.

Unless I'm mistaken, the relationship between supply and demand is still a well regarded concept in economics - if the supply of labor doubles, the cost of labor will...

A) Be unaffected

B) Increase

C) Decrease

I'm not saying there is a fixed amount of work, I'm making a supply and demand argument to argue that the cost of labor will fall when the supply increases. Thus, I think my analysis isn't committing this fallacy, but if be happy to consider your reasoning if you care to explain.

You'd get a low grade in economics class with such an argument -- the issue is that in the long run, the market responds to the availability of new inputs (in this case, lots more labor), and in the long run you have no idea how the relationship between supply and demand will change.

The 'moral fad' I was referring to was what took place in protestant Slovakia beginning in the 1800s, not about human fertility/fecundity today.

From the article:

>In XIX. century the trend of having a single child took hold among protestants of the historical regions of Novohrad, Hont, Malohont and Gemer.

>it seems that if you had multiple kids back then you've got criticized and laughed at by your friends and neighbors.

>>> Working and studying requires time and dedication, and that conflicts with having and raising a child.

In a hypothetical world, this decision should not be a woman's decision only. Why don't we have this problem with men?

>>> I don't really know how to solve this problem other than force women to choose between careers and children as they currently do.

Force men to make the same decision?! Why only women have to choose?

In the context of the parent comment it very much was a moral fad.

The differences to the current situation seem more interesting than the similarities.

Now :

- widespread easy access to contraception - low early life mortality - massive agricultural automation and machinery - pervasive educational opportunities

You're missing the economic burden of extra children in modern urbanized settings, along with the rise of women in the workplace which further lowers fertility.

As far as I can tell, this trend is global in every modern urban setting, some are just further along.

The Muslims in my city seem to have no problem raising large families in a urban environment despite having less financial resources than the other cultural groups, so the explanation cannot be entirely economic. Culture and religion seem to play a very important part

The thing is, in our culture it's no loger cool to dedicate your life to selling doner kebabs. Pur definition of success includes high skills and specialization. That produced the society that attracts immigrants and that can't be reproduced back where they came from.

But it also puts high price tag on children.

Also family courts that punish providers in case of a divorce. Better play it safe and single.

Divorce is a relatively new thing. You used to just work on your problems and stay together for the family. Family courts are the symptom not the problem.

I think western society causes (or promotes?) a bit of hyper-individualism which makes cohabitation really difficult. We also have much easier access to alcohol, drugs, and gambling - aka “family destroyers”.

I think also.. not dying. In the past it was common for people to have multiple marriages but with no divorce, I wonder what the stats say about median duration over time?

It used to be you had to stay together no matter what. It is not that people inthe past would miraculously solve marital problems - they often just had to stay despite violence, abuse or simply sever partners disregard. Except prohibition era, acess to alcohol and gambling was easy. Prohibition itself passed because alcohol situation was very bad.

And it simultaneously used to be that women were severely disadvantage in workplace making a men practical necessity - no matter what the relationship looks like. That is not people solving problems for family sake.

> It used to be you had to stay together no matter what. It is not that people inthe past would miraculously solve marital problems - they often just had to stay despite violence, abuse or simply sever partners disregard.

True story. My grandparents were separated for the final 30 years of their lives, after all their children left the house. But they never divorced.

It feels like there's an angle missing to that story. One has to assume there was a reason for that much agriculture being there in the first place and a reason why it suddenly wasn't in such a high demand anymore, it can't just all be "lack of labor" because then people would probably have starved due to the lack of agricultural products being available.

It's not just lack of labor, but lack of profit. Farm efficiency has increased incredibly in the last 200 years. People tend to forget that in 1850, a huge proportion of the population were farmers. Today it's down around 1%.

Consider the implications though: each farm may become more efficient, but that increases the food supply, lowering the food price. Then you add in a shrinking population, lowering demand, lowering the price further.

Sure, for the right price you could hire labor for your farm, but then you'd lose money on every sale. It's not lack of labor so much as lack of labor at prices you can afford.

And this is happening today. A friend of mine is from a large farm family in southern Kentucky. Grain prices are getting so low because of high yields that even with the best technology on hand they can barely make a profit. This is great for consumers (cheap food) but short term fluctuations put smaller farming operations at serious risk.

So to answer your initial question of why there was so much agriculture to begin with: it was required to feed the population.

It is also the case that marginal farmland can support a small subsistence farmer but be uneconomical for incorporation into large-scale agriculture. Such land will usually end up as woodland/scrub or grazing land over time.

> Farm efficiency has increased incredibly in the last 200 years. People tend to forget that in 1850, a huge proportion of the population were farmers.

I was wondering if there might have been some specific "invention", unique to that era, triggering a spike in general farm efficiency, and I think I might have found it [0].

Around 1800 should have been the time where European agriculture became kinda "industrialized", with people putting some actual scientific effort into figuring out what makes crops grow and in what order to best grow them.

> And this is happening today. A friend of mine is from a large farm family in southern Kentucky. Grain prices are getting so low because of high yields that even with the best technology on hand they can barely make a profit.

I wonder how much of that problem is due to, by now, unrealistic "profit expectations", for industrialized agriculture? Heck, as idealistic as it may sound, maybe the problem is that we expect to make "money" of something as essential as food in the very first place?

Could farmers be self-sustainable, if they didn't have to worry about scaling up to support "commercial interests"?

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_fertilizer#Key_figu...

By this point agricultural goods were traded in an international market - wheat was traded overseas, for example. People didn't starve, the global price just went slightly up.

What I've heard from my grandfather (referring to a close-by region in 1930's) was that the local pub owner ordered 12 bottles of beer each year, on Christmas. It was bought by wealthier villagers as a kind of Christmas treat.

The point being that any non-locally-produced food was basically a luxury item even decades after the period in question.

The thirties may not be the most representative time for this.

I agree, my feeling reading this was "this is more anecdote than history". It feels a bit like the facts fit a pre-defined narrative.

It's a neat story, but IMO the article doesn't do a good job linking this small subculture to modern society. Just because you see the same effect (low childbirth) doesn't mean the cause is the same, and it doesn't mean the outcome will be the same.

It's not up to the author to do the thinking for you. Sometimes presenting a story is all that is needed, the rest being left as an exercise to the reader. Not everything needs to be BuzzFeed.

Well, we are seeing a hollowing out of many rural communities in the US, there's an analogy there.

Tractors. When my wife's grandfather was born in the early 20th century a family farm in north central Iowa was limited to about 160 acres or a 1/4 section. So each section could have four family farms and a Township with ~50% agricultural utilization might have 300 farm families in the township and some people living in town. That's about a 1000 people.

Today a family farm there is about 1200 acres. That's 1/7 the rural density. The economic catchment for the town no longer has enough customers to support the businesses it once did...and that all happened before Amazon and UPS and Walmart thirty miles away and Costco up in Minneapolis and cars got faster and safer and roads got better.

Was there an attempt in the article to link this subculture to modern society?

«It was so weirdly (but not entirely) reminiscent of some of the problems that developed societies are facing today that I'll try to recount the story in English to make it available to wider audience.»

Some questionable assertions here.

"Sexual abstinence brought in the familiar zoo of weird behaviors, ranging from coitus interruptus to having sex with animals."

Uh yeah.

Their situation sounds very familiar here in Singapore, the country with the lowest fertility rate in the world.

Which is interesting, as I've heard Singapore held up as an example of successful universal healthcare. I wonder what correlations there are between the two larger trends.


I wonder how the same "only one child" rule will work out for China, in the end. It might be the same, but given the wildly different scale (plus different times: more and more automation coming our way) - it might actually turn out very well for them.

They kept the policy too long, only changing it in 2015. That combined with the move towards urban cities has resulted in the same demographic problem in China.


I recall I've read somewhere that the problem of finding a partner exists in China as well.

There is an officially recognized gender imbalance[0]; there is more incentive to prefer a male as a sole child. But the problem is slightly dampened by the fact that female children are under-reported[1].

[0]: http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/14/opinion/china-challenges-one-c...

[1]: http://www.cnn.com/2016/12/01/asia/china-missing-girls/index...

China is said to have 60M men who will never be able to marry. I wonder how that will play out.

They won’t get married.

A interesting historical parallel is early Australia. Due to more men than women being shipped as convicts to Australia (something like 50:1), many women in Australia were rather reluctant to get married. Why get married and be under the power of your husband when you could live “in sin” and move on if your defacto husband was not up to scratch.

They won’t get married.

Well, sure, but what about the second-order effects? Will we see a mass emigration of Chinese men to countries where they have more to offer than local men? Will we see an effort by the Chinese government to attract foreign women to the country? Will those men head off into the hills to eat barbecue, fire their AKs and forment revolution with their bros?

There are not many large countries with a female surplus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_sex_ratio - well Brazil and Canada I guess.

Interestingly there is even a page for China https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_administrative...

If we use early Australia as an example then they will die without ever getting married.

There is a theory that the historically extreme anti-homosexual culture of Australia was a blowback from this time [1].

1. I should say this has changed a great deal in the last few decades (we just passed a referendum/plebiscite on legalising SSM), but I am old enough to remember that to be called a “poofter” was the worst insult any man could receive.

Interesting. What were the long-term effects of this? Did women get more rights/sooner, compared to other parts of the world? Or was it just "a phase" with little long-term impact?

Yes it did. Australian women were amongst the first in the world to get the right to vote (1901)[1].

1. South Australia (now a state) was the first country in the world to allow women to vote (in the 1890s) although from memory New Zealand was the first “country" to allow women to vote - I should mention that NZ was as much as country at the time as South Australia (all were British dominions).

In the opposite case in modern day USA, black men are much less likely to marry than their peers. The sad cause of this is that such a high proportion of marriage age black men are in prison, that the ones that are not have their pick of all the women left. It turns into this: http://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2010/02/rev...

Yes marriage doesn’t work whenever the gender demographics gets extreme. My favourite example is the Paraguayan War [1] when almost all the men of Paraguay were killed.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paraguayan_War

Even though the gender imbalance is long gone from that war, there's still an attitude among Paraguayan women that there aren't enough men around and they'll have to share. Wife and a mistress or two is pretty common still. (Lived there for several years)


Trolling like this will eventually get your main account banned as well. Please don't vandalize HN.

They may not be able to marry a Chinese woman, but maybe they can find a foreign wife. It's common for men to "buy" women from poorer countries. Who knows, maybe they'll find American or European brides.

True, in the village in Laos I lived in more than a few girls ended up with a Chinese husband.

i dont know why you are being downvoted. this clearly exists.

there are already services to "import wives" from poorer countries. Money wont buy you love but it can buy you a partner.

War. 20 million Chinese died in WWII.

War against whom? The only likely options are those with land borders to China, and massive populations of their own.

Russia has big empty spaces. The Middle East isn't very far away with modern technology.

Realistically China is 10-20 years at minimum from being able to project power at scale to the ME. The only candidate for a war of attrition is India.

Not well. Singapore tried a similar thing and it worked too well. They then reversed the policy and then tried paying women to have babies. That didn't work. Then after about a decade I think the prime minister basically said "I give up".

i wonder if it would have been possible for single families to exploit the "one child" culture later on by having a lot of children, thus providing much needed brides and grooms and profiting from the wealth gained by marriage. sure, this would have been a long-term investment and might have lowered you social standing in the beginning, but there'd also be pressure for the others to marry your kid to other protestants (even if those are less wealthy) than to outside catholics.

I'm not convinced of either the facts or the narrative here.

As to the facts, it does not look to me like Slovakia had particularly low fertility.

See e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_Slovakia

"Half of all women born before 1930 had three or more children compared to one-third of Czech women of the same birth cohorts": https://www.demographic-research.org/volumes/vol19/25/19-25....

As to the narrative, I've never heard of a society breeding itself into prosperity. In 2005, the 10 countries with the highest fertility in the world were: Niger, Mali, Somalia, Chad, Burundi, Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, East Timor, and Angola.

Bottom 10 on that list were: Hungary, Slovakia, Serbia, Malta, Portugal, South Korea, Singapore, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Hong Kong, and Macau. A somewhat mixed record of success, to be sure, but would any of them want to trade places with any country in the top 10?


>As to the facts, it does not look to me like Slovakia had particularly low fertility.

He speaks of ONE part of Slovakia, and ONE community/religious group in that. And even that, in the past, not now. Those demographic numbers are, as such, irrelevant.

>As to the narrative, I've never heard of a society breeding itself into prosperity.

You'd be surprised. The reason the list doesn't look impressive is that fertility is one factor, and those countries lack the others (and have few hopes of getting it). Instead look at China, India, and the like for better examples.

Plus, it's reversing cause and effect, as countries with major growth tend to decrease in fertility rates.

> Instead look at China, India, and the like for better examples.

That would be China, which for most of its phase of economic hyper growth had a rather brutally enforced low fertility policy?

There's a delay between adding such a law, and it having measurable demographic impact. That the law coincided with the growth is not the reason for growth: the prior population boom was the reason -or part of the reason- behind both the growth and the need for such a law.

They didn't have an economic boost while suffering from the effects of sub-replacement/low fertility rates. Instead they've developed a huge population that was enough to fuel a huge growth, so much so that they had to slow it down.

It takes time for children to grow up and affect economic growth, so it doesn't make sense to associate growth during the time the policy was in effect. There are also confounding variables, such as starting from a poorer position, which allows for more growth in the first place.

He is talking about one small region and protestant minority subculture in it.

Sure, and you're welcome to dig up statistics from that region/subculture to substantiate OP's claims. Absent those, I remain skeptical that the demographics really different that much from the country as a whole.

I guess that you are free to come to Slovakia and read the same archives and chronicles for that small region.

The point is primary, that fertility statistics for whole Slovakia are useless here, because Slovakia is mostly Catholic. And they used to have big families, valued big families and having no or only one child would be a shame and sad for Catholic women. Author does not claim that Slovakia had low fertility, he claims that protestants were different and had culture of small families. So the stats you dug out are irrelevant.

> you're welcome to dig up statistics from that region

Given he specifically talks about a handful of places and contrasts with other regions where people had more children, and has a first hand account, shouldn't you be the one to dig up more info?

Unless you think he completely made up the whole thing? Hopefully it's not that.

> Given he specifically talks about a handful of places and contrasts with other regions where people had more children, and has a first hand account,

A second or third hand account of his great-grandmother leaving her farm, but he says he did NOT understand the reasons for leaving from the family account.

> shouldn't you be the one to dig up more info?

You know, when part of the theory being espoused is literally that the region got depopulated because protestant Slovaks had a particular penchant for sex with farm animals, I rather think that the proponent of the theory has to meet a bigger burden of proof than what's in evidence here.

> Unless you think he completely made up the whole thing? Hopefully it's not that.

"completely made up" is a strong word, and OP cites a source. However, reading (part of) that source, I get the strong impression that both interviewer and interviewee were fitting anecdotes into a preconceived narrative. There is a lot of speculation and gazing at headstones, and little mention of trying to get at the underlying numbers: https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=sk&tl=en&u=h...

> A second or third hand account of his great-grandmother leaving her farm,

It's his great-grandmother and his family. I imagine he would know a thing or two about the culture, history and customs. Besides the particular story of the great-grandmother seems to just be a side story and background used to introduce the topic.

> protestant Slovaks had a particular penchant for sex with farm animals

Seems like that was misread. There were rumors of that happening because there was a cultural element encouraging having fewer children, so abstinence and various rituals around it became popular. I don't think reproductive and sex rituals are uncommon and strange. And we didn't invent strange sex stuff because internet is around. People were raunchy and sex obsessed before as well. I don't think that needs rigorous sources.

> both interviewer and interviewee were fitting anecdotes into a preconceived narrative.

It seems they still have more information and experience to draw from than an average HN'er here.

If you just want to say, "I personally dislike that culture or ritual or theory", that's a fine thing. I can say I dislike spaghetti and like hamburgers more as well. But if you're trying to convince others that the presented story is wrong, then either a personal account would work (you live there, heard the stories, experience them), or even better if you have decent sources. Your source didn't quite do it and it's silly to ask the author or others to go dig more sources to prove their case.

> It's his great-grandmother and his family. I imagine he would know a thing or two about the culture, history and customs.

My reading of OP is that he does not claim to have understood these until he read the source. And neither he nor his sources seem to have any grasp of the underlying economics. The underlying narrative of a prosperous society that collapsed because nobody was available to work the fields is extremely dubious. OP mentions that there is 30% unemployment in the region. Why can't they STILL get anyone to work the fields (Not to mention the massive productivity improvements that agriculture has gone through)?

> I don't think reproductive and sex rituals are uncommon and strange. [...] I don't think that needs rigorous sources.

I don't think these are uncommon at all (especially the premarital sex on which the interview frowns so much)... which is precisely why I doubt their causal link to the observed depopulation.

> It seems they still have more information and experience to draw from than an average HN'er here.

If they do, why don't they share that information, instead of talking about sex with farm animals and premarital relations? Even through the language barrier of the translation, the moral panic is evident.

> If you just want to say, "I personally dislike that culture or ritual or theory"

I do dislike the theory. It's a rancid mix of natalism and moral panic.

I do NOT dislike the culture. It's the OP and his sources who are claiming that Protestant Slovaks sheep shagged themselves to extinction. My baseline is that everybody has traditions, rituals, and the occasional dysfunction, so any contention that a particular set of these led to disaster needs to be backed by data, not anecdotes.

Czech != Slovak

"I've never heard of a society breeding itself into prosperity."

America, UK, Germany, Japan - most modern nations had reasonably normal to high birth rates over the last few hundred years.

They did not become rich because they had tons of people. Hey look at India.

Or maybe they did - just not only because of that.

Actually, India became more prosperous precisely because it had this population dynamics. At this stage of its growth it needs both the hands and the internal market.

"They did not become rich because they had tons of people."

This is completely false.

In North America in particular, the entire economic strategy was built on large scale immigration.

Most nations become rich by 'adding bodies' into a functioning economy - and by nothing else.

---> Why do you think that the US and Canada are so keen on immigration? And why economists want Japan to have immigration? <----

Canada's population 100 years ago was a fraction of what it it is today - do you think it would be 'as rich' with just a few million people? Perhaps on a per-capita basis, but then probably not.


So long as they are integrated into a working economy.

I do not like this approach to growth but it's how many nations do it.

Of course - 'adding bodies' into a dysfunctional economy, or where there are no means for those new bodies to add economic activity ... will be bad. Hence - China, India, Africa.

I think we should find better ways to achieve growth - but 'body count' is still the number ONE way that entities around the world try to do it.

Canadian city mayors are all clamouring for more bodies = more tax base = more power.

Immigration =/= breeding.

High fertility rates usually mean:

- People are having more children to provide manual labor.

- People are getting together with each other because they don't have as many distractions from the modern world.

- People haven't been taught safe sex or don't have access to protection.

- The culture of a region hasn't caught up with the times.

High immigration usually means:

- The nation is a desirable place to move to.

- Successful immigrants to that nation are bringing valuable and useful skills.

I agree with your point that adding more people strengthens the economy when most of those people are contributing to the GDP (and weaken the economy if they consume more than they produce), but I am bothered by your absolutisms ("This is completely false" | "Most nations become rich by 'adding bodies' [...] and nothing else"). High immigration is a symptom of an already strong economy, and high fertility is often a symptom of a developing economy.

How about Mormons?

They aren't behind the times (as long at "times" doesn't mean promiscuous sex and drinking), not uneducated, don't more kids for manual labor. And I'm sure they know about birth control. But many of them have a lot of kids.

I don't agree - and your comment is borderline bigoted. :)

My grandmother had 11 children, and educated them all quite ably.

First - breeding is far more preferable than immigration because there are myriads of cultural aspects that newcomers will not ever fathom as most adult immigrants will never fully integrate into a new society. In Canada - significant numbers of newcomers will never even achieve basic French/English comprehension skills - even if it's only 5%, they cannot participate in the economy and it crushes 'productivity' numbers for that cohort. Even in 'successful' immigration countries like Canada - rates of unemployment are higher, wages are lower, and rates of criminality are higher for immigrants than for natural born citizens (not including Aboriginals).

FYI the 'civilized' people who have all discovered 'contraception' are literally dying out within just a few generations. The only way those communities can exist is by bringing in immigrants who 'haven't been taught safe sex or behind the times'.

Issues of 'personal choice and freedom' aside - the issue of birth control is having effects upon civilization like nothing we've even before.

Add this to places like Africa, wherein we now can feed and clothe vast quantities of people, and wherein having quantities of children outside of established families / employment is normative leading to population explosions in poverty.

These are wild times. Westerners should have a little bit more children, everyone else a few less, and things would work out just a little bit better, tensions would be lower, productivity would be better.

adding bodies is not enough to get rich. if that were the case then all current developing countries would be world power on their own rights. Japan was a world power back in late 1800 despite having a relatively small population.

gdp is headcount times productivity. seems like you forgot productivity in your equation.

According to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_populatio..., Japan was the 8th most populous political unit in the world, after China, the British Empire, Russia, France (including colonial possessions), United States, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Dutch East Indies. Except for China (questionable) and the Dutch East Indies, those were all considered world powers in their own right.

The population of Japan at this point was larger than that of the UK (by 10%), metropolitan France (same), Italy (by 30%), the Ottoman Empire (by 30%), Spain (more than 2x).

Going back one more century, to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_populatio... we see Japan in _6th_ place, after the Qing empire, Maratha Empire, British Empire, French Republic, Russian Empire.

Of course in both cases Japan was not a huge part of total world population. It was about 2.5% in 1900 and about 3% in 1800. But that didn't matter when most of the world population wasn't trying to be a world power at all (e.g. they were Chinese peasants). And Japan was more or less comparable to the other major world powers of the time in terms of population.

Now productivity is, of course, important: There's a reason the Dutch East Indies were not considered a serious power in 1900 and Japan was. And we can talk about correlation vs causation (e.g. higher productivity might have been enabling more population growth, leading to high-productivity societies becoming more populous). But just in terms of raw numbers, Japan was in fact one of the most populous countries in the world in the 19th century.

I agree with your overall point that just adding bodies is not enough. But the premise of the grandparent post was that what works is adding bodied to a _functioning_ economy, which is where the productivity assumption comes in. If you add bodies as fast as you can without hurting your productivity (too much, at least), that's the path to economic success at least in the 19th and early 20th century.

That only works with globalization. As a technology person, I’m very productive by GDP standards. But because of dumb policy decisions, that productivity is completely dependent on the less productive outputs from places like Saudi Arabia and China.

In the long run all that matters is demographics.

Nope. In the long run all that matters is culture.

Small community may thrive. Community that was absorbed by different culture, no matter how large, is no longer yours.

> In the long run all that matters is culture.

Genetics seems to play a key role in the development of culture and social structure. If you move 1M Mexicans in Tokyo, their offspring will not act like Japanese people do, regardless of the environment. They would exhibit different behavioral and voting patterns.

That's not because of their genetics; it's because of a tendency for groups of people to reproduce their culture. If a family in Mexico City adopted a baby from Tokyo, the kid would become a part of Mexican culture, to the extent that the Mexican culture accepts people who don't look Mexican. They would not be a part of Japanese culture.

It's both.

Large groups of people carry characteristic sets of genes which drive behavioral patterns, as well as culture which also drives behavioral patterns. On a large scale, the differences between Japanese and Mexicans are driven by cultural and genetic differences.

The degree, balance, and nature of those differences is complex and up for debate, of course. But to state that Japanese and Mexicans have no distinguishing behavior-driving genes at all even in the slightest degree is basically the left-wing version of young-Earth creationism.

Do we have any evidence at all that any of the behaviour differences between populations are genetic? I'm not well-educated in this area, but I'm aware of no such evidence. Educate me?

As far as I can tell (again, in my relative ignorance), the assertion that "genetics seems to play a key role in the development of culture and social structure" is just as foolish and unsupported as the claim that you dismissed.

I'm honestly curious in why you think it's likely there are no genetic differences. Everyone accepts physical attributes, most people accept the brain is responsible for consciousness and personality and is a physical object.

Would it not be completey bizarre if there were zero differences in the one most complex organ we do not understand?

Would you argue that no group of people are taller? Or could run faster? Or perhaps have varying levels of visual acuity? What would cause such differences to suddenly just completely stop because it's related to the brain?


One reason to believe there are no meaningful genetic differences is that we've seen large-scale migration leading to different cultures among genetically similar people, and similar cultures among genetically diverse people. There are a lot of people with the same Anglo-Saxon stock in "red state" America, in "blue-state" America, and in the UK with rather different cultures, political preferences, social norms, etc. There are a lot of ethnic Russian diaspora communities who did not lean towards communism during the 20th century. (Yes, this is a pointed example, but I think we need to be clear about what our examples are, or everyone is going to argue about their own unstated personal stereotypes and we won't be discussing anything productive.) There are plenty of second-generation immigrants in America, like myself, who have basically assimilated into the dominant culture and carry little of their ancestors' culture beyond what was impressed on us in childhood via nurture.

Meanwhile, there are lots of different genetic groups making up America, even within a race - the American definition of "white" is extremely genetically diverse and contains lots of backgrounds that have formed separate identities in Europe, and you don't see a lot of cultural separation on those lines. You see cultural separation on visible lines like actual skin color, language, recency of immigration, etc. But all of that is more easily explained by humans making conscious choices to associate with certain people we think are like ourselves, not genetics.

Tendency towards aggression, as your paper shows, is an individual characteristic, and something that can be overridden in either direction by social norms. (Even within a fairly homogenous genetic group, there's a huge amount of individual variation in aggressiveness.) I'm certainly happy to concede that genetics matters a lot at the individual level, but it's a large leap to find that it matters at the cultural level. If you introduce one million people without (or with) this gene slowly into a culture of people with (or without) this gene, letting them assimilate, letting them have children and raise them within the existing culture and intermarry, would we expect a chance in cultural norms for people with this genetic background? Possibly, but I certainly wouldn't expect one.

I'm honestly curious why you would infer that I think it's likely there are likely no genetic differences. I said nothing of the kind.


A good research foundation is a photocopied report from 21 years ago and a video of someone presenting at a white supremacist conference?

How about this: Turkheimer and Nisbett, two giants of the field, addressing the question head-on in an invited piece for a magazine last year:


Well-bored internet hellholes are off topic on HN. If you really want to go there, and boy do some people want to go there, please find another place on the internet to do that. Since intellectual curiosity is the first casualty of such flamewars, they definitely don't belong here.

Of course there are genes that affect behavior. I just don't think they're a major factor given how easily the children of immigrants can assimilate into cultures that are willing to accept them.

And you think that's because of some Mexican genetic imperative, rather than because they bring their culture with them?

Please read Banthum's post. I couldn't word my stance any better.

I won't claim that genetics have absolutely zero influence on behavior, but you claimed that genetics (by which you appear to mean ethnicity) plays "a key role in the development of culture and social structure", and I don't believe that you have any evidence for that.

The fact you chose 1M is telling. If you move 1 Mexican child, at birth, to Tokyo, and that Mexican is brought up by Japanese parents etc, I think you will expect fairly strong conformance to Japanese culture. This is sufficient to disprove a large genetic component in human culture/behaviour.

The sample size = 1 may not be enough to perceive any meaningful difference[x], but it doesn't matter. Migratory waves are not made of 1 infant with no parents. People mostly come in great numbers and carve their own ethnic communities within the host country.

[x]Various studies have found the heritability of IQ to be between 0.7 and 0.8 in adults and 0.45 in childhood in the United States. It may seem reasonable to expect that genetic influences on traits like IQ should become less important as one gains experiences with age. However, that the opposite occurs is well documented. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heritability_of_IQ#estimates

> The sample size = 1 may not be enough to perceive any meaningful difference

Yes, and I assumed this was obvious. I did say "expect", after all. But a large-N experiment where each child is in the "isolated" condition is totally different from a large-N experiment where a large population is transplanted.

> Migratory waves are not made of 1 infant with no parents.

Whether immigrant communities preserve culture etc is not in question. I'm only refuting the point that there is a large genetic component, and your argument here effectively concedes that.

Not if your culture doesn’t have children.

It has more to do with where you're raised than who your parents are. Second-generation immigrants often have wildly different culture than their parents.

Not a single one? I guess you can survive a few generations on fertility of 1.4.

And as a bonus, all members of the next generation will inevitable be children to that subset of the culture who did breed. Bouncing back would be easy, particularly if the low birthrate is more a wild mix of family sizes than a uniform one child per family system.


Nick Land's ideas at least marginally relevant to the OP as far as I can tell.

Fascinating. How widespread was this?

Looking at the map, the region is around 20x50 km.

They could have hired, and married, immigrants.

Immigrants usually have zero desire to go to remote, poor areas. Maybe at some point they did, but today they target large urban areas. That makes sense - if locals can't make use of a piece of land, recent immigrants will struggle even more.

There was some immigration but it was insufficient to revert the trend. Maybe because the immigrants were mostly poor catholics and thus not very desirable partners.

Legal ones who were vetted or just random people off the street?

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