Jan 25·edited Jan 25

I would posit that while the causes of fertility decline seem to vary by place and time, there is a single root cause underlying everything: Children are no longer needed at the individual level.

In an agrarian economy, children were needed as labor. Before we built social safety programs (Social Security, Medicare, etc.), we needed children to "take care of us when we're old". Our civilization has engineered away all of these needs. Children are now optional.

Crude analogy, but children have become like horses. You have one (or two) if you happen to like them, but nobody actually *needs* them any more. Look what happened to the global population of horses.

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There are about 250,000 Amish in the US. Their population growth rate is about 3.6%. If they sustain that growth rate for the next 100 years, there will be about 8.6 million of them. 8.6 million people doesn't replace 320 million.

The fertility problem will be solved, but not that way.

The simple fact is that in modern societies, people are reluctant to make the presumably lifelong commitment of marriage, or the decades-long and burdensome commitment of parenthood, when they are not sure they want it or are not confident of success. The emotional downsides of failure in marriage and parenthood are huge. And people are far more free to refrain from marriage and parenthood than in the past.

So a large proportion of people either choose not to marry or beget, or delay until these choices are impractical or impossible. Very few people will be persuaded to take these risks merely for money, even a lot of it.

Instead there will be a revolution in reproduction - it will become a societal process, carried on by the whole community, acting through government. Children will be conceived in vitro, gestated either by paid or conscripted host-mothers, or in artificial wombs, and raised in communal homes by full-time caregivers.

There can and will be problems with such a system - failures and abuses. But unlike the present system, those failures and abuses will not impact individual members of the reproducing general population. And it could produce enough children to sustain a society, whereas the present system will not.

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The saving strategy, whatever it may be, seems unlikely to arise in the Anglophone realm, since it is committed to mass immigration. This strategy makes the problem less visible and perhaps less pressing. Such transnational population engineering may accelerate population anxiety in the donor nations, especially those whose donations come from their smart fraction (eg, India). The Anglophones are engaged in demographic vampirism, a process one could argue for (better talent leverage achieved by migration) or against (robbing poor nations of talent).

China, Japan, Russia: these are nations with a belief in themselves and elites who are less hostile to their own people than the Anglophone elites. If this issue turns out to be vital, one of these nations, or another of similar character, will likely be blessed with a leader who attempts plausible solutions.

One might also expect efforts in the Islamic world, probably using Islam as the main tool. A Muslim propaganda system might use Israel's high fertility as an effective way to shame Muslims into having more children. The rest of the world has Israel's positive example as a high income nation with a 3 tfr (~2.6 after excluding the haredim) that has remained consistent for 40 years. In addition to high income, Israel also has feminism, high education levels, contraception, demanding careers. Yet, religious commitment and, perhaps, nationalist feeling plus loyal elites, suffice to keep fertility high in face of this onslaught of countervailing trends. If I could select only one of these factors to reverse low fertility, it would be religion. The risk would then be the one Israel faces in the long run: theocracy and reaction.

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Jan 28·edited Jan 28

The recipe: "PAY for babies, substantially" will indeed raise TFR among the Cocos and Jessicas of the USofA (see quote below). Or in Somalia. Substantially. At a much, much lower pay-level than needed to move the needle on TFR among college-students (prospective/present/former). The question I never see addressed in overcomingbias is: Do we want that? Is that going to solve the problems Hanson sees in fast falling global TFR? I am doubtful. "Just Emil Kirkegaard Things" would scream: NO!

Maybe 10k at birth and 200k when the kids passes SAT in the top 20%, 500k in the top 5%, 1 million in the top 1%? Or some g-test - yearly or at 8? Find the equilibrium. Now the quote: The non-fiction book "Random Family" by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc is partly about overpopulation – in the Bronx. Coco and Jessica have so many babies, by so many fathers, and their children have so many half-siblings, that at times it’s impossible to keep the names straight. By the time the two women are in their early thirties, they have given birth to Mercedes, Nikki, Nautica, Pearl, LaMonte, Serena, Brittany, Stephany, Michael, Matthew, Torres, Puma, Willy, Kodak, Wishman and Frankie. … (I) was remembering my first pregnancy scare that helped me to fully understand the stupidity and purposelessness of rants about fecklessness .... It was the summer before I went to college, and my girlfriend’s period was late, and I spent two utterly miserable weeks convinced that my life was over. ... (W)e were terrified: I would just as soon have gone to prison as started a family. What 'Random Family' explains, is that the future as Coco and Jessica and the fathers of their children see it really isn’t worth the price of a condom, and they’re right. I eventually became a father for the first time around the same age that Jessica became a grandmother. - (Nick Hornby ‚Stuff I’ve Been Reading‘ Sept. 2003)

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Great video, Robin. I agree with the population decline thesis. And I agree this will halt innovation barring the rapid development of AGI. However, I am not convinced that this is a bad thing.

You’ve written that you expect fertile subcultures (e.g., Amish, Orthadox Jews, etc.) to dominate the population growth. I agree. Yet from all my research, members of these cultures have pretty good lives. For example, the Amish: they have strong community. They remain connected with childhood friends and family for life (as they often live their whole lives in the same village). They have high marriage and low divorce rates. Their suicide rates are less than half of the larger U.S. They are healthy and live long with no fast food and lots of sunlight and exercise (despite spending way less on medical care than most Americans). They have strong religion, which tends to give people a sense of purpose.

In contrast, while American society has gotten richer with the rise of technology, anxiety and depression have risen too. We have a culture in which many people move away from family and friends and become lonely. Many are made depressed and angry by social media. Many are disconnected from nature. Suicide is high. Divorce is high. It’s not clear to me that rising innovation has made us happier at all.

Of course, we are not Amish. And there is a natural human impulse to desire a future of people similar to ourselves. Yet in a utilitarian sense, I believe the rise of Amish-like subcultures may be a great thing for human happiness. Would be super curious to hear if you have a counter argument to this.

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The second point is interesting. Perhaps fertility decline is mostly due to local factors and the ability to collect data on a global scale leads to biased conclusions.

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I think your point borrowing and compensation to parents is genius.

I know you think robust AGI/EM as well as radical life extension is unlikely in the total amount of innovation we have left, but what is your credence that we might be saved in that time?

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Curious about Prof Hanson's thoughts on the Jennifer Crumbley trial. Arresting parents for their children's crimes = lower fertility, likely.

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Seems to me the real question is how do we test the possible remediations to find out what (if anything) actually moves the needle. At this point is there any evidence that anything works?

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There is a whole space of plausibly effective (albeit currently unpopular) remedies, why focus just on payments?

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