71 Comments
Sep 16, 2023·edited Sep 16, 2023

Darwinian forces should solve population decline, if technology doesn't first. Let's posit there is some genetic basis to a woman's innate desire to have kids. (This is distinct from her desire for sex, which because of contraception no longer implies fertility.) In a traditional culture where women had few options, this factor had little impact on her fertility, which was high in any case.

The situation becomes dramatically different when women have reproductive choice. Now this genetic factor has a profound effect on fertility: Whereas every woman used to have 7 kids for reasons outside her control, now most women have 0.7 and a woman with a high maternal desire has 3 or 4.

It's like the white/black moth example: put an organism into the right environment with the right selective pressures, and evolution happens very, very quickly. Throughout human history we've never really selected for women with a high innate desire for kids, because they didn't have much of a choice. Now they do, and the selective pressure will be extremely high. Expect that within a few hundred years, women (and men) who have a higher innate desire for children will be much larger share of the population.

Expand full comment
author

How can it have escaped your attention that my post describes what i see as they most likely WAY that Darwinian forces will solve population decline?

Expand full comment

It didn't escape my attention, you very nicely describe how Darwinian forces acting over aspects of culture will lead to more/larger subgroups with higher fertility. The point I was trying to inject is that plain old genetics will do the same thing, and probably very quickly.

re: "The most likely scenario by which world human fertility will rise again includes a big return to communism." this seems very premature to me. Why do you think genetic evolution cannot be a solution? You point out obstacles of fertile subcultures including scalability, difficulty in urban environments, etc. (I would add to your list declining religiosity overall.) Genetic pathways suffer no such limitations.

And then there is the wildcard of technology. Perhaps you saw this from a few days ago: https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-023-02901-1

Expand full comment
author

For the last 10K years in humans, DNA evolution has usually been slower than cultural evolution, and is responsible for fewer of the changes seen.

Expand full comment

I'm not an expert but I would hazard that genetic evolution over the last 10k years is an open question, and being harder to observe than cultural evolution we are perhaps biased to discount it. Henrich's book (The WEIRDest people...) documents many psychological changes but he discounts genetic explanations out of hand. The taboos there are very strong.

The reason I'm optimistic that DNA evolution could address fertility quickly is that the selective pressures will be extremely high: Genes for a high female desire for children will propagate at 3x or more the rate of child-indifferent ones. This is the first time in recent human history that we've had a selective pressure this powerful.

Expand full comment
Sep 15, 2023·edited Sep 15, 2023

(1) This post is about "insular fertile subcultures" (Orthodox Jews, Amish) which is not what we normally think of as communism, so you've chosen a clickbait title. You mention that state industrial communism was *not* successful at increasing fertility.

(2) You predict world population would peak in 30 years? The UN predicts a peak at 10.4 billion in the mid-2080s, which would be closer to 60 years: https://www.un.org/en/global-issues/population . The US Census Bureau https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/popproj.html only predicts out to 2060, but predicts US population will be increasing all that time. And that's not just from immigration - the US Census Bureau predicts the "natural increase" (US births - US deaths) will also be positive, at least as far as 2060. This "natural increase" is currently positive for the US. The US Census Bureau predicts the natural increase will reach a minimum of around 400,000 net lives per year around 2050 and then begin to *increase* again, picking up speed, due to shift towards more fertile demographics.

(3) We can't project population estimates hundreds of years into the future. Literally anything could happen in that time. Climate catastrophe, running out of oil, running out of forests, nuclear war, AI apocalypse, engineered super-plague, genetic engineering and cloning of humans, extreme lifespan extension.

(4) Low-tech farming communities can only succeed as long as they have high-tech allies to protect them. Otherwise, high-tech enemies will take their land. Just reproducing a lot is useless in the face of a superior technological foe.

(5) If low fertility results from a genetically-programmed belief that we could be kings and queens and need to get status and power before children, we should see a strong selection pressure for people who *don't* happen to have the genes driving that behavior. This selection pressure would result in a more fertile general population without the need for fertile insular subcultures.

(6) Earth is probably already at a human population too high to sustain in the long-term. It will have to go down sometime, when the resources start running out. Better that it come down by lack of reproduction, than that it come down by mass starvation or war.

But I agree that fertile insular subcultures are likely to continue to increase in population, at least for the next few decades.

Expand full comment
author
Sep 15, 2023·edited Sep 16, 2023Author

These are "communes" so "commune-ism" name seems apt. Most I've read say the UN projects are too high. I noted in the post that these culture may face war problems. Sure we should eventually see selection against current low fertility practices, but that clearly hasn't happened yet, may not happen soon, and insular fertile subcultures may be the main way that happens first. We are far below Earth's carrying capacity.

Expand full comment

Amish and some Orthodox Jews do indeed live in communes, but if you say "communism is returning" you are making people think of Marxist Communism in which all property is held in common. There is no ideological relationship between Marxism and the Amish, or between Marxism and Orthodox Judaism. By modern dictionaries, "Communism" does not mean "people living in communes." https://www.dictionary.com/browse/communism

"I noted in the post that these cultures may face war problems" Point taken. But I think it should not be understated. Lack of ability to defend themselves would prevent low-tech farming cultures from ever becoming dominant on a global scale. If "the few" have tanks and guns (and legal systems set up to justify their use in the name of protecting property), and "the many" do not, then "the few" get their way. Think Native Americans, Australian Aboriginals, the African slave trade, the British Empire.

"we should eventually see selection against our low fertility practices, but that clearly hasn't happened yet" Low fertility *is* Darwinian selection. You proposed that it was our genes that led us to seek status before children. It's clearly the case, that genes that lead to low fertility in the current environment, are being selected against. It may take some time before this selection pressure reverses the low fertility, but it is clearly a current pressure.

"We are far below Earth's carrying capacity." It's a controversial question. Clearly, humanity does not currently have a sustainable impact on the planet; we're causing mass extinctions, we're killing the forests, we're depleting limited fossil fuels, we're causing global warming, we're filling our environment with microplastics. Everywhere you look you see limited resources dwindling or being polluted. If we keep living like we are living, we are clearly over sustainable carrying capacity and have been for a long time. If we revolutionize the way we live, maybe not.

Expand full comment
author

I clarified at length re "communism" in the second sentence of the post.

Expand full comment

I think something important that is left out of this analysis is that the fertile subcultures that exist today, are only a small subset of the possible set of fertile cultures, namely those that can survive on the fringes of a bigger subculture, this probably explains why many of the subcultures listed seem so "progressive" so to speak, that is a more extreme subculture would likely have been destroyed by the larger society. Relatedly I think if you even look at the more extreme groups such as the FLDS or say other fundamentalist LDS groups, they are pretty progressive by historical standards and yet are being constantly attacked for being too regressive and such. I suspect as these insular groups grow you will start to see some of them become less "progressive" in ways that still allow them to avoid triggering the maladaptive set of heuristics, this is perhaps even more of a reason for moderns to be concerned about such a future. I also don't think its too unlikely that DNA evolution could occur fast enough to be relevant, which would have all sorts of strange consequences.

Expand full comment
author
Sep 15, 2023·edited Sep 15, 2023Author

I agree that such subcultures are selected for being tolerated by the larger societies. But that selection pressure will get stronger, not weaker, as they get larger, though weaker again after they get so large that they can defy opposition.

Expand full comment

Start taxing religions / churches. I bet that will help in many many ways, for the future.

Politicians are too scared because the cults have a power hold across the world, especially with influence.

Expand full comment
author

Is this plan intended to increase or decrease fertility?

Expand full comment

Won’t it just be VC’s funding young women to move to network states and pop them out? Seems less like communism to me than Fertility Capitalism.

Expand full comment
author
Sep 17, 2023·edited Sep 17, 2023Author

In the absence of slavery, how would such VCs get a return on their investment? Yes, VCs could pay people to have kids, but once grown those kids are free to go wherever they want for the best pay and deal.

Expand full comment

My guess is that the new mothers will agree to give them a percentage of the money their kids generate through their labor after they become adults. Sort of like a multi-generational OnlyFans for the Trad set. I personally find it abhorrent, but this is the way the wind is blowing.

Expand full comment
author
Sep 18, 2023·edited Sep 18, 2023Author

I can imagine investors wanting to require such a cut in their deals long before I can imagine new mothers just voluntarily paying without such a deal requirement. But anti-slavery laws forbid those deals now I think, and I doubt public is willing to change those laws.

Expand full comment

I think the women will agree to do it voluntarily, unfortunately.

Expand full comment

Sounds expensive. Would be cheaper for those benefiting from network state activities to seed local wombs where a network state is allowed to temporarily flourish (by the local population, not necessarily existing the local jurisdiction(s) government(s)).

Expand full comment

Local populations aren’t going to be receptive to this kind of thing. You need to create new experimental countries with their own governments. These young women will be on the budget and recruited from urban hubs. There is nothing communist about this process, as it is entirely voluntary. It’s the Trad alternative to OnlyFans. Calling it Fertility Capitalism is more honest.

Expand full comment
author

This requirement makes this scenario even less likely to have a substantial effect on world population.

Expand full comment

Yeah, I believe it is going to start small like this. Not sure how much it will take off beyond these network states, but pretty sure it will be a thing within them.

Expand full comment

I would think there would be some existing analogous behavior already going on of voluntarily recruiting young women from urban hubs transparently and in the open, at least compared to jurisdictions where sex tourism (despite whatever local laws are) was rampant pre-covid (like places in LATAM and SEA) who have already/seeking to leverage the same tools that budding network states are reliant upon (mainly to work around eurodollar scarcity)

Expand full comment

The cost of a surrogate mother is ~$90k, and there are an estimated 2 million couples in the US waiting to adopt a child. If we had $180bn to spend we could get ourselves some babies.

Expand full comment

Don’t you see pro-natalist fascism as an alternative to the possible future of birth and civilization collapse? For instance, a repressive regime could restrict female agency and force them to have higher fertility rates under threat of severe penalties, something certainly not feasible in liberal democracies, but maybe a possibility for public policy choice in an authoritarian panopticon. Maybe the Chinese system could be proven to be more resilient to modernity and defeat the Western model if they choose this path and solve their fertility issues. I believe that a repressive Leviathan could actually present solutions to this problem in a way shorter span than your model of organic cultural evolution.

Expand full comment
author

All leaders must please their "selectorates". So which ones have a selectorate that see such repression as in their interest? If having kids isn't a good financial investment at an individual level, why would it be a good investment at a nation level?

Expand full comment

Except, as my birth country and many of its neighbors show, selectorate for rulers may well be a narrow elite with interests unaligned to larger populace, controlling the latter through fear, corruption, poverty, and apathy. I doubt Turkmenistan exit visas or Chinese firewall are exceptionally popular measures.

Expand full comment
author

If those elites do not find it in their personal interest to pay to have their own kids, why would they find it in their nation's interest to pay? Think through the cost benefit calculation.

Expand full comment

...Because paying for others to have children is more psychologically pleasing for such people than spend their own lives (not to mention that most of them do have children)? That's literally more or less how "maternity payment" in Russia works.

Expand full comment

I don’t understand this argument. Sometimes incentives on individual behavior generate aggregate equilibria that are not the social optimum. It’s the role of policy makers to identify positive externalities and subsidize shifts in individual behavior implementing different incentive schemes. As fertility becomes the biggest bottleneck to civilization stability, way more than the hysteria du jour(climate change), it is pretty rational that fascist political leaders(with fewer constraints around mobilization of national resources) and interest in self-aggrandizement and national rejuvenation choose that path of forcing higher fertility rates.

Expand full comment
author

I'm asking you to *identify* the specific market failure in kids such that what doesn't make sense for individuals makes sense for their nations.

Expand full comment

As you’ve tirelessly mentioned, the main vector is more social expectancy and investment on an individual/ family level. I see antagonistic interests in the family vs state level in the context of great power competition/ in our world West vs China. The model that has more births, more human capital, more innovation, more economies of scale wins and survives. Chinese elites see the West as an existential threat to their grasp on power and could have their interests aligned with the pro-natalist side.

Expand full comment

I could see ways to make it more palatable to larger portions of society, even if deeply unpopular in other segments. It would mean a return to a more patriarchal system, men would gain status at the expense of women, most of them would be satisfied with this situation and wouldn’t be willing to counteract it. I see the CCP leader with more discretion as well on the change of social markets and cultural manipulation toward his pro-natalist goal because of his monopoly on information flows and cultural production. I could attempt to use his propaganda machine to improve the status of traditional gender roles, etc. I see viable ways for what I call pro-natalist fascism.

Expand full comment

social markers*

Expand full comment

This political system could be more adaptive to modernity in the same way that hierarchical complex agricultural societies were on aggregate more adaptive than their predecessors, even at a loss of status and comfort for most subjects for several parts of its existence. I could see a 21st century leader with Mao/Stalin levels of psychopathy go doesn’t give a damn about pleasing the subjects actually pushing this forward.

Expand full comment

Positive externalities on aggregate in term of innovation and economies of scale.

Expand full comment
author

Those are mostly global externalities, not in a single nation's interest to counter.

Expand full comment

I will re-express this in more general way: persistent regression on military power is almost imposible. Any future with a military technology less developed than that of 1950 is imposible, except perhaps a post nuclear war one, and even that is unlikely. All scenarios of future shall be compatible with the extreme selective pressures among political systems. That is precisely “History”.

Expand full comment
Oct 1, 2023·edited Oct 1, 2023

1. Could you elaborate on prestige status versus dominance status? It strikes me that prestige is one means to assert dominance. Listen to the person that knows what's going on. Everyone wants an Ivy League degree, because it indicates a level of intellectual prestige, and everyone prefers a smart king if they have to be ruled.

2. The consequences of the trigger (like invest in status over more children) may be more than necessary to explain much of the fertility decline. More parsimonious would be overinflated self-evaluation. Everyone has candidate/not candidate ranges on the mate distribution. If I am at percentile X, but self-evaluate at percentile Y (Y > X), then not only am I cutting out actual candidates that are on par or greater than my true reproductive value (Y - X % of population), I'm also restricting myself to a range with a very low likelihood of accepting me as a mate: P(X_signal | Y). Could get fancy and manipulate X's signaling skill, or account for people at Y with inflated self-valuation, but you get the point. Finding a mate may take longer, perhaps never.

Expand full comment

> This cultural displacement may involve a lot of conflict

It is not only conflict but likely a general loss of human values and universal human rights.

My understanding of how societies arrive at human rights is that in larger and more heterogenous societies the only common denominator are these idealistic far-mode rights. Depite being far they do serve to unite and lead to actual guarantees and processes. More insular cultures don't need them structurally and thus the loss of them seems likely.

Table of some charters of rights:

https://chat.openai.com/share/3bf52812-50ed-47e6-a6e9-e230c49c6285

Expand full comment

Worth mentioning that the best predictor of fertility isn't wealth, but female education. If this holds iver the next century, the obvious real-world implications are far different.

Expand full comment

As the economy continues to grow faster than the population the market, governments or a combination of both could find ways to produce cheap labor prefaced by big advances in simulated minds, material sciences and/or biotechnology. That doesn’t discount “Commune-ism”, it could still be the norm in large sections of society in such a future. I guess it would depend on if cost of living keeps trending down.

Expand full comment

A lot of this analysis doesn't apply to orthodox jewish communities

A) they don't tend to be small communities nor do they tend to be agrarian- they're almost exclusively urban

B) while more "litvish" communities don't have a clearly delineated hierarchy, chassidic communities do complete with an "altar rebbe" (a chief rabbi) and "meyuchas" (noble isn't a literal translation of the word, but they are treated as such in matchmaking) families, commanding large dowries and high value partners. But there is no difference in fertility (in fact hassidish fertility may be higher)

Expand full comment
author

What status markers make one seem an apt chief rabbi or noble, and how much effort are families spending on trying to achieve such markers in their kids, and why doesn't that effort compete with fertility?

Expand full comment

It's mostly familial ties (though men can marry in by being a top tier student)

People to make huge sacrifices to get into top yeshivot (if we don't get accepted to this top kindergarten he'll never get into Harvard type) but all of that occurs before marriage. (Though striving to get into top yeshivot happens in litvish communities as well if not more)

When a rebbe of a strand of hassidut (usually) dies, the new rebbe is almost always a son or son in law of his

Expand full comment
author

What makes a woman a good candidate to be rabii's wife? Why aren't her parents tempted to have fewer kids to invest more in making her a good candidate for that role?

Expand full comment

Being a rabbis daughter and a large dowry (as well as universal things like being a good person)

The former scales well and the latter does not

But I think the better explanation here isn't one of subconscious evolutionary status games but simply the conscious will to "be fruitful and multiply" which is considered to be divinely commanded

((Will also add a seperate side point here about birth control; it's quite widely used by religious jews in the first three months for example or to ensure proper spacing between children, "modern orthodox" jews who use birth control very liberally still have a birth rate around 3 in the US and 4-5 in Israel))

Expand full comment

I think this is a quite plausible scenario in general. What it fails to take into account is that in the several century timespan we should have a decent chance at radical life extension.

I haven't created a model, but even a few more decades of reproductive window per person would drastically improve fertility. At even more extreme cases even if families tend to have one children at any point, they will be able to raise 3+ if they have a fertility window of a century.

Expand full comment
author

That might happen. But then again it might not.

Expand full comment

I'm not convinced the best reproductive strategy for a medieval baron would have been a bid for the throne, surely he already has ample resources to support lots of kids. Also, is there even a strong trade of between and social advancement and having children? I doubt a baron would be inverting much time personally in raising them.

If anything, it's the peasants that have the most incentive to limit fertility it seems to me, as a hedge against resource scarcity.

Couldn't you tell a story where higher inequality sends signals to take less risk, and attempt to raise fewer kids?

Expand full comment
author

A Baron is already a "king" for the purpose of my analysis above.

Expand full comment

It is not so bleak. Liberal metaculture recruits people from these subcultures at some non-zero rate. Liberal metaculture doesn't have to be super strong to act as a middle man and negotiating ground for illiberal subcultures to engage in positive sum trades.

Expand full comment
author

The Amish retain 92% of kids, of both genders.

Expand full comment

Yes, and that's the high end. If we have 8% - 20% attrition from traditional subcultures and we assume that half that amount end up holding socially productive positions in the old regime that is all the liberal metaculture needs to keep productive interchange between subcultures and institutional liberalism running.

Expand full comment

Seems to me the whole argument assumes a static society where knowledge and tech do not advance (no super intelligent AI and no advanced robotics doing most essential jobs in the future) and thus any conclusions are dodgy at best.

An 1850 estimate of the horse population of New York City in 1950 would have been laughable in hindsight. Seems to me a likely global population for humans in 2123 is either zero (all digital persons or all dead from a disaster) or some huge number of transhuman persons and perhaps few un-enhanced humans living in a commune somewhere just as there are still a few horses wandering about NYC.

Expand full comment