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Do You Believe That Demography Is Destiny?


Your disposition toward certain phrases or ideas can reveal a great deal about your psychology.

"Demography is destiny" is an aphorism that's repeated in the political and financial media with considerable frequency these days. Does it ring true to you?

In this article, I won't address the relative merits of this statement or its application to such issues as economic growth, social security, and health care.

It is my contention that as an investor, it's far less important that you come to understand whether this statement is true than you gain self-knowledge as to why this aphorism rings true to you.

Profiling Demographic Determinists

I invite readers to reflect on the ideological and psychological profile of commentators that are fond of quoting the phrase, "demography is destiny."

On its face, "demography is destiny" is a notion that could have positive or negative implications for the fate of a given society depending on its particular demographic profile. Every society has different demographics. Thus, one would expect this phrase to be utilized in the context of describing the relatively "favorable" demographics and destinies of some societies as often as it is used in the context of portraying the relatively "unfavorable" demographics and destinies of others.

However, the funny thing is that this aphorism is almost exclusively employed by commentators in a pessimistic light. This phrase has been employed in support of forecasts of doom and gloom for just about every society on earth.

Thus, we were warned by Thomas Malthus in the 19th century, by Paul Erlich in the 1960s, and by their modern-day environmentalist intellectual heirs that the impending "population explosion" will produce any number and manner of global calamities. Predictions include mass famine, global warming, "peak oil," and world wars sparked by competition by expanding populations in search of finite resources.

Simultaneously, many commentators that are fond of reminding us that "demography is destiny" have been warning of the disastrous consequences of the "baby deficit," "the graying of the population," and other such monikers that describe stagnant-to-declining population levels. We are constantly warned by these prophets of doom that because of declining birth rates, soon there won't be enough young working-age people to support the financial burden of taking care of all the old non-working-age people, thereby leading to economic, financial, and social meltdown.

When analyzing the prospects for societies in Africa and Latin America we're frequently told by "experts" how rising populations there will lead to an increase in hunger and misery. At the same time, "expert" commentators don't seem to tire of repeating the prediction that stagnant-to-declining populations in Europe and East Asia will lead to the decline and eventual collapse of those economies and societies.

In sum, the aphorism that "demography is destiny" is employed to support the view that rapid population growth will cause disaster, and simultaneously to support the view that that stagnant-to-declining population growth will cause disaster.

We are damned either way!

The Psychology of Pessimism

Have you ever heard an optimist say that "demography is destiny?" I haven't.

I believe there's a good reason for that, and it has little to do with the truth or falsity of various arguments that are based on demographic data. It has to do with psychology.

Specifically, it is my contention that an emotional predisposition to the concept of "inevitability" conjured by the term "destiny" is what tends to "select" for the type of people that are attracted to this notion.

The concept of "inevitability" plays a central role in the psychology of people whose mind frame is characterized by pessimism, in my view. There are several reasons for this.
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