Arnon Grunberg



On decline and nice countries – The Economist:

‘Between 2010 and 2020 the number of people in the country grew by around 7.4%. That was the slowest decade of growth since the Great Depression (when the population grew by 7.3%). In the 1990s the growth rate was 13%. The main culprit is falling birth rates. The total fertility rate—a measure of how many children a typical woman will have in her lifetime—was steady or rising for 30 years from the mid-1970s. In 2008, however, it fell below 2.1, the level needed to keep the population stable, and has since declined to 1.67 (see chart 1). If it remains below 2.1, only immigration can keep the population growing in the long run. Yet net immigration, too, has been falling since the 1990s.’


‘The phenomenon is hardly unique to America. The populations of many other rich countries are growing even more slowly or shrinking. So are those of many developing countries. That of China, America’s biggest geopolitical rival, shrank in 2023 for the second year in a row. Its fertility rate has tumbled to just 1.15 children per woman. Russia’s population is smaller than it was in 1991. America’s demographic problems are much smaller than those of its peers. Yet there are reasons to worry that America will adapt to slow growth even less readily than other countries.’


‘Between 2010 and 2020 just two states lost population: Mississippi and West Virginia. The population of Illinois was essentially unchanged. All the rest grew. But in 2021, 17 out of 50 shrank. The pandemic doubtless exacerbated the trend, but internal migration shows no sign of stopping, so these contractions are in all likelihood a sign of things to come.’


‘But the biggest problem is that, once a place starts shrinking, it can set in motion reinforcing cycles that accelerate the decline. For example, when there is far more housing available than people to fill it, the result tends to be a collapse in the value of homes. If it is severe enough, landlords and even homeowners stop maintaining their properties, because the cost of repairs is higher than the return they will generate. As the resulting blight spreads and neighbourhoods begin to feel hollowed out, the incentive to stay is reduced even further. This is what is called a death spiral.
Death spirals tend to be worse in America because of the remarkable level to which the government is decentralised. Just 8% of spending on primary and secondary education comes from the federal government, for example, and less than a quarter of the spending on law enforcement. Local and regional authorities levy 48% of all tax collected in America, compared with just 20% in France and 6% in Britain (see chart 2). And even America’s federal spending typically comes in the form of grants linked to population levels. So when local tax revenues shrink, services must be cut or taxes must rise.’


‘Yet much of the recent slowdown in America’s population growth dates to Mr Trump’s presidency when, even before the pandemic, net migration fell by a quarter as his administration deliberately gummed up the immigration services. If he is re-elected, Mr Trump promises “the largest domestic deportation operation in American history”, to remove illegal immigrants. (Admittedly Mr Trump says that he is in favour of legal immigration. He occasionally promises a “big beautiful door” as well as “a big beautiful wall”. But he wants to let in only people from “nice” countries.)’

Read the article here.

Forget Sicily, some part of eastern Germany, parts of France and Spain, where population decline turned villages and town into places for ghost. The death spiral in the US is going to be even uglier. Yes, you can buy real estate for a few dollars, in poor condition, and don’ count on services in the neighborhood.

Immigration is a temporary solution. It all depends on how you define ‘nice countries.’ But look at Meloni in Italy, even democratically elected dictators or would-be dictators realize that they need immigrants in order to survive, even if they officially hate them.

For many regions and towns in the US the immigrants will come too late, if they come at all to these places.

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