A shrinking Europe?

The Economist’s cover story this week is a blockbuster (you may need to subscribe to see the story). The message is simple: the population of Europe is – almost everywhere – falling or about to fall, while the population of America is climbing steadily. There’s a strong likelihood that by 2050 there will be half a billion Americans and fewer Europeans than there are now. The US economy could be twice the size of Europe’s, even after the addition of the new member States to the East. In the meantime, the European population will be aging fast while the US population, bolstered by higher birth-rate immigrants, will be younger and more productive. The economic and geo-political implications are obvious.

If European birth rates cannot be raised (and changing reproductive habits from above is notoriously difficult and unpopular) then immigration must be encouraged if a century or more of decline is to be averted. Now would be a good time to start – while Europe basks in its (surely temporary) popularity amongst refugees and migrants from the East. The flow must be organised and encouraged. Infrastructure must be put in place to train and support incomers.

Governments must make honest efforts to challenge public (and media) hysteria about immigration. It has been plain for decades that absolute population decline was likely in Europe but the American statistics suggest a more drastic fall relative to the US, our primary competitor. We have an opportunity right now to avert our own demographic emergency while meeting the needs of millions of needy (and economically productive) people. Fat chance.