The Future that Did Not Happen

I have just been looking at a 1943 report of population projections for the United States through the year 2000.  This was produced by the Scripps Foundation for the National Resource Planning Board, and so reflects the best estimates of the big brains of that time.  As with all such projections, this report describes several possibilities based on various assumptions with respect to fertility, mortality and immigration.   Their absolute high-end projection for 2000 was just over 198 million, which turns out to be a little under 100 million short of the actual number.

Had their highest possible estimate been correct, the population of the United States would have grown by 43 percent in the second half of the twentieth century, whereas, in fact, it more than doubled.  The middle-range projections predicted that the national population would grow by around 20 percent between 1945 and 2000, rising to a number just 60 percent of today’s total.  Two of the twelve scenarios showed a shrinking population.

The report expected fertility to rebound from the suppressed level of the depression and war years, but did not fully anticipate the baby boom.  It’s high fertility rate for white women was 2.1.  It also somewhat underestimated probable declines in mortality.   Its staggering and stupendous error was, of course, in its underestimation of immigration, which it described as the one factor entirely in the hands of legislators and “national policy.”

24 thoughts on “The Future that Did Not Happen

  1. Pingback: The Future that Did Not Happen | @the_arv

  2. Pingback: The Future that Did Not Happen | Reaction Times

      • That the best estimate of fertility was 2.1 does not speak highly of enduring Christian character. How could a prosperous Christian society in a largely empty land not grow fast?

      • U.S. population grew very rapidly in the 19th century: four-fold between 1800 and 1850, three-fold between 1850 and 1900, two-fold between 1900 and 1950. You will note that the doubling time was cut in half between the early nineteenth century and the early twentieth century, and this despite huge increases in immigration. The “emptiness” of the land is not to be judged by looking at wide open spaces. It is to be judged by labor shortages reflected in wages. The men writing this report in 1943 did not expect the post-war boom, although they hoped we wouldn’t return to the depression. They expected a return to a low-wage (labor surplus) economy. If they had predicted the post-war economic boom, I think they would have predicted a larger post-war baby boom. The real change is the childless prosperity after 1970.

  3. When I was born, in 1954 in Santa Monica, the population of India was something like 400 million. When I took geography in the seventh grade, it had risen to 800 million and by the time I graduated from high school it was one billion. The discussion of India in the geography text book — and indeed the discussion of India generally in those days — emphasized the thronging character of Indian cities and the pervasive poverty and poor hygiene. And it linked these dysfunctions and others to the perpetually swelling population.

    I confess that it shocks me that the population of the USA is now over 320 million. My shock originates in an Aristotelian conviction that the maximum manageable population of the polis is fifty thousand, but that ideally the polis should keep its number well below that. The notion of a republic of 320 million people is not only an absurdity — it is a monstrosity. I believe that it contributes to the explanation why the USA is swiftly becoming a dictatorship, in the name, of course, of democracy. I foresee the Deluge…

  4. Not only was the national population half its present size, but politics at the state and local level was more consequential. Missouri was bigger than the ideal polis, but it was closer to the IP than to our Leviathan empire. You are old enough to remember that population growth used to be a Big Problem, and how the arguments included crowding and environmental degradation Right Here. Many Americans had fewer children in the belief that this would ensure that the children they did have wouldn’t have to live in the overcrowded country that those children did, nevertheless, have to live in.

    • And in now-choked and gridlocked Los Angeles, there was (oh, those halcyon days!) a vastness of open space and a freedom to explore it. Gone, gone — both. The population of greater Los Angeles is now, I believe, something like twelve million people (close to Chinese super-city scale), maybe larger. Syracuse, New York, the closest “big city” to me boasts only about 240, 000, but, I swear, the majority of its neighborhoods look like the poverty and dysfunction in the photographs illustrating the National Geographic article about India back in 1966.

      You write: “Not only was the national population half its present size, but politics at the state and local level was more consequential.” Yes — the sheer number swallows up the distinction between the states, and between distinct polities in the states, and makes local government less and less possible.

    • It’s not any sort of an argument. I suppose one might come away with a healthy suspicion of experts, reports, and government statistics. I do think there is a difference between birth control and contraception, and I would certainly argue in favor of the former. To “be fruitful and multiply” is not to get every single child it is possible to get out of our wives.

  5. Evidently the population prognosticators of 1943 (or, big brains, as you call them) didn’t foresee the coming of the 89th Congress and the Hart-Celler Act of 1965.

  6. They recognize that it would be possible for the country to return to an immigration policy like that before 1924, but evidently think that unlikely. Very few people wanted that, which is why those who did want it sold the HCA with such whopping lies.

    • Not only did very few people want it, but I would also say that the HCA was clearly unconstitutional by any standard of “constitutionality” that recognizes and respects “delegated” vs “reserved” powers. Of course that was all the natural outgrowth of the 14th Amendment, Incorporation, the school of “occupying a field and intending a complete ouster,” and all that. It just required a little time and “baby steps” perpetually moving in that direction. But I think it is fairly clear that the 39th Congress as a body at least stated that it had no intention of overthrowing fundamental Constitutional principles such as the right of individual States to determine e. g. voting qualifications for its residents, or the admission of immigrants within their own jurisdictions. Of course Senator Howard was fairly clear about the scope of section one of the amendment, declaring that it excluded at least three distinct classes of persons, namely children born in the US to aliens, to foreigners, and the US-born children of foreign diplomats. All of which is moot at this point, but nevertheless.

  7. @Winstonscrooge. “Is this an argument in favor of birth control?” JM’s argument, it seems to me, is an argument for responsible procreation. A policy of responsible procreation would, for example, eliminate the preposterous “birthright citizenship” said by the Left to stem from the Fourteenth Amendment. Such a policy might also restrict welfare, which in many cases has incentivized what from a national perspective qualifies as non-responsible procreation. The declaration, “Go ye forth, be fruitful and multiply,” is not an invitation for a tribe, a community, or a nation to become a teeming, chaotic hive — as the great event in which Noah figures so dramatically attests. Clearly, in that moment, Yahweh had made the judgment that fewer, for the time being, rather than more, might be better the better condition. The numerous non-Biblical Deluge Myths from around the world — even in the Pacific islands — suggest that the ethos of responsible procreation arises from a deep and ancient wisdom.

    • Responsible procreation sounds a lot like “family planning.” Family planning sounds a lot like “Planned Parenthood.” Planned Parenthood sounds a lot like state sanctioned and funded abortion and unnatural contraception. Unnatural contraception sounds a lot like “playing God.”

      • Historically, the most common means of responsible procreation was deferred marriage (and chastity before marriage). Responsible young men from responsible families did not take a wife until they could support her, and when they did take a wife they preferred one with some but not too many years of peak fertility left in her. In the 19th century, this often meant a man of about 30 wedding a woman about 22 (and not 14). That choice reduced his prospective family by about 4. Irresponsible young men sired bastards (or “foundlings,” as they would have been called), or married a woman of 14 the moment they felt the fire down below. Anyone who doesn’t marry at puberty and plow their wife nightly is practicing a form of family planning.

      • I’m not arguing against “responsible procreation” per se, but more against the tendency of the common herd to carry such terminology to the extreme, or to its excess. “Anything taken to its extreme is bad,” as I have said many many times before.

    • “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States . . . .”

      The Left may be accused of many preposterous things, but reading birthright citizenship from the plain language of the 14th Amendment is not one of them. Whether it is a good idea or not, it is in the text. It is far less preposterous than reading a right to abortion/gay marriage into the Constitution.

    • as the great event in which Noah figures so dramatically attests

      Yes, but that judgment was based upon the wickedness, not the number of humans. I don’t recall a passage reading “I shall smite them because they are too numerous,” but I could be working from an abridged version of Scripture I suppose.


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