Depopulocalypse II – Solutions That Don’t or Won’t Work
A look at what we've already tried, and what we probably shouldn't try
In the first instalment in this series, we looked at the features of the Depopulocalypse: the global phenomenon of fertility collapse in countries rich and poor that threatens to leave our world an exhausted Granny State; the consequences that we are already dealing with, such as the fallout from mass replacement immigration that Western countries have adopted as a genocidal band-aid; and the various structural factors driving this poisonous doom loop.
I’m far from the only one writing about this. A couple of recent essays made valuable contributions to this discussion which are well worth your time.
Raw Egg Nationalist wrote about ‘securing the means of reproduction’ in The Rules of the Gamete. His focus is historical, using the Spartans, Scythians, and Comanche to demonstrate that other societies have struggled with low birth rates in the past ... and paid the price for failing to solve it. He also looks at biological factors, such as the roles played by obesity and declining testosterone, and likely culprits such as seed oils and plastics, elements of the problem I drew attention to as well.drew my attention to Industrial Civilization Needs a Biological Future by Adam Van Buskirk, recently published by Palladium. Van Buskirk’s understanding of the problem is encyclopedic, and his grasp of the stakes goes straight to the point: without the vigour and creativity of a youthful and energetic population, our descendants will never travel to the stars our ancestors navigated by. He argues, I think convincingly, that the primary problem is not one of economics, but rather of values. We place more importance on career, consooming, and empty hedonism than we do on the future, and as a result have become a society that is, not to put to fine a point on it, Determined to Die. As Buskirk argues, if we want the future to be something more interesting than endless Amish villages and superstitious third world peasants scratching a living in the dirt beneath the crumbled remains of skyscrapers and space shuttles, we need to find a way to reconcile fecundity with industrial civilization.
The ultimate goal of this essay is to articulate solutions to society’s barren womb. Before looking at what I consider more practical solutions, however, it’s worth taking the time to consider measures that have already been tried, as well as some of the darker resolutions to the fertility collapse that might be implemented if things become sufficiently hopeless.
III. What We’ve Already Tried
A few different strategies have already been developed to try and deal with low fertility. As mentioned in the opening essay, most of them try to address the consequences of low fertility, e.g. replacement migration or robotics. The former is an abomination and the latter is unproven. Neither do anything about the root problem.
A few countries have adopted policies aimed at reversing the disease rather than simply mitigating its symptoms. These have met with mixed success, and by ‘mixed’ I mean very much on the margins.
Probably the best known example due to all the screeching about the similarity to mid-century German political ideologies is Hungary, where mothers are given tax breaks for each child they have, with women who have four kids winning a lifetime exemption from income tax. So far this doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference: Hungary’s fertility rate has been more or less flat at around 1.5 births per woman since 2017 or so. That said, fertility ticked up a bit after the policy was enacted in 2019, from 1.501 to 1.540 in 2023. So it might have had an effect, although not enough of one to get Hungary up to replacement, let alone natural growth. The ancient Hungarian people are simply disappearing a bit more slowly.
A lot of countries, particularly wealthy countries with generous welfare states, have various government programs intended to help parents out: tax benefits, subsidized child care, extended maternity leave, and so on. Since fertility rates remain stubbornly low and either flat or more often declining in all of these countries, we can conclude that such inducements don’t work. Canada, for example, gives a monthly ‘baby bonus’ of up to around CAD500 (about USD360) a month. While the money helps, it certainly isn’t going to incentivize parents to have kids. At least not the high-IQ, affluent, educable professionals that we should want to be having more kids. Insofar as it moves the needle it’s on the lowest end of the socioeconomic distribution, the lumpenprole welfare class, for which such money is a meal ticket. I’d rather not end up in Idiocracy, personally.
One reason I think programs like this don’t have much of an effect is that the primary reason parents have children isn’t economic. People have kids for the sake of having kids, not because they want to make money on them. Making it easier to have kids can certainly help a bit, but there’s a hard limit to the degree to which the state can do that. Since government cannot create, but only redistribute wealth – and very inefficiently, at that – the government can only help out so much economically. As with any government program, making it more generous becomes counterproductive very quickly. The money has to come from somewhere. Giving parents so much money that new kids are money-makers for well-off households as well as welfare dependents means ruinous taxes that will make it that much harder for young people to scrape together the money necessary to start families in the first place.
The country that stands out the most is Israel, which alone among the developed states has above-replacement fertility. Israel’s current fertility rate is an astonishingly healthy 2.9. So what makes Israel such an outlier? It’s true that the Israeli state has numerous policies in place intended to boost fertility – for example, making IVF treatment available free at point of use for up to 2 children, in order to assist older women in conception, along with other generous benefits such as subsidized child care and so on, but other countries do this too with essentially no effect. The missing ingredient seems to be cultural. Israel sees itself as a state under siege by history, entrusted with the safe-keeping of an embattled and endangered nation. The Holocaust occupies a prominent place in the national mythology, giving Israelis a powerful sense that they must repopulate. The result is that young Israelis come under powerful pressure to have children. An Israeli woman who is still unmarried and childless at 25 is seen as a tragic figure, while the ideal number of children for an Israeli family is 3, rather than the 2 more commonly aspired to across the post-Christian world.
While Israel’s fertility rate is substantially higher than that of countries with comparable education levels and incomes (Israel has the 13th-highest per capita GDP on the planet), the Israeli model is not the full answer. The trend in Israeli fertility is still downwards: Israel’s fertility rate was 3.1 just a few years ago, but was 4.5 in 1950. At the current rate of decline it’s estimated to sink below replacement in the 2070s ... much better than the rest of the post-West, which has been sub-replacement for around five decades, but the direction is nevertheless still an unhealthy one.
IV. Dystopias Born of Desperation
The Day of the Pillow
Demographic decline turns into demographic collapse due to the unsustainable burden of an inverted population pyramid: the weight of the mushrooming population of elderly invalids crushing the stem of the productive population that supports them. There is an obvious, ruthless solution: push the elders out onto the ice floe. This isn’t so much a future scenario as an ongoing one. Many governments are already implementing it.
Canada has already initiated Medical Assistance in Dying, the creepily acronymed MAiD service that’s been rolled out in the country’s hospitals. Belgium and the Netherlands have been doing the same. The purpose of these programs isn’t really to make it possible for people to kill themselves. Suicide is always an option open to anyone. If you want to end it, just jump off a bridge, walk in front of a transport truck, drive into a wall, hang yourself, eat a bottle of aspirin, set yourself on fire on the steps of Parliament, shoot yourself in a cathedral, barricade yourself in the base commander’s office and commit seppuku when the soldiers fail to rise to your call to renew the glory of the emperor ... the possibilities are limitless, many of them don’t particularly require that you be in perfect health, and all of them are more dignified than asking permission from the state.
No, the purpose of state-sponsored euthanasia programs – which literally translates as ‘good death’, an interesting euphemismfor suicide – is to normalize the idea of voluntarily terminating one’s own life rather than becoming a burden on the health care system. With the balance sheets of developed countries set to be washed under by a tsunami of unfunded entitlements, governments are no doubt hoping they can talk their senior populations into embracing the dying of the light before the expense of caring for them becomes ruinous. Of course, you can’t just abruptly walk up to people and tell them “Kill yourself”, particularly not a generation as self-absorbed as the boomers. The idea needs to be introduced many years before, so that they become accustomed to it. Which is precisely what’s being done.
Killing the elderly might well be cost-effective – it’s certainly preferable in many ways to the current American practice of draining familial wealth via the medical system, such that the health insurance companies get everything and the children and grandchildren get nothing, in exchange for which the victim gets a few extra months of painful life– but it doesn’t address the underlying problem of low fertility, which after all started well before the population period began to invert. Embracing death will not bring life. Euthanasia will buy government pension funds some breathing room, and may ease pressure on the productive population, but in and of itself it won’t do anything to increase the birth rate.
The theocratic natalism of the Republic of Gilead isn’t so much a high-probability scenario as an elaborate rape fantasy for unattractive women. If you haven’t watched The Handmaid’s Tale (and I haven’t), or worse yet read it (as I was forced to in university), the set-up for this dystopia is that biological warfare has sterilized the majority of the population, rendering fertile women into a scarce and valuable resource. The state reacts by rounding up all the working ovaries and making them the private property of high-status men, who keep them permanently preggers in a desperate attempt to stave off demographic collapse. This scenario has been a hit for a certain kind of suffragette for a couple of generations now, the most recent versions of whom were inspired by the TV series to show up at anti-Trump protests a few years ago cosplaying as handmaids in order to tell the whole world that they definitely do not want to be made the sexual property of powerful men who would reduce them to objects. Ugh. Which is why they were LARPing as handmaids. Duh.
In all seriousness, I can’t really see this solution being implemented, and not only because there is not a powerful man on the planet who would take Elisabeth Moss to bed no matter how dire the baby crisis. I don’t think there are any governments that have the stomach for it, for one thing. It’s completely incompatible with Christian, and indeed even pagan, notions of sexual morality – monogamous families have roots thousands of years deep in our culture. Moreover, recall that the impetus for this scenario isn’t just people not getting around to having kids until it’s too late, which is the essence of the modern problem. Rather, it posited the biological sterilization of the majority of the human species, such that pregnancy at gunpoint became a grim necessity. Sure, there’s the possible sterilization from the gene therapy shots ... but that doesn’t seem to have affected anything like a majority of recipients, because after all, babies are still being born. As things stand, most people are still fertile, as far as anyone can tell.
We’re a long way from something like this being necessary, in other words. So with apologies to the Handmaid’s Tale fandom, I doubt this will happen.
What about less extreme forms of Gilead? Leaving the harems aside, the essence of this strategy is simply the heavy hand of the state forcing women to have babies. One could imagine a government that makes childbirth a duty, akin to military service in a conscript army, which all fertile women are bound by legal force to undertake, being released from their obligation only once they provide the requisite trio of healthy children. This would be a moral and logistical nightmare. The state would have to play matchmaker for all women unable to find a mate; women would need to be regularly surveilled to ensure they were trying in good faith to conceive; some sort of police force would be required to round up the recalcitrant; and punishments would need to be devised for women who deliberately rendered themselves infertile.
Luridly hideous as all of that sounds, it strikes me as deeply implausible. The primary factors suppressing fertility are all related to deliberate state policies and structural economic factors; a state that sincerely wanted to increase fertility could do so without all the callous brutality, simply be reversing the policies impeding people from having children.
If people keep refusing to have children, maybe we can just start mass-producing them in factories.
This is essentially the Brave New World scenario. Rather than relying on the working population to have kids, exowombs are used to grow them to spec. This has all sorts of advantages on the surface. The genetics can be precisely controlled via ovum and sperm selection. Conditions in the foetal environment can be kept pristine, free of all poisons, toxins, and contaminants, and monitored for optimal light, sound, pressure, moisture, temperature, and nutrient balance. Population can be regulated with precision, too: economic projections, technological development extrapolations, and resource availability surveys can be used to tailor population growth to perfectly match the expected conditions in and requirements of society twenty years down the line.
Much as hatcheries are a technocrat’s wet dream, the dystopian implications that emerge from the practical correlates are equally apparent.
There’s the question of how well exowombs will actually work. I have no doubt the technology is possible – it has already been demonstrated on sheep – but what would we leave out? We’d miss something. That’s guaranteed. The infinite complexity of nature means that every time we look more closely at it, or look at in a new way, we find something we hadn’t previously even known existed. That something often turns out to be very important, in a way that we couldn’t anticipate because, again, we didn’t even know it was there, let alone doing something crucial. So the technology might work but still fail to provide everything a mother’s womb provides, possibly with dire consequences for the health of the children grown in silicone sacks. Baby formula is a fantastic example of this: originally touted as superior to a mother’s milk, we now understand that it is at best a minimally acceptable substitute that falls far short of the real thing.
Then there’s the question of raising children hatched in factories. Children born to mothers are, in general, raised by their parents: two humans who are closer genetically to the child than they are to anyone but their own parents and their other children; who therefore are likely to understand the child’s personality much better than strangers; and who are flooded with oxytocin when the child is born, leading them to bond so closely with the baby that they will happily prioritize its life over their own, and generously provide it with attention, time, and resources without any expectation of that investment ever being paid back.
So what do you do with clutches of children hatched in factories? Do you use human nurses? That sounds like it would get expensive, fast – after all, you’d need to pay them. Moreover, those nurses won’t have anything like the strength of the mother-child bond, which will probably severely emotionally damage the children, although I suppose you might require them to take a shot of oxytocin in the neck as their charges are decanted. To save money, perhaps you try raising them with AIs – each could have their own personalized LLM, for example, maybe embedded in a robot mother capable of emulating the necessary body language, physical interactions, facial expressions, and so on that the baby requires for healthy development. Although again, same problem as the exowomb vs the real womb: you’re going to leave something out, probably quite a bit in fact, and a lot of that will be very important. Plus, would such advanced Large Mother Models really be cheaper, considering the necessity of sophisticated android housings?
Then there’s the question of payback. Parents are happy to invest their lives into raising their children, because they’re wired to do that. The corporate entities or states that would be operating exowomb hatcheries at scale have no such sentiment. They will want a return on their investment. You thought student loan debt was onerous? Imagine reaching the age of majority, and being presented with a $500,000 bill for services rendered, tendered in the form of a loan with an adjustable interest rate. You are now an indentured servant. Probably for life. That said, because the industrial bureaucracy that literally created you also had absolute control over your education, you probably have no problem with this. A perfect slave, really.
I could see this technology being implemented on a much smaller scale, for example to help infertile couples conceive without using surrogate mothers. In that case, you don’t have the problems of how to raise the child: the parents are still there. But this would almost certainly be a very expensive option, available at least initially only to the wealthy, at best a supplement to fertility, certainly not a solution to the crisis itself.
An obvious marketing strategy would be to bill it as a way for women, even women who are perfectly capable of natural conception, to avoid the discomfort and inconvenience of pregnancy and childbirth ... doing for the whole messy issue of pregnancy what bottle formula did for breastfeeding, and thereby “liberating” women yet further from their biology so they can spend more time writing important memos. I would caution women that the long-term, evolutionary-timescale consequences of this path might not be what they like: once women are no longer necessary for the species to reproduce, efficiency could well dictate that the species converge towards a sexless androgyne with whatever residual sex drive it possesses being redirected towards intense interest in whatever economic function it was hatched for. Although maybe feminists might prefer this.
As a final thought, Elon Musk has been talking about the baby bust for years, now. You just know he’s had late-night bull sessions talking about hatcheries as a possible solution. Actually let’s check Google. Yep, of course Musk has been talking about exowomb as a possible solution. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if at some point in the next few years he announces a new business venture. It might even make a lot of money, but as a solution capable of ensuring the perpetuation of Homo sapiens sapiens I’m more skeptical of that than I am of the ability to lithium-ion battery cars to stave off imaginary climate change. It seems like it would be much more expensive than doing it the old-fashioned way, much less likely to produce physically and emotionally healthy humans, and in the long run liable to turn us into something that isn’t human at all.
Now that we’ve looked at policies that have been tried, and have been shown to be ineffective, as well as a few of the more disquieting possibilities for staving off a demographic doom spiral, next we’ll consider how we might actually solve the problem without selling our souls to do it.
Thank you for reading! If you’ve found this interesting, you should probably
And you also probably want to subscribe so you don’t miss the next instalment in this series, in which we’ll look at the cultural and economic changes that might actually be successful in reversing demographic collapse. In the meantime, I have a large number of essays on a wide variety of topics, some of the most popular of which are collected here: on the DIEing Academy, congnitive pain tolerance, America’s prospects in WWIII, Aztec metaphysics, Tonic Masculinity, the Great Demoralization, the WEF’s failing grip on the human imagination, the policy changes that might follow a Canadian civil war, the pernicious influence of safetyism, who are the useless eaters really, and asteroid mining. All of them are available in their entirety for free. That’s right, no paywall! And the incredible generosity of my beloved patrician benefactors is to thank for this.
If you’d like to join their number, just
Upon joining the elite ranks of paying supporters, you will be invited behind the scenes to join the rest of the asteroid belt buccaneers in our secret orbital base on Deimos Station. Postcards From Barsoom is getting very close to a century of supporters – to celebrate, the hundredth supporter will receive a lifetime subscription. Will it be you?
And now that I think about it, euphemism is an interesting word itself – good speech, as though mealy-mouthed circumlocution is preferable to plain speech. Euphemism is its own euphemism.
Countries with socialized health care do the same thing, merely using the state to extrude the feeding tube into household finances.