‘Low-Birthrate’ Pessimism Will Soon Embarrass the Pessimists

We’re on the verge of being able to unlearn a great deal that we presently know. The latter will be a consequence of the rise of AI that has so many (including AI’s creators) so needlessly scared.

In a world in which we can unlearn skills, we can focus our minds on all manner of new learning. This is called progress. In the past, skill on the farm, on a horse, and overall brute force was most crucial to survival. Now we prosper completely bereft of the knowledge that used to matter.

Stop and think about how wonderful the above truth is. Thanks to automation of all manner of past skills and applications of knowledge, our minds are free to invent an all new future. Machines that do for us, and machines that increasingly think for us, will enable the humans lucky enough to be born in the present and future to accomplish quite a bit more than thousands were capable of producing in the past.

It’s all something to think about as well-meaning and surely brilliant pundits have their genius tripped up by birthrates. The great Sebastian Mallaby is the latest.

In a recent opinion piece about the why behind China’s apparently slowing economy, Mallaby opined that “The deep cause of China’s economic slowdown – and the strongest reason to believe it will be lasting – is its demographic collapse.” Rest assured that when he looks back on his career, Mallaby will regret associating himself with words so at odds with reality.

It’s extra surprising that Mallaby wrote them in consideration of his deep knowledge of venture capital, along with the technologists who access it in order to transform how we live and work. China’s Jack Ma looms large here. As Mallaby surely knows, Ma’s Ant Group processes staggering amounts of loan requests literally within minutes, and it does so quite a bit more accurately than traditional financial institutions staffed by humans could or can. Which is kind of the point.

Ma’s financial innovations that relentlessly push capital to worthy businesses needful of it are the stuff of computers. When businesses and individuals seek a loan from Ma’s various financial institutions, and have them fulfilled within minutes, there’s no interaction with humans.

Yet Mallaby fears declining birthrates in China? The very notion ignores the happy truth that the Chinese being born today, tomorrow, and centuries from now will be matched with technology that will render them the productive equivalent of thousands (and perhaps millions) from the past. Mallaby’s pessimism imagines a world populated by a falling number of humans who are wholly static in their ability to produce. Except that they’re anything but static as Mallaby surely knows.

Importantly, the correlation between technological advance and remarkable human productivity only promises to grow. Considering Ma yet again, and future AI advances more broadly, the workers of the future will be free to pursue frontiers of human progress that any of us living in the moment are not equipped to understand, or imagine. Which likely explains falling birthrates. While kids used to be an economic necessity thanks to relatively slow human productivity, now and in the future they’ll be a choice.

From there, it’s almost a waste of words to point out that in a world increasingly connected by technology, a focus on country birthrates wholly misses the point. Ok, so the previous point has been made in concert with the more brilliant truth about what technology-armed humans will be able to accomplish in the future. It will be amazing, and it will reject all the birthrate-pessimism of the moment.

Republished from RealClear Markets


  • John Tamny

    John Tamny is a popular speaker and author in the U.S. and around the world. His speech topics include "Government Barriers to Economic Growth," "Why Washington and Wall Street are Better Off Living Apart," and more.

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