The other morning my family and I ogled a beautiful one-day-old infant girl featured on Fox News as the 300 millionth American. She was so cute that we were prompted to dig out pictures of our own kids as babies.
But, shhh, can you keep a secret? There is no actual baby we can identify as the 300 millionth American. According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, there were about 11,265 people born per day in 2004. Assuming they were born at all hours of the day, that's about 470 per hour. But as the Census Bureau website further explains:
"[T]he nation's population will reach the historic milestone of 300 million on Oct. 17 at about 7:46 a.m. (EDT) . . . "
The estimate is based on the expectation that the United States will register one birth every seven seconds and one death every 13 seconds, while net international migration is expected to add one person every 31 seconds. The result is an increase in the total population of one person every 11 seconds.
In other words, we have no idea who the magic 300 millionth person may be. It could be a new immigrant, or it might be the blinking, yawning little wonder we watched on the news. Statistics can be misleading. Recall the politician who, when told that overpopulation in Mexico was so extreme because "every 60 seconds, a woman gives birth," declared, "We've got to find that woman and stop her!"
Some news outlets greeted the advent of the 300 millionth American with anxiety. There were worried references to pollution and scarce resources, sprawl and crowded classrooms. The same headlines could have greeted the 200 million milestone passed in 1967 -- and that's about how up to date those analyses are.
In fact, there are many more reasons to celebrate our fecundity than to lament it. Let's step back and look at the rest of the developed world.
In the 1980s, we were instructed that Japan's economic juggernaut would overwhelm us in short order. But today, Japan, like so many wealthy, developed nations, is failing to reproduce. Japan's birth rate is among the lowest in the industrialized world, and its rate of decline is the fastest. The graying sumo, now weighing in at 127.7 million (Asia Times), is expected to shrink in half in 70 years. Absent immigration (and the Japanese have never been keen on that), younger workers will face punishing tax rates to support the swollen ranks of retirees.
In Europe, fertility rates are similar. A replacement birth rate is 2.1 children per woman. As Mark Steyn points out in his droll but devastating book "America Alone" (Chapter One: "The Gelded Age"), a number of countries in Europe (Greece: 1.3, Italy: 1.2, Spain: 1.1, Russia: 1.14, United Kingdom: 1.6) have fertility rates "from which no human society has ever recovered."