Saturday, June 23, 2007

Demography As Destiny


The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics believed in the power of demography. So important did the Soviets consider the age-structures of populations to economic and military power that university students were required to study demography in formal classes.

Soviet interest in demography may have been well founded. In the biological world, demography is fundamental to the survival of populations. Only populations whose survival and reproduction rates surmount the various insults of predation, parasitism, disease, and limited resources dodge the constant threats of extinction. As has been famously said, demography is destiny.

At this week's European Union conference to salvage a new Union treaty, one of Poland's two identical ruling twins, Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, argued vehemently in favour of voting power for his country in great disproportion to Poland's actual population. In an argument that shocked the delicate sensibilities of an organization founded in the ashes of World War II precisely to avoid such conflagrations in the future, Kaczynski evoked the millions of potential Poles made phantoms by the Nazis:

If Poland had not had to live through the years of 1939-45, Poland would today be looking at the demographics of a country of 66 million.


It is commonplace in environmental law to advocate for future generations in the interests of intergenerational equity. However, outside anti-abortion advocacy, arguments about the rights of phantom generations are much less common in both politics and law.

In the final agreement among members of the European Union (another notable victory for surprising battler, German Chancellor Angela Merkel), even twin power was not enough for Poland to win this argument. One wonders what the phantom Poles might have thought.

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