Sterility as Douthat uses the word refers to the below-replacement birth rates that are observed in almost every advanced nation. Low birth rates have a variety of adverse economic consequences, but that’s not the main point. Societies without many young people “are simply less likely to be dynamic, less interested in risk taking, than societies with younger demographic profiles.” The growing number of young adults who say they don’t even want children is linked with solipsism and anomie. Their rates of depression increase, along with those of people who vaguely wanted to have children but never got around to it.
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The increasing sclerosis of institutions has been documented and widely accepted for half a century thanks to Mancur Olson’s two seminal books, The Logic of Collective Action (1965) and The Rise and Decline of Nations (1982). Institutional sclerosis is baked into the politics of advanced democracies, Olson argued, the result of forces that James Madison anticipated in The Federalist. A small interest group composed of people who are intensely motivated to pass a law or regulation that benefits them can overcome the diffuse opposition of the great mass of the population (the persistence of sugar subsidies is a standard illustration). The response to the COVID-19 pandemic will doubtless provide a worldwide basis for comparing the stages of institutional sclerosis across nations. No one who has studied the functioning of the American administrative state in recent decades can doubt that the United States is suffering from an advanced case.
So far, I have summarized aspects of advanced civilizations that are probably inevitable but are not necessarily all that bad.