Damit die Deutschen nicht Aussterben

By Jack Miles
Volume 6, Number 1 (Fall 1995)
Issue theme: "Infamous immigrants"

Prefatory note by Jack Miles: The United States has no population policy; that is, no agreed-upon targets for the size of its population, the composition of the population by age group, or the relative proportions of native-born and foreign-born. Germany has been no different. Konrad Adenauer said, "People will always have children," and there the matter seemed to rest.

It turns out, however, that Adenauer was wrong: the Germans are not having children (at least not at rates that replace themselves, in the next generation), and the implications for every area of German economic and social policy are enormous. The German writers listed above - among them a former Social Democratic chancellor and the editor of the influential liberal weekly Die Zeit - recently published a manifesto whose title could be translated, Why Germany Must Change. They place the "taboo topic," as they call it, of population policy in their opening chapter.

Given continuing violence against foreigners in Germany, it is revealing to see Germans as liberal and responsible as these soberly contemplating the possibility of the progressive "marginalization" of Germans in their own country: Germans restricted to their own schools, neighborhoods, and rural districts. The Skinheads are no experts in demography. Obscurely, however, they may realize that big changes lie ahead. And it is in part for this reason that these eight people chose to write, each on the problem which seems the most important to him. The most responsible segment of German society needs to react in its own way to what most disturbs the least responsible segment.

The particulars of the population policy these writers propose for Germany cannot be transferred to the United States. But what might well be transferred is, first, their awareness that sudden, drastic change - as recently in the former Soviet Union - can never be ruled out, and, second, their illuminating way of seeing birth rate, health care, day care for the children of working women, social security, work force entry and exit, and, not least important, immigration as profoundly interrelated.

The latest predictions of the Federal Bureau of Statistics about the future development of Germany's population are unambiguous. Absent a change in the birth rate and absent immigration, the population will drop by about one million by the end of the 1990s, by 2.8 million in the following decade, by 4.4 million between 2011 and 2020, and by 5.6 million between 2021 and 2030, for a total decline of 14 million. [Editor's Note: The 1995 population of reunited Germany is approximately 84 million.]

Accompanying this decline in the population is a permanent change in the age distribution. By the year 2030, the over-sixty-year-old proportion of the popula-tion will grow from the present one-fifth to well over one-third. The over-eighty proportion will grow during the same period from just under 4 percent to just under 7 percent. About every fifteenth inhabitant of Germany will then be over eighty. The proportion of under-twenty-year-olds, by contrast, will drop from the present one-fifth down to about one-sixth. The over-sixty figure will thus be, in 2030, more than twice as high as the under-twenty figure. In 1950, the statistical relationship of the two groups was exactly the reverse.

As to its direction, this trend does not differ from what we see in other industrialized countries. However, the process is further along in Germany. Whereas in nearly all other industrialized countries the growth of the native-born population has only slowed sharply or at most come to a standstill, the population figure for Germany is already dropping, so that the trend in population puts Germany about a generation ahead of most other industrialized countries. What this means is, among other things, that Germany will be the first country to gain experience with an absolute shrinkage of the native-born population.

Running counter to the population trend in the industrialized countries and specifically in Germany is the trend in the Third World. There we find most countries in a phase of rapid growth, which, in the opinion of the United Nations, will not subside until the middle of the next century.

By then, the world population will likely have doubled from the present approximately 5.5 billion to easily 11 billion people. During the same period the European proportion of the world population will be halved from about 14 percent to about 7 percent. As for the proportion represented by Germany's population, it would drop from the present 1.5 percent to 0.6 percent.

The German populace1 has various options:

1. It can prepare for its own overall numerical decline and the growth of the elderly portion of the population.

2. It can compensate for its overall numerical decline through immigration, thereby simultaneously slowing the growth of its elderly portion of the population.

3. It can try to bring its birth rate back up to a replacement level.

4. It can link all three measures together.

5. It can let everything ride.

Detailing the Options

Each of these options has its specific advantages and disadvantages.

Option 1: If the populace wants to prepare for its own numerical decline and the relative growth of its elderly component, it will need to cooperate as closely as possible with its neighbors so as to offset its shrinking economic and political weight in Europe and the world. Further, it must avoid placing future burdens either on business or on society.

Adopting this policy would mean a rapid reduction of public indebtedness, the permanent diminution of current - and the avoidance of future - damage to the environment, and the earliest possible funding of investments and investment ideas that take into account the capacities and requirements of a shrinking and aging population. Finally, the public must raise its savings rate, accelerate the increase in its workplace productivity, and enhance its utilization of private means for the care of the old, the sick, and the needy. Among other things, this would entail a radical revision of the statutory social security system, above all as regards care for the old.

If this strategy is consistently followed, the German populace ought to be able, albeit with substan-tial economic and social losses, to get through the coming two to three generations. Thereafter, the relationship between the older and younger portions of the population would again be more balanced than in the intervening time. Germany would be as densely populated as its neighbors, France and Poland. Its population size would place it behind Russia, Ukraine, France, England and perhaps also Italy in sixth place in Europe.

"the populace must formulate

and implement an unambiguous

immigration policy."

Option 2: If the populace proposes to balance its numerical decline via immigration, it must prepare, all the same, for a slower, to be sure, but ever clearer increase in the proportion of the population made up of the elderly. Accordingly, the populace must formulate and implement an unambiguous immigration policy. Within the framework of this policy it must decide how many immigrants should come to Germany, as well as from what regions and within what period of time. In this connection it should be borne in mind that immigration from highly industrial-ized countries is all but out of the question, since in the middle term they will have population problems analogous to Germany's. Further, decisions will need to be made over what age- and qualifications-profile the immigrants should have. In view of the free circulation that exists within the European community, this policy must be carefully cleared with the other countries of the community.

If Germany follows this strategy, fully matching the shortfall in its native-born population with immigrants, then the portion of the population that consists of immigrants, now about a tenth [Editor's note: the immigrant portion of America's population is 8.7 percent.], will have to triple to about 30 percent. In major urban areas, their portion would climb to about 50 percent; in the countryside it would be corres-pondingly smaller. A third of these immigrants would have arrived before the start of the 90s, two-thirds would have arrived later. The majority of these future immigrants would come first from Central and Eastern Europe, later from the underdeveloped countries.

Whether a numerically shrinking and sharply aging populace can integrate, much less assimilate (as many as 600,000 people per year) is uncertain. However, if economic, social and (not least) cultural tensions are to remain bearable, the doubtless costly effort at a comprehensive integration of the immigrants would have to be made. Should this effort fail, turmoil in the community would threaten, and along with it the at least partial marginalization of the German portion of the populace in separate schools, neighborhoods or even tracts of land.

"until about the year 2040,

the demands on the members of

the work force generation

would be quite extraordinary"

Option 3: These probable, rather than merely possible, consequences of Option 1 could be reduced or even avoided if the public were to raise its birthrate to the replacement level in a timely manner. True, even then the population would drop by about one-third. In about two generations, however, it would stabilize at this level. The high proportion of elderly would gradually melt away, and little by little the population would come into a new balance.

Until this point was reached, however, that is, until about the year 2040, the demands on members of the work force generation would be quite extra-ordinary, for they would have to care not only for many old people, but also for one-third more children than during the twenty years just past. The social burden on these breadwinners - consisting as it would of children, as well as of the elderly - would increase more sharply than it would if no change occurred other than the already foreseeable increase in the elderly portion of the population.

If this burden is to remain bearable for the upcoming work force generation, measures must be taken, to begin with, comparable to those taken with regard to the overall decline in the population and the relative increase in the number of the elderly. Above all, economic burdens whose impact comes in the future must be avoided or, as it may be, eliminated as much as possible. Moreover, participation in the work force must increase. To this end retirement dates must be gradually pushed back and the employment entry date of young people moved forward. Simultaneously the work force activity of women must be lightened, this most especially since, if more children are born, necessary arrangements will presumably have to be made for them.

Whether and to what extent this third strategy can succeed is again uncertain. Politically generated movements for an increase in the birthrate - and here the evidence is abundant - have always had only a transitory, and at that a modest, impact.

Option 4: Therefore, the optimal policy ought to consist of all three strategies; that is, (1) preparation for an aging and gradually shrinking population by means of (2) moderate immigration and (3) a measurably higher birthrate.


All the same, this course of action is not simple either. On the contrary, it requires a radical break with the familiar. To that end the populace must immediately be made familiar with the imminent demographic changes. To date this has not happened. In Germany population policy questions have in fact been taboo. The consequence is a widespread misperception of population trends. As studies have shown, the majority still thinks that Germany's population rests on a solid demographic foundation and regards neither a modification of the birthrate nor immigration as necessary for the long-term stabilization of the size and distribution of the population. The attitude of the majority toward children and foreigners reflects this.

Only when large parts of the populace have recognized the seriousness of their situation can there arise a readiness to stop burdening the future with the solution to the problems of the present. The majority must recognize that tasks which can be done today should be done today. For whether the population of Germany shrinks and ages in the future or makes up its losses by immigration, it will be less capable than it is today of bearing political, economic and social burdens. The sentence, "The shoulders of the younger generation are always broader than one's own," which held true for many generations, is true no longer. For the first time in a very long while the shoulders of the younger generation are narrower. For that generation, problems that today are merely hard to solve could prove impossible to solve.

"The previous one-way street -

ever less work for an ever higher

standard of living - will come to an

end not only on ecological, but also

on demographic grounds."

Basically, what this means is that economic and social entitlements built on the demographic supposi-tions of the past are called into question. Their business basis has changed or has already collapsed. Especially hard hit are, for example, all government social entitlements. They stand on the threshold of permanent transformation and even cancellation. However, economic entitlements are also affected. Thus in the wake of the demographic transformation private capacities will increasingly have to fulfill social functions. The individual's lifetime in the work force will again have to lengthen. The previous one-way street - ever less work for an ever higher standard of living - will come to an end not only on ecological, but also on demographic grounds. The birthrate may climb again, but in that case the older generation will only have to do that much more for the younger generation. The grandparental generation, as well as the parental generation, will soon begin noticing this.

Relations With Immigrants

Above all, however, the public will have to rethink and reorder its relations with immigrants. For a long time, the public was not really aware of the immigrants and thought it could get along without them. For that reason it felt them more often as burden than as boon. This, of course, is going to change. Not only will it be harder in the future to achieve given economic and social ends without immigrant help, but sooner or later the public welfare will be imperiled without them. Today's native-born population in Germany therefore will need immigrants in the future no less than the immigrants will need the native-born population.

This certainty of mutual existential dependency must characterize the future relationship of both sides. Only then can it really be fruitful. However, the danger of failure is ever present. All the more urgent, therefore, to prepare the immigrants carefully, to guide them, and to actively shape them. Assuring their success must be a high political priority in the future.

However, neither the politicians nor the public have come to grips with these changes. In practice, both follow the fifth strategy and let things evolve as they will. This strategy is by far the riskiest. Its failure is all but unavoidable. Whether the harm that it has already done to the economy and to society is repar-able cannot be known.

Policy Proposals

What can be known is that Germany must conceive a clear population policy, and, in addition, build up around it the indispensable political and social consensus. Key elements in this conception are:

1. Unburdening the future.

Politicians and society generally ignore the consequences of present behavior for the more distant future, while in the meantime the more distant future becomes the present. The consequence is an ominous overload. This goes for practically all realms of life, including population trends. The denial of the interests of the future begins to threaten survival itself. Accordingly, and on an emergency basis, the combined political, social and economic order needs to be reviewed and, as necessary, revised with a view to its long-term future capacity. The carrying out of this assignment falls not only to the administration and the opposition alike, but also to political parties on both sides, to science and business, and to all responsible organizations, institutions and individuals.

2. Fostering children.

Until about a generation ago the public could trust that without any special collective effort a number of children, at least sufficient for population replacement, would be born. The relative importance of family policy and the societal value placed on child-rearing could then afford to be correspondingly slight. Family policy was for a long time scarcely more than a residual quantity in politics.

But in the interim the principle "people will always have children" (Konrad Adenauer) has ceased to apply, and therewith the most important presuppo-sition of nearly all areas of policy, especially economic and social policy, has undergone a permanent change. The demographic foundation upon which all politics rests has lost its carrying capacity, and this change calls for a thorough-going revision of political priorities.

"only when the reasonable

material and spiritual needs of

children in and out of family units

have been satisfied should society

be allowed to take up any further

sociopolitical chores."

More strongly now than before, policy must be formulated and implemented, with attention to demographic consequences. And in that connection family policy must claim a high priority. Within social policy, family policy must become the first link in the chain of all further sociopolitical measures. For without a solid demographic foundation the entire system of social security will be found wanting.

Concretely, only when the reasonable material and spiritual needs of children in and out of family units have been satisfied should society be allowed to take up any further sociopolitical chores. The birth of children ought not to languish in Germany on grounds of material want. The public must recognize that the raising of children is absolutely its most vital assignment.

3. The formulation and implementation

of a coherent immigration policy.

Through to the end of the 1990s, the shortfall of the native-born population of Germany can be largely made up by the arrival of ethnic Germans from abroad. Further immigration during this period, at least on demographic grounds, would not be required. On the contrary, such immigration could easily worsen the living conditions of the native-born population as well as its long-term age distribution. If further immigration were to be permitted, and if there are good reasons to permit it, it would be exclusively in the interest of the immigrants themselves.

In about a decade, however, this cost-benefit situation should change. At that point immigrants should begin steadily to improve not only their own living conditions but also those of the native-born population, supposing that they have been promptly integrated. In that connection, there could be, for an indefinite period, some 200,000 immigrants to integrate each year, surmising that the current birth deficit has been halved and that a gradual decline in the size of the population has been accepted. Otherwise, the integration challenge would be even greater.

Such a flow of human beings will require, particularly of a progressively aging and shrinking populace, basic psychosocial and organizational preparation and a sober confrontation with the foreseeable consequences. To this end, far-reaching political decisions must be taken as soon as possible, among them decisions as to whether immigrants should be screened for admission and, if so, according to what criteria. These decisions doubtless bring political controversy in their train. But the controversies must be faced now if the populace is not to be subjected later to shattering trials. 

1 The authors of "Saving the Germans from Extinction" (Damit die Deutschen nicht Aussterben) pointedly use the word Bevölkerung here rather than the word Volk. Citizenship, under German law, has traditionally been determined not by place of birth but by descent. The phrase Das deutsche Volk, "the German people," thus has an ethnic rather than merely political or civic connotation: many long-term residents are not and cannot expect to become German citizens. The authors nonetheless wish to present their policy options to everyone legally residing in the country. When Bevölkerung refers in this way to a moral collective, we translate "populace," otherwise, "population." "The public," where used, translates the German das Publikum.

[This article is pages 40-50 of Weil Das Land Sich Ändern Muss (Because the Country Must Change) by Marion Dönhoff, Meinhard Miegel, Wilhelm Nölling, Edzard Reuter, Helmut Schmidt, Richard Schröder, Wolfgang Thierse, and Ernst von Weizsäcker (Reinbeck bei Hamburg: Rowohlt Verlag, 1992). The paperback (ISBN-3-498-01293-2) is priced at 14 German marks. If you would like a copy and are unable to find one, please contact the offices of THE SOCIAL CONTRACT PRESS.]