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Interview: Jonathan Last on America's Looming Demographic Crisis (with Transcript)

MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com, and we’re talking with Jonathan Last of the Weekly Standard, and the author of the new book, What to Expect When No One's Expecting: America's Coming Demographic Disaster. It’s published by Encounter Books, and available from Amazon and your local bookseller. And Jonathan, thanks for stopping by today.

MR. LAST:  It is a pleasure.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Jonathan, what initially made you decide to write a book on demographics?

MR. LAST:  You know it's a funny but ultimately kind of boring story.  About six or seven years ago, I was reading a bunch of books, and I read three in a row that all mentioned demographics.  And I'm a big endnotes nerd.  I like looking at endnotes.  And as I was going through them, they all referred to the same book.  It was this book called The Empty Cradle, by a guy named Phil Longman.

And I went and I read Longman's book.  And it was just gobsmackingly awesome.  Phil is a total liberal progressive democrat.  He works for the New America Foundation in Washington.  He is intellectually fearless and unbelievably honest and smart.

And anyway, I called Phil up and I said, you know, I'm not a stalker, but I work at the Weekly Standard a few blocks away; could I buy you lunch?  And he said sure.  And when we met, he was the biggest sweetheart in the world.  I told him I was interested in this stuff.  He sort of pointed me in different directions for reading and research, and I just started tumbling down the rabbit hole.  So it's all Phil's fault.  That's -- I blame him for it.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, beyond Phil Longman’s efforts, how did you research the book? If you’re writing a book on demographics, where do you go for statistics on these sorts of numbers?

MR. LAST:  Well, you know, it turns out there's an enormous amount -- enormous amount of research that's done on this stuff, and by some really wonderful people.  There was -- really the nicest thing that happened to me in the course of spending the last three years writing this book is that I got to know a whole bunch of really smart academics:  people at the Census Bureau; people at the U.N. Population Division; people in different think tanks in different universities, you know, both here and over in Europe.  And they're great people and they're doing really interesting research.

And the problem with it is, it's very math heavy, and the stuff they publish is, I would say, to a lot of people, kind of unreadable.  And to me, I have a little bit of a math background.  I was a science major as an undergraduate.  I got as high as differential equations before I had to tap out and say I can't take anymore.

And so I can read this stuff, and I enjoy reading it.  And my book is -- it really just stands on the shoulders of all the research that's been done.  And one of the things I found was really interesting as I researched all this, is that most professional and academic demographers are liberal.  There are a few conservatives out there, but they're mostly quite liberal.

And they -- but there's total agreement between the left and the right among the people who actually study this stuff and do the research.  They all think the same thing.  They all believe that we're headed in this very bad direction.  They all think that this is like the story of the last, you know, forty years.  And it's funny that only like among the lay left, you know, like the people who write for the New York Times, let's say, or who blog for Slate, that's where the disagreement exists.  It's not among, like, the professional left, you know, the professional liberals who actually follow the subject.

You know, I would say there's remarkably little actual controversy in the world demographics.  And what there is, is instead, a lot of people doing really interesting research, nibbling at the corners and trying to untie, you know, little pieces of the puzzle here and there.