Sometime in the next few weeks, the 300 millionth American will come kicking and screaming into this world. BusinessWeek, like an anxious midwife, yanks the babe out early, giving him a good, cross-eyed ogle and strains to divine the meaning of his birth.
The news, apparently, is good.
In a special report this week, “What It Means to Hit 300 Million,” the magazine asks us to pose this question to ourselves: “Is it coincidence that the three countries with the largest populations [us, China and India] also have the most dynamic economies in the world? And is it coincidence that the most innovative major industrialized country, the U.S., also has the fastest-growing population and the most young people?”
In countries with a lot of consumers, BusinessWeek explains, entrepreneurs innovate more in expectation of larger revenues. Young people are the most innovative of all, so the more of them, the better. And there you have it: all you need to know about the rise of China, and the future of the American Dream.
By way of evidence to back its theory, BusinessWeek lists more countries, noting that “because the U.S. has a growing population (unlike most other industrialized countries), its people are younger than most of its rivals’ populations. For example, almost 28 percent of the U.S. population is under the age of 20. By comparison, the percentage of under 20-year-olds is 25 percent in France, 20 percent in Germany, and around 19 percent in Japan and Italy.” A lot of young people succumb to the latest iPod temptation, and then invent all sorts of new products. That’s why America is great.
Of course, it helps that the young people were born in a society that was already prosperous. Did America get rich because it had a lot of young people? Or did its success also have something to do with democratic institutions, economic policy or, say, the industrial revolution? We suspect the huge, very young, and fairly poor populations of Nigeria and Indonesia have their own opinions.
The article notes further that immigrants account for 40 percent of population growth between 2000 and 2005. “The conventional explanation is that immigrants, by nature, are greater risk-takers and more energetic — or else they would have stayed in their home countries,” the article explains. “And because they are not integrated into the existing social networks, it’s easier for them to try something new.”
How do we know this? As evidence, BusinessWeek cites the examples of Hungarian-born Andy Grove of Intel, the Taiwanese-born Jerry Yang of Yahoo!, and the Russian-born Sergey Brin of Google — an impressive group. But with poverty-stricken Mexicans accounting for well over 50 percent of new immigrants over the past two decades, and most of them sending their puny salaries back home rather than investing in software companies, we’re not sure what this has to do with our recent economic success. Meanwhile, anemic France manages, in equal measure, to accumulate and inflame young immigrants.
The assertion that demographics affect economic growth is certainly justified, if somewhat obvious, but journalists tend to fall into the trap of making it seem as if their statistic-of-the-day explains the universe. Few publications do this more often than BusinessWeek, and this article is no exception.