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Ghost Town

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April 2013

Its next birthday will be its 448th.  Founded in 1565 on the feast day of its namesake, St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the United States.  The Spanish built a fort and used the city as a base for exploring the Florida territory.  The territory was ceded to the British, back to the Spanish, and finally to the United States.  St. Augustine has a storied history of slave trading, pirate attacks, and civil rights demonstrations.  Today the thriving community attracts tourists by the thousands.

But there are towns that did not stand the test of time.  They are the ghost towns, places like the abandoned coal mining camp Battleship, West Virginia.  Sumpter, Oregon boomed during the gold rush, but collapsed when fire destroyed the town and the gold became scarce.  Garnet, Montana met the same fate.  Land speculators thought that they could develop Colfax, New Mexico into a boomtown.  Didn’t work.  By the end of the Depression there were only a few diehards left.  Winters in Okaton, South Dakota proved to be too harsh, and people left after the railroads moved west.  Doaksville, Oklahoma, once a center for the Choctaw Nation, was devastated by the Civil War and the failure of the town’s plantation-based economy.  For many towns all over the country, little more remains than their stories.

Towns do disappear.  What about countries?  The question is more than academic.  Although some fear overpopulation of our country and world, there is solid evidence that we are in the process of under-population.  The replacement rate of human beings is 2.1, meaning that the average woman must have 2.1 children just to maintain the population level. In 2010, the U.S. fertility rate was only 1.93-and falling.  Since the overpopulation scare of the early ’70s, the rate has been falling fast.  White college-educated women have a fertility rate of 1.6.  And the only thing that has kept the overall U.S. rate from falling faster is the influx of immigrants.  That’s not a comforting thought.  For the last three years, immigration to the U.S. has been a net zero.  And the fertility rate for Hispanic immigrants has dropped faster than a ton of bricks.  Between 2007-10, the birthrate for Mexican-born Americans dropped by 23%.  Without immigrants, the U.S. fertility rate would be around 1.5.

The fertility rates of other countries are even worse.  According to U.N. data from 2010, the birth rate in China is 1.6.  The rate in Italy, Germany, Greece, and Japan is about 1.4.  Korea is at 1.3; Bosnia is at 1.1.  Countries all over the world are experiencing population slowdowns.  The worse problem is that if sub-replacement rates continue, recovery from them will become increasingly difficult.  Within only 60 years, global population growth is expected to stop and begin to shrink.   That’s less than a lifetime.

So what’s the problem with having less people?  Well, an under-populated country cannot sustain its culture and traditions or adequately defend its borders.  There is less diversity in families and society.  Less people means less demand for goods and services.  Unemployment at all levels of the workforce rises.  The burdens on both old and young become intolerable as governments must reduce programs or increase taxes on declining populations to pay for them. Just look at what’s happening in Europe. Here, our growing Social Security shortfall shows how under-population can impact a nation and its people.

There are reasons for the declining birth rate.  The water isn’t one of them.  The root cause is that we are choosing to have fewer, if any, children.  We live in a contraceptive age that puts children way down on the list of priorities.  Couples often start to raise families at a much later age, which reduces family size.  In many cases, contraception has caused couples to skip marriage and family altogether.  Sex-without-consequences is having consequences.

The problems caused by contraception have been tragically magnified by abortion.  Since 1973 there have been over 55 million legal abortions in the U.S. alone. Put in perspective, West Virginia, Oregon, Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, and Oklahoma would all be ghost states.  So would New Hampshire, Vermont, Nebraska, Arkansas, Maine, Wyoming, Nevada, Kansas, Mississippi, Iowa, North Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Connecticut, Kentucky, Delaware, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts.  By now, some of those aborted would have given birth to their own children.  The loss of their contributions is staggering.

When God told Adam and Eve to be fertile and multiply, He was unveiling a plan for our happiness, not our doom. His plan provided for a continuum of life.  Adults would raise their young, who upon adulthood would give birth to their own children.  Care given to the young would one day be returned to those grown old.  But too often we act as if life is all about us, no one else.  We fail to recognize our role in bringing forth the next generation. We want bigger houses, vacation spots, fancier cars, advanced degrees, and job promotions.  The kids can wait, sometimes forever.  Of course, God allows us the freedom of our choices, including the choice to not cooperate with His plan.  But He does not promise to shield us from the fallout.

Although some might think that more people are the problem, in God’s plan people are the solution.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and people find ways to meet needs.  God’s next creation may become an inventor more imaginative than Thomas Edison or an agricultural scientist more ingenious than George Washington Carver.  Like Steven Jobs, he may create new technologies that provide jobs for millions.  She may develop methods to increase crop yields, enrich arid lands, or to desalinate ocean waters.  God has given us minds, wills, and talents that allow for endless possibilities.  He gives those same gifts to each new person.

We are God’s greatest creations.  The problem is not too many of us, but too few.

Paul Esposito is a Catholic lawyer who writes on pro-life topics.  He and his wife Kathy live in Elmhurst, Illinois, and have six kids.

© 2013 Paul V. Esposito.  Culture of Life.  Permission to copy and distribute for pro-life purposes is granted.  Comments?  Visit us at

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