Professor Turner lectured on 'Demography and Democracy' at a conference on The Changing Nature of Citizenship of which he was the co-organizer at Potsdam University Germany in June 2015
Potsdam Conference June 4 2015
Democracy and Demography
Bryan S. Turner
In contemporary sociology few connect demography with the study of rights, citizenship and welfare. The exception from the past was Crisis in the Population Question (1934) by Gunnar and Alva Myrdal. They proposed that the burden of raising children and caring for the elderly must pass from the family to society as a whole. Myrdals recommended that there must be an income transfer from families without to families with children. A less well known aspect of their argument was that, while reproduction was important for society as a whole, having children was an important aspect of individual happiness. As a digression, few social and political theories after J.S.Mill have treated happiness as a central issue of the good society. I had addressed some of these issues in my notion of ‘contributory rights’ from ‘The Erosion of Citizenship’ (Turner 2001). However I first got interested in how low fertility, ageing populations, economic performance and citizenship might be understood in terms of ‘successful societies’ in Kamaludeen and Turner The Future of Singapore (2014). A society needs a rate slightly over 2.0 to replace itself, but Singapore’s total fertility rate (TFR) is 0.78. Most European societies are around 1.5. All developed societies now face the twin issues of low fertility and ageing populations. The average life expectancy in Europe is around 80 years. In a neo-liberal economic context, this combination means declining populations, shrinking workforce, problems around retirement, declining tax base, with a declining male population , greater dependence on private armies, slower economic growth, and a rising dependency ratio. Societies have limited options when facing these issues: remove retirement, increase part-timework, privatize or renege on pensions, privatize all state services, economic austerity, improve productivity especially by the use of technology (drones, computerization, labour-saving technology), and encourage immigration, or all of the above. Thus TFR plus Ageing = social policies that erode Marshallian citizenship and increase social diversity through open borders and dependence on migrant labour. In short while the neo-liberal agenda can be traced back to Thatcherism and Reaganomics, I argue that the reshaping of capitalism is as much driven by demography as by politics. In addition the economic demand for labour through immigration results in greater social diversity and the rise of anti-immigrant political movements and right-wing parties. To take Islam, while the Muslim communities of Europe are small (4.8% in UK, 5.8% in Germany and 7.5% in France), they have acquired a powerful visibility. If social diversity has become a central issue behind notions of cosmopolitanism, flexible citizenship and post-secular society, it is important to keep the demographic underpinning in view.