Pope Francis wants you to have sex. Or at least he wants Italians to have more sex. The country, he says, is facing a ‘Titanic struggle’ against demographic doom. Last year, the population dropped by 179,000 people – and Italy is projected to lose another five million by 2050.
What’s happening in Italy is, to a greater or lesser extent, being repeated across the western world. In the UK in 2020, there were four workers per retiree. By 2041, the ONS projects there will be just three. We’re getting older, there are fewer of us and, all other things being equal, we’ll poorer for it. Either we tax the declining population more to maintain the same level of welfare or we will have to cut back on things like care and pensions.
The reason for this predicament is pretty obvious: we’re not having enough children. British couples are currently having 1.6 children, well below replacement at 2.1. So instead we fill the gap with immigration.
At this point, well-meaning people might start to feel a little queasy. Words like ‘replacement’ and ‘immigration’ do not sit comfortably together. Pope Francis had been speaking at an event in Rome alongside Giorgia Meloni, Italy’s Prime Minister, who has been accused of hawking the so-called ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory.
The theory’s proponents believe that there is a plot to wipe out Europeans and replace them with migrants from the third world, and Meloni has spoken in ways that echo these sentiments. She has warned that Italian identity risks destruction by ‘globalists’, saying in parliament in 2018: ‘When you are a slave you act in Soros’s interests.’
It’s a bit much. However, I worry that legitimate concerns about demographics are sometimes unfairly branded racist conspiracy theories.