Population size doesn’t matter much if your goal is to live as a small, comfy, unambitious Switzerland or Singapore. But a large population, along with a sufficiently high IQ, remains of sine qua non of being a Great Power or superpower.
France went from having 20% of Europe’s population during the reign of the Sun King, when it was Europe’s preeminent Great Power with its largest armies, to being dwarfed by Germany (40mn to 67mn, and the Germans had twice as many young men) by the outbreak of WW1. Consequently, the French only managed to scrape out a Pyrrhic victory thanks to American intervention. And they would have been crushed in 1914 had Britain decided not to uphold its treaty obligations.
In the modern world, a large population also vital for fostering a strong, self-sustaining national IT industry. Since unit costs in software are minimal, countries such as US and China with large, unified markets have an advantage in this sphere well beyond the usual benefits of economies of scale. Furthermore, Switzerland and Singapore are never going to colonize space, or be able to embark on many other grand world-historical projects. The US, China, maybe even India might, with their populations in the 100 millions and GDPs in the tens of trillions. Russia or Japan, with their populations in the tens of millions and GDPs in the mere trillions – probably not.
Increasing fertility towards the upper bounds of what was historically observed in the industrialized world – e.g., TFR=4 in the US during the late 1950s – is basically a cheat code for massively augmenting your national power over the course of just a couple of generations.
Online simulation that you can play with: https://www.ined.fr/en/everything_about_population/population-games/tomorrow-population/
For instance, assume the Poles decided to become really stronk, and raised their TFR to 4 children per woman with immediate effect. They’d approach Russia’s current population by 2100. Poland’s historical security problems with respect to their western and eastern neighbors would be definitively solved.
Meanwhile, if Russia were to do that, it would have half the population of China by 2100. This would be perfectly okay since North Eurasia can support at least 1-2 billion people, and an order of magnitude more with radical global warming.
The only developed country that is doing something along these lines is Israel. Steve Sailer recently wrote about increasing fertility there, which is driven exclusively by the Jews and now stands at 3.1 children per woman. If it just maintains this pace throughout this century – and it may even increase further, since the Haredim continue skyrocketing as a share of the population – then there may be close to 30 million Israelis by the end of the century. Israel will go from being outnumbered 1:10 by Iran to just a bit more than 1:2.
How to activate this cheat code?
1. Highly fertile religious minorities: Haredim, Amish, Mormons, etc. But they come with well-known problems, their rate of “defections” into the general population decreases as those of their progeny who find their lifestyle non-congenial “boil off,” and in any case Israel is the only country where they constitute a high enough percentage of the population to have a discernible demographic effect.
2. Recreating the 1950s: I.e., hardcore social conservatism + 5% annual GDP growth rates. Too intractable a task, but it doesn’t hurt to try. Just don’t go overboard with overly coercive measures because then young people will hate you, overthrow your regime, and undo everything anyway (see Romania).
3. Just wait a couple of centuries for breeders to literally outbreed the rearers.
4. Technology, again.
Obviously quantity isn’t everything. Average IQ plays an even bigger role. Switzerland generates approximately two orders of magnitude more elite scientific research than all of (non-RSA) Black Africa. Countries that start large-scale radical IQ augmentation programs through gene editing will enjoy a massive advantage, even if the gap is only a few years.
But why not both? Randall Parker suggests mature gene editing technologies will be highly pro-natal for a couple of reasons. First, gene selection for IQ and positive personality traits means no more disappointing children, which was always likely for high IQ parents due to regression to the mean. Second, since parents want grandchildren, many will choose genes that make their children have a stronger instinctive desire to have kids. So basically compressing #3 to within a single generation.