This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

If you are a user of my textbook and would like to suggest a blog post idea, please email me at: john.weeks@sdsu.edu

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Demography Is or Is Not Destiny

The Economist has, over the years, helped to popularize the phrase "Demography is Destiny." A quick search of their website turns up 17 references to that phrase. Sometimes they think demography IS destiny, and sometimes, like last week, they think that demography is NOT destiny. The latter story deals with politics and demography in Texas. That state is currently a bastion of conservatism, but as its Latino population increases as a percentage of the total, it might become more "progressive" because Latinos are generally more likely to vote for Democratic candidates than for Republican candidates. But the Economist columnist "Lexington" (the Economist continues its long-held tradition of not identifying its writers) notes that there is a real struggle going on in the state for the Latino vote.

In short, Republicans are bent on mitigating demographic shifts, and Democrats on harnessing them. The sheer scale of those shifts favours Democrats, unless Republicans go beyond tweaks to messaging and rethink core policies. Mayor Castro concedes that, on immigration, Republicans are moving. A year-and-a-half ago, “they were talking about electrified fences”, he recalls. Now some (though not Mr Cruz) are talking about paths to citizenship.
Yet Democrats risk a backlash, should Texans decide that the party is taking advantage of wrenching changes that are leaving their state unrecognisable. The solution is to find arguments that cut across ethnic lines, says JoaquĆ­n Castro. He cites the 30% of all Texan women who lack health insurance as an example of a unifying battle-cry. His brother urges Democrats to build a “big tent” and paint Republicans as extremists, with Mr Cruz as a prime example. The stakes are high. Texas may not be truly competitive for a few more years, but it is already a battleground.

As I have said before, the idea that demography is destiny does not mean that you can predict the future based on demographic trends. More subtly, and more importantly, demography shapes what the options for the future will be. Demography IS destiny in Texas politics because, as the Economist makes clear, the battle for the Latino vote is shaping the future.

4 comments:

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  3. I noticed your blog while seeking the origin of the phrase "demography is destiny", (or "as destiny") -- a phrase (in your judgment) erroneously attributed to Auguste Comte. While I don't doubt mis-attribution to Comte, it would be interesting to know who coined or minted this sociologically noteworthy phrase and what was actually originally meant by it.
    This reminds me: Comte is often referred to as the originator of the term `positive philosophy', when, in fact, according to Emile Durkheim, it was the largely forgotten Saint Simon who first coined the term `philosophie positif'. But for some reason the widespread false belief continues that Comte was the original author of the term. This false belief was even advanced in an early paper of philosophical principles by Morris Schlick of the positivistic Vienna Circle in Austria. It is interesting how false claims, once established, can gain currency even at the most highly acclaimed levels of `serious scholarship', and are often almost impossible to root out or eradicate.
    As a final note let me say that the phrase `demography is destiny' is merely an absolutization of `demography as destiny'. For it is clear on the face of it that there are many other aspects of the social world which can be said to decide destiny. In fact, demography does not necessarily `determine' destiny at all, any more than the material basis determines the cultural superstructure of a society or `local' civilization. So it is not only worth looking for the originator of the phrase `demographics is destiny', but it is also worth considering the truth-value or legitimacy of the very idea.

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    Replies
    1. I actually have answered the question about the origins of the term:http://weekspopulation.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-origins-of-demography-is-destiny.html

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