Just out of graduate school (for the first time), I had the privilege to serve as research assistant to the eminent Ben Wattenberg — senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and the Hudson Institute, and long-time host of PBS’s Think Tank. (I’d mention his son, Daniel Wattenberg, made a name for himself right here at TAS, when he teamed up with David Brock to expose the infamous “Troopergate” scandal that haunted the Clintons, for years.)
A true gentleman and scholar, Ben Wattenberg has a unique knack for humanizing American life through his encyclopedic grasp of social and economic data. I can honestly say I’ve never met a man so positive about the prospects for our future. If you’re ever in need of a jolt of confidence about this American experience, by all means, thumb a few pages of any of his eleven books.
Yesterday, he wrote in the Wall Street Journal — and hinted at some of the lessons gleaned in his 2004 work New Demography: How Depopulation Will Shape the Future. His column suggests a confidence in the buoyancy of America’s population and its bearing on geopolitical, economic and cultural consequence.
An instance of Wattenberg’s optimism:
Why is this so important to America? A hefty and growing population can yield power and influence. It’s been a long time since a nation with a small population influenced how the world works—think the 16th-century Dutch and Portuguese.
Size also yields vast economies of scale. As population grows, through fertility and immigration, a healthy housing market is inevitable. It’s either that or tens of millions of Americans sleeping on the streets. Bet on the boom.
There’s corporate growth too, across industries. Imagine an American corporation, XYZ, that wants to start doing business in Thailand. Only in a polyglot nation like America can XYZ search out and find the adult children of Thai immigrants who know America inside and out but also know Thai customs and language.
Few if any nations have all these advantages. The demography in play guarantees that the 21st century, like the 20th, will be an “American Century.”
Ever sanguine, Mr. Wattenberg remains a true believer in our exceptionalism. I thank him for his years of hard work, the opportunity he offered me and this most recent, and welcome reminder of what makes America great.