753. Harrod to Joan Robinson , 25 January 1938 [a]

[Replies to 752 , continues at 755 ]

Christ Church, Oxford #

25 January 1938

My dear Joan

I have not fallen into the error you suppose. The reproduction rate fell below 2 in 1921 and a long way below it during the twenties. None the less the population has not decreased yet and will not begin to do so until the middle forties and even then will not do so at all rapidly for another couple of decades. Thus the rate of decline for some forty years will have been far less than that which would occur if the age distribution were normal within the period.

Per contra when it does begin to decline rapidly the decline will be much greater than that indicated by the current net reproduction rate. The present tardiness in the decline will be compensated by a precipitate rush later on. One cannot have things both ways. The present age distribution abnormally favourable to a high net increase will be followed by one abnormally favourable to a high net decrease. Means which would be sufficient to prevent a great decline if adopted now would be insufficient then. When the age distribution is against you 2+ will not prevent a great decline just as over a number of years 1+ has not prevented a considerable rise.

I should guess (this is only a guess) that drastic measures if adopted now might so fix things that we would stabilize at 20 or 30 millions later, but that those same measures in 50 years' time would not prevent a decline to 4 or 5. Personally I am entirely against such a decline in our own people and in kindred stocks, such as the Scandinavian.

I am not much afraid of our jingoes at present. They seem to be a singularly tame lot. They could easily be kept in order. But if you wait for the great collapse without averting it, the position will be entirely different. They will have at their command fierce racial passion in the majority of people.

You talk of my sense of decency. A rational man's sense of decency must be long-sighted.



  1. a. ALS, four pages on two leaves, with envelope addressed to Mrs. Robinson, 3 Trumpington St., Cambridge, postmarked 25 January 1938, in JVR vii/191/32-36.

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