Bulgaria has the fastest declining population in the world. From a peak of nearly 9 million around the time of the communist fall in 1990 Bulgaria’s population is 7 million today and projected to fall to around 5 million over the next generation. Entire villages have been depopulated, especially in the poorer Northern region.
A correspondent wrote me asking what to do. I responded what’s the problem? Of course, there are plenty of things one could do to make Bulgaria a richer and better place to live, some of which Bulgaria has been doing and some of which they have not. The more fundamental question, however, is why the number of a particular type of people located in a particular geographically proscribed area should be a measure of welfare?
Instead of focusing on Bulgaria let’s focus on Bulgarians. One of the reasons the population of Bulgaria has been falling is that Bulgarians have been leaving for better lives elsewhere in the European Union. Over one million Bulgarians live abroad. It is not always easy to move nor to stay in a village that is bereft of young people. But how fortunate is that those young people could move elsewhere. Instead of thinking of them just as Bulgarians lets think of them as citizens of the European Union. Problem solved. The EU population is increasing!
Is that a facile answer? Perhaps but note that in the United States great swaths of the country have seen declining populations since the 1930s or even earlier. We tend not to regard this as a big deal. In part because many of the areas with declining populations were small to begin with but also because we regard it as a good thing that Americans can move about the country. Indeed, because people have been free to move to opportunity the people remaining have not seen big declines in their standard of living. Ghosts are better than zombies.