Liberal Arts Blog — Quantitative, Historical Ethics — the case of South Korea

John Muresianu
5 min readDec 4, 2023

Liberal Arts Blog — Monday is the Joy of Math, Statistics, Shapes, and Numbers Day

Today’s Topic: Quantitative, Historical Ethics — the case of South Korea

What gives life meaning? Can the answer be quantified? Has the meaning of life changed over time? In what direction? A good way or a bad way? Who cares?

Who should? Does the meaning of life differ by country? by culture? Do all humans value roughly the same things? roughly equally? or are there fundamental differences? If so, what are they?

To me, there is nothing like differences in birth rate over the last century to help give focus to these general, somewhat abstract questions. Were motherhood, family and children once the ultimate values of most humans? Has that changed in fundamental ways? What does the future hold? Is this a form of species suicide of a slower, gentler kind?

Today excerpts from an article in the New York Times by columnist Ross Douthat.

Experts — demographic, ethical, historical — please chime in. Correct, elaborate, elucidate.


1. “Almost all rich countries have seen their birthrates settle below replacement level, but usually that means somewhere in the neighbourhood of 1.5 children per woman.”

2. “For instance in 2021 the United States stood at 1.7, France at 1.8, Italy at 1.3 and Canada at 1.4.”

3. “But South Korea is distinctive in that it slipped into below-replacement territory in the 1980s but has lately been falling even more — dropping below one child per woman in 2018, to .8 after the pandemic, and now, in provisional data for both the second and third quarter of 2023 to just .7 births per woman.

A DEPOPULATION RATE THAT COMPARES TO THE BLACK DEATH OF THE 14TH CENTURY — a little thought experiment and a Stephen King reference

1. “A country that sustained a birthrate at that level would have, for every 200 people in one generation, 70 people in the next one, a depopulation exceeding what the Black Death delivered to Europe in the 14th century.”

2. “Run the experiment through a second generational turnover, and your 200-person population falls below 25. Run it again and you’re nearing the kind of population crash caused by the fictional super flu in Stephen King’s “The Stand.”

THE FUTURE OF SOUTH KOREA — IMMIGRATION, EMIGRATION, GHOST TOWNS, INVASION…. (below, Kim Jong Un, North Korean dictator since 2011, son of Kim Jong II who ruled from 1994 to 2011, and grandson of Kim Il Sung, the founder and supreme leader of North Korea from its establishment in 1948 to 1994)

1. The North Korean birthrate is 1.8. Will Kim Jong Un take advantage of South Korea’s relative demographic weakness?

2. “There will be a choice between accepting steep economic decline as the age pyramid rapidly inverts, or trying to welcome immigrants on a scale beyond the numbers that are already destabilising Western Europe.”

3. “There will be inevitable abandonment of the elderly, vast ghost towns and ruined high rises, and emigration by young people who see no future as custodians of a retirement community.”

NB: Dothan says he is optimistic, that he doesn’t “actually think the South Korean birthrate will stay this low for decades, or that its population will drop from today’s roughly 51 million to the single-digit millions that my thought experiment suggests.”

He also believes that “Just as the overpopulation panic of the 1960s and 1970s mistakenly assumed that trends would simply continue upward without adaptation, I suspect a deep pessimism about the downward trajectory of birthrates — the kind that imagines a 22nd century dominated by the Amish, say — underrates human adaptability, the extend to which populations that flourish amid a population decline will model a higher-fertility future and attract converts over time.”

CONCLUSION — over to you

So what do you think? Will high fertility ever become fashionable again? If so, how? If not, what does this say about the values being taught in homes and schools today? Is all good? or not so much? If not, what. is to be done?

Even Utah’s birthrate is dropping!

Opinion | Is South Korea Disappearing?

In ‘unthinkable’ shift, Nebraska’s birth rate tops heavily Mormon Utah’s

QUOTE OF THE MONTH — Have you made your own Bible yet?

“Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

My spin — then periodically review, re-rank, and exchange your list with those you love. I call this the “Orion Exchange” because seven is about as many as any human can digest at a time. Game?


#1 A graphic guide to justice (9 metaphors on one page).

#2 “39 Songs, Prayers, and Poems: the Keys to the Hearts of Seven Billion People” — Adams House Senior Common Room Presentation, (11/17/20)

#3 Israel-Palestine Handout

NB: Palestine Orion (Decision) — let’s exchange Orions, let’s find Rumi’s field (“Beyond all ideas of right and wrong, there is a field. Meet me there” Rumi, 13 century Persian Sufi mystic)

Last four years of posts organized thematically:

Updated PDFs — Google Drive


Please share the coolest thing you learned this week related to math, statistics, or numbers in general.

Or, even better, the coolest or most important thing you learned in your life related to math.

This is your chance to make someone else’s day. And to consolidate in your memory something you might otherwise forget. Or to think more deeply than otherwise about something dear to your heart. Continuity is key to depth of thought.



John Muresianu

Passionate about education, thinking citizenship, art, and passing bits on of wisdom of a long lifetime.