Thursday, August 6, 2015

The Population Bomb

According to conventional wisdom, there are too many people on earth, and the problem is only going to get worse.  We won’t ask “too many people for what?”, as the answers often get contradictory and evasive, e.g., “For the earth to support,” a popular answer, is demonstrably false, and requires innumerable qualifications to make it plausible.

Is any comment necessary?
Further, it’s noticed that the people raising the issue are rarely the ones offering to leave, so we can probably assume that conventional wisdom boils down to “There are too many other people on earth for my level of comfort.”  That the other people might have a problem with those who claim their existence is a problem doesn’t seem to be an issue.

Let’s get real, though.  Given the current socio-economic systems throughout the world, it is one way of looking at the situation to say that there are too many people not for the earth, but for the system to support.  A better way of looking at it, however, is that we’re trapped in an inadequate and, in many ways, inherently flawed system that makes it appear as if there are too many people.

That’s one thing.  Another is, yes, if you increase population exponentially, then at some point there will not be enough resources to support everyone.  Of course, determining when that point will be reached depends on your assumptions as well as your knowledge of the principles of human development.  Make one mistake, and your entire guesstimate is compromised.

For example, in 1968 Stanford University professor Paul R. Ehrlich and his (uncredited) wife, Anne, published the bestselling The Population Bomb.  They predicted that The End Is Near, and massive starvation would wipe out most of the world’s population in the 1970s and 1980s.  In the ensuing years, they simply moved the date further into the future.  It hasn’t affected either their popularity, credibility, or (more important) book sales.

Let’s cut to the chase, though.  When we talk about “the population problem” we are really looking at two separate issues.  One, we’re talking about the system of production, consumption, and distribution, i.e., personal and political economy, the study of how people meet their material wants and needs.  That’s one thing.

Two, we’re talking about the causes of the rate of population growth.  It’s not what many people presume.

Just in case you don't recognize him.
The first issue is easily addressed.  As Jean-Baptiste Say pointed out more than 200 years ago, if some people have goods that aren’t selling, and other people need those goods to consume, the have-nots have to produce something to trade to the haves.  Thus, the solution to supporting the earth’s population in any number is to make people who are currently not producing anything into producers.

Since technology is now the predominant factor of production, we need to make every child, woman, and man on earth into an owner of technology (“capital”).  In this way, people either produce for their own consumption, or make something to trade to others for what others produce, and thereby are able to consume what others produce — just as those others consume what they traded their own productions for.

Capital Homesteading is designed to do that.  We’ve described that often enough on this blog that we won’t do it again.  Today.  Instead, here’s the link to a more detailed description of the proposal:

The second issue is a bit more complex, as it goes contrary to the Malthusian Myth.  Unlike the Malthusian Myth, however, this has sound historical data, not mathematical game playing to back it up.

I think this is the right John Weyland. . . .
Here’s the secret of the rate of population growth, noted by John Weyland, Jane Jacobs, R. Buckminster Fuller, and scads of others: the rate of population growth depends on the standard of living.  The standard of living does not depend on the rate of population growth.

Think about that for a moment, then consider the following simple facts.  Throughout history, poor people have reproduced all out of proportion to their ability to provide for themselves.  Those in the middle have either experienced gradual growth, or are stable.  The rich have trouble reproducing and keeping up their numbers.  The fact is, fertility rates tend to decline the better people live.  It’s as if the human organism knows that it doesn’t have to reproduce so rapidly just to ensure survival.  It can slow down and take it easy.

Now consider: regions that have experienced drastic reductions in population did not experience increases in the standard of living.  For decades after the Great Hunger of 1846-1852 in Ireland, during which the country lost between half to two-thirds of its population, it remained the poorest country in Europe.

If people are truly interested in reducing the rate of population growth, then, the answer is obvious.  Make people productive, thereby raising their standard of living, and the problem solves itself.  Don’t do this, and all you do is increase the rate of population growth at the same time it becomes increasingly difficult to provide for people.

What makes more sense?


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