Posts tagged with: Human geography

overpopulation1In 1865, W. Stanley Jevons predicted that with coal reserves of 90 billion tons, England would run out within 100 years. Today, the country has between three trillion and 23 trillion ton, enough to last Britain for centuries.

In 1914, the Bureau of Mines fretted that with a total future production limit of 5.7 billion barrels, the U.S. only had about a ten-year supply of oil. Today, a hundred years later, we’re estimated to have 36 billion barrels left in the ground.

In 1968, Paul Ehrlich predicted that because of an inability to produce enough food, hundreds of millions of people would starve in the 1970s. Instead, the population has doubled—from 3.5 to 7 billion—and the number of famine victims from 1970-2015 combined is less than in the 1960s.

Each time experts predicted a decline in natural resources would be detrimental to population growth. And each time history proved the experts wrong.

Yet despite this history, modern scientists are still more pessimistic about population growth than the general public, according to a pair of 2014 Pew Research Center surveys.

The Transom links today to a piece about how Proctor & Gamble is ramping up product lines aimed at older adults. “The flip side of the low birthrate is we’re all living longer,” said corporate exec Tom Falk.

In fact, the global trend over the last two hundred years has been toward longer lives and fewer babies. This trend really gathered momentum in just the last half-century or so. Consider this short video I put together for a talk at last month’s Acton University.

The two axes correspond to fertility (horizontal) and life expectancy (vertical). So in the bottom right we are having more children and shorter lives, while in the upper left we are having fewer children and living longer. Each of the countries in the world is represented by a circle, whose size is determined by size of population. Each region is also color coded.

What you’ll see as we move forward through the last two centuries is a gradual shift toward the upper left, which turns into a rush after about 1950. There are a few lagging countries in Africa, which still are moving toward the upper left, just a bit more slowly. Watch it again, and note the brief drops in life expectancy corresponding to each of the twentieth-century world wars.

Where we start in 1800 was just about where humans have been for recorded history: short lives and lots of kids. Now within the last 50 years we’ve seen a monumental shift that really is unprecedented on a global scale. Think for a few minutes about the complex causes of this shift and the massive changes in social, political, and economic dynamics that undergird it and also flow out of it.

We really have never seen its like before.

[Thanks to RealClearWorld,, NewsBusters and for linking to this commentary.] Over at the American Spectator, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg points to Europe’s “perceptible inability” to acknowledge some of the deeper dynamics driving its financial crisis. And these are primarily a “slow-motion population implosion” complicated by the exodus of young European Union citizens and the return of hundreds of thousands of immigrants to their homes in developing nations. That is an ominous development for a region where the dependency rate — the ratio of retirees per member of the labor force — has ratcheted up as the welfare state has ballooned over several decades.


These facts have made some Europeans willing to ponder the necessity of labor-market and welfare reform, not least because those countries that have weathered the crisis better than others (e.g., Germany and Sweden) actually implemented such changes in the 2000s. Getting Europeans to talk publicly about the continent’s population-trends and their economic consequences, however, is a different matter.

Why? One reason is that many Europeans have long been in thrall to the over-population gospel. Long before Paul Erhlich’s The Population Bomb (1968) — whose doomsday future-scenarios of a world devastated by famines, mass disease, and social unrest unleashed by overpopulation never materialized — numerous European economists had bought into this thesis.

In 1798, the Anglican vicar and one of the first modern economists, Thomas Malthus, published his Essay on the Principle of Population. This argued that growing populations would produce an increasing labor-supply. The result, Malthus insisted, would be lower wages and therefore mass poverty. “The power of population,” he claimed, “is so superior to the power of the Earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” Another English philosopher-economist, John Stuart Mill, was so convinced by Malthusian arguments that he actually spent time in London parks distributing birth-control pamphlets to bemused onlookers.

Read Samuel Gregg’s “Europe in Demographic Denial” on the American Spectator.

Immigration is never a light topic to discuss, and even the proposition of a solution to the effects caused by immigration might well be considered radical. The idea of a harmonious multicultural society is idealistic, but in reality, is very difficult to achieve.

When looking at the advantages and disadvantages of immigration, relative to the nation receiving immigrants, the economy is a concern that often comes up. In a recent IEA (Institute of Economic Affairs) paper, Nobel Prize winner Professor Gary Becker proposes a way in which the economy and the government of the country receiving immigrants could benefit. He believes that governments should sell the right to immigrate. Becker says, “The government should set a price each year and anyone would be accepted, aside from obvious cases such as potential terrorists, criminals and people who are very sick and who would be immediately a big burden to the health system.”

Becker uses the United States as a model for how the solution might play out. The U.S. has been admitting about one million legal immigrants a year. He says, “At a price of $50,000 per immigrant, let’s suppose this would attract one million immigrants.” At a 5 per cent interest rate, it has a present value of roughly $1 trillion. Of course, different countries could charge different rates, and the option of offering loans to those who couldn’t pay the amount up-front is a possibility. Through this solution, Becker believes a country would get immigrants who are young, skilled, and have the greatest commitment to the country.

Becker’s use of the United States as an example seems to suggest it is experiencing a revenue problem. But in fact, the government has a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Immigration is not a new concept; it has been taking place since the dawn of time. Since the early days of Christianity, the welcoming of others has been encouraged.  In an interview with Thomas C. Oden in Religion & Liberty,” Oden notes, “Ancient Christian writers knew that all Christians were being called to receive strangers and travelers hospitably.” But this does not get to the question of whether the stranger is entering under lawful pretences. These two viewpoints often conflict. Oden goes on to say, “They conflict dramatically between those who would emphasize the hospitality in an absolute way, and those who would emphasize the moral requirement of following the law as a part of a just social order, including the duty to respect legal borders.” So even among late and present day Christians, there is great contrast in opinions regarding this issue.

But among Christians, policy makers, and all people for that matter, the key component to any decision should be based on human dignity. Becker’s proposal works to boost the revenue of countries, but seems to take lightly the rights of the immigrants themselves.  Sure, they will be accepted into the country and may eventually enjoy the same benefits as a natural-born citizen, but under the proposal, they are treated more as a commodity than a human being.

Although Becker’s proposal would work to moderate the illegal immigration problem, by offering a viable option for immigrants to enter legally, it does not address the cultural differences and religious factors that often play a large role in the discontent surrounding immigration. Germany, for example, has expressed great concern over the large influx of Muslim immigrants (coming mainly from Turkey) entering its borders. The predominant religion in Germany has long been Christianity, although church attendance rates have experienced a rather steady decline. The Turkish immigrants have proven to be very devout in their Islamic faith, which has made Germany question how strongly it wants to hold onto its Christian roots. These religious differences have fueled much of the debate which still continues.

The topic of immigration raises many questions about how it should be handled. Not every country holds the same stake in each issue surrounding immigration (culture, religion, economics, etc.), but each decision made should be premised on the dignity of the human person first. Becker’s proposal seemingly focuses on a solution based solely on revenue concerns. By doing this he fails to recognize immigrants who immigrate for humanitarian reasons (lack of resources, economic oppression, etc.)  For people yearning for freedom, having to pay a considerable amount to enter a county doesn’t exactly fit within the mantra of liberty. Use of the free market is in many cases a good thing, but when its use undermines the very freedom it attempts to foster, it is violating its own principles. This does not mean the immigration system should not be revised; restructuring the legal immigration system in the U.S. and other countries would help a great deal. But, in order for these changes to be truly positive, they should first and foremost be based on the dignity of the human person.