Posts tagged with: population

[Thanks to RealClearWorld, ThePulp.it, NewsBusters and PewSitter.com 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.

Gregg:

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.

It’s terribly sad, but you just can’t make this stuff up:

Thousands of sacks of food aid meant for Somalia’s famine victims have been stolen and are being sold at markets in the same neighborhoods where skeletal children in filthy refugee camps can’t find enough to eat, an Associated Press investigation has found.

As much as half of the food aid going into Somalia is stolen and sold in markets. Militants that control of large parts of the country and those who run refugee camps interdict the aid and sell it to free agents. Last week we warned about rampant corruption and theft in the country, but passages like this from the AP story are still heartbreaking

The aid is not even safe once it has been distributed to families huddled in the makeshift camps popping up around the capital. Families at the large, government-run Badbado camp said they were often forced to hand back aid after journalists had taken photos of them with it.

The camp bosses, employed by the most corrupt government in the entire world, take back the food and sell it outside the camp. The flow of aid has become torrential as Western governments take note of the famine and announce generous new aid packages. That has created what one Somali official called a “bonanza” for local charlatans. (The man spoke on condition of anonymity because, believe it or not, “monitoring food assistance in Somalia is a particularly dangerous process.”)

One man interviewed for the story seems to have read yesterday’s PowerBlog posting on the famine.

“While helping starving people, you are also feeding the power groups that make a business out of the disaster,” said Joakim Gundel, who heads Katuni Consult, a Nairobi-based company often asked to evaluate international aid efforts in Somalia. “You’re saving people’s lives today so they can die tomorrow.”

What Somalia needs is a PovertyCure. Instead of hosting hundreds of thousands of its people in refugee camps, which reinforces their powerlessness and encourages the country’s agricultural impotence, the country must open itself up to entrepreneurial development. And the West must focus its resources not on the indirect funding of militants, terrorists, and shysters, but on helping Somalia to build up its civil society and protect the economic freedom of its citizens.

Take at look at Jonathan Last’s very good piece in the Weekly Standard about the real population problem that is confronting the world–people aren’t having enough babies. In America’s One Child Policy, Last explains how fertility throughout the entire world is declining and what the impact will be on society and the economy.

During the last 50 years, fertility rates have fallen all over the world. From Africa to Asia, South America to Eastern Europe, from Third World jungles to the wealthy desert petro-kingdoms, every country in every region is experiencing declines in fertility. In 1979, the world’s fertility rate was 6.0; today it’s 2.6. Industrialized nations have been the hardest hit. America’s 2.06 is one of the highest fertility rates in the First World. Only Israel (2.75) and New Zealand (2.10) are more fertile.

Mr. Last addresses a host of reasons for declining fertility, including some of the politically delicate reasons like education, abortion, and egalitarian social policies that many don’t want to address.

He explains how the one-child policy in China and other small-family campaigns in places like Singapore and Japan have not created the promised “bright future” but serious demographic challenges. And new government policies to reverse the trends are not working.

The Japanese government has been trying to stoke fertility since the early 1970s. In 1972, when Japan’s fertility rate was still above replacement, the government introduced a monthly per-child subsidy for parents….In the face of 35 years of failed incentives, Japan’s fertility rate stands at 1.2. This is below what is considered “lowest low,” a mathematical tipping point at which a country’s population will decline by as much as 50 percent within 45 years. This is a death spiral from which, demographers believe, it is impossible to escape. Then again, that’s just theory: History has never seen fertility rates so low.

As Last and others have reminded us, no country with declining population has ever created widespread prosperity. Perhaps we would do well to remember that the factors of production include not just land and capital, but labor–and labor means people. Decline in fertility will have serious social and economic consequences. Last writes:

At the same time, the average age in China will rise dramatically. In 2005, China’s median age was 32. By 2050, it will be 45, and a quarter of the Chinese population will be over the age of 65. The government’s pension system is almost nonexistent, and One-Child has eliminated the traditional support system of the extended family—most people no longer have brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, or nephews. It is unclear what sort of havoc this atomization will wreak on their society. China will have 330 million senior citizens with no one to care for them and no way to pay for their upkeep. It is, Eberstadt observed, “a slow-motion humanitarian tragedy already underway.”

By 2050, the age structure in China will be such that there are only 1.6 workers—today the country has 5.4—to support each retiree. The government will be forced to either: (1) substantially cut spending (in areas such as defense and public works) in order to shift resources to care for the elderly or (2) impose radically higher tax burdens on younger workers. The first option risks China’s international and military ambitions; the second risks revolution.

Though people still promote Malthusian nightmares of over-crowded planets the real demographic disaster not over-population, but the opposite–not enough babies. This decline in fertility is a prime example of why incentives matter–summed up well in Henry Hazlitt’s definition of economics:

“The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the long effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of the policy not merely for one group but for all groups.”

Acton’s Rome office will be hosting a conference on health care and aging on December 2 at the Lateran Pontifical University in Rome. Get more information here

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
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In this week’s Acton Commentary I examine some of the issues surrounding concern for our planet’s growing human population. In “The Science of Stewardship: Sin, Sustainability, and GM Foods,” I argue that increased food production, augmented by advances in genetic modification, has a key role to play in meeting the needs of future generations. And in this way companies like Monsanto have contributed greatly to our ability to address the need for increased yields.

They have done so in great measure by combining tech with technique, or as the Forbes piece puts it, “marrying conventional breeding with genetic engineering.” Just as important as getting seeds that have the right genetic “tech” is mastering all the variables and skills needed to make plants grow properly, from soil makeup, to cultivation techniques, to timing. On the question of timing, for instance, there’s always more research being done on the best time to plant different kinds of crops.

A recent Popular Science feature, for instance, labeled the “bean counter” one of “The 10 Worst Jobs In Science” for being “most tedious.” So that even “after 10,000 years of intensive agriculture, we still don’t understand key things, like the best moment to plant soybeans.” And that’s why graduate students like Andrew Robinson at Purdue will “spend the next few years hand-counting beans from about 750 plots.”

But the question of increased population isn’t as innocent as might first appear. On the one hand, it’s certainly true that concern about the increase of the world’s human population often masks latent or not-so-latent misanthropy.

And on the other hand, as many have pointed out, it’s not the number of people in itself that largely determines global environmental impact, but rather the lifestyle of those people, their consumption habits, as well as the underlying economic structures, that function as determinative factors.

But even so, increased yields might help alleviate some of the difficulties with realizing large-scale urban farming, for instance. And while “complete self-reliance” of cities on local food sources “is not currently sensible,” and perhaps really shouldn’t be pursued, the prospects of getting significant produce from smaller plots looms large as an economic possibility given advances in both biotech and technique. There is real hope here economically and environmentally for places like Detroit.

As I also note in the piece, there are certainly moral limits that provide us space within which to pursue scientific advances and progress, but beyond which we “run the risk of aggravating our offense against God.” And it is not only up to scientists themselves, no matter how concerned, to recognize and articulate those limits.

On this the Bible has much to say. I made an attempt about 5 years ago to come to grips with these limits within which responsible stewardship occurs in the form of “A Theological Framework for Evaluating Genetically Modified Food.” I followed up that framework, which articulates a view largely affirming the instrumental use of plants, with a series denying a similarly instrumental use of animals.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, September 24, 2009
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Not exactly unheralded—he did get obits in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal—but deserving more attention is the passing of Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize winner and catalyst for the Green Revolution that transformed developing world agriculture.

As the headline to Gregg Easterbrook’s outstanding piece in the WSJ put it, he was “the man who defused the ‘population bomb.'” Yet, Easterbrook writes, “though streets and buildings are named for Norman Borlaug throughout the developing world, most Americans don’t even know his name.”

His death comes amidst renewed claims that our environment cannot sustain the world’s increasing population.

But the predictions of the present-day Thomas Malthuses and Paul Ehrlichs will always be wrong, because they lack the imagination to account for the future Norman Borlaugs.

Blog author: kschmiesing
Thursday, January 15, 2009
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It’s usually good to steer clear of apocalyptic predictions of any sort, but as temperatures struggle to break the 10 degrees fahrenheit mark under full sun here in the Great Lakes region, talk of a “demographic winter” feels more compelling than warnings of global warming.

More seriously, the release of a new film by that name is the occasion for Jenny Roback Morse’s reflection on the economics of population. I don’t pretend to be an expert in the field and I am skeptical of any argument simplistically connecting population growth (or decline) with economic growth (or decline). But I am convinced that something as fundamental as demography must play a significant role in economic trends, and it does seem that, in general, economists and policymakers alike have neglected or at least failed to appreciate the importance of the issue. (For a counterexample, see Oskari Juurikkala’s analysis of pending pension crises: Pensions, Population, and Prosperity.)

It is hard to see how strong economic growth can be sustained in the face of a declining population: it’s just asking too much of technological advance and productivity gains.

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
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Anders Chydenius (1729-1803)

The answer of the Nordic philosopher and priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) applies equally well to his younger contemporary Malthus as to 21st-century neo-Malthusian paganism:

Would the Great Master, who adorns the valley with flowers and covers the cliff itself with grass and mosses, exhibit such a great mistake in man, his masterpiece, that man should not be able to enrich the globe with as many inhabitants as it can support? That would be a mean thought even in a Pagan, but blasphemy in a Christian, when reading the Almighty’s precept: ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.’

Indeed, the biblical answer to Chydenius question would seem to clearly be, “No.” Remember, after all, you are worth more than many sparrows.

“If a man will not work, he shall not eat.” That’s a good rule, I think.

The Care of Creation blog is noting, however, that “people who work longer hours use more energy and generally contribute more to the decline of the ecological quality of life on planet earth.”

The basis for the claim is a report that comes from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, and “finds that if all countries worked as many hours per week as U.S. workers do, the world would consume 15 to 30 percent more energy by 2050 than it would by following Europe’s model.”

As I’ve asserted before, calculations that simply take into account the outputs of various environmentally-relevant factors, like GHGs, without also noting the relevant economic variables, are highly flawed.

So perhaps per capita American workers do work longer hours and therefore use more energy than their European counterparts. But do the American workers also contribute more to their respective country’s GNP than do Europeans? I’m betting they do…and it shouldn’t be surprising that all these factors correlate, because of the energy-dependent nature of the economy in the 21st century. But as recent trends suggest, perhaps even that doesn’t mean that economies must increase GHG emissions to grow.

Who gets more bang for their energy buck? The EU’s share of gross world product (GWP) is roughly 20%. Estimates put the EU’s population right around 490 million. The US’s share of GWP is larger than the EU’s, somewhere between 20% and 30%, but accomplishes that with a fraction of the population, numbering barely above 300 million.

So, work less and “save” the planet, but also contribute less to the global economy. That’s a formula for disaster.

For another take on how you can do nothing and save the planet, see the May 21 edition of the Joy of Tech comic.

Over at the Huffington Post blog, David Roberts, a staff writer for Grist.org, describes the relationship between activist causes, like women’s reproductive rights and “sustainable development,” and population control.

Roberts says he doesn’t directly address the problem of over-population because talking about it as such isn’t very effective. Apparently, telling people that they and their kids very existence is the “ultimate problem of all problems” doesn’t resonate very well. It “alienates a large swathe of the general public,” you know, the ones who still have some residual moral sensibilities.

So, instead, Roberts pursues items that he think will ultimately result in lowered populations…a subordination of these causes as means to the greater end. He writes, “Each of these — empowering women and spreading prosperity — is worth pursuing in its own right. Each is a powerful political rallying cry. Each produces a range of ancillary benefits.”

But of course the greatest benefit of them both is that they help in “scaling human population back.”

And as Roberts notes, the connection between radical environmentalism and population control has been devastating for the cause, leading him to conclude that overt population control rhetoric “is political poison.”

His concluding advice? “If you’re worried about population, work toward sustainable development and female empowerment.”

And, I might add, if you are able to similarly disguise a radical environmentalist agenda and separate out the perception of pursuing population control, why not work toward that too?

Blog author: kschmiesing
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
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I mentioned South Korea in a commentary on population a few months ago. New data show that the erstwhile East Asian tiger is now the world’s leader in population contraction. Its fertility rate is 1.08, less than half the replacement rate of 2.1. In other words, if that rate persists, South Korea will halve its population with each generation.

As is usual, aggressive government action played a role in the problem. The nation established its population control policy in 1961. Among other things, it favored government employees with two or fewer children and gave housing preferences to small families. Reacting lethargically to a trend already long in evidence, it ended its advocacy of fertility decline in 1996. Now, in an equally tardy move, the government has decided to promote population increase. In what must be an unprecedented occurrence—one that may be among the more startling signs of the times—the Planned Parenthood affiliate in South Korea is cooperating with the government in its effort to raise the birthrate.

HT: Joseph D’Agostino of PRI.

Cross-posted on Friends of CE.