Here is a topic I’ve heard discussed in the last few days so I thought I should throw my two cents in…
So last week we hit 7 billion people on the planet (give or take).
7 billion people.
This is insane!
Now some people will say that I’m the one who is crazy. That my adherence to the basic principles of Malthus are out-dated. But they’re wrong.
For a brief refresher, Thomas Malthus said that available resources grow arithmetically (2,4,6,8,10) over time while population grows geometrically (2,4,8,16,32) every generation. So after a time the population will always out strip the available resources…this will result in war, famine, disease, and of course death. Yes all four horsemen for the low, low price of not keeping our hormones in check.
Critics like to point out that the industrial revolution prevented this by allowing resources to grow with population. Which is not exactly true. Yes, the industrial revolution did help readjust the curve of how quickly we can replenish our resources. However, it did not entirely destroy the Malthus crisis it just delayed it. Also one of the advantages of the industrialized world is lower population growth. In fact if you subtract immigration the industrialized world had near zero to negative population growth…yes it’s amazing when you provide enough education to appreciate other things you have more to do for entertainment than just that one thing.
One just needs to look at Sub-Saharan Africa to know that Malthus’ dire predictions about limited resources is still with us. One just has to look at the current level of fresh water in the world and the rather staggering lack of plans to build desalinations plants anywhere in the world to know that even in the industrialized world we may soon find ourselves back where Malthus warned us about.
So where does that leave us? Well, water, to a lesser degree oil and a few other things are limited resources. And we can’t get 7 billion people up to first world standards of living right now on the resources that we currently have…and yes that should be our goal, getting everyone in the world up to a first world standard of living. Does that mean everyone will be rich? No. But it will mean everyone will have the opportunity to make themselves well off.
So how do we do that?
We either need to (A) suddenly and miraculously produce a lot of new resources or we can try to (B) slow or decrease population growth.
Option A is a bit of a pipe dream. A wonderful one, and I hope that story about cold fusion out of Italy turns out to be legitimate…but I’m not holding my breath. It still doesn’t solve that problem with fresh water …although I hear the UAE is working on that (It’s just amazing what you can do in the Middle East when the majority of your country isn’t a bunch of !@#$%^ psychos but rather a westernized constitutional government with one of the highest literacy rates in the world).
…so hoping for the miracle cure to provide a way out may be a little short sighted…
The problem that slowing or decreasing population growth is even more problematic. It shouldn’t be. If all of Africa saw a 10% population decrease due to few births over the next decade it would probably explode in terms economic and political stability. Africa has infrastructure and growth, but it’s never fast enough to keep up with a growing populace. If the population dropped by 10% you would find that you would suddenly have infrastructure that could handle the current populace which would result in a cascade effect in improving people’s quality of life. But you can’t just decrease the population.
Why? Because there is pretty much no way to do it.
Oh sure China has some remarkable success with the one-child policy, but mass genocide is I think for most sane people obviously off the table before the discussion even starts. Also out are such horrendous crimes against humanity as forced sterilization, permits for having children, and putting birth control in the water. I only mention these because I see some idiot putting these as a suggestion in the comment box with an arrogant tone that suggests I didn’t consider every possibility. Trust me I gave evil as much consideration as it deserves. None.
Then some might suggest we simply add a tax to every child, around a $100 per child per year (or the rough equivalent portion of the average income for each country). On the face of it this seems to make some sense as people with children get the most out of governments (education being the least of it). And when you tax something you get less of it, so this would lead to lower population growth. However as I want all taxes to switch to pure sales tax (which would hit those with children more anyway) I can’t quite fully support this. Further, the countries that need a smaller population to aid in the growth of their quality of life are not exactly known for quality tax collection systems (corrupt ones perhaps, but not efficient ones), so that probably won’t end up being the deterrent to population growth that we would hope it would be.
(Oh and in case you’re wondering the heavy use of gender selective abortions that seem very prevalent outside of the West makes me shy away from advocating abortion.)
One could argue that we could improve efforts of distributing birth control…because that has worked so well in American high schools. If anything more birth control only encourages people to have more sex which seems to always find that 1% of the birth control isn’t effective…but, pragmatics aside, given that the places that could benefit from slowing population growth are often heavily Catholic and you’d need the Pope to actually change church policy (forget that the whole “be fruitful and multiply” thing was supposedly said when there 6.999,999,998 fewer people on the planet) …so I’d expect that cold fusion thing I mentioned above to work first.
So what’s left? Pray for a pandemic? Well there is one option left but it’s not a quick fix, in fact it’s as long term a solution as it gets. What is that solution? Keep exporting capitalism and democracy, free trade, and globalization. The fact is that once you’re a first world nation your population growth slows down. We need to get the rest of the world up to a first world standard. That means we need to take down trade barriers, we need to use our charity to these countries more efficiently (building infrastructure (roads, electricity, water and sewer, schools, hospitals) is far more caring than sending drugs or food, as in the long run it will help far, far more people). We need to take down dictatorships as those are the largest hindrances to economic growth. It’s not a simple answer or a quick one, but it’s the only one that will actually work.