posted on 29 September 2016
by Fabius Maximus, FabiusMaximus.com
Population change remains a favorite topic for doomsters, providing clicks for the news media and thrills for news consumers. For 5 decades we have heard about the standing room only days coming soon for Earth. That's become a tired story, so they've devised a new one.
The rapid rise in population has not yet produced the collapse long predicted by doomsters fromThomas Malthus in An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) to Paul Ehrlich in The Population Bomb (1968). Now doomsters reverse the story. The coming population decline will produce horrific consequences, even a collapse.
Their first claim was false. Their new claim about falling population is even more bogus. Consider Japan. Japan's government has worried about its overpopulation since the Meiji Restoration (1868). Their solution then was to encourage emigration to Korea; it did not help.
Japan's population then was aprox. 3 million. Now they have 127 million people crowded into an urban belt along the coast. At Japan's current level of fertility, by 2060 their population will fall to 86 million, back to the level of 1950 - and by 2100 to 50 million, the level of 1910. (See details here and here.) That would be wonderful. For more perspectives, see Documentary of the Week: Will the Japanese Become Extinct?.
The good news about fewer people
Population growth has been a driver of economic growth for a millennia. But trends tend to become poisonous if continued too long. So it is for population. A smaller population for Japan would be wonderful.
First, Japan could become a garden with cleaner technology and its people no longer crowded shoulder to shoulder. A common question on Japanese grade-school history tests in 2100 will be "What is 'pollution'?"
Low fertility has a second benefit. A falling population will be the prescription for prosperity in the 21st century as the new industrial revolution accelerates. Automation, smart machines, autonomous cars and trucks, 3-D printing, and a host of other technologies will destroy jobs by the millions. Japan has the features of a winner in this new era.
These advantages are mutually reinforcing. A highly educated population suits the new jobs in the 21st century. A shrinking population more easily accommodates job losses from automation, reducing the social stress from automation (more about this here). Less social stress facilitates adoption of new technology and methods.
The obvious contrast is with America, and its growing population of increasingly poorly-educated people, in a society fracturing by ethnicity, race, religion, and ideology.
Mad advocacy for population growth
Doomsters and economists both tend to extrapolate the past into the future. Many economists recommend that Japan boost its population to drive their national income (GDP). Since few nations have successfully boosted fertility, that means encouraging migrants. The New York Times says Insular Japan Needs, but Resists, Immigration. The Washington Post says Strict immigration rules may threaten Japan's future.
These prescriptions for Japan show the limits of economics as a guide to public policy. GDP is not the only measure of a nation's well-being, or even the best. An overcrowded Japan needs fewer people, not more.
Doomsters also project present trends into the future. It produces easy-to-sell clickbait stories of "certain" doom. They prey upon our natural fear of change. While change produces challenges, it often offers the possibility of a better world. The economic transition from rising to falling populations might be rocky, but the result will be a better world for future generations.
Doomster stories often become popular just as events falsify them. The overpopulation hysteria caught fire in the late 1960's. AID chief William S. Gaud gave his famous speech about the "Green Revolution" in 1968, in the midst of the boom in agricultural productivity that prevented doomsters' fantasies from coming true.
Today doomsters circulate stories about the depressions to come from falling populations, just as the rise in structural unemployment begins that will reshape the world. The problems we face are, as usual, the opposite of what the doomsters predict.
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