"It's not as if the world needs any more of us. You'd never know it from reading The Sun, though, with its exhortations to breed, breed, breed. Is it just that you need more readers? Or that your advertisers need more consumers?" — Letter to editor, Vancouver Sun, Sept. 18, 2007
"Never in history has there been economic growth without population growth." — European Population Conference 2005
"The Great Baby Strike: getting women to have more kids will take a social revolution so profound as to be, well, inconceivable."
— Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail, March 5, 2005
"In the corner, this Englishman's sitting. He hasn't said a word. He's just tucking into his dinner. So they decide to ask him: 'Well why do you think we can't make babies anymore?' And he looks up at them and he's chewing on this great big wing, and he says 'I haven't the faintest idea, but this stork is quite tasty, isn't it?' " — Jasper, Children of Men, 2006 film
THE TANGLED TOPIC OF POPULATION
The topic of population is a Gordian knot of issues because you cannot pull on it without pulling on the issues of women's rights, religion, racism, classism, sexism, eugenics, economics, and scapegoating mothers and the world's poor for environmental problems. (links)
It is also a contentious personal issue. Women with children get criticized for contributing to the destruction of the environment, for making bad choices, for being bad parents and even for causing poverty; women without children get criticized for being selfish, anti-child or anti-family. (Nobody's Mother: Life without kids )
Before I go any further, it is important to state that I am not advocating that women have more, or fewer, babies. I am however writing to point out that:
- If we do not change from the goal of economic growth, there always be a required goal of population growth - ergo - the economy depends on women having babies;
- Because of this, women in countries with falling fertility rates may face coercive or repressive pro-natal policies;
- Overpopulation alarmism leads to an implied 'let them die' sentiment (see Part 2) directed against the world's poor (easy target) because it takes attention away from the economic drivers of environmental destruction (hard target);
- A universal Guaranteed Livable Income addresses these problems and is most likely to create population equilibrium.
The concept of an unconditional universal income benefit (Guaranteed Livable Income or Basic Income ) is often thought of as being unrealistic or utopian. However, there is nothing more unrealistic than trying to create living wage jobs for every person in the world who needs one.
Pushing the jobs solution, instead of a guaranteed livable income, pushes everyone into an overt glorified market economy of paid work while covertly - since it is not acknowledged - relying upon invisiblized, denigrated unpaid non-market work - mostly done by mothers - to prop it all up.
Society can't have it both ways, screaming for more economic growth to spur jobs and incomes while also telling mothers and children that they are unproductive dependent drains upon society.
POPPING ECONOMICS LIKE A BIG PIMPLE
People imagine that a world with fewer people would mean more for them: more stuff, more resources, more space, and higher wages since there would be fewer people competing for jobs. This is all very logical... but not under an illogical economic growth system.
"Not enough babies: Report fingers new threat to economy" — Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23, 2005 (US)
"The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity What to Do About It" — Phillip Longman, 2004
"Hey lady! What will it take to make you breed?" — cover of Macleans magazine, May 28, 2007 (CA)
"POPULATION IMPLOSION" — National Post, Feb. 25, 2007(CA)
"How to persuade Canadian couples to have more children?"
— National Post, July 1, 2006 (CA)
"Across the Pacific, Japan's current labour crisis emerged 25 years ahead of the rest of the low-fertility world's. It's showing how deeply a society without kids can hurt the economy." — Pieta Woolley, The Daycare Dilemma, Georgia Straight (Vancouver BC), May 18, 2005
Economic growth requires either growing numbers of consumers or growing rates of consumption.
"But the demographic party is just about over. During the next two decades, and especially out to mid-century, demographics will depress per capita output growth virtually everywhere." —Joshua N. Feinman, Chief Economist, Deutsche Asset Management, Americas "Demographic Trends and Their Implications; A Closer Look" Apr. 2007
"If we are not producing more citizens who will ultimately consume, that is a problem." —Alan Mirabelli, Vanier Institute of the Family, Globe & Mail, Aug. 12, 2003
"To  marketers, the vast emerging 'youth market' was particularly tantalizing... As a business man and I drove past a new schoolyard filled with children, he joked:. 'look at all those happy little dollar signs. '" — Vance Packard, The Waste Makers, 1960
Because of the way the economic system works, dropping birth rates means, mathematically, an eventual drop in consumption and a corresponding drop in jobs. As anyone who works retail will tell you, when sales slow down, staff get sent home. Currently all jobs depend on consumption: people get their incomes from jobs, and jobs come from consumption —not from production, because production without consumption equals unsold goods and layoffs. ('Non-profit' jobs also depend indirectly on consumption.)
Because children have been portrayed as burdens and dependents, it is difficult to grasp that the business sector is actually totally dependent on children and the women who have them.
The only 'problem' with having a smaller population is a contrived one: a mismatch between the size of the consumer base (shrinking) and the amount of products and services for sale (growing). The gap will diverge further with the advent of more digital products - which are almost infinitely reproducible.
Unless we change our economic system with a guarantee income as a transition, this is simply the math of the situation. Implementing a universal income benefit means there would be no more reason to try to ramp up consumption. An end to the economic growth imperative would also end the population growth imperative.
(See also info on "demographic sweet spots" and effect on economy)
POPULATION EQUILIBRIUM - with a guaranteed income
"Dr. Josue de Castro makes the point that 'hunger, far from leading to depopulation, tends to bring about overpopulation." — W. Stanley Mooneyham, What do you say to a hungry world?, 1975
"Improvements in socioeconomic development are incontrovertibly associated with declines in fertility, both historically and currently." — David M. Heer & Jill S. Grigsby, Society and Population, 3rd Edition, 1992
"...with high infant mortality and lack of basic social services, it is a rational choice to have more children... When children are regarded as essential contributors to the economic viability of the family, is it surprising the poor decide to have more children?" —Inter-Church Coalition on Africa, Toward a Moral Economy, Responses to Poverty in the North and South, 1996
"If everyone in the world, including children, is entitled to a basic income guarantee, is there a danger that the birth rate will go up and the world's population will be unsustainable? It should be noted first that it is possible that a global basic income guarantee would have the opposite effect. One of the reasons that people have children is to try to ensure that they will be cared for in old age. If a global basic income guarantee provides for people in old age, then there will be less reason to have children." — Nicolaus Tideman, 2007 The Ethics of Unequal Basic Income Guarantees
A Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) is not pro-natalist, or anti-natalist. It would however, remove the population growth imperative brought about by an economic growth imperative and would create population equilibrium.
Economic security created by a Guaranteed Livable Income (Basic Income) in every country in the world would stabilize fertility rates: low fertility countries would see a small increase in births; high fertility rate countries would see a decrease as happens with improved life conditions.
The 15 countries with the highest Total Fertility Rates also have the worst infant mortality rates in the world and the lowest life expectancies (below age 60) which shows how closely high fertility is linked to high infant mortality, low life expectancy and poor health and living conditions. (CIA World Factbook data)
In countries like Canada where the fertility rate is very low (1.58), there could be a small spike in births at first because 'pent-up demand' (e.g. UK baby boom); many people in Canada have delayed starting a family because of high and rising living costs, and financial fear.
"The dirty secret of contemporary social policy is that we are spending our collective resources on the wrong generation.... Many young couples now feel that they cannot afford to raise a family. Birth rates have declined 50 percent in a generation and children across the board are at risk." — Sylvia Ann Hewlett, When the Bough Breaks: the cost of Neglecting our Children, 1991
"Meanwhile, the size of the Japanese population is shrinking, and for the first time the government has acknowledged that the falling birth rate is linked to job-related factors. Young people do not feel financially stable enough to start families." — Leo Lewis, UK Times Online, 2006
Given the intensity of the child-bearing experience and long term commitment that is part of raising a child, a GLI would not provide any real incentive to having children, it would merely remove 'some' of the financial disincentives that currently postpone childbearing by those who want children. (However, if the benefit was not universal, and was targeted only to caregivers, then women might be coerced into having children for economic reasons.)
BLAME GAME - PICK THE POWERLESS
The overpopulation/scarcity meme has been flogged since Malthus because it is such a handy all purpose 'blame the victim' tool. Pointing at overpopulation as the problem, picks an easy target: mothers and poor people. On the other hand, looking at the environmental harm caused by the economic system means taking a stand against vested interests and wall-to-wall status quo economic experts. Blaming overpopulation is easy: easy to understand and easy to do since mothers and poor people do not have armies of pit bull pundits to defend them, nor richly funded 'free market charity think tanks. It is much easier to blame overpopulation for environmental problems than it is to blame fundamental flaws of our economic system (complex and contentious).
But misplaced blame has killer consequences. Banging the overpopulation drum is so easy, that it easily translates into 'let-them-die' Malthusian social policies that are easy to enact because they rely on inaction.
It is often heard that talking about overpopulation is taboo (Attenborough 2011 speech)*, however stacks of books, articles and websites would indicate otherwise. What is really taboo is how shrinking populations are incompatible with the goal of economic growth. To talk of this would mean acknowledging that mothers play a foundational role in the economy. It would also mean that economic policies designed as if the goal is to end human species, such as meager resources going to children and their caregivers, might have to change.
"So we say the government ought to stop subsidizing births to anybody, rich or poor..."
— Charles Murray
Very few environmentalist overpopulation alarmists advocate a basic income. This is probably due to the Malthusian idea that 'if you feed them you breed them' even though the opposite is true: when conditions improve for people they have fewer children, not more. (With exceptions, as in Eastern Europe where living conditions have worsened and fertility rates are the lowest in the world - see Population Crash by Fred Pearce.)
*In Attenborough's talk on overpopulation, you will note his concern for the environment (which is laudable) but you not see him pounding the podium to demand people stop eating meat and become vegan, get rid of their automobiles and ride bicycles, or ban print advertising (approx. 80% of all printing) - which would provoke the wrath of very large industries as well as all the meat-eaters and car-drivers.
POPPING BY NUMBER
Total world population is still rising; but fertility rates around the world are falling which means that world population will peak and then start decreasing. Even in countries with the highest fertility rates, rates are also falling too.
"By 2050, according to the latest United Nations projections, 75 percent of all countries, even in underdeveloped regions, will be reproducing at below replacement levels..." — Philip Longman, The Empty Cradle; how falling birthrates threaten world prosperity, 2004
"As recently as 2002, twenty African countries had an average of six children per woman. But by 2008, only nine did. Several -including Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Kenya- have seen their fertility fall by more than a third." — Fred Pearce, Population Crash, 2010
Population growth rates
peaked in 1960s
Population annual increase peaked
(87 million) in the late 1980s
Total world population growth...
usually the only chart shown
World pop growth: Less developed countries, light green, more developed countries, dark green. PRB
ACTIONS VS. NUMBERS
|"Personally I think we would be wise to aim at a stabilized population of about half to one billion, and then we would be free to live in many different ways without harming Gaia." — James Lovelock, Revenge of Gaia
James Lovelock in his 2008 book The Revenge of Gaia says that the world would be best with 1 billion people. However, it is not human numbers but human actions that will determine how green the planet can be. Without changing the economic system, one billion people could still obliterate their environment if they are one billion maniacal, power obsessed, nuclear bomb-toting sociopaths each hell-bent on world domination.
Of course size of population is a factor, but it is not the deciding factor. What determines the level of harm perpetrated on the environment is not how many people there are, but what activities those people are doing, and it is economics that drives and determines those activities.
And... as indigenous philosopher Vine Deloria Jr. (1933-2005) pointed out in God is Red, Western economic traditions are driven by an apocalyptic world view that sees the planet as something to plunder because there will be pie in the sky when you die, and the world is going to end (yesterday) anyhow. (Note: this is a very flippant summation of this crucial must-read book. Read it to understand the illogical, and anti-enviro, foundations of the economy).
In a post-guaranteed income world, there may still be status-seeking consumption habits, however, I expect since people would have more peace of mind, less stress, and time to learn skils and form friendships, so that consumption now spurred by dysfunction would change from status-seeking to expression-seeking - DIY arts and fashion.
People have difficulty seeing how economics is the deciding factor in the ruination of the environment. This is due to the deep moral and cultural roots of the idea —not the reality— of 'hard work.' It is much easier to blame population and thus, mothers, for environmental problems than it is to question definitions of work and a monolithic entrenched economic structure that is defended by captains of industry and their army of puppets.
If humanity does not recognize that the driving force causing environmental destruction is economic, there is no way to save environment because what is driving the destruction will remain hidden and unchallenged.
As Upton Sinclair so aptly described: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."
If human society is determined to continue with an economic system that requires vast waste of natural resources — and wars over those resources — then even a few million power-mad people could easily turn the planet into a giant crispy crouton in space.
A BREAK FROM THE HAMPSTER WHEEL OF DESTRUCTION
If we no longer need to strive for economic growth, then lack of population (consumer) growth will not be a problem but will be a solution to give the planet a break. It will also give a break to humans who are exhausting themselves trying to keep up with a human invented system based on distorted, fantastical economic ideas that are well past their due date.
Next: GLI and Population Part II
CIA World Factbook (see drop down menu for "People")
Colin Tudge - It Is Easy to Feed the World ( also see anti-Tudge article on PunkScience blog)
Vanessa Baird - No-Nonsense Guide to World Population (a must read)
Fred Pearce - Population Crash (2010 book)
Michelle Goldberg: Sex, Power and the Future of the World
Women, GDP and the Economy
Back to top - Back to Equilibrium - Back to Numbers
Contact the author @Livable4All
Post questions/comments on article here: http://livable4all.tumblr.com/
Thank you to JSL, Megan, Shawna, SIG, and helpful tweeps @itsmotherswork and the friendly @antihuman_c (even though we disagree on a few things) and several other twitterers who sent me their thoughts and observations (and links).