Thought Provoking

Books can make you do a lot of things. One of best things they can do is to make you think. With that in mind, let’s explore.

One of the best things I ever did was join a book club at a local independent book seller about a year ago. The group chooses its own selections and for June 2019 we read and subsequently discussed Empty Planet by Canadians Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson at the recommendation of a retired physician who is one of the club’s members.

Prior to reading their work I just went along with long held conventional wisdom that the world’s population was growing and would simply continue to increase seemingly exponentially. Based on some solid scientific and sociological evidence the authors are asking the reader to consider that global population will peak and then actually start to decline over the next several decades. That changes everything.

A birth rate of 2.1 children per sexually mature female is needed to sustain population. Anything under that and the global population decreases; anything over it the global population increases. Note I discuss this issue in terms of global population. For the sake of an academic conversation like this people are theoretically a mobile economic resource.

The birthrate in what we consider advance countries is declining mostly due to the empowerment of women and all that entails. In several European countries the birthrate is already insufficient to replace the dying (without getting into the challenge of a large retired population). I remember as a youngster reading articles about how increased productivity was going to make us all rich and our biggest worry was going to be what to do with all that spare time. Somehow it hasn’t worked out that way. Less developed countries are modernizing and they are starting to follow suit. It appears that it will take a few decades but I can foresee a global population shortage.

The question then becomes how you make sure your country has enough people, (think: workers and innovators). Since people are and always will be a finite resource and are not of positive economic value until they reach maturity (think: an age where they can be economically productive members of society) you can only insure an adequate supply by importing them or growing them. If you are going to grow them you need a head start of about 18 to 25 years. If people become a scarce resource and you haven’t planned ahead you will find yourself in an expensive recruiting war; in the worst case scenario that could become an actual shooting war.

That makes me think that the countries who are currently embracing radical right wing nationalism or what I might call neo-fascism and are making immigration impossible or nearly impossible are – if the policy is sustained – giving themselves a self-imposed economic death sentence. Throughout history civilizations have tried to become elitist and employed what was effectively (and sometimes literally) conquered slave labor. The latest (fortunately failed) attempt was in the Europe in the 1930’s and 1940’s and it took a world war to stop it.

One positive I can see coming from this situation is the status of women rising to true equality (if not superiority). If people become a precious commodity the value of women increases because biologically they are the only ones capable of reproduction. Theoretically a lone male can impregnate multiple females but only females can birth offspring.

If I haven’t already, now I’m really going to sound like an economics professor. This is an equation with multiple variables and it is impossible to isolate any lone variable and say it totally predicts the final outcome. One of the variables is the velocity of the effects of climate change. People are heat generators and consumers of finite resources. In their concluding chapter the authors included a sentence that I cannot get out of my mind: “The solution to producing less carbon dioxide might ultimately be producing fewer humans.”

The problem with theories like this one is that many unforeseen factors can affect the outcome and it will take decades to see how accurately the theory predicts outcomes. In this case we really won’t know how accurate it is until the 2050’s. Should I live that long I will turn 100 in that decade, so the odds are against me being around. I’m still very concerned because my grandchildren will be working age adults in that decade.

While I will admit that conflict caused mass migrations are a problem and America’s immigration system is in need of comprehensive reform; this theory illustrates the foolishness of isolation.

Note: It is impossible to completely cover a topic this complex in a single article. If you want more information I suggest you read Empty Planet which I added to the Recommended Reading List a few weeks ago.  

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