We’re Winning the Battle on Population Control; Now We’re About to Pay the Price
On the face of it, the news about population control is all good. Our human society is winning its war on runaway population growth.
The Population Bomb predicted by Paul Ehrlich in 1968 is being defused.
Fertility rates have fallen around the world, and in some countries like Japan the population is declining.
So, that’s good news, right?
The answer is yes … and no.
On the plus side, it’s clear this decline in population growth had to happen, but there’s a price to pay.
And we’re about to foot the bill.
THE POPULATION IMPLOSION
You may have seen the November, 2016 article in New Science about the coming Population Implosion. (“The World in 2076: The Population Bomb has Imploded:” New Scientist)
It’s getting a lot of press right now because Elon Musk jumped on the bandwagon this week, predicting a global ‘collapse’.
“The world’s population is accelerating towards collapse, but few seem to notice or care,” Musk wrote.
The original article by Fred Pearce argues that fertility rates have dropped so quickly in affluent countries that we will suffer a population collapse of biblical proportions.
“Could the population bomb be about to go off in the most unexpected way?,” Pearce argues. “Rather than a Malthusian meltdown, could we instead be on the verge of a demographic implosion?”
The issue is real, but it’s also unavoidable, and in a way the argument is irrelevant.
Yes, the world will suffer through a population implosion.
But the alternative – continuing population growth – is even worse.
That road leads to mass starvation, global war, and potentially the end of our modern civilization.
By contrast, the coming Population Implosion will lead to economic decline in countries that don’t plan well for the change in their demographics.
But it won’t lead to the end of the world.
To understand why, you have to look at what was happening in the world as the population grew out of control.
THE POPULATION EXPLOSION: 1800 TO 2000
As any demographer can tell you, it took all of human history for the global population to reach one billion people in 1800.
At that time, in 1798, the Reverend Thomas Malthus released “An Essay on the Principle of Population.”
The book predicted a grim future, where the planet was overwhelmed and stripped bare as the population doubled every 25 years.
Malthusian theory largely held true for two centuries. World population hit 2.5 billion in 1950 and in 1960, my own birth contributed to a global population of 3 billion.
Now, despite declining fertility rates around the world, the population has more than doubled again, at 7.4 million.
When animal populations increase rapidly they eventually hit a maximum number that outstrips the resources the animals rely on to survive. This is usually followed by a catastrophic die off of the species.
But humans are not rabbits. We have the capacity to reason, to plan, and to react.
In the 1980s and 1990s the Science Academies around the world joined forces to launch a full-scale assault on unchecked population growth.
Governments around the world listened and began the introduction of family planning, gender equality for women, education, and a variety of other programs aimed at making it beneficial to have fewer children.
And it worked.
WHERE HAVE ALL THE BABIES GONE?
The annual increase in the number of living humans peaked in 1989 and has been falling ever since.
The drive to decrease fertility rates around the world is working.
According to the UN Population Fund, “The recent past has seen enormous changes in fertility rates and life expectancy. In the early 1970s, women had on average 4.5 children each; by 2014, total fertility for the world had fallen to around 2.5 children per woman. Meanwhile, average global lifespans have risen, from 64.8 years in the early 1990s to 70.0 years today.”
Between 1950 and 2010 the world fertility rate dropped by an incredible 40 per cent.
But it’s not dropping everywhere at the same time, and this is what has caused people to fear a coming Population Implosion.
In general, the more affluent countries are seeing huge declines in fertility. These include the US, Denmark, China and Singapore, with rates of 1.87, 1.73, 1.6, and 0.81. All of these countries are well below the ‘replacement rate’ of 2.1 births per thousand population.
The issue is most obvious in Japan, which saw a net decline in its population in 2015 of 300,000 people.
One million babies were born, but 1.3 million people died. Now, the population in Japan is shrinking, leading to major changes in the market for houses, cars, consumer goods, and pretty much everything else you can think of.
As a result, there has been virtually no growth in Japan’s Gross Domestic Product for more than 20 years.
And now the rest of us are heading in the same direction. Economies will see their GDP figures falling instead of growing for decades into the future.
The so-called Population Implosion will create economic havoc for the unprepared … but creates opportunities for the wise.
PAYING THE PRICE
Still, the next 30 years are going to bring severe challenges to the entire planet … and will affect you personally.
The housing and construction markets will start to fail. There will a shortage of workers in key jobs. The Population Implosion will affect your investments, employment rates, social services, migration, and more.
For example, retirement funds depend on new, younger people paying into them so the fund always grows. If those younger people aren’t there, the fund runs out of money, and suddenly your retirement fund is bankrupt.
This shift in demographics is creating fears of economic collapse throughout the industrialized world … but it was unavoidable.
Humanity had no choice but to starting bringing down the rate of population growth. At some point the world would have too many people to support. Like a balloon, if the population grew without end the bubble would eventually burst.
The result would be catastrophic on a global scale.
By contrast, the declining population rates in modern economies creates both problems and potential benefits.
NEGATIVE OR POSITIVE? THE POPULATION IMPLOSION IS BOTH
Those worrying about the population implosion forget that fertility rates are declining at different rates in different regions.
While many countries now rely on immigration just to replace our population, other countries still face soaring population numbers.
The truth is that an ‘implosion’ will only happen locally.
The global picture is very different, and in fact, the world will likely see an increase to 10 billion people by the end of this century. That’s far from being an ‘implosion’.
Most of that growth will occur in just nine countries: India, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania, the United States, Indonesia, and Uganda.
In just five years India is expected to surpass China as the world’s most populous country. Nigeria will likely surpass the United States by 2050.
So, what does this mean?
Essentially, with smart policies around global migration, the Population Implosion may never happen. Instead, we could see a much better distribution of global income, with fewer people starving in abject poverty.
People in Western and Asian countries are aging, and those economies will need young people to take care of them, to take on new jobs, and to create new companies.
But that will only happen with a significant change in policy in the industrialized world.
Right now many countries are hardening their attitudes toward Third World immigration … and that may be the very thing that ravages their economies.
The problem is that most of the population growth over the next two or three decades will happen in sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa, and the Middle East … but these regions are (not surprisingly) where most of the world’s military conflicts are now happening.
Violence from the Middle East and North Africa has been spilling over into Europe and America. Terrorist threats on the home front are diminishing the appetite for increased immigration from those regions … but increased immigration is going to be required to keep our economies from sagging into long-term recession.
YOUTH: THE HOT NEW IMPORT
According to Foreign Policy magazine, the long term volume of immigration needed to avert overall population decline in Europe is about 1.8 million people per year. That’s almost double current immigration levels.
But that’s not the whole picture.
The problem in Europe and elsewhere is the declining number of young people vs. old people, or in other words, the ‘working age population’.
Just to keep that number where it is today, Europe will have to nearly quadruple its net migration to 3.6 million annually.
If that happened, by 2050 non-Europeans would account for up to 25 per cent of the European population.
That need for immigration flies in the face of recent attitudes towards immigrants.
Anti-immigration movements have gained momentum in Europe and America following terror attacks in France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Britain.
In the US, the Trump administration made headlines by putting in place travel and immigration bans on six Muslim countries, and in general the US has been turning against immigration from any Third World country.
We are in a situation where growing numbers of citizens virulently oppose the very thing we need to keep our economies rolling.
THE COMING CRISIS
Without increases in immigration or fertility, analysts are predicting many Western and Asian nations will soon face a major threat to their economies. It will be felt first in the West, where the population is much older.
Like Japan, these nations will face an overall drop in the GDP, in productivity, innovation, and enterprise. House sales and therefore house construction will fall dramatically, as will the sales of consumer products.
There will also be a pronounced shortage of people to care for the elderly, in countries where the elderly literally outnumber the young.
All countries, without exception, place limits on immigration to limit social disruption.
But in the future, those limits will either have to be raised significantly, or the low fertility nations will have to accept a future where productivity and GDP will fall significantly.
The positive side of the trend is that people in the high fertility nations can in fact replace the disappearing work force, and they happen to be the very people who most desperately need jobs and income.
So, the world faces a hard choice. A population implosion is not, in fact, a foregone conclusion.
But avoiding this crisis will require governments and citizens to accept either more immigration, or an economy significantly weaker than what we enjoy today.