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LQD: Population growth as Ponzi scheme

by Magnifico Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 07:38:35 AM EST

The 'Rebuilding the Economy' series at the Christian Science Monitor has an article that asks Is population growth a Ponzi scheme?

Notions that population growth is a boon for prosperity - or that national political success depends on it - are "Ponzi demography," says Joseph Chamie, former director of the population division of the United Nations.

The profits of growth go to the few, and everyone else picks up the tab.


Diary Rescue by Migeru


The United Nations is predicting the world's population will stabilize by 2050. Growing populations in poor nations in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East are expected to be offset by declining populations in much of the developed world.

Why do some like growth?

Growth, whether through immigration or natural increase, is a plus for some groups. For business, it means a boost in the demand for products. It also means a surge in low- and high-skilled workers, which can keep a lid on wage pressures. Religious and ethnic groups want more immigrants of their own faith and ethnicity to raise their political and social clout. The military regards young immigrants as potential recruits.

But the public pays a cost for a bigger population.

According to Chamie, those 'growth' costs are more congestion, more spawl, more farmland destroyed, more environmental destruction, and more greenhouse gas pollution.

While aging and stabilizing populations also have costs, those costs are less than those associated with a growing population. "The goal should be gradual population stabilization, Chamie says. The costs of an aging but stable population would be more manageable than those of a population boom."

He asks: Does America really need more than its current 309 million people? With immigration at present levels, it will have 439 million by 2050.

A stable or falling population, he says, "is not a disaster. It is a success."

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"The United Nations is predicting the world's population will stabilize by 2050 at 416 million people"

I think that should read "around 9.2 billion"...

The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom - William Blake

by talos (mihalis at gmail dot com) on Tue Aug 18th, 2009 at 11:20:26 AM EST
My mistake, that is the developed world's population at 2050. I will fix... been reading too much Lovelock, so the number seemed right. ;-)
by Magnifico on Tue Aug 18th, 2009 at 11:25:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The developed world's population is quite a bit higher than that today.  How much are we assuming it's going to shrink by?

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.
by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Thu Aug 20th, 2009 at 06:00:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lovelock claims The Earth is about to catch a morbid fever that may last as long as 100,000 years
We are in a fool's climate, accidentally kept cool by smoke, and before this century is over billions of us will die and the few breeding pairs of people that survive will be in the Arctic where the climate remains tolerable.
According to wikipedia, he predicts the population will drop by 80% by 2100.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 20th, 2009 at 06:13:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Recession must be hitting his speaking fees.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Aug 20th, 2009 at 06:42:57 AM EST
[ Parent ]
If one is concerned about speaking fees one is advised to deliver feel-good lectures.  There is a much larger audience than for hair shirt lectures.  Ask Jimmy Carter.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 21st, 2009 at 05:30:37 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Their's is a much larger audience...

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 21st, 2009 at 09:33:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
He's already developed a niche market. I'm sure he's kept adequately busy by the people who want to be told that civilisation is doomed because the unenlightened won't listen.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Wed Sep 16th, 2009 at 01:27:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And I predict that we will have a happy world with at least 9.2 billion human inhabitants. But in 1 billion years, yes 80% will die off and 1.3 billion years the earth will slam into the sun...
That's all folks.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Thu Aug 20th, 2009 at 02:39:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
His basic premise is that, with the controls we are likely (not) to put in place, temperatures will rise 8*C in the temperate zones and 4*C in the tropics by 2100.  He notes the effect that particulate emissions are having at present in reducing solar heating and notes that it can and probably will disappear well before then.  I recall a PBS program, NOVA, I believe, that addressed the particulate emissions issue and made a comment this time last year.  Turned out poemless had written a diary on the subject the year before and I had been watching a re-run.  Most of the estimates I have seen predict 6C increases if we do little.  None of them, to my knowledge, include the present moderating effect of industrial haze on greenhouse temperature increases.

The rest of Lovelock's conclusions deal with his estimates of the impact of these changes.  I do not believe any "serious" person or organization has yet published an analysis of the impact of such changes on the carrying capacity of the planet.  I do recall a comment by asdf regarding the extenction of species as climate change proceeds faster than species can adapt.  Given our species' known aversion to bad news, I would be reluctant to write off Lovelock's analysis out of hand.  We do know that the Pentagon and the CIA are taking these issues seriously.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 21st, 2009 at 05:52:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The effect of particle emissions is not as great as Lovelock assumes.

A 6.4 degree Celcius rise in 2100 is the top of the range of likely warming for the most fuel-intensive scenario in the fourth IPCC assessment report. I don't think it's going to happen because we're not going to get that scenario, although it could be possible if there is a runaway warming effect.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Fri Aug 21st, 2009 at 06:22:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But then he is only 1.6C above that worst case and he is a single concerned individual whereas the IPCC is a consensus report from a large group.  And he only refers to +8C for the temperate zones, with +4C for the tropics.  Is the IPCC +6c figure for an earth average?  If so, they could be saying the same thing.  Either way, I certainly hope we can hold the overall average to something like +4C.  That would be bad enough.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 21st, 2009 at 09:30:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The IPCC makes its estimates by 1) setting scenarios and 2) evaluating predictions of a range of models on these scenarios. This results in a 'likely' range on its fossil fuel intensive scenario between 2.4 and 6.4 degrees celsius, with a best estimate on that scenario of 4 degrees celsius.

So this is the upper bound of the likely range for the scenario with the highest emissions. In other words, Lovelock is assuming the worst case rather than the most likely.

That's his right, of course. But it would be silly to start taking it as the most likely picture of what's going to happen rather than a worst case possibility.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Aug 22nd, 2009 at 04:16:15 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But it would be silly to start taking it as the most likely picture of what's going to happen rather than a worst case possibility.

Agreed.  Yet, at this point it seems to me very unwise to minimize worst case possibilities.  People should keep in mind that such an outcome IS as possibility.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 22nd, 2009 at 10:09:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... burn all the coal we can dig up or buy from somewhere around the world until its all finished, even if there is less oil available than assumed in some of the high fossil fuel scenarios, that's still awful close to the top end of the high fossil fuel scenario.

We are presently on track for very near the worst case, and will stay there until we show a capacity to leave coal in the ground unconsumed.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 10:15:36 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe some countries will drop off the "developed world"...

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu Aug 20th, 2009 at 06:14:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Lovelock seems to question how much of what we laughingly call "civilization" will survive the sort of climate catastrophe he is seeing.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 21st, 2009 at 05:56:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
From the cited CSM reference, 416 million is the estimated number of people aged 60 years or more by 2050.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 21st, 2009 at 05:28:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Lasthorseman on Wed Sep 16th, 2009 at 01:11:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The profits of growth go to the few, and everyone else picks up the tab.
Just tell that to the Africans that cling to flotsam and jetsam to get to Europe or the 100 Cubans crammed into raft size boat.
He asks: Does America really need more than its current 309 million people? With immigration at present levels, it will have 439 million by 2050.
Sure, why not? Sounds good, maybe 1 billion would also be good.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Tue Aug 18th, 2009 at 01:56:04 PM EST
Ronald Rutherford:
Just tell that to the Africans that cling to flotsam and jetsam to get to Europe or the 100 Cubans crammed into raft size boat.

Because they would say what? That population growth is a great idea?

Sweden's finest (and perhaps only) collaborative, leftist e-newspaper Synapze.se

by A swedish kind of death on Tue Aug 18th, 2009 at 02:46:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Because they would say what? That population growth is a great idea?
That coming to a High Income Country benefits them, what more do you think they want? Not sure if the refugees consider population growth a good idea but it sounds like "white man's burden".

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Tue Aug 18th, 2009 at 03:12:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely they are escaping overpopulation in their own countries?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 04:44:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely they are escaping overpopulation in their own countries?

I am sure there are many factors as to what they are escaping and from my studies it is due to lack of freedoms, lack of development and most importantly lack of democracy. Overpopulation is probably lowest on the factors especially considering that Europe has higher density of people and not to mention Singapore.

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 12:08:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Citations, please?

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 12:39:32 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... Singapore are self sufficient in their resources.

Lessee, Africa, footprint 1.4 ha/ca, biocapacity, 1.8 ha/cap, surplus 0.4 ha/cap, on a population of 902m, or a surplus biocapacity of 360m ha.

EU, footprint, 4.7ha/ca, biocapacity, 2.3ha/ca, deficit, 2.4ha/ca, on a population of 487.3, or a deficit biocapacity of 1,169.3m ha.

There you go, the Africans are just paddling across the Med to get their hands on their missing resources.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 10:27:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Not sure how much I agree with the post at the top of this thread, but overpopulation as a reason for refugees and migration is a bit overplayed, I think.  People don't flee from a particular level of population density, but rather from a lack of economic opportunity, corruption, and political oppression.  The causes of these problems are almost entirely social and political.

Population growth may contribute to the hopelessness and desperation stemming from these root problems, as traditional (pre-modern, subsistence and family oriented) safety nets fail to deal with a larger number of people who need to be saved, but they wouldn't be necessary if the above problems weren't severe.

Sure, there may be more people in the Sahel than can reasonably survive as goat herders, but the real problem isn't that there are too many goat herders, but that they're goat herders to begin with.  There's no money in goat herding, and they know it, but they're powerless to do anything but immigrate.

If it was merely a factor of "too many people in too small a space," which is sort of what "overpopulation" implies, refugees would be coming from places like Tokyo.  

Then again, the way things are going in the US, they may very well start fleeing from New York.

by Zwackus on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 08:16:02 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Are you conflating population growth rates and population levels?

In an economy that is not growing rapidly, rapid population growth implies declining income per capita. And that, of course, can itself be an impediment to economic growth.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 10:29:07 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Slow economic growth combined with high population growth leads to declining incomes, undermining economic growth, and if it leads to declining education rates by girls, can even lead to accelerated population growth.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Sep 16th, 2009 at 03:34:53 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sorry for the late reply.  I intended to say nothing about population growth rates, but rather to comment on the notion of "overpopulation" as a primary driver for refugees.

On your point, though, I agree entirely that that is a nasty combination.  However, I don't generally think that, generally speaking, a "surplus" of population can be blamed for poor economic conditions, but rather political issues and the local, national, and regional level.  

Given the presence of local politically-based blockages to economic development (parasitic elites sucking dry anything and everything that produces revenue), population growth does make existing problems worse.  But I don't think it can be blamed for the existence of those problems.  It should be remembered that every country that underwent an industrial revolution did so during a population explosion.  Those were special times and special circumstances, obviously - and it is those times and circumstances, not population growth or the lack thereof - that is the important thing to look at.

On another front, environmental stability, absolute population numbers are far more important, I think.  However, that is a different issue from the one under discussion here.

by Zwackus on Wed Sep 16th, 2009 at 09:25:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... sloppy thinking about the problem of overpopulation.

The idea of population "surplus" is always with respect to what standard of living, what technological requirements of resources supporting that standard of living, and what resources available.

So, for instance, at current standards of living and technological requirements, Europe is overpopulated and Africa is not - Europe is living beyond its own biocapacity, and Africa is living within its own biocapacity. Reverse the standards of living but not the technology and Africa would be overpopulated while Europe would not be.

And if a country were to maintain an "overpopulated" population at a stable level while technological efficiency improves, it would become less and less "overpopulated" over time.

That is the serious consideration of population levels - what population levels can be sustainably support with the resources and technology at hand.

Singapore would of course be a Red Herring in this discussion - the hinterland of the City of Singapore is not the Island of Singapore, but rather the entire western portion of ASEAN. And ASEAN itself would, indeed, be an appropriate scale for considering the question of what population would be sustainable.

At the same time, for the question of what economic growth rates can be attained, rather than what populations can be sustainably maintained, the critical issue has been population growth rates. And that is, of course, not new - that has been the focus of the serious discussion on that issue since the 1970's at least.


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Sep 17th, 2009 at 01:23:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Wed Aug 26th, 2009 at 01:49:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I fail to see the relevance of this to the argument advanced - either in favor or opposed.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 07:35:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Which argument would that be?

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 12:09:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The one you were replying to?

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 12:13:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. The costs of indefinite population growth outweigh the benefits.
  2. Said costs and benefits are distributed inequitably.

If you wish to discuss these points seriously, wonderful.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 12:35:59 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's stop feeding the trolls, people.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 12:50:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I figured it was worth offering a last opportunity to show good faith.

The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. -Paul Krugman
by dvx (dvx.clt ät gmail dotcom) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 01:10:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. The costs of indefinite population growth outweigh the benefits.
   2. Said costs and benefits are distributed inequitably.

If you wish to discuss these points seriously, wonderful.

dvx, why thanks for you level of tolerance and faith in other people.

  1. I do not believe I have ever here nor anywhere else said "indefinite population growth outweighs the benefits". We seem to have definite numbers to work with and 416 million for the US is OK with me and 9.2 billion other humans on this planet is fine also.

  2. No one again said distributed equitably. I think that was already assumed since people got in rickety old boats and set out for a better life-as I mentioned. But it is beyond just material possessions but also freedom and chance to develop themselves to the full potential. And yes human capital is not distributed equitably. Which is at least one reason for allowing labor to migrate.

Thanks...

Rutherfordian ------------------------------ RDRutherford
by Ronald Rutherford (rdrradio1 -at- msn -dot- com) on Wed Aug 19th, 2009 at 02:18:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
dvx:

1. The costs of indefinite population growth outweigh the benefits.

I agree. Isn't it obvious that an "indefinite population growth" will collide with a "finite planet earth" (Or even a finite universe for our believers in technology :-)? Somebody posted a nice video on the exponential function in my "Ponzi" diary.
The problem is that the mainstream economic religion says that our economy needs growth. And population growth is "Growth for Dummies" to paraphrase popular book titles. This reminds me of my old diary Beyond Ponzi Economy

Schau in mich, Harno

Make it as simple as possible but not simpler (Albert Einstein)

by harnoes on Wed Sep 16th, 2009 at 04:16:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I think the CSM article oversimplifies and doesn't cover enough ground. It doesn't address the disparity between birth rates in industrialized and 'non-industrialized' regions, for lack of better term.

A question that is rarely asked: what is the cause of high reproductive rates?

[Forgive me if I'm about to repeat the obvious].

Paradoxically, one finds high population growth in economically disadvantaged parts of the world, while in industrialized regions, birth rates have been in steady decline for close to 30 years [to the distress of State retirement systems, which, if benevolent, comply with the definition of 'Ponzi scheme'].

The issue boils down to wealth distribution. Generally speaking, the higher the GDP of a country, the greater the likelihood that it will have implemented some kind of welfare plan for non-productive work force, as in financial support for the aged.

Non-industrialized societies, on the other hand, rely on quantities of able bodies to support successive generations of aged family members, all the more so given the likely accompanied lack of health care and consequent high infant mortality rates.

For those who wail on about high birth rates in non-industrialized parts of the world, consider this: do you not think that women would have better, more productive things to do with their lives than bear, feed and raise 6-8-12 or more children, burden which constitutes, essentially, the equivalent of a rich individual's retirement fund?

If one considers, in addition, that it is in deed the 'non-industrialized' peoples of the world who underwrite the pension plans of wealthy nations, through industrial exploitation of raw materials and labor, if there were a real concern about overpopulation, wouldn't the priority be to ensure livable wages and adequate health care to those whose resources are disproportionately exploited?

With honest redistribution of wealth, population trends would be equalized within a generation or four, and there would no longer be such thing as 'useless eaters' or desperate immigrants.

What's the problem then? Why isn't the obvious solution implemented?

Short-term gains.

Overpopulation is thus a non-issue. The problem lies elsewhere.

by Loefing on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 10:43:58 AM EST
While agreeing with you i think the (non)issue the article tackles is population shrinkage. We hear all too often the concerns that we (western countries) have aging populations, incapable of sustaining the Social State.

This in my view stems from an political/economic paradigm that can only function in perpetual growth. In it, perpetual growth is the alibi for not redistributing, ever, because you must first create wealth and only then, in the future, we can all live better lives.

All in all, as you point, is a matter of avoiding redistribution, that starts home and affects distant poor countries.

by Torres on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 11:16:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Also, as long as there is growth the issue of redistribution can be avoided because there is the ability to give more to everyone out of the growing pot without the wealthy needing to share their existing wealth.

En un viejo país ineficiente, algo así como España entre dos guerras civiles, poseer una casa y poca hacienda y memoria ninguna. -- Gil de Biedma
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 11:38:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite. And what you're describing is called class war, for short.
by Loefing on Tue Sep 15th, 2009 at 03:02:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]


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