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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 ]


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