Population Control

I recently returned from a brief sojourn to the North Shore of Minnesota where the sun is always shining and the temperatures are pleasant. It is truly beautiful. We met my wife’s brother in St. Cloud and drove up together to spend a few days hiking and visiting. It was delightful — though the return to home base with the temperatures in the 90s, the humidity off the charts, and the lawn burned out from the prolonged drought was a bit of a shock.

In any event, on the return trip we had to wait a while in St. Cloud for the train to arrive to take my brother-in-law back to hot and steamy Montana and we turned on the television in the motel room and watched a National Geographic special that touched on a timely topic: world population.

Now I have blogged on this in the past and have made my position clear: exploding human population is in my view the major problem facing the future of this planet — especially if, as expected, food production is adversely affected by global warming. But this program revealed an apparent truth I was unaware of, and that is that population in “developed nations” has dropped and is predicted to drop even further. The program focused on Japan where the country has taken it upon itself an effort to induce young Japanese couples to marry and procreate. It was mentioned that in Russia a young couple is given a refrigerator by the State if they have a child! In any event, there is concern among a number of those countries that their populations are dropping off and that this is a trend that will continue.

One would think this is very good news indeed — declining human populations are a good thing, surely! But it raises a provocative question: why would the countries by worried and making various attempts to provide incentives to young people to have more children? The answer is glaringly obvious once you think about the problem a bit: it’s all about the economy. These countries want bodies that will work, earn money, pay taxes, and buy things they don’t need. Fewer people endanger an economy that requires people to earn and spend.

Joseph Schumpeter, whom I have referenced in earlier blogs, predicted in the 1940s that capitalism would fail not because of the rise of the Proletariat as Marx predicted, but from its own successes. In a word, as young people become more affluent and more self-absorbed they would become more and more calculating (“rationalizing” was his word) in their approach to life and would decide that children would only be a deterrent to the satisfaction of their desires and they would wait to get married and have fewer and fewer children — if they had any at all.

As Schumpeter himself put it, young people

 “. . .cannot fail to become aware of the heavy personal sacrifices that family ties and especially parenthood entail under modern conditions and of the fact that at the same time, excepting in cases of farmers and peasants, children cease to be an economic asset.” Moreover, they would think, “why should we stunt our ambitions and impoverish our lives in order to be insulted and looked down upon in our old age?”

As a result, Schimpeter predicted, population in those countries that depended on capitalism would see a decline in population and this would eventually cripple the economy. This, of course, explains why the “developed” countries are worried about the decline in human populations in their countries. It’s all about the money.

In sum, it would appear that reduced human populations would be a blessing as far as the preservation of the planet and the reduction of a great many of the global problems humans face at present, but if it hurts the pocketbook then it must be discouraged.



13 thoughts on “Population Control

  1. Great Post Hugh. And yes, every problem we have in regard to our civilization points glaringly to overpopulation. It is the ‘Elephant in the Room’ that we intentionally ignore.

    Capitalism and the Economic engine also seems to rely on poor nations staying poor, uneducated, and without means to control the birthrate… It is essential for a cheap labour force and is the prime reason that we do not see more equality in the world.

    When I first read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, I thought ‘how awful’ and ‘no it couldn’t possibly happen!’ But actually, Huxley packaged up, succinctly, the state of the human species. He just made it more glaringly obvious in his novel.

    • Huxley is one of my favorite authors. He was positively prescient. I assigned it in college to a Freshman class and the general response was: what does this have to do with me?? Good grief!!

  2. They sound like a bunch of non reading Delta’s, thus fulfilling prophesy.

    George Orwell’s 1984 was another foretelling of our present time times (mostly) and even ‘Big Brother,’ is fast closing in on us.

    I just hope we don’t start moving into Margaret Atwood’s ‘Handmaiden’s Tale.’ But anything is possible these days. Sigh!

  3. Hugh, timely post. Our western (and Japan) countries are aging which is the concern you note. This is a reason for the interest in robot workers in Japan which are being developed as we speak.

    The population increases still concern as we have water, food and energy issues where the growth is occurring. And, as others increase their use of first world consumables, the limited resources are of even greater concern, as you note. Keith

    • This is just a tad insane. The planet needs to de-populate. Offering incentives to couples to have more kids makes no sense whatever — except to economists.

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