Doomsters warned of End Times from overpopulation. Now *fewer* people are disasterous.

Summary: Population change remains a favorite topic for doomsters, providing clicks for the news media and thrills for news consumers. For 5 decades we have heard about the standing room only days coming soon for Earth. That’s become a tired story, so they’ve devised a new one…

The Population Bomb
Available at Amazon.

 

The rapid rise in population has not yet produced the collapse long predicted by doomsters from Thomas Malthus in An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) to Paul Ehrlich in The population bomb (1968). Now doomsters reverse the story. The coming population decline will produce horrific consequences, even a collapse.

Their first claim was false. Their new claim about falling population is even more bogus. Consider Japan. Japan’s government has worried about its overpopulation since the Meiji Restoration (1868). Their solution then was to encourage emigration to Korea; it did not help.

Japan’s population then was aprox. 3 million. Now they have 127 million people crowded into an urban belt along the coast. At Japan’s current level of fertility, by 2060 their population will fall to 86 million, back to the level of 1950 — and by 2100 to 50 million, the level of 1910. {See details here and here.) That would be wonderful.

Famine 1975!
Available at Amazon. A best-seller in 1967. See Wikipedia for details.

The good news about fewer people

”Sola dosis facit venenum.”
— The dose makes the poison.

Population growth has been a driver of economic growth for a millennia. But trends tend to become poisonous if continued too long. So it is for population. A smaller population for Japan would be wonderful.

First, Japan could become a garden with cleaner technology and its people no longer crowded shoulder to shoulder. A common question on Japanese grade-school history tests in 2100 will be “What is ‘pollution’?”

Low fertility has a second benefit. A falling population will be the prescription for prosperity in the 21st century as the new industrial revolution accelerates. Automation, smart machines, autonomous cars and trucks, 3-D printing, and a host of other technologies will destroy jobs by the millions. Japan has the features of a winner in this new era.

  1. Japan has a highly educated and hard-working people with a high-savings rate — the foundation for economic success.
  2. It has a homogeneous population with strong social cohesion — minimizing the domestic turbulence common in multi-ethnic societies when under stress.
  3. It has a shrinking labor force — able to more easily absorb the job destruction from automation.

These advantages are mutually reinforcing. A highly educated population suits the new jobs in the 21st century. A shrinking population more easily accommodates job losses from automation, reducing the social stress from automation (more about this here). Less social stress facilitates adoption of new technology and methods.

The obvious contrast is with America, and its growing population of increasingly poorly-educated people, in a society fracturing by ethnicity, race, religion, and ideology.

Mark Room! Mark Room!
Available at Amazon. In 1999 NYC has a population of 35 million! This 1966 book was made into the 1973 film “Soylent Green“.

Mad advocacy for population growth

Doomsters and economists both tend to extrapolate the past into the future. Many economists recommend that Japan boost its population to drive their national income (GDP). Since few nations have successfully boosted fertility, that means encouraging migrants. The New York Times says Insular Japan Needs, but Resists, Immigration. The Washington Post says Strict immigration rules may threaten Japan’s future.

These prescriptions for Japan show the limits of economics as a guide to public policy. GDP is not the only measure of a nation’s well-being, or even the best. An overcrowded Japan needs fewer people, not more.

Doomsters also project present trends into the future. It produces easy-to-sell clickbait stories of “certain” doom. They prey upon our natural fear of change. While change produces challenges, it often offers the possibility of a better world. The economic transition from rising to falling populations might be rocky, but the result will be a better world for future generations.

Doomster stories often become popular just as events falsify them. The overpopulation hysteria caught fire in the late 1960’s. AID chief William S. Gaud gave his famous speech about the “Green Revolution” in 1968, in the midst of the boom in agricultural productivity that prevented doomsters’ fantasies from coming true.

Today doomsters circulate stories about the depressions to come from falling populations, just as the rise in structural unemployment begins that will reshape the world. The problems we face are, as usual, the opposite of what the doomsters predict.

For More information

If you liked this post, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter. See all posts about demography, about the new industrial revolution, about doomsters, and especially these …

  1. More news about Russia’s demographic collapse.
  2. From the 3rd century BC, Polybius warns us about demographic collapse,
  3. Must our population grow to ensure prosperity?
  4. To fight the population crash, do it in Denmark!
  5. A rocky road lies ahead to a far smaller world population.
  6. The facts behind the scary new UN population forecast & those doomster headlines.
  7. Why Japan can become an economic star of the 21st century.
  8. The male pill is coming. It will change everything.
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10 thoughts on “Doomsters warned of End Times from overpopulation. Now *fewer* people are disasterous.

  1. “The rapid rise in population has not yet produced the collapse” this is not a reason to call the first part of Malthus and Ricardo not true for us: 1) malthus, and Ricardo (1861) theory are proved correct for all the agrarian civlization we know (all, not a single exception): and in all the population start to fall before same other disaster came and push population even more down: check as an example France or UK in 1300-1450: population start to fall before bad harvest,black death and civil wars. . or UK 1600-1750 (1750 is when population start to recover, 1600 when start to stagnate and after fall)
    2) we don’t know for sure if the theory is correct even for industrial civilization (is too early). but in fact URSS fall in a malthusian trap in 1969 and 22 years after was gone: so maybe is correct or maybe is not. for what we know the probability is higher for yes than no.
    3) it’s not the growth of population alone that lead to instability and collapse, but the effect on political structural and economic structures: “Revolutions: Theoretical, Comparative, and Historical Studies.” By Jack A. Goldstone and many others.

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    1. Scandiano,

      Thank you for your comment, but I disagree on all three points.

      (1) “malthus, and Ricardo (1861) theory are proved correct for all the agrarian civlization we know”

      Yes, and long ago people were eaten in large numbers by lions, tigers, and wolves. That’s irrelevant due to tech. We have had an industrial civilization for centuries, and aren’t going back.

      (2a) “we don’t know for sure if the theory is correct even for industrial civilization (is too early).”

      While we might screw up the growth in population from 7.5 to 10 billion people (or perhaps 11 or 12, although I doubt that), that seems unlikely. We already have the necessary tech, and its getting better at a rapid pace.

      (2b) “but in fact URSS fall in a malthusian trap in 1969 and 22 years after was gone”

      No, the USSR did not fall into a “malthusian trap” and disappear. They adopted an unworkable economic system. It failed everywhere it was tried. When those nations (e.g., Russia, China) switched to a better system, they grew more prosperous — with success depending on how well they managed the transition.

      (3) “it’s not the growth of population alone that lead to instability and collapse, but the effect on political structural and economic structures”

      I assume you’re kidding us. Yes, we feel not the cause but the effect. That’s the meaning of “effect”.

      Like

  2. The one component of falling population and the current industrial revolution that makes me nervous is distribution of benefits. It would be sad if all of the benefits of reducing employment and increasing productivity goes almost exclusively to the wealthy and we have a large component (30% or so of the population) that cannot get a job and cannot get enough to eat in the midst of unprecedented wealth. But similar things have happened in the past.

    Two sci fi versions of the future: “Beyond this Horizon” by Robert Heinlein (post-scarcity culture with wide distribution of resource) vs. “The Naked Sun” by Isaac Asimov (tiny super-wealthy, self-absorbed population served by millions of machines).

    I agree with Asimov’s theory that the culture of Solaria in the Naked Sun is doomed, The validity of Heinlein’s vision is harder to assess but is more hopeful.

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    1. Pluto,

      As my scores of posts about rising inequality show, I agree about the problem. But it’s unrelated to population change. Distribution of society’s wealth and income is always a problem, in Athens as well as now.

      I too like to use visions of the future from science fiction to illustrate different paths. For example, contrast the future in Jupiter Ascending with that of Star Trek.

      As for intelligent robots, I am skeptical. They offer a wonderful future for humanity — if we successfully enslave them (no robot revolts). That seems the most unlikely of futures.

      Like

  3. Interesting points. Wealth distribution is a problem for many countries. I seen to think it’s the middle that collapses and tears the two far ends apart. In the third world countries, common luxury items are more expensive then in developed counties. The richest rarely pay their appropriate share of taxes, so the funding gals on who had the next biggest chunk of capital. These are often the small business owners and educated working classes.

    The social implications in overpopulation just creates more people in the lower classes. Oh yeah, someone had to produce food for these people. We have decided that GMO’s are the best way. Where do we grow the next fields for the next generation

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    1. Any,

      Overpopulation is largely a technological problem, albeit with large economic and social factors. I believe we already have the tools to manage the population boom during the next 5 decades. It is seldom mentioned that this boom will occur while populations are falling in many developed nations (following the path of Japan).

      “Where do we grow the next fields for the next generation”

      Not even remotely a problem. Global ag yields are far below averages of the developed nations — a gap which is and will continue to close. And farmed acreage in many developed nations has been falling for decades. Travel through the NE US. As farmers die their farms revert to forest, a multi-decade process which has left much of New England rural areas looking like it was when Columbus landed. Crop prices are too low to make them economical to farm.

      In the west many of the areas for which men fought an died in the range wars are not abandoned, valueless — as meat prices are too low to use them.

      Liked by 1 person

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