Saturday, August 28, 2010

Population growth - is it a problem?

Share |
Recently there have been a number of calls by prominent Australians for curbing or ending population growth. These Australians come from Bob Carr, the former NSW Premier, who was promoting a book by Mark O'Connor called 'Overloading Australia', and also Dick Smith, the founder of the Australian electronics store and Australian Geographic Magazine. Now both of these people are environmentalists, so no surprise that they want to curb population growth. I want to however provide counter-arguments to all of their assertions....and I mean all of them.
Firstly I am not an advocate of strong population growth because I see the justification for it as self-serving government policy rather than a desirable feature for the Australia population. Governments want to expand population in order to increase economics activity. The reason that they resort to population growth (as well as 'inflationary' money illusion and debt-financed spending) is because the centralised government they entail, and the democratic foundation undermine the natural formation of capital and improvements in productivity. This issue is beyond this blog post, however my assertion is that centralised, democratic government undermines economic productivity, and population growth and ramped up consumerism/spending is intended to compensate governments for the 'control' they need over your money, lives and values.
So let me deal with the issues they draw attention to:
1. Climate change. Dick Smith argues that 75% of Australians disbelieve human-induced climate change. Firstly, I am surprised that that number display good judgement. His argument is that - we should curb population 'just in case we are wrong'. No, we should curb government powers if we are wrong, and any government intervention into economic activity could only impose unjustifiable costs in the short term, making us less able to deal with the problem in future. Also science is not a popularity contest. You bring conflicting views together to reconcile differences. The better argument wins. The climate change advocates don't want that debate because they are winning the 'popularity contest' with government.
2. Population growth. Dick Smith says we need to curb population growth because it is doubling every 30 years. True enough, but that is not going to be representative of future decades. The wealthier societies become, the fewer children they have. You cannot simply extrapolate these numbers. Those numbers also pre-date efforts to curb population growth with abortion, contraception and education.
3. Population limits. He cites arguments that Australia can only sustain a population of 26 million - when the current population is 21mil. I would argue that we can support billions in Australia. He of course wants to protect flora and fauna which I have little regard for. Life has appeared and disappeared throughout the Earth's existence. We have the power to create ecosystems which serve us. But Dick has this attraction for the 'intrinsic' natural system. Well, let him pay a premium for that. He is free to buy a piece of Kurringgai National Park in Sydney now.
4. He cites depletion of resources. This is also a nonsense. Australia is the driest continent, but it has vast amounts of water. Consider a number of issues...We hardly charge farmers to retain or utilise the stuff, so their use is very wasteful. Even our agricultural preferences (i.e. meat production) are wasteful. We have the power to recycle or process water...probably at select locations along rivers, when such processing is required. If there is a value, the money will be found...and we need food. So we will dump energy uses before we starve. It will be those 'breeding' Africans who will be incentivised to stop breeding if there are food shortages. Australia is of course a major food exporter. We could export 10x more grain if we did not export meat. I have not even made any allowance for technology, better use of land. He went to Japan. Did he notice that the Japanese use every inch of hill side for farming.
5. No need for population growth. Dick Smith throws the issue back at capitalists who argue there is 1000 years of coal in the ground, probably 50,000 years of uranium, and a constant stream of solar. He asks what is the benefit of population growth? Well I agree with him. Aside from the strategic need to keep up population numbers with a rapidly industrialising collectivising China, there is probably no great need to add to the global population, but no compelling reason not to either. So strategically, it helps us keep up with China. I would however argue that if we adopt a meritocratic government, and adopted a coherent and logical set of philosophical values, then maybe China would be more impressed by our economic model, and would be more inclined to join us, rather than beat us. But so long as we pursue democracy, we are stuck with 'low growth' inhibitors, and the need to offset these factors with stronger immigration and monetary illusion. Its a false economy, but if you like democracy, this is the hopeless policy you signed up for. If you want to reduce population growth, you ought to be repudiating democracy, and embracing a meritocracy, which would place greater emphasis on productivity rather than dubious economic activity measures of prosperity like GDP.
Finally to answer Dick Smith's question...what are the benefits of is simply this...the right to have children. The desire to over-populate requires education. He has a platform, but really he is confronting the wrong issue. Such is the case with hopeless liberals like Dick Smith, Al Gore, Bill Gates, etc.
6. Do we want to live in a confining environment? He makes a comparison with living in a submarine. The analogy is hardly representative. Firstly society is transforming just as quickly as it is growing. Yes, the population has doubled in the last 20 years, our energy consumption per capita has greatly increased, but its now falling. Energy has got expensive, so we are cutting. The internal combustion engine is only 26% efficient. The next ones will be 50-60% efficient, and they will recover heat, so raising them to 85%. Already such fuel cells are available. These crude ones run on gas, and we have plenty of that. The next ones will run on concentrated solar, maybe uranium, and it only gets better.
7. Depopulation is ok. He does not know much about Japan. Property prices fell their because they were in a bubble, not because of depopulation. Of course there is cheap property in the rural areas because of depopulation. I guess he is against people migrating to the cities because they abandoned homes in rural areas to do that. The reality is that cities are vastly more efficient that rural village communities.
6. Cities allow the rural areas to be preserved in their natural or modified agricultural setting. They are dynamic places. He complains about population, but is very selective in his analysis. Japanese people love living in the cities. They like the space of Australia too, but most love Japanese city life. They just don't like the collectivist values which impose external standards upon them.
7. He argues that the USA was more prosperous in the 1950s, and seems to attribute its falling economic position to population growth. This is nonsense for a number of reasons. Firstly, the US wealth distribution is less equalised, 2nd the US has grown since the 1950s, just at slower rates, and that is largely because of increased size of government, and structural loss of competitiveness due to the liberalisation of oppressed Asia. The US has also been defending the world, a role it did not perform before the 1940s.
8. He offers a less than convincing reason for attacking economies of scale, in fact he seems to highlight it as a value for population growth. I will argue on his side, that economies of scale actually alienate consumers, and we will see more product differentiation in future. Why? Governments are currently favouring corporations. I think there will be more balanced perspective in future when we have a coherent concept for rights.
9. He makes the argument that its a finite world. It is essentially infinite when we watch technology transform our world. In future maybe we will alter human DNA so we are the size of dwarfs, so we need less food. Well I think dwarfs are 'hot'.
10. He makes claims that 'we are desalinating salt water - its obvious we have gone too far'. Nonsense, we didn't need to establish a desalination plant, we simply needed to charge people for water so they don't leave running taps. We could divert water into Sydney storages, or we could recycle, or we could recover water from the energy we use, and of course we can desalinate, and there is no harm in that.

Dick Smith argues that 'our system is addicted to growth'. Its not addicted, it just serves politicians who want to control us. Interestingly he adopted this campaign after talking to his daughter. He is trying to educate the world by offering $1mil to the best response from an under 30yo. Why? Does he value childish ignorance or wistful idealism more?
He calls himself a way...he's a liberal. How does a capitalist influence? He can't buy votes. He has to manipulate policy with coercion to do that.

Bob Carr has also jumped onto this issue. His arguments are even less compelling. He argues that we are not as 'agriculturally endowed' as the well-watered USA. Actually that is not true if you reflect on our wasteful water utilisation, the fact that we are a 'food basket for the world', that we waste water growing grain for cattle, when we are diet-wise better off eating more carbs. All the arid interior needs is water, and we can even induce that by using artificial structures to create rain. Consider the possibility of inducing orographic rain effects in Western Australia, not with mountains but artificial structures made from high-strength alloy steels. Australia has vast deposits of titanium and iron ore....and its mostly in WA. Perfectly located for 'mountain'building'. A dream? I'm sure there are more than a dozen ideas which will come to mind before this is an issue. The most likely is the normal course of recycling materials, efficiency drives as costs rise, less consumerism, fewer children, resulting in population topping out in about 30 years....yes 7 billion people later...and you will not even notice them, as they will be crowded into better designed cities....maybe in just 20m2 of ergonomically designed space, eating a low-carb diet. We won't even need the topsoil blowing into the Pacific Ocean. That will be fertiliser for the sea.
Really much of this thinking is about preserving a certain way of life. Australians seem to have this 'dreamy' view that that have a great life. Yet, if this is true, why are so many Australians and NZ'ers living crowded cities like London, Tokyo. Are these not simply the rantings of proud, collectivist individuals?
Andrew Sheldon

ConvinceMe.Net - Anyone up for a debate?