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Slowing Growth the Problem, Asset Appreciation the Solution?

Slowing Growth the Problem, Asset Appreciation the Solution?

The Problem:
The Fed and major central banks believe they are fighting a deflationary spiral battling ongoing misses to their inflation targets.  But in truth their misguided policies are contributing to a depopulation spiral.  They are forcing low interest rates that only exacerbate overcapacity for a consumer base among whom growth is fast decelerating.  The cheap money is causing rapid asset appreciation absent like wage growth.  Asset holders (primarily older and wealthy) are reaping the rewards while those with little or no assets (young, poor, those of childbearing ages) are paying higher rents, insurance, medical care, schooling, etc. etc.  This inequitable inflationary pressure is pushing birth rates to all time lows and cutting off present and future demand…and this is met with even more of the medicine that made the patient sick in the first place.

From a US perspective, there has essentially been no bottom up US population growth since 1950.  Chart below shows average annual US births per decade (including births from all sources, legal and illegal).  Lower boxes show current age of the population borne during each decade.  Births have essentially been flat for seven decades.

Average annual births per each generation and current age of each group, below.  Again, births by generation have been flat since the completion of WWII.

Below, annual births highlighting each generation.  From the early ’50’s to present, births have been remarkably flat, given the tripling of the total population.

15 to 64 year old population (red line) and year over year change (blue columns).  Average annual growth, per period below, has decelerated 50% but will decelerate nearly 80% over the next decade.  Average growth, per period:

  • 1970 – 2009, +1.93 million
  • 2010 – 2018, +0.98 million
  • 2019 – 2030, +0.36 million

Through 2030, the working age population is estimated to grow by less than 4 million versus 19 million more 65+ year olds.  The result is that the US is currently at full employment with little further labor force growth available, detailed HERE and HERE.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Population Bomb or Bomb the Population?

Population Bomb or Bomb the Population?

There will be, in the next generation or so, a pharmacological method of making people love their servitude, and producing dictatorship without tears, so to speak, producing a kind of painless concentration camp for entire societies, so that people will in fact have their liberties taken away from them, but will rather enjoy it, because they will be distracted from any desire to rebel by propaganda or brainwashing, or brainwashing enhanced by pharmacological methods. And this seems to be the final revolution”.

– Aldous Huxley, The Ultimate Revolution

Ending Militarism. Militarism in all its forms, from the prison-industrial complex to wars of occupation, is one of the most powerful obstacles to the achievement of reproductive, environmental and climate justice. Ending militarism is a point where our struggles can and should converge, where there are multiple overlaps. The list is long: Military toxins damage the environment and harm reproductive health. Militarism increases violence against women, racism and anti-immigration activities. Militarism robs resources from other social and environmental needs. War destroys ecosystems, livelihoods, and health and sanitation infrastructure. It is the biggest threatof all to sustainable social reproduction.

– Betsy Hartmann and Elizabeth Barajas-Román, The Population Bomb is Back with a Global Warming Twist

Eugenics was an American specialty. It inspired Hitler, and it was much studied and admired in the UK as well with support from H.G. Wells, GB Shaw, and Churchill. White supremacism is what drove colonial logic and practice and its still with us in the capitalist societies of the West, and things like mass incarceration are evidence of that. But it has also bled into other areas of study, and into the culture at large really. And one of the most pronounced expressions of the new eugenics (that claims not to be) are in the so called Population Bombers (named after Paul Erlich’s book).

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Two Cheers for Population Decline

singe child family car

Two Cheers for Population Decline

Eventual gradual population decline, provided it results from free choice, should be welcomed. Indeed, the greatest demographic challenge to human welfare is not low fertility and population aging, but rather the high fertility rates and rapid population growth still seen in Pakistan, much of the Middle East, and Africa.

LONDON – Since China abolished its one-child policy on January 1, 2016, annual births, after a temporary increase to 17.86 million that year, have actually fallen, from 16.55 million in 2015 to 15.23 million in 2018. The baby boom that wasn’t should surprise no one.

No other successful East Asian economy has ever imposed a one-child policy, but all have fertility rates far below replacement level. Japan’s fertility rate is 1.48 children per woman, South Korea’s is 1.32 and Taiwan’s 1.22. China’s fertility rate will almost certainly remain well below replacement level, even if all restrictions on family size are now removed.

Population decline will inevitably follow. According to the United Nations’ medium projection, East Asia’s total population will fall from 1.64 billion today to 1.2 billion in 2100. Nor is this simply an East Asian phenomenon. Iran’s fertility rate (1.62) is now well below replacement level, and Vietnam’s 1.95 slightly so. Across most of the Americas, from Canada (1.56) to Chile (1.76), rates are already well below two, or falling fast toward it.

The clear pattern is that successful economies have lower fertility rates: Chile’s rate is much lower than Argentina’s (2.27), and wealthier Indian states, such as Maharashtra and Karnataka, already have fertility rates around 1.8. In the poorer states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, fertility rates over three are still observed.

We should always be cautious about inferring universal rules of human behavior, but, as Darrel Bricker and John Ibbitson suggest in their recent book Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline, it seems we can identify one.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Population wrapped up: a response to Jane O’Sullivan

Population wrapped up: a response to Jane O’Sullivan

And so we come to Small Farm Future’s final blog post of 2018. Time for some seasonal goodwill and an offer of peace to all? Nah, time to settle old scores – in this case my debate with Jane O’Sullivan about population and poverty that’s been rumbling along on this site over the latter part of the year. I was advised by one commenter to let the debate lie, which is probably wise, but this commentary from Dr O’Sullivan has been sitting unanswered for a while and I think a response is in order – if for no other reason than the underlying issues are of wider interest. But let me not neglect the seasonal spirit altogether. I’d like to have devoted more time to this issue, and perhaps to have reflected further on population issues more generally but with this fairly brief response only to a few of Dr O’Sullivan’s specific points I propose to wrap things up on the population front from the Small Farm Future end.

So in what follows, I’m going to highlight some of Dr O’Sullivan’s contentions from the comment linked above (her comments in italics and quotation marks), and then respond briefly to them.

  1. “Population growth in agrarian communities is a driver of impoverishment”

It’s hard to disagree that that’s sometimes so. But it’s worth noting that it’s a very different, and much milder claim, than Dr O’Sullivan’s earlier one that “population growth is the main driver of impoverishment in high-fertility countries”. Where we would probably continue to disagree is the extent to which population growth is an exogenous driver of poverty.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why We’re Ungovernable, Part 17: In Latin America, Soaring Population + Soaring Debt = “Brutal Justice”

Why We’re Ungovernable, Part 17: In Latin America, Soaring Population + Soaring Debt = “Brutal Justice”

There are two ways of looking at the intersection of debt and population. One way says that if debt is rising population should also rise to allow future workers to pay for the retirement of today’s. More people thus make debt easier to manage.

The other point of view is that debt and population soaring simultaneously creates a negative feedback loop that eventually destroys a culture.

Today’s Latin America appears to validate the second thesis. Debt and population are both soaring, and big parts of the culture seem to be collapsing.

The following chart shows Latin America’s population more than tripling since 1950:

The next chart shows the government debt of Brazil, Latin America’s largest economy, spiking since the end of the Great Recession:

Brazilian Government Debt % of GDP

source: tradingeconomics.com

As for the culture collapsing, consider this (rather grisly) excerpt from today’s Wall Street Journal:

In Latin America, Awash in Crime, Citizens Impose Their Own Brutal Justice

The 16-year-old had spent a balmy Saturday afternoon in May with his high school friends at a funk music party in Brasília’s central park, not far from the country’s presidential palace.

As he headed home shortly after sundown, someone in the crowd grabbed his classmate Ágatha from behind and snatched her phone, witnesses told police. She spun around and saw Victor. Believing him to be the thief, she screamed out for help. Her friends knocked him to the ground and began to beat him.

Hearing Ágatha’s shrieks, another group of partygoers presumed he must be the same teen who had swiped a pair of sunglasses from them earlier. One of them jammed a broken bottle into Victor’s stomach.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

The Seneca Rebound: why Growth is Faster after Collapse. Explaining the European World Dominance

Lisbon: the monument to the European sailors of the age of explorations, starting with the 15th century. What made Europeans so successful in this in this task? My interpretation is that it was the result of periodic “Seneca Collapses” of the European population which made it possible to accumulate resources that would then be available to propel the European expansion. It is an effect that can be called the “Seneca Rebound” that makes growth faster after a collapse.

The Middle Ages are sometimes referred to as the “Dark Ages” — this is mostly untrue, but it is not wrong to apply this term to the early Middle Ages. According to some estimates, in 650 AD the European population had shrunk to a historical minimum of some 18 million people, about half of what it had been during the high times of the Roman Empire. If you think that today the European population is estimated to be as more than 700 million people, it is almost impossible for us to imagine the Europe of the early Middle Ages: it was a minor appendage of the Eurasian continent, a poverty-stricken place, nearly empty of people, where nothing happened except for the squabbles of local warlords fighting each other.

Yet, a few centuries later, the descendants of the inhabitants of this backward peninsula of Eurasia embarked in the attempt of conquering the world and were successful at that. By the 19th century, practically all the world was under the direct or indirect control of European countries or of their American offspring, the United States. How could it happen?

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

City Size & Structure Can Influence Influenza Epidemics, Scientists Say

City Size & Structure Can Influence Influenza Epidemics, Scientists Say

Ready Nutrition - City Size & Structure Can Influence Influenza Epidemics, Scientists Say
New research is suggesting that the size and structure of the city you live in has the possibility of influencing epidemics.  With flu season upon us, and everyone lining up to get the flu shot, researchers are saying an outbreak may be less in our control than we originally thought.

But just how does your city’s structure impact an epidemic?

Regardless of whether flu cases rise to a wintertime peak or plateau from fall to spring, new research suggests that the size of a city itself influences the contours of its flu season according to Science News.  Larger cities with higher levels of crowding were associated with a steady accumulation of influenza cases throughout a flu season. Smaller cities with less crowding tended to have a flu season with a more intense surge in winter, researchers report in the October 5 publication.

“Understanding how the size and structure of cities impact disease spread may help us to predict and control epidemics,” study co-author and population biologist Benjamin Dalziel of Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon, said October 2 at a news conference.

In the United States, “flu season” occurs during fall and winter. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons can vary, but influenza activity often begins to increase in October. Flu activity typically peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). –Ready Nutrition

After the 2017 horrific flu season, many are wondering if in fact the CDC is prepared for this year's flu season. Hear the CDC's concerns, know the facts, and learn how to improve your immune system naturally to fight the dreaded flu season.Flu cases generally peak during the winter in most areas of the United States because the air is quite a bit drier.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Why is Overpopulation Ignored by the Media? The Reasons of a Historical Failure

Why is Overpopulation Ignored by the Media? The Reasons of a Historical Failure

Some people think there exists a conspiracy that prevents the media from ever mentioning the charged word, “overpopulation.” Conspiracies do exist but, in this case, my impression is that population is such a charged issue simply because it has to do with the fact that we are all humans and discussing about reducing population touches some inner mechanisms of our psyche that we feel uncomfortable about.

But there is more to that: the real problem with overpopulation is that most decision makers lack the concept of “overshoot,”  a view that didn’t exist in the study of social systems until Jay Forrester introduced it in the 1960s.If you don’t understand overshoot, at best you can understand that there are limits to population, but you can’t understand that population could exceed the limits and crash down ruinously with the deterioration of the agricultural system that feeds it.

The lack of a the concept of overshoot may well be what leads the concerned and the unconcerned to minimize the problem. Many people seem to think that the “demographic transition,” the reduction in fertility observed in most rich nations of the world, will spread over all humankind and stabilize the world’s population at a sustainable level without any need for governments to intervene to force lower birth rates.

Almost certainly, it is too late for that: we should have started decades ago. But only China implemented a serious policy birth control — for the rest of the world it was a historical failure.

In the discussion, below, Bernard Gilland discusses the problems we will face in the attempt of stabilizing the human population mainly in terms of the degradation of the agricultural system in its dependence on non-sustainable resources.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Debating population, poverty and development

Debating population, poverty and development

Last week, Small Farm Future chalked up yet another first – the first vehement critique of one of our posts by a working academic with apparent expertise in the matter at hand. The post was this one about global population and its entailments that I published in June, and the critique came from Dr Jane O’Sullivan of the University of Queensland in Australia (our exchange is linked below).

I’d precis the main substance of Dr O’Sullivan’s critique as follows: my post failed to consider the importance of top-down government or expert-led population control policies (broadly conceived) in reducing global fertility (ie. births per woman) over the last 50 years, and failed to consider the implications of the recent slowdown in the decline of the fertility rate and its causes. If that was all that Dr O’Sullivan had said, it would have been easy for me to concede these points (especially if she’d made them politely). I don’t think the concession greatly alters the main points I was making in that post, though perhaps it does a little. But in the course of our ill-tempered exchange (I’m sure the fault was partly mine…though not, I think, entirely) Dr O’Sullivan also unleashed quite a barrage of assertions that in my opinion varied from the somewhat questionable to the downright misleading, along I’ll admit with the occasional useful nugget. I should probably give myself more time to reflect on the issues, but some of them are highly relevant to the wider themes of this blog, and I think are less clear-cut than Dr O’Sullivan supposes. So I thought I’d write a quick, work-in-progress kind of response now to present the issues as I see them, in the hope that other commenters may bring some wider illumination.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ted Nordhaus Is Wrong: We Are Exceeding Earth’s Carrying Capacity

Ted Nordhaus Is Wrong: We Are Exceeding Earth’s Carrying Capacity

The co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute has a cheery vision of the future. If only that vision were plausible.

IN HIS ARTICLE, “The Earth’s Carrying Capacity for Human Life is Not Fixed,” Ted Nordhaus, co-founder of the Breakthrough Institute, a California-based energy and environment think tank, seeks to enlist readers in his optimistic vision of the future. It’s a future in which there are many more people on the planet and each enjoys a high standard of living, while environmental impacts are reduced. It’s a cheery vision.

The core of Nordhaus’ case is that we are now living in a magical society that is immune to the ecological law of gravity.

If only it were plausible.

Nordhaus’s argument hinges on dismissing the longstanding biological concept of “carrying capacity” — the number of organisms an environment can support without becoming degraded. “Applied to ecology, the concept [of carrying capacity] is problematic,” Nordhaus writes, arguing in a nutshell that the planet’s ability to support human civilization can be, one presumes, infinitely tweaked through a combination of social and physical engineering.

Few actual ecologists, however, would agree. Indeed, the concept of carrying capacity is useful in instance after instance — including modeling the population dynamics of nonhuman species, and in gauging the health of virtually any ecosystem, be it ocean, river, prairie, desert, or forest. While exact population numbers are sometimes difficult to predict on the basis of the carrying capacity concept, it is nevertheless clear that, wherever habitat is degraded, creatures suffer and their numbers decline.

The controversy deepens in applying the carrying capacity concept to humans. Nordhaus seems to think we are exceptions to the rules. Still, as archaeologists have affirmed, many past human societies consumed resources or polluted environments to the point of collapse.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Coming Population Crash: A Seneca Cliff Ahead for Humankind?

The Coming Population Crash: A Seneca Cliff Ahead for Humankind?

This is a condensed and modified version of a paper of mine that appeared on “The Journal of Population and Sustainability” this year. The image above is the well known “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” by Albrecht Durer – 1498. Yes, I know it is catastrophistic, but it is not my fault if biological populations do tend to collapse! (see also my previous post: “Overpopulation Problem? What Overpopulation Problem?A Seneca Collapse for the World’s Human Population?

By Ugo Bardi (a similar version has appeared in 2017 on “The Journal of Population and Sustainability“)

1. Introduction

“The world has enough for every man’s need, but not enough for every man’s greed.” Gandhi [1]

While Gandhi’s observation about greed remains true even today, it may not be so for the ability of the world to meet every man’s need. Gandhi is reported to have said that in 1947 when the world population was under 2.5 billion, about one-third of the current figure of 7.5 billion. And it keeps growing. Does the world still have enough for every man’s need?

It is a tautology that if there are 7.5 billion people alive on planet earth today there must exist sufficient resources to keep them alive. The problem is for how long: a question rarely taken into account in estimates purportedly aimed at determining the maximum human population that the Earth can support.

The problem of long-term support of a population can be expressed in terms of the concept of “overshoot,” applied first by Jay Forrester in 1972 [2] to social systems. The innovative aspect of Forrester’s idea is that it takes the future into consideration: if there is enough food for 7.5 billion people today, that doesn’t mean that the situation will remain the same in the future.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Population growth and food: A systems perspective


In this age of the Anthropocene, it is necessary to look inward as well as outwards to find systemic solutions. People may or may not be “a plague on earth” as David Attenborough has stated, but we are without doubt the dominant force on this planet. Some introspection is needed if we are to use our power ethically.

As Organisational Outreach Officer for Population Matters, my task is to contact ethically-oriented organisations (from faith organisations to environmental NGOs) and suggest ways in which the issue of population growth could be covered on their website and integrated into their ethos. Many organisations I approach agree that population size contributes to climate change, conflict and malnutrition, but they frequently respond by saying that the issue lies outside of their remit. Population Matters’ patron Jonathon Porritt talks about the reasons why organisations avoid referencing population growth in this 14-minute video, debunking a few myths along the way.

To be truly systemic, one has to include all aspects of the problem. So what is ‘systemic’ or ‘systems thinking’? In simple terms, it is an approach for analysing complex issues by viewing them holistically, as purposeful systems containing interdependent variables, stakeholders and perspectives. This allows an awareness of one’s own bias and limitations. Systems practitioners use simplified diagrams to uncover key issues and when this is done comprehensively they are able to see the interwoven social, economic, political and environmental dimensions.

The issue under investigation here is the global food system, the purpose of which is to feed humans (and to a certain extent livestock) over a sustained period of time. It is embedded in and dependent on ‘macro’ systems as shown in the diagram below.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Overpopulation Problem? What Overpopulation Problem?

Overpopulation Problem? What Overpopulation Problem?

Some people seem to be horrified at the sight of these images. For me, it is more a sensation of melancholy. These masses of people can exist only for a brief moment in the history of humankind. Overpopulation is a problem that will solve itself rather quickly although, unfortunately, not without pain.

I keep reading more and more comments about overpopulation on the social media. It is not just an impression: the trend of increasing interest in population matters is visible in Google Trends. Still weak, but it is there.

It is puzzling how the question is returning. It had disappeared from the media after it had been popular in the 1970s, at the time of the first “The Limits to Growth” study. At that time, there were less than 4 billion people and that was viewed as a huge problem. Then, somehow, it became unfashionable to mention overpopulation, just as it became unfashionable to consider “The Limits to Growth” as anything more than a completely wrong study written by people not smarter than Chicken Little (it wasn’t the case).

Now, with twice as many people – 7.6 billion humans – we see a return of the idea that – really – there may be a little problem of overpopulation. Humans are so many that they are appropriating a larger and larger fraction of the ecosystem. That means less and less space for other species which are, indeed, fast disappearing. When you read that, in a not too remote future, the only large animal left on the Earth will be the cow, well, that makes you think.
…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Population: what’s the problem?

Population: what’s the problem?

Apologies for the clickbait-y title. My question isn’t a rhetorical one intended to suggest that human population levels aren’t a problem. I don’t doubt they are. But it seems to me much less clear than a lot of people seem to think exactly what kind of problem they are, and what – if anything – could or should be done about it, which is what I want to aim at in this post. I raised these issues in my last post of 2017, which prompted some lively debate. But neither the post itself nor the comments under it quite nailed the issue for me, so here goes with another attempt.

1. Of proximal and underlying causation

In a recent article by the evergreen George Monbiot bemoaning plastic pollution in the oceans, the first comment under the line had this to say: “Two answers – population control and capitalism control – but no takers…not even George!”

It strikes me that this response is spot on…and also entirely misses the point. It’s spot on because although plastic pollution in the oceans is an immediate problem, it has deeper underlying causes which are summarily encapsulated by the words ‘population’ and ‘capitalism’ about as well as by any others. I think it’s a bit unfair to accuse George of not being a ‘taker’, since part of the point of his article was to suggest that self-fuelling economic growth – ‘capitalism’ by another name – is intrinsically destructive of the environment. Still, it’s surely true that without large global populations subject to the forces of capitalist commodification, the problem of plastic in the ocean would be very much less severe than it presently is.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“Will The Real Global Economy Please Stand Up”

“Will The Real Global Economy Please Stand Up”

To say I’ve become skeptical of “markets” and their movements is probably an understatement.  However, rather than waste more time trying to make sense of these skewed markets, I believe real economic activity is more accurately represented by changing populations and their energy consumption.  So today, we’ll play a little “To Tell The Truth”, an old television show where two imposters could lie but one contestant had to tell the truth.  The celebs would ask questions and then attempt to pick which contestant was the real deal.  I’ll lay out the data and let you determine how well this lines up with non-stop narrative of record market valuations and stories of strong economic activity.

I’ll start with Japan and work my up progressively larger.  The population data is from the UN and I use the 15 to 60 year old population to avoid speculation about changing birth rates over the next fifteen years.  Energy data is from the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) and their projections using their IEO’17 (International Energy Outlook, 2017) models.

Japan

  • Core population peaked 1993, declined 14% since (as of 2015), will decline 22% by 2030 and 33% by 2040.
  • Energy consumption peak 2006, declined 17% since
    • My est. -25% by 2030, -30% by 2040
    • IEO’17 est. +3% by 2030, unchanged by 2040.


Germany

  • Core population peaked 1995, declined 5% since, will decline 17% by 2030 and 19% by 2040.
  • Energy consumption peaked 2006, declined 14% since, will decline 22% by 2030 and 28% by 2040.  IEO’17 data will be wrapped together for EU below.

Italy

  • Core population peaked 2005, declined 4% since.  Will decline 17% by 2030 and 25% by 2040.
  • Energy consumption peaked 2005, declined 17% since.  I estimate declines of 26% by 2030 and 32% by 2040.

Greece

  • Core population peaked 2006, declined 5% since.  Will decline 15% by 2030, 29% by 2040.
  • Energy Consumption peaked 2007, declined 27% since.  I estimate declines of 40% by 2030, 47% by 2040

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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