"It's not as if the world needs any more of us. You'd never know it from reading The Sun, though, with its exhortations to breed, breed, breed. Is it just that you need more readers? Or that your advertisers need more consumers?" — Letter to editor, Vancouver Sun, Sept. 18, 2007
"Never in history has there been economic growth without population growth." — European Population Conference 2005
Population is a knot of issues that you cannot pull on without pulling on the threads of racism, classism, sexism, eugenics, and economics.
It is also a contentious personal issue. Women without children get criticized for being selfish, anti-child or anti-family (see the book Nobody's Mother: Life Without Kids ) while women with children get criticized for contributing to the destruction of the environment, for making bad choices, for being bad parents and even for causing poverty.
Before I go any further, it is important to emphasize I am not advocating women have more, or fewer, babies. I am only writing to point out the following:
- An economic growth model requires population growth.
- Because a growth-model economy depends on women having babies, women in countries with falling fertility rates might face coercive pro-natal policies.
- Overpopulation alarmism leads to an implied 'let them die' sentiment (see Part 3) towards the world's poor (easy target) while it takes attention away from the economic factors that drive of environmental destruction (difficult target);
- A universal Guaranteed Livable Income (aka basic income) would most likely create population equilibrium.
People imagine that a world with fewer people means more for them: more stuff, more resources, more space, and higher wages (with fewer people competing for jobs). This sounds logical... but it can't happen under an illogical economic growth model. This is why we end up with headlines like these:
"Not enough babies: Report fingers new threat to economy" — Wall Street Journal, Aug. 23, 2005 (US)
"The Empty Cradle: How Falling Birthrates Threaten World Prosperity What to Do About It" — Phillip Longman, 2004
"Hey lady! What will it take to make you breed?" — cover of Macleans magazine, May 28, 2007 (CA)
"POPULATION IMPLOSION" — National Post, Feb. 25, 2007(CA)
"How to persuade Canadian couples to have more children?"
— National Post, July 1, 2006 (CA)
"Across the Pacific, Japan's current labour crisis emerged 25 years ahead of the rest of the low-fertility world's. It's showing how deeply a society without kids can hurt the economy." — Pieta Woolley, The Daycare Dilemma, Georgia Straight (Vancouver BC), May 18, 2005
Economic growth requires either growing numbers of consumers or growing rates of consumption.
"But the demographic party is just about over. During the next two decades, and especially out to mid-century, demographics will depress per capita output growth virtually everywhere." —Joshua N. Feinman, Chief Economist, Deutsche Asset Management, Americas "Demographic Trends and Their Implications; A Closer Look" Apr. 2007
"If we are not producing more citizens who will ultimately consume, that is a problem." —Alan Mirabelli, Vanier Institute of the Family, Globe & Mail, Aug. 12, 2003
"To  marketers, the vast emerging 'youth market' was particularly tantalizing... As a business man and I drove past a new schoolyard filled with children, he joked:. 'look at all those happy little dollar signs. '" — Vance Packard, The Waste Makers, 1960
Dropping birth rates mean, mathematically, an eventual drop in consumption and a corresponding drop in jobs. As anyone who works retail will tell you, when sales slow, staff get sent home. Currently all jobs depend on consumption —not production, because production without consumption equals unsold goods and layoffs. ('Non-profit' jobs also depend indirectly on consumption.)
|"Economists agree: A lack of consumer demand explains why employers aren't hiring." —Wall Street Journal, July 2011
Because children have been portrayed as burdens and dependents, it is difficult to grasp that the business sector is totally dependent on children, the women who bear them, and those who care for them.
There is only an artificial 'problem' with having a smaller population and that is the mismatch between the size of the consumer base (shrinking) and the amount of products and services for sale (growing).
POPULATION EQUILIBRIUM - with a guaranteed income
"Dr. Josue de Castro makes the point that 'hunger, far from leading to depopulation, tends to bring about overpopulation." — W. Stanley Mooneyham, What do you say to a hungry world?, 1975
"Improvements in socioeconomic development are incontrovertibly associated with declines in fertility, both historically and currently." — David M. Heer & Jill S. Grigsby, Society and Population, 3rd Edition, 1992
"...with high infant mortality and lack of basic social services, it is a rational choice to have more children... When children are regarded as essential contributors to the economic viability of the family, is it surprising the poor decide to have more children?" —Inter-Church Coalition on Africa, Toward a Moral Economy, Responses to Poverty in the North and South, 1996
"If everyone in the world, including children, is entitled to a basic income guarantee, is there a danger that the birth rate will go up and the world's population will be unsustainable? It should be noted first that it is possible that a global basic income guarantee would have the opposite effect. One of the reasons that people have children is to try to ensure that they will be cared for in old age. If a global basic income guarantee provides for people in old age, then there will be less reason to have children." — Nicolaus Tideman, 2007 The Ethics of Unequal Basic Income Guarantees
A Guaranteed Livable Income (GLI) is not pro-natalist, or anti-natalist. However, by transitioning to a non-growth model economy, it removes any population growth imperative. A livable-for-all (#livable4all) economy would create population equilibrium, something that is impossible under an economic growth economy.
In addition, better health outcomes from economic security via a basic income would stabilize fertility rates. The 15 countries with the highest Total Fertility Rates also have the worst infant mortality rates in the world and the lowest life expectancies (below age 60) which shows how closely high fertility is linked to high infant mortality, low life expectancy and poor health and living conditions. (CIA World Factbook data)
In a post-GLI world, low fertility countries would likely see a small increase in births; high fertility rate countries would likely see a decrease in births as living conditions and infant mortality rates improve.
In countries like Canada where the fertility rate is very low (1.58), there may be a small spike in births as many young couples in Canada have delayed starting a family because of high and rising living costs.
"The dirty secret of contemporary social policy is that we are spending our collective resources on the wrong generation.... Many young couples now feel that they cannot afford to raise a family. Birth rates have declined 50 percent in a generation and children across the board are at risk." — Sylvia Ann Hewlett, When the Bough Breaks: the cost of Neglecting our Children, 1991
"Meanwhile, the size of the Japanese population is shrinking, and for the first time the government has acknowledged that the falling birth rate is linked to job-related factors. Young people do not feel financially stable enough to start families." — Leo Lewis, UK Times Online, 2006
Given the intensity of the child-bearing experience, the long hours, and long term commitment, a GLI would not provide any real incentive to having children, it would only remove some financial disincentives.
(Income benefits targeted only to caregivers, instead of a universal income benefit, could easily end up putting women in a position where they might be coerced into having children for economic reasons.)
The concept of an unconditional universal income benefit (Guaranteed Livable Income or Basic Income ) is often thought of as being unrealistic or utopian. However, there is nothing more unrealistic than trying to create living wage jobs for every person in the world who needs one. Pushing jobs instead of guaranteed income, pushes everyone into the visible market economy of paid work and pulls resources and people from the invisible unpaid non-market work. Yet all paid work relies on essential unpaid work —still mostly done by mothers. This is dysfunctional and disingenuous.
We can't both demand more economic growth to spur jobs and incomes while also denouncing children and unpaid carers as unproductive drains on productive members of society.
OPPOSITE DEMANDS FOR WOMEN
"The Great Baby Strike: getting women to have more kids will take a social revolution so profound as to be, well, inconceivable."
— Margaret Wente, Globe & Mail, March 5, 2005
"rhetoric about overpopulation flies in the face of the depopulation dynamics that are striking fear into many politicians and economists around the world. ... as the older age cohort increases relative to a nation's population, the country's economic health can be expected to decline." —Financial Post Commentary, Maurice Vellacott, National Post, Dec. 12, 2009.
"Although demographic trends are moving -if too slowly- in the right direction, the list of environmental threats uncovered since 1968 is extremely alarming, all exacerbated by our species' large and growing numbers." —Paul & Ann Ehrlich, "Is the Population Bomb Exploding?", Free Inquiry, May 2009.
"In a sense we've built an economy that needs rampant consumerism as a fuel, just to keep the engine going." —Bruce Bartlett interview in documentary "In Debt We Trust" 2007
Because of the opposing goals of economic growth and saving the environment, women are being told two opposing things when it comes to whether or not they should bring another human being into the world.
On one side are those who say overpopulation is the biggest threat to the environment. They worry about the environmental impacts of a world population that is expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050. They say stop breeding to save the environment.
On the other side are the captains of industry and their politicians and economists who say dropping birth rates are a threat to the economy. They worry about the economic impact of falling fertility rates. 62 percent of countries in the world already have below replacement fertility rates. They say start breeding to save the economy, jobs and incomes.
If the first group marched around waving signs saying: "Overpopulation coming! Stop breeding!!" they would get the response: "We have!" from all the low fertility industrialized countries while the high fertility countries would say "Not until living conditions improve!" (High fertility countries have high infant mortality and low life expectancy, see above.)
If the second group marched around waving signs saying: "Economic collapse coming! Start breeding!!" they would get the response: "We can't afford to!" or "Not until the world is a better place!!" or simply "No" for a variety of other reasons.
Both position 1 (stop breeding to save the environment) and position 2 (start breeding to save the economy) become moot if we implement a guaranteed livable income for all. This is the quickest way to take stress off the environment while ending the push for population growth for economic reasons and it does this while maximizing people's freedom, autonomy, creativity, innovation and health.
BLAME GAME - PICK THE POWERLESS
The overpopulation/scarcity meme has been popular since 1798 when Malthus wrote his Essay on the Principle of Population because it is such a convenient, all-purpose 'blame the victim' tool.
Pointing to overpopulation as the main cause of environmental problems, picks an easy target: mothers and the world's lowest income people who do not have armies of pundits to defend them. On the other hand, pointing to the economic factors that cause environmental harm means taking a stand against powerful vested interests and their lavishly funded think tanks.
Blaming overpopulation is easy: easy to understand and easy to do; blaming fundamental flaws in our economic system, however, is complex and contentious. But this misplaced finger-pointing has killer consequences: it is easily turned into 'let-them-die' Malthusian social policies that target the most vulnerable.
In a 2011 speech David Attenborough states** that overpopulation is a taboo topic. However, the real taboo is to point out that shrinking populations are incompatible with economic growth.
To state this would acknowledge that mothers play a foundational role in the economy. It would also mean that economic policies designed as if the goal is to end human species, such as only allocating very meager resources going to children and their caregivers, might have to change.
Next: Part 2 Falling Fertility Rates; Actions Not Numbers the Problem
Vanessa Baird - No-Nonsense Guide to World Population (a must read)
Michelle Goldberg: Sex, Power and the Future of the World