Economics

The Invisible Hand of Population Control

The tragedy of the commons meets economic freedom

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"The freedom to breed is intolerable," ecologist Garrett Hardin declared in his famous 1968 essay, "The Tragedy of the Commons." I recently re-read Hardin's call for population control, and this passage caught my attention: "We can make little progress in working toward optimum population size until we explicitly exorcize the spirit of Adam Smith in the field of practical demography." Hardin specifically wanted to exorcize Smith's claim in The Wealth of Nations that an individual who "intends only his own gain," is, as it were, "led by an invisible hand to promote…the public interest."

Hardin believed that Smith's metaphor of an invisible hand was contributing to "the dominant tendency of thought that has ever since interfered with positive action based on rational analysis, namely the tendency to assume that decisions reached individually will, in fact, be the best decisions for an entire society. If this assumption is correct it justifies the continuance of our present policy of laissez faire in reproduction." As the essay makes abundantly clear, Hardin is convinced that "rational analysis" will prove that Smith's invisible hand leads to inevitable population ruin.

In fact, several recent studies suggest that Hardin might have it backward. Under certain circumstances, there may actually be an invisible hand that leads to an optimum population.

"There is no prosperous population in the world today that has, and has had for some time, a growth rate of zero," Hardin declared. That's no longer true. Japan is now experiencing a fall in its population due to reduced fertility, as are Germany, Russia, Italy, Poland and 25 other countries and territories. And there are many societies in which total fertility rates are rapidly decelerating.

Let's take a look at two intriguing lists. The first is a list of countries ranked on the 2009 Index of Economic Freedom issued by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. Then compare the economic freedom index rankings with a list of countries ranked by their total fertility rates. Of the 30 countries that are ranked as being free or mostly free, only three have fertility rates above 2.1, e.g., New Zealand at 2.11, the Bahamas at 2.13, and Bahrain at 2.53. If one adds the next 53 countries that are ranked as moderately free, one finds that only 8 out of 83 countries have fertility rates above 3. It should be noted that low fertility rates can also be found in more repressive countries as well, e.g., China at 1.77, Cuba at 1.6, Iran at 1.71, and Russia at 1.4.

In 2002, Seth Norton, a business economics professor at Wheaton College in Illinois, published a remarkably interesting study on the inverse relationship between prosperity and fertility. Norton compared fertility rates of over 100 countries with their index rankings for economic freedom and another index for the rule of law. "Fertility rate is highest for those countries that have little economic freedom and little respect for the rule of law," wrote Norton. "The relationship is a powerful one. Fertility rates are more than twice as high in countries with low levels of economic freedom and the rule of law compared to countries with high levels of those measures."

Norton found that the fertility rate in countries that ranked low on economic freedom averaged 4.27 children per woman while countries with high economic freedom rankings had an average fertility rate of 1.82 children per woman. His results for the rule of law were similar; fertility rates in countries with low respect for the rule of law averaged 4.16 whereas countries with high respect for the rule of law had fertility rates averaging 1.55. 

Economic freedom and the rule of law produce prosperity which dramatically lowers child mortality which, in turn, reduces the incentive to bear more children. In addition, along with increased prosperity comes more education for women, opening up more productive opportunities for them in the cash economy. This increases the opportunity costs for staying at home to rear children. Educating children to meet the productive challenges of growing economies also becomes more expensive and time consuming.

Thailand's experience over the past 30 years exemplifies this process. During that time, female literacy rose to 90 percent; 50 percent of the workforce is now female; and fertility fell from 6 children per woman in the 1960s to 1.64 today. Although Thailand is classified as only moderately free on the economic freedom index, its gross domestic product (GDP) grew in terms of purchasing power parity from just over $1,000 per capita in 1960 to over $7,000 per capita in 2003.

The income, investment and consumption opportunities that people forego when they choose to rear children are even greater in truly free economies. The U.S. government estimates that it costs an American family making less $45,000 per year in before tax income almost $150,000 to rear a child to age 18. Families making over $77,000 will spend nearly $300,000 per child. And that's before paying for college. In modern societies, children are no longer capital goods, but luxury consumption items.

Norton persuasively argues that Hardin's fears of a population tragedy of the commons are actually realized when the invisible hand of economic freedom is shackled. Many poor countries have poorly specified and enforced property rights. Poor property rights means that many resources are effectively left in open access commons where the incentive is to grab what one can before the other guy gets it. Norton points out that in such situations, more children mean more hands for grabbing unowned  and unprotected resources such as water, fodder, timber, fish, pastures, and for land clearing. Lacking the institutional incentives to invest in and preserve resources, this drive to take as much as possible as quickly as possible leads to perpetual poverty.

In his essay, Hardin gives us the arresting example of a pasture open to all people in a village. Each herdsman, seeking to maximize his individual gain, puts as many cattle on the pasture as possible, leading eventually to its destruction from overgrazing. "Ruin is the destination toward which all men rush, each pursuing his own best interest in a society that believes in the freedom of the commons," writes Hardin. "Freedom in a commons brings ruin to us all."

But the problem is not the commons; it's the fact that it's open access. There are numerous examples in which property is held and effectively managed as a commons, e.g., condominium associations, medieval village commons, etc. Hardin is wrong when he concludes that "the inherent logic of the commons, remorselessly generates tragedy." Fortunately, the logic of an overused commons often ends its open access by remorselessly generating property, not tragedy.

But what about the past? Haven't societies collapsed due to overpopulation? To the extent that it is true that some societies have suffered collapses, we now know that it was because they lacked the proper institutions for channeling individual striving into a process of economic growth which ultimately promotes the public interest. Very few earlier societies could be characterized as either economically free or respecting the rule of law. Throughout history most people lived in the institutional equivalents of open access commons overseen by rapacious elites which encouraged high fertility rates and the plundering of natural resources.

The chief goal of all other species is to turn food into offspring. More food means more offspring. It is this biological logic that underlies the perennial fears of human overpopulation. Most creatures live in environments that correspond to open access commons. Recent fertility trends strongly suggest that the simple biological model of human breeding is wrong, or at least, is wrong when the institutions that support economic freedom and the rule of law, e.g., markets, price stability, honest bureaucracies, security of private property, and the fair enforcement of contracts, are well-developed. Economic freedom and the rule of law are the equivalent of enclosing the open access breeding commons, causing parents to bear more and more of the costs of rearing children. In other words, economic freedom actually generates an invisible hand of population control.

Ronald Bailey is Reason magazine's science correspondent. His book Liberation Biology: The Scientific and Moral Case for the Biotech Revolution is now available from Prometheus Books.

NEXT: Reason Talkers Around Town: Ron Bailey on "The Libertarian Dime"

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  1. PILL ME UP BITCH! was the last thing I said to her. She did. She did fine.

  2. “Just enough of us. Waaaaaay too many of you.”

  3. Didn’t a consensus of serious scientists think the world’s population would be 25 billion by now?

  4. It’s worth remembering that the concept of “the tragedy of the commons” was earlier (than Hardin) advanced by 19th century economist William Forster Lloyd, and he, too, thought that it lent weight against laissez faire.

    But this is all a mistake. Laissez faire requires (indeed, entails) a system of checks and balances that we know as packaged in one simple word: responsibility. Were parents to feel no responsibility for raising their offspring, then perhaps there would be a tragedy of the commons in population growth. But even in our society where much of the cost of education is socialized, people still feel that there is a burden associated with rearing children. And with the fall of home-based agriculture, the advantage of numerous children (to work in household/farm production) diminishes. In more primitive societies, children can be a factor of production for the family. Not so, as industrial society progresses.

    This is one invisible hand that is easy to see. The richer one gets, the more likely investment in human capital comes to the forefront of one’s imagined options, and so the expenses per child rise. As economists so neatly put it, people tend to switch from investing in QUANTITY of children to QUALITY of children.

    Alas, this understanding, so basic to microeconomics, and so helpful in understanding such macro issues as population growth, are largely lost on

    1. academics who run away from clear thinking about incentives and disincentives, or

    2. anyone who idolizes the state, imagining (against the bulk of the evidence) that its coercive powers cannot help but be more efficient than the divided powers of individuals in their personal contexts.

  5. It seems to me that the things cited in Bailey’s piece here are necessary but not sufficient. For example, what were birthrates in the United States in the 19th century? The U.S. had the rule of law back then, too, and yet I’d be willing to bet that birthrates were a lot higher than just-around-replacement levels.

    It seems to me that having an industrial society is an absolute non-negotiable point, i.e. your children can’t be your retirement; only industrial societies increase productivity fast enough for this to work.

  6. I would think at the least though we could get government to stop subsidizing having kids. Why should my taxes go up to give you a tax credit for having kids?

  7. It seems to me that having an industrial society is an absolute non-negotiable point, i.e. your children can’t be your retirement;

    Yet, oddly, in most industrialized societies, including those with sub-replacement birth rates, the children are the retirement.

  8. since I HAVE SIBLINGS she said they should be checked TOO. NOT for genital warts, like the toad, but for the SUPERSANITY. I don’t know about EUGENICS but I sure feel like a MISTAKE.

  9. In America at least, the birthrate is going down *partially* because the Boomers have rendered it all but unaffordable for a large swath of the child-bearing population to have kids in the first place.

    Boomers are hoping to maintain their numbers throughout old age, to continue to vote for their vile elderly entitlements.

    The country will collectively cheer when the pre-1955 is mercifully gone.

  10. Quick Google search shows that Garrett Hardin had four kids, but made up for it somewhat by killing himself and his wife. (Someone check my work; when I say quick search, I mean quick.)

  11. Yet, oddly, in most industrialized societies, including those with sub-replacement birth rates, the children are the retirement.

    More and more, in the USA, the children are not only not the retirement, but they saddle the parents with children of their own (i.e. grandparents get “stuck” rearing the grandchildren.). You reap what you sow, I guess.

  12. The U.S. had the rule of law back then, too, and yet I’d be willing to bet that birthrates were a lot higher than just-around-replacement levels.

    But would you have called the US overpopulated back then? That is the presumed problem — not a lot of children per se.

    It seems to me that having an industrial society is an absolute non-negotiable point, i.e. your children can’t be your retirement; only industrial societies increase productivity fast enough for this to work.

    I am skeptical of this claim. I suspect that even in an agrarian pre-industrial civilization, so long as the economy is sufficiently mature that both costs and benefits accrue primarily to the household, there will not be general overpopulation.

    Granted, there is a 15 year lag. But scarcity is scarcity, and if a family has to pay for more scarce resources with each new child, they will have only the children they can pay for. Conversely, if a household can pay for their children, that is prima facie evidence that they are not overpopulating anything.

  13. Mike Laursen – if you believe wikipedia, he and his wife were members of the hemlock society, and took their own lives

  14. > I would think at the least though we could get government to stop subsidizing having kids.

    1) Peer pressure (based on short-term gains via the dole) to keep pumpin’ ’em out is amazing. Some folks literally cannot understand why a single woman would pass up the benefits of having an out-of-wedlock child.

    2) “Society” needs more kids to fight the generational war.

  15. I would think at the least though we could get government to stop subsidizing having kids.

    Good luck fighting off muggers when you are 85.

    You are not subidizing babies, you are paying forward the nurses, doctors, firefighters, and other members of the social support system you were too selfish to create and raise.

  16. I am skeptical of this claim. I suspect that even in an agrarian pre-industrial civilization, so long as the economy is sufficiently mature that both costs and benefits accrue primarily to the household, there will not be general overpopulation.

    It’s hard to say. Actual evidence one way or another is welcome.

  17. “Good luck fighting off muggers when you are 85.”

    That’s what technology is for. In this case a tried and true technology, a firearm.

  18. As was alluded to earlier, population controls are all about the top telling the bottom what they can do reproductively. All animals are equal, but some are more equal that others, and all that stuff.

    Fortunately, the U.S. legal system has been friendly towards reproductive freedom. “Hands off my body” cuts both ways.

  19. What kind of prosperity is it that leaves couples believing that they cannot afford to have any or to have more children? It is true that we consume more than our parents and grandparents, but the parents of the baby boomers (including me) gave us a very nice life and, on average, had 3.5 children. Now, the average woman born in America to parents who were born in American averages fewer than 2 children (our fertility rate is about 2.1, but that is because the fertility rates of immigrants and their children raise the average). Who was more prosperous? I guess that depends on how one defines prosperity. I give to the nod to our parents and grandparents.

    I’d take my four children over a McMansion, a luxury SUV and sedan, and exotic vacations any day of my life. In fact, I have. I can’t have both a large family and all the “must haves” of our generation. I chose children, the best investment I’ve made other than the time and money spent wooing my wife.

    As to government subsidizing children, who will pay your Social Security and buy your stocks and bonds when you need to sell them to live off your retirement savings, and who will buy your luxury home when it is time to downsize, and who will provide your nursing care? The cost of having and rearing children is an investment in the future, including your own. Our ancestors understood that. We do not. Woe to us.

  20. I see no reason to believe that a completely laissez-faire reproductive policy will lead to an optimal population. Indeed, it is becoming clear that in advanced nations (which I expect all nations will be someday), it is almost impossible to produce enough children to maintain a stable population. I am surprised that Ron didn’t express in any way that terminal population decline could be a problem (and already is in Japan, for example).

    I would expect that going forward, there will be more and more government-sponsored incentives to have children, in order to either stabilize or at least gently decline the population.

    What IS the optimal population? Well, I consider people good things and would like to carry as many as the earth can sustain. The particular number would depend on the state of technology, but is probably around ten billion or so with what we have now. Coincidentally, that will roughly be the peak population later this century.


  21. I am skeptical of this claim. I suspect that even in an agrarian pre-industrial civilization, so long as the economy is sufficiently mature that both costs and benefits accrue primarily to the household, there will not be general overpopulation.

    That would be a lot closer to being true if my FICA money went directly to my parents and grandparents, and eventually my children and grandchildren’s money went directly to me. This is obviously not the case, which in some ways causes Social Security to be a massive subsidy of the childless.

  22. That would be a lot closer to being true if my FICA money went directly to my parents and grandparents, and eventually my children and grandchildren’s money went directly to me.

    When I cited a society where “both costs and benefits accrue primarily to the household”, I was specifically excluding societies with welfare schemes, including those with FICA.

  23. This is obviously not the case, which in some ways causes Social Security to be a massive subsidy of the childless.

    I don’t see how. SocSec is a massive subsidy of the old by the young.

    It doesn’t matter how many kid you had, you get the same.

    It doesn’t matter how many siblings you have, you pay the same.

    It doesn’t matter if your parents are still alive, you pay the same.

    Where’s the subsidy of the childless in all that?

  24. I see no reason to believe that a completely laissez-faire reproductive policy will lead to an optimal population.

    What IS the optimal population? Well, I consider people good things and would like to carry as many as the earth can sustain.

    Perhaps you should try to use a definition of “optimal” that isn’t “whatever Chad considers best”.

    The sole problem I see with a laissez faire population policy is that it optimizes the utilities of the currently living, but it almost certainly undercounts the utilities of the as yet unconceived.

    An omniscient hand might look at all possibilities of all futures and determine that the total utility of humanity is maximized with a significantly higher future population.

    Maybe that is the intent of your argument, Chad?

  25. Ron,

    couldn’t read the whole article? Do you project anything into the future? I mean, lifespans of 200 years and more? What about immortality, if ever? Any population growth greater than zero would lead than to infinite numbers. Even with finite but huge lifespans, this is a concern, don’t you think? What then? Tax people on having kids? Shift them to space? But how about freedoms then? Not doing anything? How about other freedoms like listening to loud music, etc.? What about comfort of life? Densities will be enormous, that’s for sure.

    All this might be around the corner. We never know when scientific research in these fields starts to show results. Don’t you think there should be some precaution? I mean, the planet already feels the pain. It can probably bear some billions more, but it can be much more than that.

    Thanks

  26. I’m surprised nobody has questioned the basic premise of this article – that there are too many people.

    If anything, the world is UNDERpopulated. There are VAST swaths of NOTHING all over the earth. The Sahara, the Amazon, Mongolia, Siberia, Most of the Midwest and the rockies in America – and let’s not forget the sea. People buy into this overpopulation stuff because they live in cities and haven’t really seen how much land is out there. I’ve lived in Northern New Jersey and I have been amazed at how much land is available just an hour and a half drive south into South/Central Jersey since I’ve started having to commute there a few days every week.

    There’s more than enough room and resources for people for the next hundred years, and who knows what technology will be like by then.

    Furthermore, hasn’t anyone heard the theories that state that more people means better economies? At the very least, there’s more people to think up more ideas/inventions – but the fact is humans are the ultimate resource. Economists have shown this in a few studies. Hell – civilizations have flourished EVERYWHERE on this planet, regardless of resources. What modern city do you know of is still actually DEPENDENT on the initial reason it started growing? Is New York still a booming economic center because it’s a port? It doesn’t matter where they are, once you get a bunch of people living together, their economy is going to advance.

    I’d also like to add that it’s only expensive to raise kids becuase of the massively raised costs caused by our command economy. The lowering of birth rates has coincided with increased government intervention. The same weak people who want the government to be their surrogate mommies are the same people who despise people who have lots of kids. In other words, kids are a sign of strength. Our ancestors would be ashamed – their lives sucked by comparison but they had like 5-8 kids per person.

    The lowering of birthrates also coincided with the government takeover and subsequent destruction of marriage. Of course birth rates are low when either party can leave whenever they want in these “no-fault marriages” – it’s not even a marriage, it’s better described as fuck-buddies. And the option for a REAL marriage, a FAULT marriage, is not there – in a free country people could write their own marriage contracts and gay marriage nor divorce rates would be an issue.

    And I’d like to think that people, ceteris parabus, WANT to have kids to have help around the house, a steady supply of pinchable cheeks, and a form of retirement insurance. There’s nothing more fulfilling than loving someone, and on top of that, most of us are not going to actually end up doing something more meaningful than CREATING functioning members of society, as much as ever career woman/man would like to tell himself he does. I mean really, unless you’re the next Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison, you’re doing significantly less with your life than the “housewives” that people look down upon so much these days.

  27. Edwin,

    but clearly there is a limit. There’s nothing infinite. What would be your max number?

  28. Peter,

    The problem with your hypothesis is the question about whom gets to decide who’s fate. Children are tax subsidized right now, and it’s a long way to go from subsidization to outright bans. I’m fine with eliminating tax credits for families, but anything more than that isn’t going to work.

    I’m not concerned about population growth. If you are, good for you. Just don’t force your concern on anybody unwilling.

  29. ellipsis,

    but I can’t help it. More people means more conflicts. Not violent, may be, but it will inevitably bring more regulations upon my life. Politicians are at the sharp end of regulating everything, but demand for these regulations clearly starts at the bottom. It’s no surprise big cities are liberal, you know.

    And that’s only for starters…

    In the end, I don’t want to end up carrying somebody literally on my shoulders for the lack of space. I mean, with constantly increasing lifespans, isn’t it a common sense that even with low fertility rates there will be Bangladesh all over the place?

    If you aren’t concerned, do nothing. Why should I follow your course, if I am concerned?

  30. An omniscient hand might look at all possibilities of all futures and determine that the total utility of humanity is maximized with a significantly higher future population.

    Maybe that is the intent of your argument, Chad?

    In some ways. I consider people good things, unlike far too many environmentalists. I want a large, happy, healthy population of people both today and in the future. The reality is that there are trade-offs between the two, and since only today’s people get to vote on the matter, the decisions made are often short-sighted and unfair.

    At around a population of ten billion (on Earth at least), we really start running into a wall in terms of arable land and possible sources of renewable energy. At that point, we have less than .8 acres of arable land per person, for example. Obviously technology will improve and allow us to flourish on less, but at some point there is simply a limit as to how much food and energy we can extract per acre.

    If every country on earth were to adopt policies that targeted zero population native population growth, we would likely stabilize somewhere around ten billion. From there, we would either realize that this is too many or that we could handle a few more, and could tweak policies in order to affect the change.

    The most critical thing we need to do right now is address the areas of the world that have ultra-high birthrates, such as Nigeria and Bangladesh. The solutions are known (access to birth control and education, promotion of women’s rights, etc) and not terribly expensive. In the meantime, advanced nations need to set up systems that encourage a level of birthrates that leads to stability. Right now in the US, we are only a bit below the replacement rate and only need modest adjustments.

  31. Peter,

    Just to clarify, we’re talking strictly about the U.S. correct? Anyway, like I said, I welcome your right to be concerned. If you put your concern into positive free market action, that’s great.

    But if you’re talking about government imposed child limits, that’s a problem. The U.S. isn’t China. If you’re looking to avoid conflicts, forcing others into child limits isn’t the way to do it.

  32. but clearly there is a limit. There’s nothing infinite. What would be your max number?

    Considering Mans ability to travel into space and with enough energy alter elements through fusion it is hard to imagine a limit. Indeed, considering that human ingenuity comes with human beings, the number is probably infinite, or practically so.

    Didn’t Julian Simon own Paul Ehrlich in the famous bet? The availability of resources is only practically limited by human inventiveness.

    The question of so-called “overpopulation” is moot anyway. Global population is expected to peak (invisible hand perhaps?) around 2050.


  33. Chad said: This is obviously not the case, which in some ways causes Social Security to be a massive subsidy of the childless.

    RC said: I don’t see how…. It doesn’t matter how many kid you had, you get the same.

    It’s pretty much because people with children took on that 150-300K cost of rearing those children to the point where that child can then enter into the economy, keeping our economy going and growing. A person that doesn’t have a child, but collects SS benefits, has saved themselves that 150-300K, but still benefits from the young providing for them later on.

    Essentially, it’s cheaper not to have children, but they’re necessary to keep the economy strong via a strong, growing population, so someone who doesn’t contribute to the future population is not providing a replacement[s] to the SS benefits they used to pay when they worked. Since it’s a ponzi scheme, you gotta have those new investors. Someone’s got to birth them and if it’s not you, you come out $150-300K ahead.

  34. At around a population of ten billion (on Earth at least), we really start running into a wall in terms of arable land and possible sources of renewable energy.

    [Citation Needed]

    Why 10 Billion and not 100 billion? Your number of .8 acres per person is out of thin air. The concentration of human beings in New York City or Tokyo or Mexico City exceeds that by what factor? 1000? 100,000?

    What is the difference between fusion and unlimited renewable energy and limited renewable resources? Human beings.

    I was going to question the connection between Leftists and “population control”. Chad has chimed in right on queue. It gives me hope when he says “In some ways. I consider people good things”. How simply specist of him. Who knows, maybe one day he will even say “I believe in people’s right not to have “their betters” make decisions for them.” Impossible? One can always dream.

  35. Marshall Gill | June 16, 2009, 9:32pm | #

    Didn’t Julian Simon own Paul Ehrlich in the famous bet? The availability of resources is only practically limited by human inventiveness.

    Ehrlich may have been right in principle but wrong on the time frame. Perhaps you have noticed commodity prices rising for the last few years? I think if the same bet were made today about, say, 2020, we would have a different winner.

    At some point, ingenuity runs into physics and chemistry, and further gains become marginal.

  36. Marshall Gill | June 16, 2009, 9:54pm | #
    At around a population of ten billion (on Earth at least), we really start running into a wall in terms of arable land and possible sources of renewable energy.

    [Citation Needed]

    Why 10 Billion and not 100 billion? Your number of .8 acres per person is out of thin air. The concentration of human beings in New York City or Tokyo or Mexico City exceeds that by what factor? 1000? 100,000?

    It’s not “out of thin air”. It comes from, you know, Googling “acres of arable land”, finding the answer at Wikipedia, converting square miles to acres, and dividing by 10 billion. At that population, there are about 4 acres per person, less than one of which is arable.

    At a hundred billion, you would have to survive by only consuming food grown in a garden the size of a modern bathroom. Good luck.

  37. I can’t believe this is still being argued! Does anyone except Paul Ehrlich think about this anymore? All of the industrialized nations are reproducing at BELOW REPLACEMENT RATE. Japan’s population is already in decline, and Western Europe is soon to follow. The debate is over. Really.

    PS-until natural selection filters out everyone who is OK with birth control, but that is another story.

  38. Countries with the greatest economic freedoms may have less population growth or even zero population growth however that’s just a statistic; what is important is that they have an abundantly higher “carbon footprint” and are using natural resources disproportionately. This is really what matters!

  39. if you believe wikipedia, he and his wife were members of the hemlock society, and took their own lives

    I just put that in there.

  40. Oh, by the way, James “I invented something cool so everything else I say must be cool” Lovelock now predicts that 90% of humanity will die and there’s nothing that can be done about it. No crash programs, no kyoto protocols, no carbon sequestration, no Obama, no new EPA director. It will happen. And the effects will be abundantly clear from about 2020 to mid century.

    By the way, Richard Branson claims Lovelock “inspired” him to spend millions helping the fight against global warming. Apparently Branson didn’t get the memo that he’s not helping, at least according to Lovelock.

    1. ……no new EPA director.

      BLASPHEMER!

  41. It’s not “out of thin air”. It comes from, you know, Googling “acres of arable land”, finding the answer at Wikipedia, converting square miles to acres, and dividing by 10 billion. At that population, there are about 4 acres per person, less than one of which is arable.

    I am not questioning your numbers regarding population to arable land. I am questioning your assumption that that number represents a limit. Upon what do you achieve such a number? Why is .8 acres per person required instead of .008? Because it is?

    At a hundred billion, you would have to survive by only consuming food grown in a garden the size of a modern bathroom. Good luck.

    Again, a claim entirely without factual basis. Your claim might be true except for one thing, human ingenuity. Who is to say that Humans won’t eventually live in houses suspended in the air with anti-gravity drives? What about terra-forming? Oceanic farming? As ingenuity devised the steam engine and later the combustion engine and later split the atom so it will create even more efficient things.

    At some point, ingenuity runs into physics and chemistry, and further gains become marginal.

    And this has happened when? Oh yeah, never, but it simply must? Splitting the atom is the wall that will be run into? Oh, obviously not. There hasn’t been a limit to ingenuity so far what evidence is there that there ever will be?

  42. And what does Adam Smith himself have to say about the topic?

    “Poverty, though it no doubt discourages, does not always prevent marriage. It seems to even be favourable to generation. A half starved Highland woman frequently bears more than twenty children, while a pampered fine lady is often exhausted by two or three. Barrenness, so frequent among women of fashion, is rare among those of inferior station. Luxury in the fair sex, while it enflames the passion for enjoyment, seems always to weaken, and frequently destroy altogether, the powers of generation.

    But poverty, though it does not prevent the generation, is extremely unfavourable to the rearing of children … I have frequently been told, in the Highlands of Scotland for a mother who has borne twenty children not to have two alive.”

    Smith, Adam 1776 “The Wealth of Nations”
    Chapter 8, “Of the Wages of Labour”

  43. I am not questioning your numbers regarding population to arable land. I am questioning your assumption that that number represents a limit. Upon what do you achieve such a number? Why is .8 acres per person required instead of .008? Because it is?

    We currently need about 1.2 acres per American. Is a 50% increase in crop yields going forward a reasonable guess? I would say so. Is the 1500% percent increase necessary for your .08 acres/person reasonable? No. Actually, it is almost thermodynamically impossible due to a limited supply of light from the sun and the limited efficiency of photosynthesis. Your figure of .008 acres/person IS impossible thermodynamically, period, by quite a wide margin.

    And this has happened when? Oh yeah, never, but it simply must? Splitting the atom is the wall that will be run into? Oh, obviously not. There hasn’t been a limit to ingenuity so far what evidence is there that there ever will be?

    Actually, it happens all the time. Even when there isn’t a hard wall, but there is often a soft one. Go out and look at things like the historial efficiencies of engines and turbines, or battery energy/weight ratios, or any of another thousand metrics. You will see big gains early on followed by slow, marginal improvements. Many of the things we rely on simply aren’t going to get much better.

  44. a story on overpopulation and no Malthus? Sorry I sincerly believe as Malthus posited that the poor and ignorant are predisposed to overpopulation…..

    I think a review of the annals of human history reiterates this fact………

    and Malthus postulated that population grows by I believe 25% every generation

    “the power of poulation is exponentially great than the power in the earth to sustain it”

  45. There is a huge mix of reasons why the advanced technological societies do not breed anymore.

    The Christians like to argue with decline of Christianity in Europe. Well, this argument is not exactly explaining the sharp drop of birthrates in Japan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Iran or even the more developed Arab countries like Tunisia or Kuwait (they are still above replacement rate, but falling fast). In fact, Christian Palestinians in Israel have the lowest birthrate of all the ethnoreligious groups 1in the whole region, including secular Israelis. Traditionally Catholic European countries like Poland and Spain are no better.

    On the other hand, it is pretty obvious that some religious groups are extremely fertile, for example Haredim in Israel, which have an average birthrate of 8.1 – 9.0 per woman – by far the highest on the planet. The Bedouin Arabs in Negev are not that far behind. Nevertheless, in case of these groups, I am pretty sure that the explosion can’t be sustained forever, as there is already serious lack of water in the whole region, and producing sweet water in desalination plants is very expensive.

    Personally, I think that Europe, Japan and Asian megalopolis-es are seriously overcrowded and halving the population by under-reproduction would be a natural correction. My American friends usually stare in disbelief at the prices of property here. Building a normal family house in suburbia of Prague or Wien takes about 30 years of average income of an average worker (FULL income, like “no food, no clothes”). Places like London are even worse.

    It is also notable that sparsely populated countries like Iceland or Chile tend to have higher birthrates and slower decline than overcrowded places like Northern Italy or the Benelux, while being at similar or identical level of economic development.

  46. So, did Hardin take one for the team and off himself, or is he a misanthropic hypocrite?

    -jcr

  47. Actually, it happens all the time. Even when there isn’t a hard wall, but there is often a soft one. Go out and look at things like the historial efficiencies of engines and turbines, or battery energy/weight ratios, or any of another thousand metrics. You will see big gains early on followed by slow, marginal improvements. Many of the things we rely on simply aren’t going to get much better.

    So now you concede that it isn’t a “hard” wall. Do you also concede that while technology may slow in it’s growth, it does not stop. All of your examples represent a temporary “wall” at best, which isn’t exactly what you would call a “wall”. You don’t need to make a more efficient internal combustion engine once someone makes fuel cells more efficient. Even if it doesn’t advance at the same speed all the time, technology advances.

    You still provide no numbers to back up your belief that .8 acres is optimum or a limit. But, as I said, it doesn’t matter. World population is expected to peak around 2050 and then start going down. In spite of all the holier-than-thous who believe it is not only their duty but divine right to dictate to the rest of us how to live our lives. The Invisible Hand of self interest actually works, as opposed to the Iron Fist of the Socialist.

  48. Regarding:
    “Considering Mans ability to travel into space”

    There’s still an admittedly ludicrous limit: the speed of light.

    To simplify, assume indefinite lifespans and assume that members of the population continue to procreate indefinitely at some constant rate. Furthermore assume that the physical spacing of individuals remains approximately constant. Then the population increases at a rate proportional to the volume of the space occupied by the population, whereas the additional volume available to occupy can only increase at a rate proportional to the surface area of the volume currently occupied (thereby violating a previous assumption, but who’s being rigorous.)

    so d(population)/dt ~ increases at cubic rate
    d(volume available)/dt ~ increases at quadratic rate

    Something’s gotta give eventually …

    (For the record, I liked the article and am quite opposed to forced population control.)

  49. I am not questioning your numbers regarding population to arable land. I am questioning your assumption that that number represents a limit. Upon what do you achieve such a number? Why is .8 acres per person required instead of .008? Because it is?

    We currently need about 1.2 acres per American for farmed crops. Is a 50% increase in crop yields going forward a reasonable guess? I would say so. That is what would be necessary for .8 acres/person. Of course, that assumes that we use every drop of arable land for crops. If you assume that we use only 75% of that land for farming (and some for homes, roads, or nature), you would only have .6 acres/person. Is a 100% increase in crop yields feasible? Yes, but that would be a heroic endeavor. One dirty secret about increasing crop yields is that most of the increase comes from improving poor yielding farms, not increasing the ultimate yields of “champion” farms who had blessed weather, land, and conditions that particular year. The yields of champion farms are usually around double the national average, and have actually barely grown at all for the last couple decades.

    Is the 1500% percent increase in yields necessary for .08 acres/person reasonable? No. Actually, it is almost thermodynamically impossible due to a limited supply of light from the sun and the limited efficiency of photosynthesis. Your figure of .008 acres/person IS impossible thermodynamically, period, by quite a wide margin.

    So now you concede that it isn’t a “hard” wall

    No I didn’t. Thermodynamics is an awfully hard wall, and we are not far from the limits in quite a number of cases. For example, you seem to ignore all the inefficient steps with concern to fuel cells that you find when you look from well to wheels.

  50. I would think at the least though we could get government to stop subsidizing having kids. Why should my taxes go up to give you a tax credit for having kids?

    Because, if you don’t have kids, I and others will have to beget and raise them in order to produce the things you’ll be needing when you’re old and unproductive.

  51. The article and discussion leave out one important factor: Immigration. Tens of millions are trying to get into the wealthy, industrialized nations, away from their overcrowded poverty. Haven’t any of you traveled to third world cities? If you (at Reason) keep pushing for open immigration, I hope you like the feel of large third world cities, because that’s where the US and Europe will be in 20-30 without a drastic slowing of immigration.

  52. Interestingly, I’ve just read a section of von Mises’ Human Action where he talks about the economy and population, and he says similar things (though not exactly the same), riffing off of Malthus’ theory of population limits.
    But, as greg indicates, never let it be said that fears can be calmed by mere facts.

  53. “The reality is that there are trade-offs between the two, and since only today’s people get to vote on the matter, the decisions made are often short-sighted and unfair.”

    Since when did we decide the nonexistent should get to vote? If I do decide to have kids, I will try to provide them with the basis for a decent life. That said, their existence and the existence of other people’s future children are only an extrapolation, and I don’t see why my quality of life should be reduced for their hypothetical sakes.

  54. Not to get too far into my space nerd dreams, but why assume we are limited to the solar energy that hits the earth? Only an infinetesimal fraction of the sun’s ongoing output falls on the earth.

  55. Thermodynamics is, of course, an impenetrable wall, but not one we are anywhere near hitting. The eventual heat death of the universe is not going to be impacted by the activities of modern humans.

  56. “You are not subidizing babies, you are paying forward the nurses, doctors, firefighters, and other members of the social support system you were too selfish to create and raise.”

    Really? I thought we paid them back through bills and taxes and stuff. If the doc who makes 200+ grand a year is too damn ungrateful to cough up some dough for Mom and Dad, that’s his problem, not mine.

  57. So now you concede that it isn’t a “hard” wall

    No I didn’t.

    Of course you did, you said,

    Even when there isn’t a hard wall, but there is often a soft one.

    Come on, dude, try not to contradict yourself in the same thread. I realize that intellectual consistency is not a trademark of the Leftarded, but try.

  58. Article is the usual hogwash:

    “With prosperity, people breed less.”

    Yet not all people can prosper, so there’s always radical growth at the bottom of the IQ curve.

    Societies do die and even more, be driven into warfare, by overpopulation. Get ready for the water and food wars.

  59. If interested in more Garrett Hardin see
    http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/
    Among other items there is a picture of Garrett with L. F. Ivanhoe and Walter Youngquist, two geologists with expertise in oil and mineral depletion.
    The Competitive Exclusion Principle was important in the development of The Tragedy of the Commons. It is still relevant to differential growth rates of various countries and ethnic groups though not politically correct. Garrett was a somewhat conservative Republican but decades ago took an unusually strong pro abortion position (more than pro choice) . During the 60’s he organized a conference exploring the possibility of legalizing abortion. His papers including material on this conference are in Special Collections at UCSB.

  60. Can we get back to examples of the Tragedy of the Commons? Can anyone suggest how the degradation of the Chesapeake Bay is going to be stopped without some sort of governmental controls? Don’t expect an army of watermen to march on the suburbs and farms of Pennsylvania demanding a reduction in the use of fertilizers.

  61. Population control is mostly depend on women if we give them education,they understand importance of small family. Women suffer more in pregnancy and she know what are the trouble from big family.In India woman are always ready for birth control.
    So if we want population control we must give importance to woman,give them opportunity they will change the face of world

  62. Really? I thought we paid them back through bills and taxes and stuff. If the doc who makes 200+ grand a year is too damn ungrateful to cough up some dough for Mom and Dad, that’s his problem, not mine.

    I think you missed the point.

  63. Here would be an interesting study:

    In societies where an oversized, overstupid government creates massive wealth transfer programs that take money from young, working people and give it to old, nonworking people, and also racks up trillions of dollars of debt to subsidize the current generation at the expense of the future, do the people ever show enough common sense and compassion to stop breeding the next generation of slaves? At least, without trying to find another country to emigrate to first?

  64. Adam Smith also noted that rich women were less fertile than poor ones. Although he did not say it outright, implicit in this is that a society in which most are wealthy will have low fertility.

  65. “Furthermore, hasn’t anyone heard the theories that state that more people means better economies? At the very least, there’s more people to think up more ideas/inventions – but the fact is humans are the ultimate resource. Economists have shown this in a few studies.”

    Superstious mumbo-jumbo without a shred of empirical evidence or even theoretical reasoning behind it. Actual free market theory allows for no connection between quantity of people and wealth per person.

    We’ve all noted how fabulously wealthy Indians, Chinese, and Bangladeshis are, I’m sure.

  66. I think as far as the West is concerned (including the US), zero or negative population growth is proportional to the size and scope of the government. The nations with the smallest growth have large, generous welfare states in place. Italy, Greece, Spain, Japan, Germany, Scandanavia, and the Benelux and the UK average less than 1.8 children per female. In the case of Greece, Spain, and Italy the rate is nearer to 1.1 children per female. Many of these nations have growing Islamic minorities, that overall mask this demographic fact to some degree. Russia has a fertility rate near 1.3, but chronic alcoholism, drug abuse, and HIV are decimating its populations.

    What is ironic is the fact that for a generous social insurance state to survive, a nation needs fertility rates to average above 3.0. It all depends upon how generous the state wishes to be; the more entitlements, the more workers it needs to contribute to it. One would also expect the goverment to allow as much economic freedom as possible in order to maximize tax revenues.

    In any event, we’ve come full circle. Economic growth allows for smaller families. But the drive for social equity, and worker entitlements have created a system where those extra workers are needed as much as ever. In that sense socialism is a step backward (as far as the eco alarmists are concerned). If population size is the sine quo non of planet gaia, then socialism and all it entails is deadly.

    We are now near the end of the 20th Century model for social justice. The most progressive, socialistic, and moralistic generations of that century (namely the Baby Boomers) proved far too hypocritical. They demanded all of the benefits of socialism, but provided too few children to support it. The current group in Congress and perhaps the bean counters in the WH are coming to the realization that there are far too few prosperous large families, and far too few children to support the massive transfer of wealth they envision. You need people to have wealth.

  67. Actual free market theory allows for no connection between quantity of people and wealth per person.

    You are, of course, joking.

    Clearly an economy of two people has greater wealth per capita than an economy of one person.

    And clearly free trade — i.e., allowing more people into the economy — brings greater wealth per capita than protectionism.

    So exactly on what “actual free market theory” grounds could the opposite possibly be true?

  68. lack of arable land:
    all land can be arable given enough water – and with this new reverse osmosis drinkable/irrigation water can be made with less energy than ever. I’ve always imagined that if I were the dictator of a desert country, I’d build a huge complex of a connected nuclear power plant, reverse osmosis seawter purification center, and plastics facility to make the membranes for the reverse osmosis – right on the shore. The nuclear plant makes cheap energy for the country AND to power the desalination AND the plant that makes the membranes, and the membrane plant would make the membranes for the desalination plant, so you wouldn’t have to purchase and ship in those membranes. The only inputs are small amounts of uranium (nuclear power doesn’t actually use that much uranium, at least compared to how much other stuff we use), and the leftovers from refineries that they use to make plastics.

    Granted, most countries don’t have nuclear power and something like that wouldn’t be needed for a long time. But the point is that our silly laws create the apparent great scarcities we see (nuclear power – not allowed to build new plants in the U.S.), and even with a lot of poeple, food will just become more expensive to produce, not non-existant. In other words, our CURRENT technologies could deal with a much harsher world, let alone whatever they have in the future.

  69. JP, the Boomers will be the ones to swamp the entitlement programs, but that’s simply due to their large numbers, and they weren’t the ones who put the programs in place.

    There are people who have seen this coming for a long time. Back when my grandparents were still around, my parents noticed that they (the grandparents) got back everything they had ever paid into SSI/Medicare in just a few months, then continued to draw benefits for 20-25 more years. My parents put two and two together and figured out where that money was coming from. But no one bothered to do anything about it, since that would have been politically unpopular and the Boomers were still a long way away from retirement and paying into those programs like crazy.

    Of course the government managed to spend all that money just as crazily, and STILL managed to sink us trillions of dollars into debt, never mind what would happen with the unfunded liabilities. We are going to see runaway taxes, runaway inflation, and devaluation in our currency that will absolutely sink a lot of people. There isn’t enough of other people’s money to stretch that far.

    I mean seriously, if you are having children right now in the USA, what are you thinking? If your kid manages to become a hard-working, self-supporting human being, do you know what else he’s going to be? Surrounded by hordes of mouth-breathing dullards and sucked dry, that’s what! Do you have any idea how hopelessly outnumbered he will be? You are buying a berth on a sinking ship. Your kid is going to pay through the nose in taxes, just to keep up with the interest on the debt that past generatons have racked up, and to pay for gargantuan entitlement programs that he will never see the benefit of. You can’t even leave this country to get away from it, because the same problems are everywhere.

    I would never subject offspring I loved to that kind of future – living through a civilization in decline. It’s enough that I will have to watch conditions get a little worse for people every year myself. Sure we have technology, but Twitter and the Cloud aren’t going to fix what’s broken with people. For every self-reliant individual out there worth admiring, there are a thousand others who would happily eat him for lunch.

    Will things ever get better again? Oh, eventually, maybe. The Dark Ages came to an end, but it took an awfully long time. How many people do you know who even understand that governments cause most of the world’s problems? Now how many people do you know who expect governments to SOLVE most of the world’s problems? See what I mean?

  70. It’s been said before, and represents one kind of consensus view of post-industrial society. But there are some holes in it: the assertion that women are motivated to take on new earning opportunities outside the home is a positive spin on a very dubious statistic. As Rifkin points out in ‘the End of Work’, real earning power has decreased to the point that it now requires two working partners to maintain a modest lower middle or upper lower class life.
    Add to this the income shift which has top 2% incomes rising & lower 70% incomes falling over the last thirty years, and you see that falling fertility is as likely to be from pernicious economic constraints as anything approaching enlightened decision making.
    If you are sufficiently familiar with Adam Smith to know his basis for propriety, you might be able to speculate productively on the probable results of declining earning power and real estate bubbles.

  71. The Tragedy of the Private:

    There is so much money to be made prior to the popping of a real estate bubble that everyone jumps in, fearing to be left behind during the period of rapid expansion of wealth, and hoping not to be destroyed by the burst, thus ensuring that the bubble grows ever larger and more dangerous… to the public interest.

  72. Pirate Jo wrote:

    I mean seriously, if you are having children right now in the USA, what are you thinking? If your kid manages to become a hard-working, self-supporting human being, do you know what else he’s going to be? Surrounded by hordes of mouth-breathing dullards and sucked dry, that’s what! Do you have any idea how hopelessly outnumbered he will be? You are buying a berth on a sinking ship. Your kid is going to pay through the nose in taxes, just to keep up with the interest on the debt that past generatons have racked up, and to pay for gargantuan entitlement programs that he will never see the benefit of. You can’t even leave this country to get away from it, because the same problems are everywhere.

    I would never subject offspring I loved to that kind of future – living through a civilization in decline.

    So, are you saying that it would be better not to exist than to have to struggle in the manner you describe? I have fathered four children (ages 1-year-old to 9-years-old). Because of our early use of contraceptives and then fertility problems, we were married ten years before the birth of our first child. Just yesterday, I heard my oldest daughter, who in the past has asked why she has no older siblings, tell my wife that she was sure glad that she wasn’t conceived until our fertility problems were solved. In other words, she is glad to exist.

    It is shear nonsense to say that it would be better off to not exist than to face hard economic times. That is rationalizing after the fact to justify a predetermined decision. When what you compared to the Dark Ages end, you’ll have no descendants alive to enjoy the dawning of the New Renaissance.

    Having said that, I’ll repeat my earlier question: What kind of prosperity is it that leaves many couples believing that they cannot afford to have or to have more children?

    Our alleged prosperity over the past thirty years was really largely smoke and mirrors, purchased through excess debt and insufficient fertility. Our parents and grandparents, with their 1000 sq foot home housing four to six children, making it on one income, and driving one used Chevrolet or Ford, while saving 10-15% of their income were more prosperous than we are in our 4000 sq foot McMansions housing 1.8 children, struggling to keep the balls all in the air on two incomes, and driving a luxury SUV and sedan, while spending more than we make.

    Our chickens are coming home to roost. Expect a large flock of them by the time most of the baby boomers reach what used to be considered retirement age.

    Death comes to all. Our luxury cars will rust away. Our luxury homes will rot away. Our exotic vacations will be forgotten, with the postcards and fading photos tossed in the trash after the estate sale. Our IRAs and 401ks will be depleted. Our descendants, if we have any, will live on and thank us for giving their ancestors life so that they might have life.

  73. “It is shear nonsense to say that it would be better off to not exist than to face hard economic times.”

    No, that’s not what I mean. I’m saying that here are all these people, creating this current (and future) disaster, and then having kids to pay the price for it. I think if people really gave a crap about their future descendants, they wouldn’t be leaving them with this mess. Instead of supporting themselves and then, if they have anything left over at the end of it, passing it along to their kids, people are living wildly beyond their means, and then giving their kids a big credit card bill. Don’t you think the kids of today and the grandkids of tomorrow might want to work to have some kind of life for themselves someday, and not just work and work to keep a bunch of old duffers in casino money? The people living now are parasites off the people who will live in the future. Creating hosts for these parasites seems like contributing to the problem.

    “When what you compared to the Dark Ages end, you’ll have no descendants alive to enjoy the dawning of the New Renaissance.”

    Well that doesn’t matter to me. The reason I don’t have kids is because I simply don’t want them. I think that as things keep getting worse and worse, and this depression lasts and lasts, I will still fare okay. Partly because I don’t have kids to try and take care of (not that I want to anyway), partly because my small and very modest condo will be paid for, and because I’ll still be driving an older, paid-for car. I’ll be able to withstand the price of food doubling, for example, and the loss of my savings due to currency devaluation.

    I’m taking a ‘pay-as-you-go’ approach to life, focusing on enjoying it while it lasts, and because my life is simple and my needs are modest, I’ll always be able to support myself. I don’t know how the average person can be expected to meet their own needs, pay for all the medical expenses and 30-year retirements of the gimme generation, and still support kids of their own. It’s simply not sustainable.

    Totally agree with you here: “we in our 4000 sq foot McMansions housing 1.8 children, struggling to keep the balls all in the air on two incomes, and driving a luxury SUV and sedan, while spending more than we make.” I don’t understand the mentality of people who are willing to stay trapped in treadmill jobs to pay for a bunch of overpriced crap, rather than, say, be debt-free and have the freedom to actually enjoy life.

  74. Population control’s proponents have a number of arguments, all of which can be boiled down to:

    “You must make do with less so that we can have more.”

    Anyone who can’t see past all the academic pabulum to understand this fact deserves to be eradicated by the population control Nazis. The people crying for population control have the same belief system as the ‘Aryan race’ whack jobs who followed Hitler. The names change but the stinking, unearned elitism is still the same…

  75. From the article:

    the open access breeding commons

    Nuff’ said.

  76. A. Magnus, I don’t advocate eliminating population control proponents. After all, we are committed to nonviolence. However, I have one rule of thumb. Before I listen to anyone’s arguments in favor of population control. That speaker must first lead by example and eliminate himself from the global population.

  77. No, that’s not what I mean. I’m saying that here are all these people, creating this current (and future) disaster, and then having kids to pay the price for it. I think if people really gave a crap about their future descendants, they wouldn’t be leaving them with this mess. Instead of supporting themselves and then, if they have anything left over at the end of it, passing it along to their kids, people are living wildly beyond their means, and then giving their kids a big credit card bill. Don’t you think the kids of today and the grandkids of tomorrow might want to work to have some kind of life for themselves someday, and not just work and work to keep a bunch of old duffers in casino money? The people living now are parasites off the people who will live in the future. Creating hosts for these parasites seems like contributing to the problem.

    I see that as a question of family planing, not population control. Population control is collectivistic and dictatoral. It strives for blanket policies to achieve a target population size or target growth rate. Family planning is liberating and empowers the individual or couple. It encourages each couple to plan their conceptions for the betterment of their offspring. I oppose population control, but I support and have practiced family planning.

  78. And I’d like to think that people, ceteris parabus, WANT to have kids to have help around the house, a steady supply of pinchable cheeks, and a form of retirement insurance. There’s nothing more fulfilling than loving someone, and on top of that, most of us are not going to actually end up doing something more meaningful than CREATING functioning members of society, as much as ever career woman/man would like to tell himself he does. I mean really, unless you’re the next Albert Einstein or Thomas Edison, you’re doing significantly less with your life than the “housewives” that people look down upon so much these days.

    Well said, Edwin. My town spends about $18,000 per student, so let’s set that as the local market value of educating a child for a year. That means the house spouse who home schools his three children is producing $54,000 worth of economic value. This is far higher than the income of many Americans. Home schooling house spouses deserve much respect for their efforts.

  79. Ron is absolutely right that property rights are a feedback mechanism that is partially checking human populations, but doesn`t this tell us exactly that we still have enormous problems?

    Where are the property rights in the atmosphere, the oceans, the tropical forests?

  80. “Any population growth greater than zero would lead than to infinite numbers. Even with finite but huge lifespans, this is a concern, don’t you think? What then?”

    Multiple people occupying the same body.

  81. “Is the 1500% percent increase in yields necessary for .08 acres/person reasonable? No. Actually, it is almost thermodynamically impossible due to a limited supply of light from the sun and the limited efficiency of photosynthesis.”

    I grow plants (or at least maintain them alive over the winter) in my crawl space. It’s essentially pitch black in there except for…a compact fluorescent light.

  82. Good point Mark. In America, there are a wealth of innovators applying vertical farming techniques every day. We could easily move those same techniques from the crawl space to the sun room to efficiently grow somethink with calories like, say, corn.

  83. “Any population growth greater than zero would lead than to infinite numbers. Even with finite but huge lifespans, this is a concern, don’t you think? What then?”

    That’s easy enough to prove, afterall the limit of exponential growth as time approaches infinity is infinity. Of course, this assumes that the growth rate remains stable for an infinite amount of time, something that never happens outside of mathematical equations. Theoretical equations with unrealistic assumptions make you look smart, but they make for bad social engineering. So, I won’t worry about us running out of resources until the year infinity is close.

  84. Actually, much of the arguments for “sustainability” are based on the assumption that we will reach the year infinity. There’s a big change if you assume the sun will explode in 2 billion years. Then the question becomes, “Can the Earth support a given population growth rate for 2 billion years.” The answer to this question is “Yes.” for many positive growth rates.

  85. Mark, just what is it that you`re growing there?

  86. My only point is that if you take the Bible straight, as I’m sure many of Reasons readers do, you will see a lot of the Old Testament stuff as absolutely insane. Even some cursory knowledge of Hebrew and doing some mathematics and logic will tell you that you really won’t get the full deal by just doing regular skill english reading for those books. In other words, there’s more to the books of the Bible than most will ever grasp. I’m not concerned that Mr. Crumb will go to hell or anything crazy like that! It’s just that he, like many types of religionists, seems to take it literally, take it straight…the Bible’s books were not written by straight laced divinity students in 3 piece suits who white wash religious beliefs as if God made them with clothes on…the Bible’s books were written by people with very different mindsets…in order to really get the Books of the Bible, you have to cultivate such a mindset, it’s literally a labyrinth, that’s no joke”Any population growth greater than zero would lead than to infinite numbers. Even with finite but huge lifespans, this is a concern, don’t you think? What then?”

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  88. WHITHER BOUND?

    The current economic crisis signals the weakness of ageing populations
    – not exhaustion of resources and physical limits of the planet.

    A death wish has crept into the behavior of Western societies. Long in coming, it is not as brazen as “Viva la muerte!” the paradox shouted by fascist hooligans who disrupted an appeal for peace at the University of Salamanca, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. Fascists also chanted “Muera la inteligencia!”, in admission of the state of their minds at the most august cultural center of Spain.
    The mainly European death wish is unnatural; it runs against the instinct of preservation of species, a primordial urge that drives all living creatures. It opposes existence, a central theme of religious beliefs that exalt the work of men and women in bringing to life and raising the next generation. In the 1970s, the liberalization of the Western economies unleashed market forces that encouraged women to look for jobs, at a time when contraception and legalized abortion gave them control over birth. A second paycheck is a convenience for a household, but should be balanced against the claims of raising kids, the long term demand that drives an economy. With the erosion of traditional values among secularized urban dwellers, the average Western couple started to have fewer than 2 children; in 1999 the number had fallen to 1.3.
    This is a far cry from the structure of European populations in 1900. Nurtured by the Industrial Revolution, European Union countries then represented 14% of world population, even while they sent a great flow of settlers to occupy the New World. The population of the UE is now 6% and tends to 4% of world total. They may have fewer mouths to feed, but also fewer and weaker arms to produce and create.
    Neglect of the young carries a grim foreboding. The median age of Greeks, Italians and Spaniards will rise above 50 years in 2050 – this means that one in three persons in these countries will be 65 years old or older. A 75% tax burden will have to be exacted on the incomes of economically active adults, mainly to defray entitlements of the aged. Existing free health care, pensions and subsidies are bound to end. Greece, Italy and Spain are now at the center of a Euro zone crisis because the Viva la Muerte culture is closing a full circle. Worse is coming to the Chinese, with their one child per couple policy. After the years of heady economic expansion are gone, the Chinese will face the same exhaustion dictated by the human life span, now faced by Europeans. The Japanese government estimates a one third reduction of population by 2060, when 40% of citizens will be of retirement age. If the trend continues until the end of this century, Japan will become a land inhabited by robots.
    The current misanthropic mood has intellectual roots in a London lecture more than two centuries ago, when Benjamin Franklin spoke about the American population, then growing at a rate of 3% a year. The number captured the mind of a Cambridge youth, Thomas Malthus, a divinity student and also a mathematician. With compound interest arithmetic he reckoned that population would double every 23.5 years; the number of people in successive periods would be proportional to the series: 1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128?. After two generations, four persons would contend for the food available to one person. Exponential growth would stop long before this; Malthus assumed that the land available for food production is fixed and that crop yields would not improve. He concluded that universal famine would be the lot of future generations. Nature would restore the balance in a catastrophic way, with war, hunger and disease, unless public policy contained the trend to overcrowding. Malthus’ book, Essay on the Principle of Population attracted attention in the first decades of the 19th century, but interest fell when its forecasts failed. In the Europe and North America, the Industrial Revolution brought increasing prosperity to support unprecedented growth of the population. Malthus ignored the vastness of the planet and the role of technology in the improvement of agricultural productivity and in shipping and preserving foodstuffs.
    Discredited by facts, Malthusian thought remained dormant until the 1960s. At that time, the enormous advances in medical science, the advent of antibiotics and control of disease with better sanitation, had combined to bring a world-wide drop of death rates, while birth rates were remained at the traditional levels, practiced to compensate for the early deaths of previous times. The uncommon growth of world population in middle of 20th century prompted the publication alarmist books of Malthusian persuasion. Population Bomb, of Paul Erlich, predicted hundreds of millions of deaths by hunger in Asia, and even the increase of mortality rates due to poor nutrition, in the 1980s, in the United States. The pessimistic perspective was amplified by another influential book, Limits to Growth, of which 12 million copies were distributed. Its message is that a limited planet cannot support unlimited growth. The book introduced the concept of a fixed stock of non-renewable resources depleted at an alarming rate, in an analogy with the Malthus concept of limited food availability.
    HIGH SEAS?
    Aging populations are already a burden on declining economies; widespread pessimism drives them further down with restrictive measures to curtail economic growth. Their rationale has three tenets Malthusian pessimists accept with an act of faith:
    ? We are running out of space. World population already is excessive for a limited planet, and grows at exponential rates, tending to disastrous overpopulation.
    ? We are running out of resources. Non-renewable resources of the planet are being depleted to support unneeded consumption, at rates that render further economic growth unsustainable.
    ? We are running against time, as tipping points of irreversible climate change are reached. Carbon dioxide emissions by human activity cause global warming that will render the planet uninhabitable.
    Many adopt the three tenets uncritically, but belief has no role in dealing with measurable physical things. When matters are quantified, the difference between true and false stands out.
    SPACE IS AMPLE
    Is excessive population a serious world problem? It may seem so to the dweller of a congested metropolis, living in discomfort, but is not something that can be generalized for the planet. The sum of the urban + suburban areas of the U.S. is equivalent to 2% of the area of the country, and 6% in densely populated countries such as England or Holland. It can be argued that 7 billion people would live a comfortable urban life on one million square kilometers, the combined area of California and Texas, less than 0.8% of a total terrestrial area of 148 million square kilometers. Population density, in inhabitants/square kilometer, would be 7000. This density is not unheard of. It is 26640 for Manhattan and 20000 for the Copacabana beachfront district in Rio de Janeiro, and 5000 for London, with an abundance of green in its large parks. Given 99.2% of free space, the idea of an overcrowded planet is exaggerated.
    Exponential growth ceased long ago. Demographic forecasts are uncertain, but most accepted ones of the UN foresee stability of world population, to be reached in the 21st century. According some, world population will start to decline at the end of the 21st century. An aging population is the current worry. With so much space available, it cannot be held that the world population is excessive or may become so.
    RESOURCES ARE ADEQUATE
    Mining companies are aware of how little is known about the content of the vast terrestrial crust and dismiss the notion of a limited, measured and known stock, of minerals. The pessimists say that, ultimately, a limited planet cannot support limitless growth, and hold this as axiomatic. It can also be countered that, ultimately, there are no non-renewable resources, in a universe ruled by the Law of Conservation of Mass. Stated by Lavoisier in the 18th century it holds that “nothing it is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed.” Human consumption never deducted one gram from the mass of the planet and, theoretically, all used materials can be recycled. Its feasibility depends on the availability of low cost energy. When fusion energy becomes operational, it will be available in practically unlimited quantities.
    The potential source of energy is deuterium, a hydrogen isotope found in water in a ratio of 0.03%. One cubic kilometer of sea water contains more energy than would be gotten with the combustion of all known reserves of oil in the world. Since the oceans contain 1400 million cubic kilometers of water it is safe to say that energy will last longer than the human species. Potable water need not be a limitation, as is sometimes said; new nanotube membranes promise to reduce the cost of energy for desalination to one tenth of its current cost. It would become viable to use desalinated water on coastal areas of the continents, an area on which much of the world population is settled.
    It may be argued that such technologies are in development and not yet available, but no historical precedent supports the notion of that human ingenuity is gone and that technology will remain frozen forever at current levels. Malthusian thought is erroneous on this count alone.
    There is no scarcity of resources signaled by price increases. Since middle of the 19th century, a periodical, The Economist, has kept consistent and comparable records of the prices of commodities in real values; these have fallen for 150 years, thanks to technological progress. The decline has been benign. The cost of feeding of a human being was eight times higher in 1850 than it is today. In 1950, less than half of a world population of 2 billion had an adequate diet of more than 2000 calories per day, today, 80% has it, for a world population that tripled.

    ?DESTINATION UNKNOWN
    UNCERTAINTIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE
    There is no consensus regarding future climate change. It can be said that there is acceptance of Malthusian ideas by European governments worried over a global warming they attribute to carbon dioxide generated by industrial activity. They make forecasts for world climate decades ahead, with a certainty that reminds one of the precision of astronomical calculations. However, climate has a chaotic behavior, in the mathematical sense, and is inherently subject to high degree of uncertainty, that will not be diminished by advances in scientific knowledge. There is no climate science with forecasting power comparable to the one of exact sciences and such power will never come into being. Climate is new as a field of study and yet to be developed. Until recent times, no university offered a B.Sc. in climate science. Climate studies resort to numerous different fields such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, botany, zoology, paleontology, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics etc? fields with variable degrees of uncertainty, and compounded in climate studies by those of economics.
    In studies where the science is uncertain, different hypotheses contend to establish relationships of cause and effect. If a hypothesis is hijacked by a commercial interest in support of its claims, the debate slides from the academic plane to the political plane, on which the gimmicks of propaganda and public relations are to be expected.
    The debate becomes polarized between political factions, each side with its own agenda. In climate matters, one side appeals to the authority of researchers in support of an anti-carbon agenda, admitted as painful, but necessary. The other side points to the lack of scientific basis for such a policy, qualified as suicidal. The clash of interests has transformed global warming into a journalistic and political phenomenon, not a physical one.
    INTERESTS AT PLAY
    Unfortunately, there are base motives in a campaign to vilify an Industrial Revolution that has, over two centuries, redeemed a large part of mankind from extreme misery. However, much of humanity still does not have access to electricity and suffers from all the ills of it. Calling their needs unneeded consumption is callous. Their needs can only be met by economic growth stimulated by increasing supply of cheap energy. An additional reason is that carbon dioxide is not toxic or a pollutant. Photosynthesis makes the gas a nutrient of plants that support the food chain of all living beings on the planet.
    In this issue it is fit to ask the question: Qui bono? Who gains? In its modern version, it recommends following the money trail to an interest behind a cause. Suspect is the haste with which restrictive measures are proposed to reduce fuel use, with the pretext that tipping points of disastrous climatic change are being reached. Politicians are in a hurry to use this unverifiable hypothesis to support special interests. These include: governments that need huge revenues and an excuse to tax fuels; manufacturers benefited by regulation in favor of one form of energy generation and against competitors; empire building bureaucrats who want ample controls over everything and every soul; research entities that seek funding. To the list of beneficiaries of the global warming cause one must not underestimate the big international banks.
    In 1985, banking was a staid activity that accounted for 16% of the profits of all companies in the U.S. In 2008, 40% of total profits were earned by banks, a clear measurement of the size of the speculative bubble that followed the availability of easy credit, under government policies. The subsequent banking crisis was precipitated by excesses which did much damage to the legitimate economy of the world. Greater mischief was on the way. The banks had hoped to put into circulation huge and unlimited issues of a fictitious asset, the Carbon Credit securities. The Chicago Climate Exchange, an entity parallel to the Chicago Commodities Exchange, went broke and closed; the European Union Emission Trading Scheme is heading the same way amid a wave of fraud. Emission credits were hailed as a way to enlist the efficiency of markets to put a price on fuel use to curtail demand. Now there are cries for government intervention to correct “market imperfections” that led to collapse of carbon credit quotations in Europe. If the past shows anything, it is the uncanny ability of governments to pick losers where their intent was to pick winners. The worse of gambling with carbon credits was stopped by the banking crisis.
    Thus a cluster of interests supports the manmade global warming cause while empirical evidence and alternative explanations of climate change challenge them. Against the expectation raised by computer climate models, measurement has evidenced the stability or decline of global temperature since 1995. It had risen in the two previous decades, provoking a scare about unchecked global warming. Evidence shows that there are natural forces shaping the climate, that may have greater magnitude than the effect of the carbon dioxide, whatever its origin. These include the oscillations in ocean cycles and their temperatures, variations of solar activity and their effect on cloud cover and cloud height, the sensitivity of climate to increase of carbon dioxide, the role of water vapor. Natural cycles still are little understood, but have demonstrable weight compared to the effect of manmade carbon dioxide. Moreover, mankind can do little for or against natural forces of this magnitude. Sensible public measures are welcome to mitigate the effect of climate changes, when they occur and whatever the cause.
    Alternative explanations of climate change are met with undue hostility. Politically motivated climate researchers who support manmade causes had minimized uncertainties, in a field rife with them, to give their forecasts an appearance of solidity, backed by unanimous opinion, with the refrain: The debate is over; the science is settled. The unethical conduct of researchers was disclosed in the scandal labeled Climategate. It cast doubt on the impartiality and trustworthiness of UN-IPCC studies by people clearly engaged in promoting their political agendas.
    A claim of consensus of scientists over global warming does not make sense. In science, matters are never settled; there is always room for additional layers of knowledge provided by successful challenges to conventional wisdom. In the scientific mind there is no place for Magister Dixit, the master spoke, a reference to philosophers as final arbitrators of truth. An argument from authority deserves rejoinder with the motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in Verba (on the word of no one); science rejects the word of authority above verifiable experimental evidence and logical reasoning, A version of this attitude is found in a principle of Roman law, In dubio pro reu, Justice must benefit the defendant where doubt exists, in this in case, the defendant is the maligned industrial economy with its need for inexpensive energy.
    THE POLITICAL CAUSE
    The forecasts of UN-IPCC are speculations that reflect the assumptions fed to the computer models in support of the cause of the sponsors. These computer simulations are too uncertain to furnish rational grounds for public policies to inhibit economic activity “to save the planet”. In support of such policies, stories of imminent disaster are told in the strident tones typical of the propaganda of totalitarian regimes to deceive masses. Their tactics were described by H. L. Mencken:
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    The propaganda machine quickly attributes to global warming anything that happens on the planet, such as: influenza pandemics; an earthquake in the Himalayas, a volcanic eruption in Iceland, the 2004 tsunami on the Indian Ocean; tribal wars in Africa; heat wave in Paris; plague of snails on the tiny Isle of Wight. In Australia: forest fires, sand storms in the dry season and floods in the rainy season. In North America: the last severe winters, the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota, the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. Evo Morales blames Americans for summer floods in Bolivia. Hugo Chaves thinks that capitalism killed an advanced civilization on Mars, with climate warming. Fidel Castro says that earthquakes are induced by the current boom in gas and oil production of U.S. With friends like these, do environmental causes need enemies?
    In the opinion of the Professor Aaron Wildavsky, global warming is the mother of all environmental activism:
    “Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist’s dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population’s eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.”
    This was the youthful fantasy of now elderly hippies, bound to extinction by their barren life style.
    When they are gone, Viva la vida! could become the motto of a hopeful world to be reached with a return to ancient truths that uphold the sanctity of life.

  89. WHITHER BOUND?
    The current economic crisis signals the weakness of ageing populations
    – not exhaustion of resources and physical limits of the planet.
    A death wish has crept into the behavior of Western societies. Long in coming, it is not as brazen as “Viva la muerte!” the paradox shouted by fascist hooligans who disrupted an appeal for peace at the University of Salamanca, on the eve of the Spanish Civil War. Fascists also chanted “Muera la inteligencia!”, in admission of the state of their minds at the most august cultural center of Spain.
    The mainly European death wish is unnatural; it runs against the instinct of preservation of species, a primordial urge that drives all living creatures. It opposes existence, a central theme of religious beliefs that exalt the work of men and women in bringing to life and raising the next generation. In the 1970s, the liberalization of the Western economies unleashed market forces that encouraged women to look for jobs, at a time when contraception and legalized abortion gave them control over birth. A second paycheck is a convenience for a household, but should be balanced against the claims of raising kids, the long term demand that drives an economy. With the erosion of traditional values among secularized urban dwellers, the average Western couple started to have fewer than 2 children; in 1999 the number had fallen to 1.3.
    This is a far cry from the structure of European populations in 1900. Nurtured by the Industrial Revolution, European Union countries then represented 14% of world population, even while they sent a great flow of settlers to occupy the New World. The population of the UE is now 6% and tends to 4% of world total. They may have fewer mouths to feed, but also fewer and weaker arms to produce and create.
    Neglect of the young carries a grim foreboding. The median age of Greeks, Italians and Spaniards will rise above 50 years in 2050 – this means that one in three persons in these countries will be 65 years old or older. A 75% tax burden will have to be exacted on the incomes of economically active adults, mainly to defray entitlements of the aged. Existing free health care, pensions and subsidies are bound to end. Greece, Italy and Spain are now at the center of a Euro zone crisis because the Viva la Muerte culture is closing a full circle. Worse is coming to the Chinese, with their one child per couple policy. After the years of heady economic expansion are gone, the Chinese will face the same exhaustion dictated by the human life span, now faced by Europeans. The Japanese government estimates a one third reduction of population by 2060, when 40% of citizens will be of retirement age. If the trend continues until the end of this century, Japan will become a land inhabited by robots.
    The current misanthropic mood has intellectual roots in a London lecture more than two centuries ago, when Benjamin Franklin spoke about the American population, then growing at a rate of 3% a year. The number captured the mind of a Cambridge youth, Thomas Malthus, a divinity student and also a mathematician. With compound interest arithmetic he reckoned that population would double every 23.5 years; the number of people in successive periods would be proportional to the series: 1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128?. After two generations, four persons would contend for the food available to one person. Exponential growth would stop long before this; Malthus assumed that the land available for food production is fixed and that crop yields would not improve. He concluded that universal famine would be the lot of future generations. Nature would restore the balance in a catastrophic way, with war, hunger and disease, unless public policy contained the trend to overcrowding. Malthus’ book, Essay on the Principle of Population attracted attention in the first decades of the 19th century, but interest fell when its forecasts failed. In the Europe and North America, the Industrial Revolution brought increasing prosperity to support unprecedented growth of the population. Malthus ignored the vastness of the planet and the role of technology in the improvement of agricultural productivity and in shipping and preserving foodstuffs.
    Discredited by facts, Malthusian thought remained dormant until the 1960s. At that time, the enormous advances in medical science, the advent of antibiotics and control of disease with better sanitation, had combined to bring a world-wide drop of death rates, while birth rates were remained at the traditional levels, practiced to compensate for the early deaths of previous times. The uncommon growth of world population in middle of 20th century prompted the publication alarmist books of Malthusian persuasion. Population Bomb, of Paul Erlich, predicted hundreds of millions of deaths by hunger in Asia, and even the increase of mortality rates due to poor nutrition, in the 1980s, in the United States. The pessimistic perspective was amplified by another influential book, Limits to Growth, of which 12 million copies were distributed. Its message is that a limited planet cannot support unlimited growth. The book introduced the concept of a fixed stock of non-renewable resources depleted at an alarming rate, in an analogy with the Malthus concept of limited food availability.
    HIGH SEAS?
    Aging populations are already a burden on declining economies; widespread pessimism drives them further down with restrictive measures to curtail economic growth. Their rationale has three tenets Malthusian pessimists accept with an act of faith:
    ? We are running out of space. World population already is excessive for a limited planet, and grows at exponential rates, tending to disastrous overpopulation.
    ? We are running out of resources. Non-renewable resources of the planet are being depleted to support unneeded consumption, at rates that render further economic growth unsustainable.
    ? We are running against time, as tipping points of irreversible climate change are reached. Carbon dioxide emissions by human activity cause global warming that will render the planet uninhabitable.
    Many adopt the three tenets uncritically, but belief has no role in dealing with measurable physical things. When matters are quantified, the difference between true and false stands out.
    SPACE IS AMPLE
    Is excessive population a serious world problem? It may seem so to the dweller of a congested metropolis, living in discomfort, but is not something that can be generalized for the planet. The sum of the urban + suburban areas of the U.S. is equivalent to 2% of the area of the country, and 6% in densely populated countries such as England or Holland. It can be argued that 7 billion people would live a comfortable urban life on one million square kilometers, the combined area of California and Texas, less than 0.8% of a total terrestrial area of 148 million square kilometers. Population density, in inhabitants/square kilometer, would be 7000. This density is not unheard of. It is 26640 for Manhattan and 20000 for the Copacabana beachfront district in Rio de Janeiro, and 5000 for London, with an abundance of green in its large parks. Given 99.2% of free space, the idea of an overcrowded planet is exaggerated.
    Exponential growth ceased long ago. Demographic forecasts are uncertain, but most accepted ones of the UN foresee stability of world population, to be reached in the 21st century. According some, world population will start to decline at the end of the 21st century. An aging population is the current worry. With so much space available, it cannot be held that the world population is excessive or may become so.
    RESOURCES ARE ADEQUATE
    Mining companies are aware of how little is known about the content of the vast terrestrial crust and dismiss the notion of a limited, measured and known stock, of minerals. The pessimists say that, ultimately, a limited planet cannot support limitless growth, and hold this as axiomatic. It can also be countered that, ultimately, there are no non-renewable resources, in a universe ruled by the Law of Conservation of Mass. Stated by Lavoisier in the 18th century it holds that “nothing it is created, nothing is lost, everything is transformed.” Human consumption never deducted one gram from the mass of the planet and, theoretically, all used materials can be recycled. Its feasibility depends on the availability of low cost energy. When fusion energy becomes operational, it will be available in practically unlimited quantities.
    The potential source of energy is deuterium, a hydrogen isotope found in water in a ratio of 0.03%. One cubic kilometer of sea water contains more energy than would be gotten with the combustion of all known reserves of oil in the world. Since the oceans contain 1400 million cubic kilometers of water it is safe to say that energy will last longer than the human species. Potable water need not be a limitation, as is sometimes said; new nanotube membranes promise to reduce the cost of energy for desalination to one tenth of its current cost. It would become viable to use desalinated water on coastal areas of the continents, an area on which much of the world population is settled.
    It may be argued that such technologies are in development and not yet available, but no historical precedent supports the notion of that human ingenuity is gone and that technology will remain frozen forever at current levels. Malthusian thought is erroneous on this count alone.
    There is no scarcity of resources signaled by price increases. Since middle of the 19th century, a periodical, The Economist, has kept consistent and comparable records of the prices of commodities in real values; these have fallen for 150 years, thanks to technological progress. The decline has been benign. The cost of feeding of a human being was eight times higher in 1850 than it is today. In 1950, less than half of a world population of 2 billion had an adequate diet of more than 2000 calories per day, today, 80% has it, for a world population that tripled.

    ?DESTINATION UNKNOWN
    UNCERTAINTIES OF CLIMATE CHANGE
    There is no consensus regarding future climate change. It can be said that there is acceptance of Malthusian ideas by European governments worried over a global warming they attribute to carbon dioxide generated by industrial activity. They make forecasts for world climate decades ahead, with a certainty that reminds one of the precision of astronomical calculations. However, climate has a chaotic behavior, in the mathematical sense, and is inherently subject to high degree of uncertainty, that will not be diminished by advances in scientific knowledge. There is no climate science with forecasting power comparable to the one of exact sciences and such power will never come into being. Climate is new as a field of study and yet to be developed. Until recent times, no university offered a B.Sc. in climate science. Climate studies resort to numerous different fields such as mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, botany, zoology, paleontology, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics etc? fields with variable degrees of uncertainty, and compounded in climate studies by those of economics.
    In studies where the science is uncertain, different hypotheses contend to establish relationships of cause and effect. If a hypothesis is hijacked by a commercial interest in support of its claims, the debate slides from the academic plane to the political plane, on which the gimmicks of propaganda and public relations are to be expected.
    The debate becomes polarized between political factions, each side with its own agenda. In climate matters, one side appeals to the authority of researchers in support of an anti-carbon agenda, admitted as painful, but necessary. The other side points to the lack of scientific basis for such a policy, qualified as suicidal. The clash of interests has transformed global warming into a journalistic and political phenomenon, not a physical one.
    INTERESTS AT PLAY
    Unfortunately, there are base motives in a campaign to vilify an Industrial Revolution that has, over two centuries, redeemed a large part of mankind from extreme misery. However, much of humanity still does not have access to electricity and suffers from all the ills of it. Calling their needs unneeded consumption is callous. Their needs can only be met by economic growth stimulated by increasing supply of cheap energy. An additional reason is that carbon dioxide is not toxic or a pollutant. Photosynthesis makes the gas a nutrient of plants that support the food chain of all living beings on the planet.
    In this issue it is fit to ask the question: Qui bono? Who gains? In its modern version, it recommends following the money trail to an interest behind a cause. Suspect is the haste with which restrictive measures are proposed to reduce fuel use, with the pretext that tipping points of disastrous climatic change are being reached. Politicians are in a hurry to use this unverifiable hypothesis to support special interests. These include: governments that need huge revenues and an excuse to tax fuels; manufacturers benefited by regulation in favor of one form of energy generation and against competitors; empire building bureaucrats who want ample controls over everything and every soul; research entities that seek funding. To the list of beneficiaries of the global warming cause one must not underestimate the big international banks.
    In 1985, banking was a staid activity that accounted for 16% of the profits of all companies in the U.S. In 2008, 40% of total profits were earned by banks, a clear measurement of the size of the speculative bubble that followed the availability of easy credit, under government policies. The subsequent banking crisis was precipitated by excesses which did much damage to the legitimate economy of the world. Greater mischief was on the way. The banks had hoped to put into circulation huge and unlimited issues of a fictitious asset, the Carbon Credit securities. The Chicago Climate Exchange, an entity parallel to the Chicago Commodities Exchange, went broke and closed; the European Union Emission Trading Scheme is heading the same way amid a wave of fraud. Emission credits were hailed as a way to enlist the efficiency of markets to put a price on fuel use to curtail demand. Now there are cries for government intervention to correct “market imperfections” that led to collapse of carbon credit quotations in Europe. If the past shows anything, it is the uncanny ability of governments to pick losers where their intent was to pick winners. The worse of gambling with carbon credits was stopped by the banking crisis.
    Thus a cluster of interests supports the manmade global warming cause while empirical evidence and alternative explanations of climate change challenge them. Against the expectation raised by computer climate models, measurement has evidenced the stability or decline of global temperature since 1995. It had risen in the two previous decades, provoking a scare about unchecked global warming. Evidence shows that there are natural forces shaping the climate, that may have greater magnitude than the effect of the carbon dioxide, whatever its origin. These include the oscillations in ocean cycles and their temperatures, variations of solar activity and their effect on cloud cover and cloud height, the sensitivity of climate to increase of carbon dioxide, the role of water vapor. Natural cycles still are little understood, but have demonstrable weight compared to the effect of manmade carbon dioxide. Moreover, mankind can do little for or against natural forces of this magnitude. Sensible public measures are welcome to mitigate the effect of climate changes, when they occur and whatever the cause.
    Alternative explanations of climate change are met with undue hostility. Politically motivated climate researchers who support manmade causes had minimized uncertainties, in a field rife with them, to give their forecasts an appearance of solidity, backed by unanimous opinion, with the refrain: The debate is over; the science is settled. The unethical conduct of researchers was disclosed in the scandal labeled Climategate. It cast doubt on the impartiality and trustworthiness of UN-IPCC studies by people clearly engaged in promoting their political agendas.
    A claim of consensus of scientists over global warming does not make sense. In science, matters are never settled; there is always room for additional layers of knowledge provided by successful challenges to conventional wisdom. In the scientific mind there is no place for Magister Dixit, the master spoke, a reference to philosophers as final arbitrators of truth. An argument from authority deserves rejoinder with the motto of the Royal Society, Nullius in Verba (on the word of no one); science rejects the word of authority above verifiable experimental evidence and logical reasoning, A version of this attitude is found in a principle of Roman law, In dubio pro reu, Justice must benefit the defendant where doubt exists, in this in case, the defendant is the maligned industrial economy with its need for inexpensive energy.
    THE POLITICAL CAUSE
    The forecasts of UN-IPCC are speculations that reflect the assumptions fed to the computer models in support of the cause of the sponsors. These computer simulations are too uncertain to furnish rational grounds for public policies to inhibit economic activity “to save the planet”. In support of such policies, stories of imminent disaster are told in the strident tones typical of the propaganda of totalitarian regimes to deceive masses. Their tactics were described by H. L. Mencken:
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

    The propaganda machine quickly attributes to global warming anything that happens on the planet, such as: influenza pandemics; an earthquake in the Himalayas, a volcanic eruption in Iceland, the 2004 tsunami on the Indian Ocean; tribal wars in Africa; heat wave in Paris; plague of snails on the tiny Isle of Wight. In Australia: forest fires, sand storms in the dry season and floods in the rainy season. In North America: the last severe winters, the collapse of a bridge in Minnesota, the hurricane season in the Gulf of Mexico. Evo Morales blames Americans for summer floods in Bolivia. Hugo Chaves thinks that capitalism killed an advanced civilization on Mars, with climate warming. Fidel Castro says that earthquakes are induced by the current boom in gas and oil production of U.S. With friends like these, do environmental causes need enemies?
    In the opinion of the Professor Aaron Wildavsky, global warming is the mother of all environmental activism:
    “Warming (and warming alone), through its primary antidote of withdrawing carbon from production and consumption, is capable of realizing the environmentalist’s dream of an egalitarian society based on rejection of economic growth in favor of a smaller population’s eating lower on the food chain, consuming a lot less, and sharing a much lower level of resources much more equally.”
    This was the youthful fantasy of now elderly hippies, bound to extinction by their barren life style.
    When they are gone, Viva la vida! could become the motto of a hopeful world to be reached with a return to ancient truths that uphold the sanctity of life.

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