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The Global Baby Bust
December 28, 2004 4:00 PM   Subscribe

The Global Baby Bust Summary: Most people think overpopulation is one of the worst dangers facing the globe. In fact, the opposite is true. As countries get richer, their populations age and their birthrates plummet. And this is not just a problem of rich countries: the developing world is also getting older fast. Falling birthrates might seem beneficial, but the economic and social price is too steep to pay. The right policies could help turn the tide, but only if enacted before it's too late.
posted by Postroad (108 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
[still reading, but this is good]
posted by gen at 4:03 PM on December 28, 2004


it is very good--notice how we don't have the problems of Europe or Japan? We're still replacing ourselves, and millions more folks arrive each year, legally and illegally. I missed it in the essay, but recent immigrants also tend to have more kids than 2nd and 3rd (etc) generation- Americans, so i have hope for us. I don't mind paying for Post's Social Security, and hopefully that will be true when i get to be that old. ; >
posted by amberglow at 4:13 PM on December 28, 2004


i did have a problem with this part tho, and found it unsubstantiated: Governments must also relieve parents from having to pay into social security systems. By raising and educating their children, parents have already contributed hugely (in the form of human capital) to these systems. The cost of their contribution, in both direct expenses and forgone wages, is often measured in the millions. Requiring parents also then to contribute to payroll taxes is not only unfair, but imprudent for societies that are already consuming more human capital than they produce.
Parents are already privileged in our society, and receive more of our tax money in services than almost every other group, whether it's in schools, services, or other means. They also receive tax breaks and deductions for their kids. It's a choice to have children, and they already benefit. Parents also don't choose whether to have kids or not because of the tax breaks--that's absolutely the wrong way to encourage more births.
posted by amberglow at 4:18 PM on December 28, 2004


As Amberglow notes, there's an agenda at work here. I was willing to be persuaded until the article degenerated into cheap sociobiology:

Some biologists now speculate that modern humans have created an environment in which the "fittest," or most successful, individuals are those who have few, if any, children...So where will the children of the future come from? The answer may be from people who are at odds with the modern environment -- either those who don't understand the new rules of the game, which make large families an economic and social liability, or those who, out of religious or chauvinistic conviction, reject the game altogether...Those who reject modernity would thus seem to have an evolutionary advantage, whether they are clean-living Mormons or Muslims, or members of emerging sects and national movements that emphasize high birthrates and anti-materialism.

A guy this smart could come up with better analysis. This is demography, not Darwinism.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 4:21 PM on December 28, 2004


Here's a listing of population growth rates by country. 1.2 is needed to keep population steady. Nearly half the countries in the world are below that number.
posted by Arch Stanton at 4:24 PM on December 28, 2004


Leave baby-making up to the lesbians with their turkey basters. That's where the future is.
posted by Hildegarde at 4:25 PM on December 28, 2004


Environmental concerns trump all others.
Regardless of what this article says, the world population continues to grow and the Earth cannot sustain an ever increasing population.
Fer God's sake, let's save a little room for every other life form on the planet, OK?

Turkey basters??
posted by nofundy at 4:36 PM on December 28, 2004


Environmental concerns trump all others.
posted by Steve_at_Linnwood at 4:39 PM on December 28, 2004


Amberglow, when you give up the privilege of being supported by the infrastructure that my children are going to maintain for you in your old age, can you bitch that "Parents are already privileged in our society." Nobody that has raised kids deserves that sort of crap from you or any other drone, even if you did know (and you don't) what raising children is about.
posted by DV8 2XL at 4:40 PM on December 28, 2004


Agenda-driven tripe, aye.
posted by rushmc at 4:44 PM on December 28, 2004


(referring to the link, not Dv8's ignorant remark)
posted by rushmc at 4:45 PM on December 28, 2004


Nofundy: Turkey basters. You know... back-alley artificial insemination. One day fashionable young women will wear t-shirts that have a turkey baster with a big red slash across it to protest the lack of free* and safe artificial insemination.

* - free as in speech
(meant in irony)
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:47 PM on December 28, 2004


Any drop in the rate of human population increase is the best thing that can possibly happen to this planet, and anyone who says otherwise is, IMHO, a fool.

I am 48 years old. In my lifetime I have seen the population of this country increase by about 100 million persons, and I have seen not one single positive consequence of that increase, but I have seen many negative ones. The loss of wildlife habitat is the greatest of those.

I have no children, BTW.
posted by wadefranklin at 4:51 PM on December 28, 2004


Not only is parenting a choice, but it's hard to believe that so many having done it so poorly is not what's behind its decline in popularity. Nurture bats last!
posted by ackptui at 4:53 PM on December 28, 2004


Wadefundy - Immigrants moving into the US is a good thing under your view because odds are that in the US they will consume lass land/resources than in other countries. Not guaranteed, but $1 here goes a lot less far than in other countries and there are a lot more environmental restrictions in the US than in nations that people are immigrating from right now.

Also, there are HUGE unpopulated swaths of our country. Just not on the coasts.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:58 PM on December 28, 2004


As population growth dwindles, so does the need to increase the supply of just about everything, save health care. That means there is less incentive to find ways of making a gallon of gas go farther, or of increasing the capacity of existing infrastructure.

This is bad how? Having half as many people driving cars is surely better than having cars get twice as many MPGs.


The real problem, I think, is that we *are* dependent on a growth economy and we simply can't grow forever. A population crash caused by people not having enough kids is probably better than a population crash caused by mass starvation or ecological disaster, or an economic crash caused by exhausting the oil supply.

So we either transition to a non-growth economy (a major upheaval that will be highly resisted by big business), or expand into the oceans and space (requiring extreme adaptation and improvement on how we acquire and consume resources and dispose of waste). Either way, the status quo is not going to stick around forever.
posted by Foosnark at 4:58 PM on December 28, 2004


Reading the first part of the article, I was basically hearing implied panic: "We need to maintain the status quo as it is now! Breed, you bastards, BREEEED! Otherwise, your lives won't be as cushy as the old folks have it now! You might have to work until you drop dead! Horror!!"

The end of it mollified that a bit for me, but still, there seem to be a lot of assumptions in here that various political and economic trends will keep going as they are, that energy will remain cheap and technological innovation will probably continue at its current frantic pace, etc. etc., and that it's BAD for the population to age and decline.

There are so many things that can and will change over just the next decade, let alone the next 50 years, that while it's a good idea to pay attention to this, we're probably going to have a lot more trouble with more immediate things. Right now, the population is growing quickly, and the immediate effects of that are likely to get uncomfortable long before the aging population effects kick in - just from problems we have now, there may be a lot fewer people on earth in 2050 than the writer projects.

Besides, we might even find novel ways to cooperate and deal with the problem even when we're older.

Note that if we are actually able to colonize space, the "expansion" paradigm will kick in again - instead of Go West, Young Man, it will be Go UP - and perhaps it will become economically feasible to breed more again, more bodies to go terraform Mars and mine asteroids and comets etc. This would also be more likely to ensure the long-term viability of humanity, as it's unlikely in the extreme that two planets full of people could be wiped out by a random asteroid hit (of course, the Sun will bloat up like Betelgeuse starting in about 5 billion years, but we'd probably figure out how to leave the solar system by then).

Me: 39, childless. Would like a couple of kids. May not happen, because I'd like to make sure I have a wife/potential-mother-of-my-kids who is really in it for life, for the long haul. Haven't been so fortunate as to meet one so far, and at this point have to accept that I may not.

And I'm an artist, so it's a given that I'll be working until I drop dead. I'm just not going to have that much to retire on, and I'm not counting on SS (tho it will be nice if it's still around when I hit 68 in 2033).
posted by zoogleplex at 4:58 PM on December 28, 2004


sorry, should be "HUGE unpopulated swaths"
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 4:58 PM on December 28, 2004


"anyone who believes that economic growth can continue in a finite world is either a madman or an economist"

- Kenneth Boulding
posted by wilful at 5:04 PM on December 28, 2004


...odds are that in the US they will consume less land/resources than in other countries.

devildance, are you unaware that because of our standard of living and level of consumption, Americans use more resources - from countries all around the world - and have more environmental impact than people in any other country?

We just don't see the full environmental impact of our consume-it-and-throw-it-away lifestyle because so much of the destruction it causes occurs in other parts of the world.


posted by wadefranklin at 5:08 PM on December 28, 2004


thedevildancedlightly, has it occured to you that there's a reason those "huge swaths" are unDERpopulated? Most of that land is:

1) Where our food gets grown,
2) Poorly suited to sustain large populations (water resource, cost of power, difficult to supply ...)
3) Economically impaired, making that land a poor choice for any to make a living in,
4) Mountainous (see all the above X2)
and of course, 5) those of us who do live here don't want the rest of you moving in.
posted by Wulfgar! at 5:12 PM on December 28, 2004


rushmc, Please tell me why my remark was "ignorant"
posted by DV8 2XL at 5:13 PM on December 28, 2004


Also, there are those of us who would not think it a positive change if, for instance, the Wind River Range of Wyoming were to become filled with Walmarts, paved parking lots, fake French chateaus, landfills, highways, golf courses, and subdivisions.
posted by wadefranklin at 5:17 PM on December 28, 2004


Environmental concerns trump all others

What planet are you planning on living on while you cherish your continually growing economy?
posted by Space Coyote at 5:17 PM on December 28, 2004


(that was in response to linwood's odd little non-comment)
posted by Space Coyote at 5:18 PM on December 28, 2004


Arch Stanton, that list is rather odd. Bulgaria has the same growth rate as the US? According to this population growth list, also credited to the CIA Factbook, the US has a growth rate of 0.92%, France is at 0.42% (so don't count Europe out just yet), and Bulgaria is at -1.09%. Of course, where France and the US are concerned, most of the growth is from immigration.
posted by Turtle at 5:25 PM on December 28, 2004


Amberglow, when you give up the privilege of being supported by the infrastructure that my children are going to maintain for you in your old age, can you bitch that "Parents are already privileged in our society." Nobody that has raised kids deserves that sort of crap from you or any other drone, even if you did know (and you don't) what raising children is about.

DV8--right now i and you are maintaining the infrastructure for ourselves, children if any, and old folks. In the future, it'll be younger folks' turn. That has nothing to do with parents, or the benefits they get that i don't get, or the fact that our entire society is built for families--from single family homes (the majority of the housing stock now, even tho many millions need housing) to the public school system, to suburbia and the resources it requires and uses, etc. It's not crap, but fact. You're the one that read it as an insult.
posted by amberglow at 5:37 PM on December 28, 2004


More people are crossing national borders now than ever in the history of the planet. Open borders are going to be a necessity of the future. Nations that do not have replacement levels of population growth will be forced to open immigration. There is a maximum level of sustainable population with a given level of technology. As the population levels out, the only means of economic growth will be in technological innovation, or minimizing capitol depreciation. It's the natural extension of the Solow growth model combined with population forecasting (the higher the GDP per capita, the lower the population growth without outside factors like immigration which would be directly related to per capita GDP growth, without the artificial anti-free-market forces of immigration control.

I personally think it will be a good thing. But hey that's just me, and no one ever listens to me.
posted by Freen at 5:38 PM on December 28, 2004


amberglow, I'm surprised you have no problem paying SS, but seem to think that other government funded services that concern children, for example, schools, only benefit parents. It doesn't make any sense. How exactly, do only parents benefit from public schools? No childless people live in suburbs? I can see how DV8 read it as an insult, especially since it implies to me (along with other comments you made about SS,) that it's vital that we pay SS for old folks, but having kids go through school, (with a benefit that they become better able, as you say, to maintain infrastructure in the future,) eh, not so much.
posted by Snyder at 5:47 PM on December 28, 2004


Maybe I'm an economic rube, but it seems to me that the answer is found in a more equal distribution of wealth, not selective population growth.
posted by lilboo at 5:49 PM on December 28, 2004


I think they indirectly benefit all of us, but directly and more substantively benefit parents. I'm not at all for cutting any services, but i think when you tally it up, parents and their families receive more services and benefits--they live longer too, i hear.

This was interesting: As our nation prepares to ring in the New Year, the U.S. Census Bureau today projected the Jan. 1, 2005, population of the United States will be 295,160,302, up 2,835,602 or 1.0 percent from New Year's Day 2004.
In January, the United States is expected to register one birth every eight seconds and one death every 13 seconds.
Meanwhile, net international migration is expected to add one person every 26 seconds. The result is an increase in the total population of one person every 12 seconds.

posted by amberglow at 5:49 PM on December 28, 2004


And i'm more than willing to pay for everything, whether i benefit or not. We're all here together. This essay calls for giving parents more just to be parents, when i'm saying they already get more.
posted by amberglow at 5:51 PM on December 28, 2004


I'd like see more resources devoted to inner-city, poor, single, and non-traditional parents--a growing element in all this. Don't tell me that a 2-parent, middleclass family in a suburb has it hard--check out the grandma raising the grandkids, and the single mom on a workingclass salary, etc. I didn't see those folks mentioned in all this.
posted by amberglow at 5:54 PM on December 28, 2004


wadefranklin - You're comparing apples to oranges. My point was not that the average US citizen is less wasteful than the average citizen of Mexico. Dear god, have you SEEN Walmart?

Instead, my point was that somebody with a given amount of money who immigrates into the US will do less destruction in the US than in (say) Mexico. For a given amount of money, it's a lot harder to do serious environmental harm in the US.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:55 PM on December 28, 2004


Wulfgar! Of course, some of it sucks. But, in my experience bicycling 4,024 miles across the US (generally across the northern plains) a lot of it was wooded and quite nice and absolutely deserted. I'm not saying that we have a huge amount of land to give, but simply saying that there are swaths of land out there that are more or less untouched. Go from the North Woods of Wisconsin due west until you hit the Rockies...
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 5:56 PM on December 28, 2004


So we either transition to a non-growth economy (a major upheaval that will be highly resisted by big business), or expand into the oceans and space (requiring extreme adaptation and improvement on how we acquire and consume resources and dispose of waste). Either way, the status quo is not going to stick around forever.

What does a non-growth economy look like?
posted by weston at 6:06 PM on December 28, 2004


That article does not exactly sound convincing to me. The author manipulates lots of facts to make absurd conjectures and appeals to emotion where there is no logic to harness.

And yes, DV8 2XL, our society gives you quite enough privileges and protections when you make kids. Your rudimentary argument that your kids are somehow ultra-beneficial to me is not convincing. They may be beneficial to you, but I would rather deal with the interesting challenges of increasing quality of life and rebuilding the biosphere with a shrinking, aging population, than with unsustainable population growth and the destruction it brings.
posted by azazello at 6:06 PM on December 28, 2004


I'd like to add to Wulfgar's response to this from devildanced:

"Also, there are HUGE unpopulated swaths of our country. Just not on the coasts."

Wulfgar's #2 point can be expanded a bit as to the water resource. What he means is of course FRESH water, which is being drained out of aquifers here in the US at prodigious rates. Fresh water is a "renewable" resource, but not at the rate at which we consume it presently - which is of course increasing. The concept of "Energy Return On Energy Input" that is talked about in Peak Oil discussions can be applied to fresh water, in that it seems free or cheap because it literally falls out of the sky, runs down mountains, and burbles by in streams and rivers. We put little energy into making fresh water, because Nature does it so wonderfully.

The problem is that we are using fresh water faster than it is replenished - faster every year - and going to ever greater lengths to tap the resource, mostly from groundwater aquifers.

So, unless you'd like to somehow contrive a world where it rains all the time, everywhere, there is a definite limit to population growth in any area - since humans without fresh water to drink die within a week, forget about farming.

So, sure, you can go ahead and move a few million people into subdivisions in the Mojave, or the Badlands, or even as wadefranklin mentioned the Wind River Range - but they won't last long enough to build a WalMart.

A few things to think about: do you have any idea how much fresh water it takes to make concrete? Better than 50% by weight. How about to manufacture the steel rebar to put in the concrete? I don't know that one, but it's a lot. All processes that go toward our modern implements, structures and playthings use a lot of fresh water. It might take a million gallons or more of fresh water to manufacture a car, I can't find that number in a quick web search.

Per capita use of water by Americans, from here (DOE link):
I can offer you the following information regarding consumptive water use
in the United States of America. This data comes from the World Bank, 2000.

Industrial use---291.0 billion cubic meters of water.
Domestic use----35.8 billion cubic meters of water.
Agricultural use-120.9 billion cubic meters of water.

Please note that one cubic meter of water is equivalent to 264.17 gallons
U.S. If one has an accurate current population number for the U.S., one
can calculate the per capita data rather easily. I hope that this helps.
So, total water use in the US: around 90 TRILLION GALLONS per year.

Divide by 300 million people = nearly 300,000 gallons per American, per year.

Did you think you were that thirsty? (Someone please check my math...)

You simply can't just fill up all the empty or sparsely populated land with people and houses. There is a definite point at which the energy expenditure needed to keep people alive in an inhospitable place becomes too much. Which is why there are no Inuit mega-cities, why Yellowknife isn't a thriving metropolis, why Everest Base Camp isn't populated by hundreds of thousands.

Las Vegas and Phoenix are anomalies, and are unsustainable in the long run given current trends.

It's gonna stop somewhere folks, just like your car will stop if you don't fuel it. It will be nicer for it to stop because of economic concerns from aging population than from lack of water or food, don't you think?

Even better if we just get smart about things and put our energy into our real priorities, which have little to do with who owns what section of land area, or whose political penis is the most mighty.

On preview: devildanced, those relatively empty wooded stretches have enough water to sustain the life that's there, in a natural equilibrium. Move humans in, and you upset the equilibrium. You then have to move in 300,000 gallons of fresh water in per human.

Yeah, it falls from the sky, but it's not that easy.
posted by zoogleplex at 6:08 PM on December 28, 2004


Those televised images of desperate, unemployed youth broadcast from the Middle East create a similarly misleading impression. Uh, which TV station is Longman watching? I don't think I get that one here...

Anyhoo: he's written extensively on how (essentially) conservatives breed and liberals don't (resulting in a right-ward drift in America, which I don't think follows, actually) such as here, and here's a (rather snarky) conservative critique of his position.
posted by RJ Reynolds at 6:10 PM on December 28, 2004


The real problem, I think, is that we *are* dependent on a growth economy and we simply can't grow forever.

Or rather, say that *capitalism* is dependent on a growth economy. This makes capitalism a good bet when the population is growing, but decidedly iffier with zero or negative population growth.

What does a non-growth economy look like?

A number of the Eastern Bloc countries had economies that were functionally no-growth.
posted by Slothrup at 6:19 PM on December 28, 2004


You drones are a joke you know. You will all get old and you will depend on those much younger than you. This is a fact: unless you die before that time you will depend on people that were raised at the expense of someone else. What little you are forced to contribute to that now doesn't offset what you will benefit, not by a long shot. In the twenty-five years that I have been a parent I have been over this argument with the childless many times, and only the childless, because if you have not raised a child you do not know what sort of an investment in time and effort it is, and how little help you get.
posted by DV8 2XL at 6:23 PM on December 28, 2004


wilful, I like the quotation!

The planet needs fewer people; if they could be a bit smarter as well, that would be nice. Maybe, a hundred years down the line, countries will sign 'non-aggression' pacts promising to reduce their populations and shrink their economies, maybe pigs will fly...
posted by runkelfinker at 6:30 PM on December 28, 2004


zoogleplex - It's obviously not practical on a large scale at this point, but de-sal plants are capable of supplying impressive amounts of water (in return for putting in an equally impressive amount of energy). If we can solve the energy problem we can get enough water to feed the coasts, which can then stop diverting water from the heartland. I have a feeling it'd take a cold-fusion level energy source, but the point is that water in the long run isn't as limited as what's in the ground and falling from the sky.

Example desal plants in Israel, Florida, and Dubai.

Dubai in particular seems to get a huge amount of water from desalination.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:30 PM on December 28, 2004


Is this some kind of "suffering for your art retirement" thing, DV8?

Thing about Dubai, thedevildancedlightly, is that they have an excess of energy and money. Once their energy runs out, followed quickly by their money running out, there's going to be a lot of thirsty people over there. Unless we have fusion reactors by then, of course.
posted by Jimbob at 6:34 PM on December 28, 2004



You drones are a joke you know. You will all get old and you will depend on those much younger than you.


damn straight. i just shit my pants. shut up and change my diaper.
posted by quonsar at 6:34 PM on December 28, 2004


DV8, right now we're supporting others, and guess what? we all came from parents, just like you. They did it in their turn, and we're doing it now. Your kids will do it too, and you shouldn't be exempted from having to pay into the system just because you procreated, which is what the essay proposes, and i disagree with. It's a non-argument.
posted by amberglow at 6:36 PM on December 28, 2004


WHEN YOU'RE MY AGE, YOU'LL BE SELLING INSURANCE, THINKING HOW STUPID YOU WERE.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:38 PM on December 28, 2004


now, someone go change q's diaper--he's stinking up the joint. ; >

not insurance!!!! noooooooo
posted by amberglow at 6:40 PM on December 28, 2004


jimbob - I fully agree. Just saying that if we solve the energy problem then the water problem is solved.

It's been amazing, but humanity has consistently come up with solutions that nobody expected. See the Green Revolution for example - there were widespread predictions of mass starvation worldwide before modern farming expanded crop yields immensely.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 6:51 PM on December 28, 2004


Although at first the fact that there are fewer children to feed, clothe, and educate leaves more for adults to enjoy, soon enough, if fertility falls beneath replacement levels, the number of productive workers drops as well, and the number of dependent elderly increase. And these older citizens consume far more resources than children do.

Two words: soylent green
posted by mstefan at 6:57 PM on December 28, 2004


Weston: What does a non-growth economy look like?

Detroit.

DV8, we can all see how bitterly tou regret wasting your youth on parenting now that your children hate you. It's not our fault; stop calling us drones. Also, please stop waving the pie spatula, you're flinging Mrs. Smith's cherry filling all over the curtains. [/poke the troll]

Advantage: lilboo.
posted by squirrel at 7:07 PM on December 28, 2004


quonsar, thanks for making the pretty fish all messy!
posted by billsaysthis at 7:09 PM on December 28, 2004


You still don't get it, do you?

When there is not enough young people to back fill and replace those that go into retirement your arguments fail. The cost of raising a family has gone up in the last few generations. Unless more people procreate we will fall short. Amberglow, how do you know my kids will? We are making parenthood less and less attractive, yet those that bitch that they are being unfairly taxed for the benefit of others' kids DO expect to have their "diapers changed" when the time comes. I don't regret my kids, nor do I resent what they have cost, but I choke when people like you consider me overly privileged for doing it.
posted by DV8 2XL at 7:17 PM on December 28, 2004


squirrel: anyone that knows me from elsewhere on the net, also knows my kids don't hate me. You are drones, if you don't like the term, you know what you can do about it.
posted by DV8 2XL at 7:21 PM on December 28, 2004


Ah, so population is, what, a pyramid scheme? The author does know that these things, y'know, collapse right?
posted by waldo at 7:28 PM on December 28, 2004


You drones are a joke you know. You will all get old and you will depend on those much younger than you.

Um, yes. Those who now depend on us. What's your point? It's cyclical. When I was growing up, other people's taxes paid for my health and education, and for the other services (roads, police, waste, water) that I used. Now I'm working, I pay the share of those who are too young or old to pay for themselves. One day I'll be old, and someone else will pay my share again.

(you'd also come across a bit better if you weren't going out of your way to insult those who choose not to - or can't, or can't afford to - have children).
posted by Infinite Jest at 7:28 PM on December 28, 2004


what Infinite Jest said, and what i said earlier. I don't know if you just want to insult us, DV8, or are seriously looking for affirmation of what a tough life you have, or what.
posted by amberglow at 7:30 PM on December 28, 2004


DV8, it's just starting to dawn on you that Social Security is a pyramid scheme based on the requirement of never-ending growth in a world of finite resources? My condolences.

BTW, I don't seriously mean to imply that you regret parenting; I was trying to show you how it looks to have someone making presumptions about you, such as you are making about amberglow.

I can see you're new here, so let me give you a tip: try to avoid attacking people personally; attack the ideas they put forward. I admit I sometimes slip, but this remains a good rule of thumb.

On preview: I don't know what you mean by "drones," DV8, but it seems pretty unlikely that we're all in any sense drones. Hyperbolic ad hominem undercuts any potential value of your insights.
posted by squirrel at 7:33 PM on December 28, 2004


Children are a luxury item in postmodern industrialized nations. They are an economic liability. Until the distribution of wealth approaches sanity, they will remain that way. That is to say, until the statement "The rich get richer and the poor get children" is no longer true, having children will remain an incredibly stupid financial decision.
posted by mullingitover at 7:37 PM on December 28, 2004


My life isn't tough. You don't like being called drones, well I don't like being called privileged (or a breeder, by another demographic), for making an effort that you will benefit from. That is the only point I am making here.

I mentioned earlier, that I have had this argument before, and always it comes down to the accusation that somehow I hate my kids, or they hate me. It happens so regularly that I think it's a reflection of the fear that my opponents harbor in their own hearts.

On preview: I am attacking an idea. The agument that I have been answering was amberglows statment: "Parents are already privileged in our society."
posted by DV8 2XL at 7:48 PM on December 28, 2004


waldo - unfortunately our society is structured so that you're right. Depending on future generations for care of current elders (eg, social security) is a giant pyramid scheme...

And, yes, there could be a collapse.
posted by thedevildancedlightly at 8:00 PM on December 28, 2004


devildanced: "If we can solve the energy problem we can get enough water to feed the coasts, which can then stop diverting water from the heartland. I have a feeling it'd take a cold-fusion level energy source..."

Oh well, yes if we can solve the energy problem then literally anything is possible. According to some sources if we can somehow figure out how to manufacture a portable source of energy that can produce the Sun's annual output in a few seconds of time repeatedly and reliably, we could have warp drive and transporters, too! However, currently to generate that energy takes a G1 star - some tera-tera-tera-giga-trillions of tons of gravity-powered fusing hydrogen nuclei - about a year.

Cheap, seemingly limitless energy has been our wonderful luxury in the last century. We don't know how long it will last. We don't know what could replace it, and nothing "practical" currently on the horizon seems likely to even replace petroleum, let alone allow the continued growth of energy consumption. At some point, the pyramid scheme must collapse and cannot continue - not just the Social Security pyramid, but the "true economy" of energy (as opposed to the somewhat illusory economy of finance). We just don't know when it will collapse.

Personally I do hope that science will come out of left field with some incredible new power source, or that humanity will simply turn its energy and invention to working in "foreseeable" and more visibly practical (even if they seem outlandish) paths of action, like geosynchronous solar cell satellites beaming power down from space, expansion of wind and tidal power, and some intelligent reduction of our use of energy and resources everywhere here on earth. The US could be a big leader and example to the world in this respect - since everyone's industrializing to try to be like the West.

It's great to hope that physicists will find something new that will pull our asses out of the fire, but in a funny way that's kind of like depending on God to pull you up to Heaven in the Rapture. It's probably a good idea to work on something practical in the meantime - having a Plan B is always a good idea. :)
posted by zoogleplex at 8:00 PM on December 28, 2004


so prove my statement wrong--that's all you have to do. I've shown many ways in which it's not wrong.
posted by amberglow at 8:06 PM on December 28, 2004


Growth at all costs? Rubbish article.
posted by fleener at 8:22 PM on December 28, 2004


amberglow there is no need for me to repeat what Snyder wrote above, I refer you there. You have not, in my opinion demonstrated the existence of privilege to parents.
posted by DV8 2XL at 8:26 PM on December 28, 2004


I am attacking an idea.

No, you have been attacking people.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:34 PM on December 28, 2004


i disagree. you, on the other hand, have some attitude. I hope you're not passing that on to the next generation.

It's true that people who work harder and are more flexible can more easily get ahead. But Nancy didn't answer the question, so let me. The National Parenting Association demands all sorts of benefits for parents. Yet it maintains that I'm a free rider in society, so I owe society more. But I pay $4,500 a year to educate other people's children in my local schools, and I'm subsidizing every university in the country. Meanwhile, parents get a $500 tax credit. I'm happy to pay my part, but why is it that if I had a dependent mother, I would get a smaller benefit than if I had a dependent child? Why are companies doing this? The parenting movement is saying that they need special things because what they're doing is more important than what everyone else is doing.

Fast Company: Nancy would say that the child tax credit is a de facto investment in the future.

Burkett: And taking care of an elderly parent isn't an investment in the moral fiber of this country? I think it's disgusting that taking care of your mother is not as socially valuable as any other sort of care. Why would we want to make this issue into a competition? All kinds of care are all incredibly important to a civil society. ...
Burkett: It's very nice when you come to forum like this and say that benefits should be for everyone. But parents' groups traditionally demand things that are only for parents. I'm saying that if you're going to design a workplace or social policy around peoples' needs, then everyone's needs have to be recognized as equally valid. The moment you have more benefits just for parents, you pit one group against another.

Audience: As a dad, I've never dared to take a day off, because I'd be penalized careerwise. That problem still exists, and it's not fair.

Burkett: But I thought men said that they were willing to take less money and prestige. You made a decision to parent. Is there a price to being a parent? You bet. Every decision has a cost. That's your decision, your cost. Why do I have to pay for it?

Audience: Because you're part of the village.

Burkett: What if I don't want to be in your village? What if I want to move to another village? I pay for schools. But you're asking me to help you instead of a welfare mother who really needs help -- and that's what I resent. This issue is all about helping upper-middle-class parents and not the poor at risk. And I'm supposed to worry about your needing my help? Sorry, not interested. My village first takes care of the infirm and the needy. If two upper-middle-class people decide that they want to have jobs and kids at same time, and choose to do it on one wage, then I owe them nothing.
--from here
posted by amberglow at 8:36 PM on December 28, 2004


zoogleplex:
but the "true economy" of energy (as opposed to the somewhat illusory economy of finance).

Sounds like a Technocracy.
posted by PsychoKick at 8:45 PM on December 28, 2004


I mentioned earlier, that I have had this argument before, and always it comes down to the accusation that somehow I hate my kids, or they hate me. It happens so regularly that I think it's a reflection of the fear that my opponents harbor in their own hearts.

Well, DV8, that would be the everyone's-wrong-but-me theory, which has its defenders. On the other hand, it's possible that there is something in the way you talk about parenting that tends to put people off. Consider that opponents don't just fall from the sky, we make opponents through communication. You sound unwilling to look at your own contribution to this process.

I am attacking an idea.

Perhaps in your mind, DV8. However, when you call people, (presumably everyone) "drones" or tell amberglow that he doesn't know anything about parenting, those are personal attacks. My advice stands.
posted by squirrel at 8:46 PM on December 28, 2004


I will reiterate: I am not attacking you, you feel under attack because in the end you know that your arguments, if they are the same as Burkett's, don't hold water. Your going to "leave the village" then your going to depend on kids someone else raised. Paying for public education is the worst argument you can pick. Do you really want to live and grow old, surrounded by an uneducated population? Examples abound elsewhere, it's not pretty.

squirrel: Ignorance does not imply stupidity. I only hear these arguments from those who are not parents, if I suggest you don't understand what it is to be a parent, it is because you do not. That is not an insult, it is a statement of fact. Drones IS a insult perhaps, and if that crosses some line here I will not use it to describe the childless.
posted by DV8 2XL at 9:08 PM on December 28, 2004


your refusal to see the other side of this is sad, and telling.

Let's talk about education, and the importance of seeing both sides of an issue, and about countering statements with something other than insults, and saying "you don't understand"

I'm waiting for you to help me understand. Either you're incapable or would rather insult.
posted by amberglow at 9:20 PM on December 28, 2004


Ignorance does not imply stupidity. I only hear these arguments from those who are not parents, if I suggest you don't understand what it is to be a parent, it is because you do not. That is not an insult, it is a statement of fact.

Ignorance may not imply stupidity, but stupid statements suggest it strongly. Claiming to state "facts" about people you don't know is aggressive and rude. I'm astonished that you don't realize the damage to your arguments that is made by such uninformed attacks.
posted by squirrel at 9:27 PM on December 28, 2004


it's exquisitely bizarre to hear you attempt to insult non-breeders by calling them "drones", DV8.

Read up on what a drone does. In honeybees, at least, a drone's only job is to inseminate the queen to produce more offspring!

To properly insult those of us who choose to not breed (or who have no choice) with an hive-focused analogy, you should call us ... "workers".

What, that doesn't sound like such an insult any more? so sorry...
posted by dkg at 9:37 PM on December 28, 2004


I don't get it - where's the problem? wheres the underpopulation crisis? most institutional guesstimates of world population at 2050 see us as levelling out at around 9-10 billion people.... so in fifty years we will have an extra person on the planet for every two there now - hardly the opposite of an overpopulation problem? And surely humans can prosper with a slowing birthrate - hardly realistically described as 'plummeting'...

These kind of population arguments are inevitably connected to the unsustainable 'growth is good' school of economics...

Living in the wide and vast continent of Australia means periodic arguments cast forth about how we could sustain populations of 30-40 even 200 million instead of the 22 million we have.... arguments quickly refuted by scientists pointing out that our ecological footprint is much larger than the mere area used to live in cities... the limits of food production, water supply, the state of the environment etc...

This Australian's arguments are perhaps more extreme than most, but worth a chew on for anyone fearing 'underpopulation'...
posted by jeanpoole at 9:40 PM on December 28, 2004


What IS the other side amberglow? Burkett statements are not. You are going to benefit from the existence of children being raised to-day. You must contribute by having your own or paying your share TO THEM to educate them. I have yet to see an argument that addresses this in any practical way. If you cannot see that then what is not clear? I cannot help you understand if you don't see the fundamental relationship that you have with the generations coming up behind you.

Look up thread squirrel and tell me who has been slinging insults at who.
posted by DV8 2XL at 9:40 PM on December 28, 2004


You pay your share to government, like our parents did, and like children will. They decide where and how to apportion it, whether thru funding or benefits or taxes or tax breaks, etc. It's very simple. Right now, married people of higher than poverty level with kids get more in services and pay less proportionately than single people, and single parents.
posted by amberglow at 9:45 PM on December 28, 2004


"anyone who believes that economic growth can continue in a finite world is either a madman or an economist"

No no no no no. Argh. What pisses me off isn't this argument, exactly, but the fact that it's made by so many otherwise intelligent people.

Economic growth does not mean using more resources; nor does it mean producing more waste. Producing things (good, services, etc.) more efficiently while using the same amount of resources (or fewer) causes economic growth as well; in some circumstances it causes more economic growth.

(And yes, there is a theoretical hard limit to economic growth, but it's hundreds of orders of magnitude away -- it would arrive if all the matter in the universe had been converted into components of a giant brain, for example.)

Liberals need to spend more time learning how libertarians think. Libertarians are wrong, of course, but economics isn't as simplistic as its usually made out.
posted by Tlogmer at 9:53 PM on December 28, 2004


I am not so sure about single parents getting less in services relative to their tax burden, it is not the case where I live. As for the childless, the whole point is that they must pay more BECAUSE they don't have the burden of raising kids. And FYI what little they kick in is small compared to the cost of raising a child.

This still doesn't address why the childless should not contribute to the next generation.
posted by DV8 2XL at 10:08 PM on December 28, 2004


where's the problem? wheres the underpopulation crisis?
This hits the nail on the head, i think. The concern isn't Fewer Humans, it's Fewer Americans. Even more unsettling, i think it often masks a fear of Fewer White Americans. If we want to keep the population of this country level, it's easy. Open the damn borders! There are thousands of people eager to move here, we just need to let them in. But hey, they might not be Europeans. Or Christians. Or English-speakers...

Japan is in a similar situation, but further along on the timeline. There is a demographic crunch looming:
Japan will probably have to let more workers immigrate, though public unease will no doubt lead it to delay and minimise this shift as much as possible.
If the concern is just about adding young, healthy workers to contribute to the social safety net, the answer is right there, and it doesn't need to involve increasing the human population.

On Preview: DV8, no one has said "the childless should not contribute to the next generation." We do contribute, all the time. We pay taxes, we are teachers, artists, inventors, doctors, mentors, uncles, aunts, and so on... The objection is that you (as a parent) are effectively subsidized by the state, not that your children are subsidized.
posted by dkg at 10:19 PM on December 28, 2004


damn, that second-to-last paragraph should be "...increasing the global human population."
posted by dkg at 10:21 PM on December 28, 2004


dkg: "The objection is that you (as a parent) are effectively subsidized by the state" This is rubbish unless you can support that statement with fact.
posted by DV8 2XL at 10:26 PM on December 28, 2004


No problem, DV8:

Why should there be a Child Tax Credit in addition to the deductions for dependents?

if Fred is responsible for his two children while his brother Joe is taking care of their two ailing parents, why should Fred get $2000 more than Joe back from the government each April?
posted by dkg at 11:02 PM on December 28, 2004


DV8,

You're uh, not making any sense.

As for the childless, the whole point is that they must pay more BECAUSE they don't have the burden of raising kids.

How does this compute? You seem to be explicitly saying that the state does in fact subsidize the raising of children. Thus amberglow's statement that parents get more bang for their taxpayer buck holds.

And FYI what little they kick in is small compared to the cost of raising a child.

Again, what are you saying here? What does the cost of raising a child have to do with anything? Are you implying that the cost of raising a child should be considered as a kind of tax unto itself? Not sure how you could defend such a position. Raising kids is hardly a patriotic duty.

This still doesn't address why the childless should not contribute to the next generation.

This is a strawman. Nobody has said the childless shouldn't "contribute" to the next generation. (As if taxes are voluntary.) amberglow and others pointed out that parents get more bang for their taxpayer buck.

As for the article, I'm a bit skeptical. From a purely cost-benefit perspective, I still don't see how the economic effects of an aging population (the net effect, I take, of the baby bust) will be versus rampant overuse of the environment.
posted by nixerman at 11:04 PM on December 28, 2004


They do not get more bang for the buck. Have all of you forgotten that the kids we are talking about here are persons too. It is to their benefit that this money is spent, it is they that will owe you in the future. That is why it computes
posted by DV8 2XL at 11:19 PM on December 28, 2004


Psychokick: "zoogleplex:
but the "true economy" of energy (as opposed to the somewhat illusory economy of finance).

Sounds like a Technocracy."


Ugh, I reject that term. I certainly don't advocate a "scientific functional governance" as that site and others go on about. Sounds pretty sterile.

However, the underlying idea is pretty straightforward and I think it's sound.

I'm talking about the physical laws of the universe applied to any system that transduces and expends energy - and example of which is the overall ecology of the earth and specifically human life and civilization, of course.

It takes a certain amount of energy expended to maintain a human life form, basic stuff like food and warmth and water, and even energy we'd use to build (or find) even the most primitive shelter. Each person requires 1500-2500 food calories per day, 10 liters of water to drink, and some way to maintain body temperature within livable limits. These are the basic inputs of our physical survival.

All other aspects of human life require some energy output on our part to find or to create and maintain. Hunting, fishing, foraging, finding and carrying water and heating fuels, and building shelters take work. Originally of course that was done by hand, and still is by some small groups of people that maintain primitive ways of life in South America, Africa, and the Australian Outback. Human-powered civilization, if you will.

Here in the West, our lifestyles require orders of magnitude more energy per person to maintain. Industrial technology makes it possible, but the cost is a rather prodigious and constant expenditure of energy, currently mostly provided by petroleum fuels, as opposed to coal or wood fuels (or even whale oil) which sustained humans up until the late 1800s.

So when I say "true economy," I am speaking in the Hubbert's Peak sense, a physical science sense. Our civilization doesn't run on money, money is simply a tool, a counter, and in fact a commodity. The real driver of the civilization and the economy represented by money is actually the production, transport and expenditure of energy.

The greater the population, and the higher the average standard of living, the more energy must be produced, transported and expended. That's what our entire economy depends on, energy. It's all interconnected and interdependent.

The aging population is really a kind of "energy crisis," if you examine it from that standpoint. Older people need more medical care = more energy expended to care for them as they get older. (Anyone with an elderly dependent will attest to that!)

If you replace terms like "more expensive" and "higher cost" with "uses more energy" while reading this (or really any) article, you should grasp what I'm trying to get across.

Or maybe even better, replace every $1 with "about 1/48th of a barrel of oil-equivalent energy (or BOE) (at current price)," which though unwieldy, is a more accurate representation of what's being expended. Every $48 million = 1 million barrels of oil.

It takes a substantial amount of oil-derived energy to move those 300,000 gallons per American per year of water that I talked about above. And each new American requires another 300,000 gallons of water per year, on the average!

When you spend your money, you're really spending your own personal energy that you've put into whatever job you have that pays you the money. And what you're spending it on is other people's energy and the energy used to create whatever you just paid for. A cheeseburger represents an astounding amount of energy expended - far more than its actual caloric content, even if it's a Hardee's Monster Burger - in raising cattle, raising corn to feed the cattle, maintaining the ranch, paying the workers, slaughtering, processing, freezing, transporting, thawing, cooking and packaging the burger. And all for $3.99 with a drink and fries - $4.39 if you supersize! So, around 4/48 = 1/12 barrel of oil out of your pocket... for something like 6 barrels worth of oil expended to put that burger in your hand.

It's not an imaginary concept, it's how the world really works under all the mechanisms we've built on top of the workings. Cheap energy has distorted the energy use per capita curve, and the only way to keep going the way we're going would be to find new sources of equally cheap energy.

The population explosion would not have been possible without the Industrial Revolution and then the Oil Age. Without them, the problem we're discussing would simply not exist - and neither would about 5 billion of the people currently living on earth.
posted by zoogleplex at 11:34 PM on December 28, 2004


except that that's not the case that all the subsidies go to the kids, DV8, nor is it the case that you can guarantee that your child will actually support me in my old age.

Some subsidies do go to people too young or immature to contribute. Those are good. Taxes to schools, childcare programs, athletic centers, foodstamps are all cool. Hell, i'd be up for making higher education fully federally-funded as well.

when you start talking about $1000's of dollars going into your pocket, just because they're your kids, that's when you stop making sense. Should i get extra tax credits because i've invited my friend from Ukraine into the country, and he's going to (probably) work hard and pay into social security as you get old? Hey, he's my friend and not yours!

As for how yer child is going to support me in my old age: What if the child you produce is the next Ken Lay who raids my pension fund? or someone who scams my obsolescent self out of my meager SSI check in 2050? Or someone who orchestrates the dumping of toxic waste near my nursing home?

While we can't guarantee that each new kid is going to turn out a bright, productive member of society, we can guarantee that if we keep breeding at the levels we're going, the world population is going to hit a really nasty wall. We might be too late already.

Wouldn't it be better if we let the overall population growth slow down and taper off, and focused on those who are here now instead of racing for more more more?

We need to stop subsidizing childbirth and start truly subsidizing caregiving.
posted by dkg at 11:54 PM on December 28, 2004


$1000's of dollars going into your pocket

You have been sadly misinformed if you think that is the case.

except that that's not the case that all the subsidies go to the kids, DV8, nor is it the case that you can guarantee that your child will actually support me in my old age.

The point has been made by others that this is done through taxes.

If you cannot see the difference between your responsibilities to the next generation, and your friend from the Ukraine, then I will not burden you with further arguments.

The rest of your argument is specious.
posted by DV8 2XL at 12:09 AM on December 29, 2004


the last thing we need in this world are more fucking people
posted by jimjam at 12:12 AM on December 29, 2004


Well, the problem really is that populations in places like the US and Japan (and thanks to policy, China) are top-heavy, age-wise. The work force becomes smaller as the baby-boomers age and the (fewer) progeny become old enough to produce. Things will be tough until the baby-boomers start dying off, thus reducing the portion of the population that needs support. Then things equilibrate once again until another baby boom, or until reproduction actually plummets below the magic 1.2 children per family that's necessary to replace ourselves (which will lead to another top-heavy situation).

Waiting out a generation or so of heavy taxation (or whatnot. However we decide to support the elderly) seems better than an eternity of population growth in order to maintain the same age curve.
posted by Tikirific at 1:36 AM on December 29, 2004


I should also note that in richer, more developed countries like the US, the birthrate need not actually be that high, since the influx of immigrants would account for some additions to the work force (though they age to the "elderly" category faster, of course).
posted by Tikirific at 1:40 AM on December 29, 2004


And they're brown... and YELLOW!
posted by squirrel at 1:55 AM on December 29, 2004


*Gasp* No!
posted by Tikirific at 2:47 AM on December 29, 2004


Tlogmer: Economic growth does not mean using more resources; nor does it mean producing more waste. Producing things (good, services, etc.) more efficiently while using the same amount of resources (or fewer) causes economic growth as well; in some circumstances it causes more economic growth.

This is a fair point, and perhaps it needed to be raised, but...

It doesn't take much to realize that raiding natural resources is far easier than improving efficiency. Orders of magnitude easier I guess, but it would be nice to see something addressing the question.

Upon further reflection there is something really spurious in your argument. Economic growth through efficiency can only be measured once economic growth through consumption of resources has occurred. I haven't really worked out were I am going with this, but let me put a question to you... Take a look at the excerpt I posted in over here, clearly the Easter Islanders became a lot more efficient, but you wouldn't say their economy had grown...

zoogleplex: A cheeseburger represents an astounding amount of energy expended - far more than its actual caloric content, even if it's a Hardee's Monster Burger - in raising cattle, raising corn to feed the cattle, maintaining the ranch, paying the workers, slaughtering, processing, freezing, transporting, thawing, cooking and packaging the burger. And all for $3.99 with a drink and fries - $4.39 if you supersize! So, around 4/48 = 1/12 barrel of oil out of your pocket... for something like 6 barrels worth of oil expended to put that burger in your hand.

Can you back up this idea - that a $4 cheeseburger requires 6 barrels of oil to produce? I am sympathetic to your ideas, and it seems possible (even reasonable) that the cheeseburger may require more resources to produce than is reflected in the cost. However, you are saying it takes 72x more resources than it costs, and that seems like a very radical statement.

Tikirific: Waiting out a generation or so of heavy taxation (or whatnot. However we decide to support the elderly) seems better than an eternity of population growth in order to maintain the same age curve.


Well said, thanks!
posted by Chuckles at 2:52 AM on December 29, 2004


zoogleplex: Yeah, a cheeseburger is created through a lot of processes that results in lost energy and certainly, bottom-up, six barrels of oil are required to create that burger. Top-down though, a lot of burgers come from that cow and those processes; the discrepency in energy (and definitely not cost) would not be as large as you describe (if I'm following you correctly).
posted by Tikirific at 3:00 AM on December 29, 2004


God damn, Chuckles. Great excerpt.

I guess I should have clarified: I agree that it's seeming increasingly insane not to place more stock in sustaining the ecosystem. I was just taking issue with the "economic growth means increasing resource use" argument.

clearly the Easter Islanders became a lot more efficient, but you wouldn't say their economy had grown...

Spending 100 years killing each other over ancient planks of wood hardly seems efficient; nor does spending all your energy tearing down statues. Yes, once everything was gone they had no choice but to become efficient; everyone who wasn't efficient died. But I was never saying increased efficiency always leads to economic growth, just that it can; and when it does, resource use can stay the same or decrease.

Example: once you figure out how to make wheel-like things out of overturned logs, one person can transport what took 10 people before. You're using up resources by cutting trees for the logs, but you're saving more resources in not having to feed 10 people who've been pushing something all day, every day.

(The point being that "transitioning from a growth economy" is red herring. Hopefully the economy will keep growing, and more people will see the benefits (increased leasure time and better health care, to take 2 nontraditional examples) -- what we need to do is transition from an economy that's dangerously short-sighted in terms of resource use; growth, pre se, isn't really relevant. In the short term, that transition may well reduce economic growth, but it's certainly not axiomatic that it will. In the long-term, it'll probably increase growth.)
posted by Tlogmer at 4:09 AM on December 29, 2004


re: "Economic growth through efficiency can only be measured once economic growth through consumption of resources has occurred."

it's not the only way, just the way the gov't does it :D i believe it was keynes who helped set up nat'l accounts in order to help war planning and mobilise resources during WWII. needless to say, they didn't generally take into account negative externalities and social costs when fighting the axis... altho productivity measures to some extent reflects efficiency.

some people propose alternative measures and even currencies...

btw, the barbarian invasions won an oscar last year for best foreign language film! (it was sorta a sequel to the decline of the american empire :)

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 5:09 AM on December 29, 2004


Example: once you figure out how to make wheel-like things out of overturned logs, one person can transport what took 10 people before. You're using up resources by cutting trees for the logs, but you're saving more resources in not having to feed 10 people who've been pushing something all day, every day.

Ya, this is clearly true, but... Well, I have some trouble pining it down.

The wheel example is fine... So lets assume the wheel is patented, and for the first 15 years people pay a lot of money to use the wheel. That shows up as economic activity that can be measured in very conventional ways, and it works okay. Eventually the wheel falls into the public domain, that shows up as a real hit to the economy...

Now what happens? The industries using the wheel can cut their price, showing up as economic decline - they could return the added profit to shareholders, showing up as better efficiency (I think?) - they could waste the income by giving executives higher salaries, and buying first class tickets on coaches...

I don't know, I am stumped, of course I don't have much economics background so that probably shouldn't be surprising (to anyone but me). It seems like efficiency can only contribute to economic growth under very special circumstances.

The point being that "transitioning from a growth economy" is red herring.
...
In the short term, that transition may well reduce economic growth, but it's certainly not axiomatic that it will. In the long-term, it'll probably increase growth.


Of course in the long term we are either all dead, or not :) so of course you are right.

There is a problem in the argument though. I guess it comes from problems in economic theory rather than your representation of the theory though (see the wheel stuff above).
posted by Chuckles at 5:23 AM on December 29, 2004


Previous MeFi discussion.
posted by stbalbach at 7:57 AM on December 29, 2004


You have been sadly misinformed if you think that [thousands of dollars going into your pocket] is the case.
you haven't responded to this.
The point has been made by others that this is done through taxes.
except that not everyone (and not even every adult) pays taxes, but everyone has an environmental footprint.
If you cannot see the difference between your responsibilities to the next generation, and your friend from the Ukraine, then I will not burden you with further arguments.
If my friend from Ukraine is, say, 15 years younger than me, he is the next generation. And you haven't answered the question of why we need to make more kids instead of simply letting more people into the country as our population ages. Why should my taxes support you with your conception of the next generation, especially when your strategy actually increases the global human population which we all know is gonna be trouble?

i'm glad that you feel so passionately about your choice to be a parent, DV8. We need more parents who really care about their kids, as you seem to. But that doesn't mean we need more kids. There really is a limit on what the earth can handle, and every extra human (wealthy western humans especially) consumes a ton of what are in fact finite resources.
posted by dkg at 8:07 AM on December 29, 2004


Oh lord, dkg, don't drag that spatula-waver back in here. You make good points, but save your breath--and the curtains.

Chuckles, Tlogmer and kliuless: thanks for raising the level of discourse in this thread. I was afraid this discussion was going to peter-out in the middle of a troll containment drill. Thanks for getting us back on track with snappy, linky and intelligent posts.
posted by squirrel at 8:22 AM on December 29, 2004


Falling birthrates might seem beneficial, but the economic and social price is too steep to pay

To return for a moment to the article - it's main argument is that "if fertility falls beneath replacement levels, the number of productive workers drops as well, and the number of dependent elderly increase", leading to reduced (or no) economic growth and much higher taxes.

To which I say: Not really, and So what?

* With information processing, telecommunications, and robotics changing the world, how can anyone possibly predict what workforce will be needed in 30, 40, or 50 years from now? [Consider the telephone operators of the 1920s, the elevator operators of the 1930s, the computer keypunchers of the 1950s, the gasoline station attendants of the 1970s, the checkout clerks of the 1990s - all so necessary in their times, all automated - or being automated - to a very small fraction of the number that they once were.]

* With technology driving productivity increases of 2 percent or so a year for more than the past 100 years, the developed world (at minimum) can expect to be twice as rich, per capita, in 2040 as in 2004. Much of current techology is about doing more with less (recycling, sustainable energy production, etc.).

* Predicting that medical costs will continue to rise for the next 30 to 40 years is a total guess. Basic research is leading to a much more fundamental understanding of how the human body works, and that - eventually - holds promise (as does advances in computerization and medical devices) for a complete revolution in medicine, preventive as well as the treatment of illness.

* Economic growth comes from both population increases and increased productivity. If the population of India, for example, were only half of what it is today, its economy would be only roughly half its current size. But India would have twice the land per capita, twice the water, twice the natural energy resources, half the congestion, etc. So "economic growth", per se, isn't something to blindly pursue.

* Increasing populations, worldwide (regardless of whether, eventually, the growth will stop or turn negative) are putting enormous strains on the environment (adequate safe water, inexpensive petroleum-based energy, air pollution, ocean quality and fish stocks, wildlife and relatively untouched ecological reserves, global warming, etc.) If population growth slows or stops, all of these problems will be easier to deal with.
posted by WestCoaster at 9:31 AM on December 29, 2004


I personally think that this is part of the natural balance of the human population: economically successful nations experience a drop in birthrate, thus creating economic opportunities for people from low-success, high-birthrate nations. Why mess with by insisting that the rich, resource-consuming people add more offspring to the equation?
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:12 AM on December 29, 2004


Because we must preserve the master race, Sidhedevil. That's the subtext of this article. Racism and xenophobia are the twin engines of any hype to increase American birthrates--otherwise, immigration would take care of the labor and tax-base problems.
posted by squirrel at 6:45 PM on December 29, 2004


i keep on coming back to what eo wilson sed:
The decline in global population growth is attributable to three interlocking social forces: the globalization of an economy driven by science and technology, the consequent implosion of rural populations into cities, and, as a result of globalization and urban implosion, the empowerment of women. The freeing of women socially and economically results in fewer children. Reduced reproduction by female choice can be thought a fortunate, indeed almost miraculous, gift of human nature to future generations. It could have gone the other way: women, more prosperous and less shackled, could have chosen the satisfactions of a larger brood. They did the opposite. They opted for a smaller number of quality children, who can be raised with better health and education, over a larger family. They simultaneously chose better, more secure lives for themselves. The tendency appears to be very widespread, if not universal. Its importance cannot be overstated. Social commentators often remark that humanity is endangered by its own instincts, such as tribalism, aggression, and personal greed. Demographers of the future will, I believe, point out that on the other hand humanity was saved by this one quirk in the maternal instinct.
which meshes well with this recent ft editorial...
Ever since the shock of September 11 revealed the changed landscape and dangers of the post-cold war world, a disunited international community has been groping for ideas and interests around which it can come together. Some hope for a new grand bargain in which the US, and the west more broadly, puts fresh emphasis on development in return for the rest of the world prioritising its security concerns. We will hear more of this in 2005, with the interim report on the Millennium Development Goals and Britain's ambitious plans for its G8 presidency. It is a potent idea, though one which faces formidable obstacles.

Security and development are independently worthy objectives. But bringing them together makes sense on many levels. Both address the challenges of an age of interdependence, in which states can no longer be indifferent to what goes on behind foreign borders. As the UN High Level Panel observed, extreme poverty, disease and environmental degradation are threats to human security, broadly defined. While poverty does not cause terrorism, failed and failing states pose real danger to the west. Security and development are both needed to end cycles of conflict and economic collapse.

[...]

Yet there is grave scepticism in the US about the effectiveness of aid. Many persist in believing that US objectives can be fully served by smart bombs and special forces. This is folly. Aid might fail but a purely military response to complex threats surely will. One day the US will realise that a world in which prosperity and security are more widely shared will be a safer place for all.
btw, how much is nature worth? :D

cheers!
posted by kliuless at 7:39 PM on December 29, 2004


Chuckles: "Can you back up this idea - that a $4 cheeseburger requires 6 barrels of oil to produce? ...you are saying it takes 72x more resources than it costs, and that seems like a very radical statement.

For you and Tikirific: Hrm, yes 72x is a bit extravagant, so let me back off from that, it was unintentional hyperbole caused by typing too fast.

The concept is that since we get a lot more energy out of oil than we put into getting it out of the ground, that we're getting an amazing amount of "free energy" from the oil, which is why it's so cheap.

Everything I've read, both from Peak Oil people and from other independent sources, indicates pretty clearly that because of the nature of petroleum, we have been getting far more energy out of each barrel of oil than it takes to pull it up out of the ground and process it into whatever fuel or chemical we use - historically, a ratio of 30:1 seems to be the average over time, with some fields so productive that it was more like 100:1! Over time that ratio has fallen, it's now more than 5:1.

That's the EROEI: Energy Return On Energy Input (or Investment), how much energy you get out of the oil compared to how much energy it takes to turn the oil into your fuels etc. So right now, for every 1 Barrel of Oil Equivalent Energy (BOE again) we put into extracting and processing oil, we get 5 BOE worth of oil.

In the past it was 30 BOE worth - that has a lot to do with how you used to be able to drill a well, and the damn stuff would come shooting up out of the ground under its own pressure, requiring no pumping. "Gushers" are very uncommon now, and in most fields the drillers have to pump lots of water down into the wells to force the oil to come out fast enough to keep production up. That transport of water uses energy, of course.

Now, as to the cheeseburger: Because of the current 5:1 EROEI ratio on petroleum fuels, I can pretty much guarantee you that your $4 Value Meal really represents about $20 BOE. Yes, 72x is too much, and I apologize for my unintentional hyperbole. But 5x is perfectly reasonable given the above. Remember that cattle feed is grown in fields fertilized by natural-gas derivatives, harvested using machinery fueled by diesel, processed and transported to the cattle with oil power, etc. etc. all along the line.

So we're getting a lot more "worth" from our dollars in terms of energy, because the energy has literally been FREE - a 400% profit on effort, and in the past more like 3000%.

Which means that in the Money Economy, things have been going great! But it's because the "on the face" 1/48 barrel of oil worth of each dollar is really representing more like 5/48 of total energy expended. The Energy Economy is front-loaded with a huge cushion of loss of energy, which is not reflected in the Money Economy.

Argh I'm getting murky here again, that first sentence in the paragraph I just wrote seems a little suspect, and I'm not sure I'm getting my thought across. I apologize.

Anyway, so the high standard of living here in the West, and generally around the world really, is supported by this "invisible" front-loading of the oil energy economy, giving us far more energy to produce and to work with than we put into it. Which rather nicely fuels a growth economy, and thus the situation that allows us to reproduce to such numbers. Without that front loading - if we went back to human power, animal power, wood power, and basic water power, say circa 1750, the current population of Earth would simply not be possible (world population in 1750 was about 750 million).

I know I keep going over the oil thing, and the water thing, while this thread is about the population thing, but it's all interconnected. The population is a direct result of the massive energy surplus.

I'm running late for a meeting, heh, or I'd type a lot more... sorry. Hope this helped.

On preview: good one, kliuless!
posted by zoogleplex at 8:11 PM on December 29, 2004


thanks zoogleplex! thought you might be interested in this, which i just posted over here :D
posted by kliuless at 8:41 PM on December 29, 2004


If oil does stop being useful, we can go to nuclear energy -- not quite as cheap, but cheap enough (and safe enough, especially when you use something like the french system, where all the reactors are identical and every problem found in one is corrected in all the others); vulnerable to terrorist attack, but so's everything; causes disease, but not nearly as much as oil and coal.

And as oil gets more expensive, every other source of energy gets comparatively cheaper, drawing more investment, drawing technological development, making it cheaper still (unless oil is heavily subsidised, as it is in the U.S., which is just fucking stupid). (This is one reason I think the Peak Oil thing is overblown.) Coal, which is also subsidized, gets cheaper as well, which is a bad thing (since its real cost, in terms of health care, is much higher than its market cost; the costs of coal pollution are paid by hospitals, rich sick people, governments, and the companies that grieving relatives work at (decreased productivity), not by power plants; so the market overvalues coal).

Of course, a lot of money could be saved by front-loading the development of other energy sources (wind, fusion, etc.) before they become as attractive to the market as they will.

So lets assume the wheel is patented, and for the first 15 years people pay a lot of money to use the wheel. That shows up as economic activity that can be measured in very conventional ways, and it works okay.

Let's assume the wheel isn't patented. It can be used by anyone, and everyone's work gets easier. This shows up as increased productivity in every industry.

Eventually the wheel falls into the public domain, that shows up as a real hit to the economy...

It might show up as a hit to the monopoly wheel manufacturer, but it's a boon to everyone else -- net economic gain.

But I chose the wheel example partly because it sidesteps the whole patent/copyright thing, and in fact traditional notions of the "economy" in general. Lots of things help the economy that superficially don't look like inventions -- a return to urbanism, for example, would save a lot of commute time (among many other things); people could then spend that time doing other things: less wasted time = economic gain.
posted by Tlogmer at 11:11 PM on December 29, 2004


Tlogmer: "If oil does stop being useful, we can go to nuclear energy..."

Yes, nuclear is potentially a viable alternative. However, we still have to dig the uranium out of the ground to use it, and process it. Currently all such digging and processing is oil powered. Apparently nobody's actually ever done a study, but I've read in a number of places that the total energy cost of all respects of operating a nuclear plant over its lifetime is more energy than the plant actually produces over its lifetime.

Which, if true, rather makes it impractical - less than a 1:1 EROEI is just throwing energy away. Note that my cheeseburger example applies here; in terms of MONEY cost, the plant may indeed be quite profitable, but you can actually expend 5 times the amount of energy building and running the plant than it produces - which means you're better off just burning the oil to generate power, as you'll be able to produce 5 times as much useful energy. The "invisible" free energy strikes again!

However, that can possibly be improved upon. Certainly should be looked into. I think it's likely that nuclear is a stopgap measure while we work on other sources of power.

"Of course, a lot of money could be saved by front-loading the development of other energy sources (wind, fusion, etc.) before they become as attractive to the market as they will."

Apparently wind power currently gives a 2:1 EROEI, which is pretty darn good, and means it should be developed to raise that ratio, which is exactly what is happening. Hydroelectric power is even better with an average around 5:1, similar to oil's current ratio, and there's lots of potential for local hydroelectric power for any habitation that's near a flowing water source - as opposed to huge regional hydro projects like Hoover Dam. It's likely we'll see small hydro plants, designed using modern techniques and for very high efficiency, popping up all over the place this century - perhaps as small as 50kw, just powering one street that happens to have a fast stream running behind it. Heh... we could even put them in storm drains. Anywhere water is running downhill.

Wind and water capture "natural" kinetic energy which is just there for the taking, which is why we can still get "something for nothing" from them. Iceland is powered entirely by geothermal (electrically, anyway) - a local solution which works great for them.

Fusion... well, who knows how that will turn out. I think the hope of getting more energy out than you put in is suspect at best. People point to the Sun and say, well it does fusion all day, and the E=mc2 equation means a lot more energy is coming from it than going in, but it seems like everyone forgets that the Sun's fusion is powered by its own massive gravity compressing its core to unimaginable temperatures, thus initiating the fusion chain reaction. Creating similar conditions here on earth requires a massive input of energy. They're not even close to break-even at this point, as I recall - a 1:1 EROEI.

It would be great if they can make it work though.

I agree with redirecting populations to either be fully urban or fully rural, getting rid of the artificial combination of suburbia, which really is only possible with cheap oil for driving cars around. (At this point I choose urban for myself.)

"Eventually the wheel falls into the public domain, that shows up as a real hit to the economy...

It might show up as a hit to the monopoly wheel manufacturer, but it's a boon to everyone else -- net economic gain."

And that is true of pretty much every invention. Once it leaves monopoly control, everyone benefits. Except capitalists who want to ensure permanent cash flow - which the patent concept - they expire! - is designed to frustrate, thus in theory avoiding massive accumulation of wealth in the hands of few.

Not working all that well, is it.

kliuless, it's really late so I'm gonna have to read your links tomorrow when I can really digest it. But they look really interesting! Thanks, I'll be back... but I'll leave with this thought:

At a 5:1 EROEI, each current $50 barrel of oil is actually worth $250. The extra $200 is the "invisible free energy." Imagine what might happen to the Money Economy if oil really cost that much.
posted by zoogleplex at 12:50 AM on December 30, 2004


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