Please, no more cries of 'population control'
Babies urgently needed and other thoughts ...
How long has it been since we heard loudly and often from our friends — and maybe ourselves — that the planet is overcrowded and overdeveloped — that the earth can’t sustain a swelling population whose needs require an equivalent amount of finite and often nonrenewable resources. In order to save the planet, we need population control, or so went the mantra.
I was once very sympathetic to that view and still am, to a point. There are regions of the world — mostly impoverished or poorly governed nations — where the population continues to grow at an alarming and unsustainable rate.
Thus it’s not surprising that of the 30 nations with the highest population growth, 27 are in Africa, with Venezuela a notable exception. In the year 1900, Africa’s population was estimated at 140 million, or about 9 percent of the world’s population. That continent’s share of global population has since doubled. As the International Monetary Fund reported recently, “Fueled by a combination of falling mortality and some of the highest birth rates in the world, Africa’s total population has increased tenfold and now stands at over 1.4 billion.”
The United Nations has projected that by 2050, Africa’s population will reach 2.5 billion, or about a quarter of the world’s humans. Africa’s share of the planet’s people is expected to reach close to 40 percent by the end of the century.
Last year, the world’s population surpassed 8 billion, and is still growing. Click here for a nifty world population clock, updated minute-by-minute. So the world’s population is indeed growing, though it might soon start to shrink.
The problem, for the time being, is that the growth is poorly distributed, though a University of Washington study predicts the world’s population is expected to begin declining by 2100 in nearly every country around the world. For the most part, highly developed nations have the lowest birth rates.
In some ways, it seems counterintuitive, but there are potentially catastrophic costs associated with low or nonexistent population growth. While I was generally aware of the problem, I did not fully understand how great those consequences could be until I read a recent essay by Martin Gurri, a visiting fellow at George Mason University and a former CIA analyst.
In “On Having Children,” Gurri posits that, “When future historians look back on the last half-century, I suspect they will pass over war, terror, and populism to settle on infertility as the decisive event of the age.”
Low birth rates correlate with affluence, the rise of women who are educated and have careers, and the ease with which they can prevent pregnancies or end them. The causes are harder to identify. As of 2020, the 20 fastest-shrinking countries in the world were all in Europe, with the exceptions of Cuba and Japan. The U.S. population is barely growing at all.
China, now a close second to India as the world’s most populous nation, saw its population fall in 2022 to 1.411 billion, down some 850,000 people from the previous year. The U.N. predicts it could fall below 800 million by 2100.
The population forecast for South Korea, where both of my children were born, is so bleak that the government is paying women 2 million won ($1,510) after giving birth. As of 2021, the fertility rate in South Korea stood at just 0.81 children per woman.
When now-developed nations were largely agrarian, there were strong incentives to have children to help ease the workload of the adults, and especially so as parents aged. Now most of those economic reasons for having children have evaporated. When life is good and you are busy, why have children? They’re expensive, they tie you down.
So all those westerners like me who were sympathetic to the idea of population control should be admonished with a simple: “Be careful what you wish for.” Low birth rates mean there are fewer and fewer young people working to support the needs of increasing numbers of older folks such as yours truly. It’s a situation that could prove catastrophic.
A prolonged shortage of young bodies will stress the social safety net to the breaking point. Expensive retirement and health insurance schemes are likely to collapse. The marginal will slip into poverty — the poor will grow desperate — but government will lack the funds to do much about it. The political consequences are unfathomable. My guess is that crime and turbulence will be a constant background noise but not revolution, since the minimum levels of testosterone needed for that kind of venture will be lacking.
Okay, ignore that last crack about testosterone, but Gurri’s point still stands.
On Having Children: The Most Private Choice We Make Has Potent Public Consequences by Martin Gurri, Substack
SCOTUS finally adopts ethics code
Regular readers of this weekly newsletter will recall my series on the Supreme Court of the United States and its refusal to enact an ethics code, as all the other federal courts have already done.
The subject would not even be in the public consciousness if not for the great work by ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative news outlet that produced a series highlighting conflicts of interest on the high court, especially on the part of Justice Clarence Thomas, who has received multiple expensive gifts from parties with interests before his court. The entire series can be found here.
ProPublica took a lot of heat for that series, mostly from conservatives who viewed it as a liberal hatchet job against Thomas. But there can be little doubt that without ProPublica’s work, the high court never would have addressed the subject of ethics directly and changed its policy, however slightly. #JournalismMatters
Now we learn that the court has finally adopted a code. It’s a good start, as far as it goes (which is not very far). There are more reporting mandates and even some recusal requirements in certain limited cases, but no discernible method of enforcement. In various commentaries, the new ethics code has been panned as “worthless,” “a joke,” “toothless,” “designed to fail,” “belated, grudging and inadequate,” and, in the scathing opinion of Substacker Robert Reich, “neither a code nor about ethics.”
Good luck with that, Justice Roberts.
Update on First Amendment case I wrote about previously
About a year ago, I wrote a column for CTNewsJunkie on a Washington, Connecticut, couple that placed a large banner covering the front porch of their home on Route 202. Normally this wouldn’t be a cause for great concern in this sleepy town known more for its venerable bookstore than the fact that the nation’s first president once slept there.
But since the sign lavished praise on you-know-who and bore his menacing likeness, many feathers were ruffled among the scornful. “This cannot stand,” they complained. Turns out not much could be done about it. In cases like this one, courts almost always err on the side of the First Amendment.
Now the Hartford Courant, which broke the initial news of the banner and the kerfuffle it caused, reports that the man who posted the banner, “has been charged with a hate crime after he allegedly threatened to burn a cross in the yard of a former customer who is Jewish.”
Wayne Waldron, 63, of Plymouth, who confirmed to the Courant that he is the person who posted the Trump banner, was charged earlier this month with intimidation based on bigotry or bias and second-degree breach of peace for allegedly leaving a voicemail for a former friend and customer in which he threatened to burn a cross on his property and allegedly made antisemitic remarks, according to a Connecticut State Police Troop L warrant affidavit for Waldron’s arrest.
I won’t draw too many conclusions from this, but I’m sure those who initially objected to the banner feel extremely vindicated.
Confusion In ‘Washington’ – Free Speech Or Law Breaking? by Terry Cowgill, CTNewsJunkie
Also worth reading:
Can Trump and Biden Bring Down the Two-Party System? by Gerard Baker, Wall Street Journal (free link)