Claims that population reduction, and not population growth, is our biggest problem are misleading, and only true if one ignores other trends. I have run across several articles recently making the point that population reduction, seen in the most developed countries, is the real problem that deserves our attention, and that even in the developing countries birthrates are dropping. In at least one of the articles it was implied that a falling birthrate, and inevitably falling population, is a problem for business. Is this really a problem we need to address?
Populations are too high to sustain, and a decline is inevitable whether we like it or not. I recently read the observation that the very fact that the United States is importing more than half of the fuel it needs is evidence of overpopulation. I submit that, when our prospects for resource exhaustion, climate change, and pollution are taken into account, a population reduction would be a good thing. I admit that it will impose a significant paradigm shift for business, but I see that as inevitable. Our world is finite in every respect, and we need to manage what we have (or have left) with the longest term outlook possible.
It is true that populations in the most wealthy countries are stable or declining. While immigration (including illegal immigration) is bolstering the populations of many of the top twenty countries in per capita income, the natural birthrate is insufficient to maintain the current population, and this is causing concern. Still, if one looks around in these countries, they are already overpopulated, with urban crowding, suburban sprawl, and increasingly tenuous infrastructures dependent on incredible inflows of fossil fuel-derived energy. While a reduction in population poses issues of adjustment to business, saying this is a significant problem is like justifying draconian legal systems (such as drug prohibition) as supporting jobs for prison guards and police. The logic ignores the total cost to society.
Some countries are foolishly working to increase their birthrates. Russia and Australia are notable examples of countries with declining populations who are actively trying to increase their birthrates. This will end eventually, however, as energy and resulting food shortages decrease the quality of life for existing populations and reveal such policies to be foolhardy.
Inevitable mass migrations will solve labor shortages in most developed countries. I understand the concern some may have for decreasing populations, but, as energy and food shortages combine with burgeoning third world populations, there will be millions looking for somewhere to go where they can find work and support their families. I don’t think mass migrations can be prevented. I also believe the cost of attempting to do prevent immigration in the face of mass migrations will become prohibitive, and while border patrols and anti-immigration policies will be employed in many countries, they will ultimately fail. Meanwhile, there will be an increasing supply of immigration-fed inexpensive labor to fuel economic activity, answering the concerns of those worrying about decreasing populations. Certainly there will be cultural changes and political battles involved, but the world will continue to change until sustainability is reached. In the meantime it is in everyone’s interest to find the best path in that direction, however long it may take. A decreasing population is possibly the least of our concerns.