The Catholic Church: Reaping What it Sows – One Tiny Example

During this morning’s sermon, our pastor announced that, regrettably, he would have to devote this week’s sermon to discussing the parish’s finances.  It seems that donations are down by about $55,000 on an annualized basis.  He implored parishioners to dig a little deeper.

That donations are down is no suprise, given what’s happening in the economy.  To sum it up, Americans are growing poorer through declining net worth as their home values erode and through wages that are either not keeping pace with the high rate of inflation or, worse, are actually being cut.  None of this is a surprise.  As the supply of labor grows more out of balance with demand as our population grows, both on a national and global level, it’s only natural that wealth is declining and poverty is on the rise.

The Catholic Church loves population growth and denies that overpopulation could ever be a problem.  While economists maintain that man is ingenious enough to overcome any obstacle to never-ending growth, the Church goes them one better.  If man does meet such an obstacle, they declare that Almighty God, out of His infinite love for mankind, will simply strike down that obstacle.  Apparently the Church believes that collective  stupidity is one sin that either God is incapable of recognizing or will always forgive. 

Since the Church believes that God will always come to mankind’s rescue as our population grows and grows, then isn’t it logical that God will also remedy all of the consequences of this unending growth?  Therefore, the Church should trust that God will take care of this shortfall in weekly donations.  No need to trouble us parishioners. 


15 Responses to The Catholic Church: Reaping What it Sows – One Tiny Example

  1. Well, I had to chuckle on this one Pete. I have a friend who says that God gave us two legs, two arms and brain…and maybe, just maybe, he intended for us to use them.

    As unemployment grew by 49,000 in May, the seriousness of our current economic situation was emphasized. The unemployment will soon become a nearly irreversible statistic. The mention of “maximum sustainable employment” may well be heard even from the lips of our government perpetrators.

  2. Nathaniel says:

    I’ll have to see if there is a place where this can be readily referred but I believe economists have saying that the global economy has been growing for at least the last 20 years straight.

    That seems directly counter to the argument that somehow wealth worldwide is decreasing.

    Considering the ups and downs the US economy has had over the course of its life I would also say that it would be illogical, in the least, to say that overpopulation is somehow the reason whenever there is a downturn (which may be happening in our national economy). Note that I don’t recall any great slump in population growth that lead to the supposed Clinton expansion, nor the expansion before it, nor the one before that.

  3. Nathaniel,

    Growth and wealth while often referred to as one of the same, are in actuality quite different.

    That is particularly true when the perceived wealth is predicated on exponential growth, as it is in the U.S. No better example exists than that of housing. There are limits to sustainable growth and housing passed those limits.

    There is no doubt that the global economy has grown for the past 20 years, and exponentially at that. The underlying problem is that the physical and energy systems did not. The matter/energy system actually contracted while providing the temporary growth, as it is finite in nature. As the American geophysicist M. King Hubbert said, “You can only use oil once.”

    We will not slowly run out of any given major resource such as oil, we will suddenly run out due to the massive harvesting and the eventual depletion of these resources that give the illusion that unlimited growth is possible. Nothing could be further from the truth.

  4. Nathaniel says:

    Actually on some basic method/way growth is based on/related to wealth. While perception isn’t reality it often has some basis within reality (if that basis is fully recognized or over/undervalued is a common problem but not one that means there is no basis). In addition there are arguments that material wealth is different from true wealth and while I think that idea has merit it doesn’t seem to be what we are discussing.

    While I do have sympathies with people who suffer from higher oil prices I think that it may be a good thing as the prices don’t include environmental damage and raised prices (while still not factoring it in) at least get it closer to that more actual and higher price. Frankly I would hope to see fossil fuels (of which oil is a major one) replaced as sources of energy-and this may even help that happen. To say we are out of energy sources also means you aren’t including the fact that we haven’t taped them all.

    What we were discussing is if the most recent recession was due to overpopulation. I disagree and pointed to world growth. Also to claim that the most recent economic problems are due to overpopulation is to ignore direct reasons why they happened (with housing this likely relates to the building of larger houses beyond peoples ability to pay and using bad financing to try to service it) for a theoretical argument about exponential growth. This seems to be ignoring reality for the theory.

  5. Pete Murphy says:

    Gentlemen, sorry for not jumping in sooner but my access to a computer is quite limited this week.

    Nathaniel, I’d like to address your assertion that the global economy has been growing for the past 20 years. I’d go further and say that it has been growing since the dawn of man, with the possible exception of the Dark Ages and the black plague.

    But there are two kinds of growth and wealth. There is the macro-economy and there is the per capita economy of individual citizens. The economy you speak of is the macro-economy and, by that measure, growth has continued unabated as I’ve already agreed. However, the decline in wealth and rise in poverty I speak of is at the per capita level, the only level that really matters.

    I don’t know if you’ve read my book. If not, then you may not understand my theory and thus would disagree that the economy at the per capita level is the only one that matters. Throughout human history (at least until relatively recently), economic growth and population growth have marched in lockstep. Economists have observed this and have drawn conclusions, now etched in stone (metaphorically). One conclusion is that population growth is always good because it drives economic growth. However, if you understand my theory, you understand that once an optimum population density has been breached – the point at which people must crowd together to conserve space – per capita consumption begins to decline. Such a decline, when coupled with rising productivity, can only yield rising unemployment and poverty, at least at the per capita level. This decline can take place even while total consumption (and thus GDP, the broadest measure of the macro-economy) continues to rise. Therefore, beyond an optimum population density, economists’ conclusions about growth break down. While population growth still fuels total consumption and GDP growth, it now is counter to the best interests of the common good because it begins to destroy the per capita economy.

    Consider Japan. Their per capita consumption of dwelling space is one third that of Americans’. But, since their population density is ten times that of the U.S., their total consumption of housing materials is three times what it would be if their population density was the same as that of the U.S. As a result, employment in the housing industry is depressed, but total sales of housing materials continues to rise with the population. Good for the housing business. Very bad for the average Japanese citizen, both in terms of the demand for his labor and in terms of his quality of life.

    Back to the subject of the growth in wealth. While total macro-wealth has risen around the world in general, the growth in the developing world has been at the expense of the U.S. Since 1976, the last year the U.S. had a trade surplus, $9 trillion has been plundered from the wealth of Americans and transferred to developing countries through free trade policies that have been nothing short of a calamity for the U.S. Per capita wealth in the U.S. is in dramatic decline, as was recently verified by the Federal Reserve in a survey of household net worth. And poverty is on the rise. This is primarily the effect of importing an “effective” high population density by trading freely in manufactured goods with grossly overpopulated nations like Japan, Korea, Germany, China and many others. And, to a lesser extent, it’s also driven by population growth in the U.S.

    I don’t attribute every recession in history to population growth because, as I said earlier, this would only come into play once an optimum population density has been breached, either actually or effectively through free trade, a situation which has occurred only recently, perhaps in the last few decades. (Per capita wealth in the U.S. has been in decline for that long.)

    Thanks for stopping by. I enjoy the discussion.

  6. Nathaniel says:

    An interesting question is why is their housing space lower and building materials use greater?

    The argument against density seems to be one that the livelihood/enjoyment of one’s life is based on the increased inefficiency and waste that comes with low density populations when opposed to high density. I thought one of the general arguments of economics is that waste is, at least eventually, not rewarded/punished/forced out through competition.

  7. Pete Murphy says:

    Nathaniel, you are exactly right that waste is steadily forced out of any system. The more efficient use of natural resources is a solution to the finiteness of their supply. However, it is the very act of attempting to use space more efficiently that creates the problem I’ve warned of in my book. It can only lead to reduced per capita consumption and rising unemployment. These things happen very slowly, almost imperceptibly as the population rises, but the effect is very real. Per capita consumption data gathered from around the world for a wide range of products bear this out. Yes, virtually every economist will disagree with me – at first – because this theory is entirely new.

    However, I disagree that the higher per capita consumption that we see in less densely populated nations like the U.S., Canada, Australia and many others is due to inefficiency and waste. Rather, it is due to having sufficient space to spread out and enjoy activities that people in very densely populated societies cannot. Would the average Japanese citizen, if he had a choice, choose to remain in his cramped quarters or would he choose to live in a larger home, like that enjoyed by the average American? I maintain that he would choose the latter. The Japanese own fewer vehicles and they tend to be very tiny, not because extreme crowding makes it the practical choice. As much as they love golf, Japanese per capita consumption of golf equipment is extremely low because of the scarcity of golf courses. There isn’t enough space for golf courses. In spite of the fact that Japan is an island nation, and a wealthy one at that, their per capita consumption of pleasure boats is very, very low because their harbors are so crowded. These are just a few examples.

    So the fundamental question is this: would it be better to allow unending population growth, driving down per capita consumption, driving up unemployment and forcing all to live more “efficiently?” Or would it be better for a smaller population to live at a high standard of living and high quality of life, with low unemployment and high incomes? I think the latter is the only logical choice.

    Then the question becomes one of how we get there. Many people feel threatened by those who favor a stable or reduced population, as though they are being told they do not have a right to exist, or that they are a burden on the planet. Or they assume that someone like me favors abhorrent practices like abortion, forced sterilization, infanticide and euthanasia. Not so. All of us have a right to be here. All of us are part of the problem and all of us need to be part of the solution if we are to have any hope of leaving this planet a better place for future generations.

  8. Nathaniel says:

    That dropping consumption could play into the argument that consumption is too high and doesn’t serve long term economic growth. The argument being that money spent on consumption is used up and not going to benefit the economy later. In addition one of the concerns sometimes mentioned in relation to the USA is the high level of consumer and government debt. If consumption falls then the amount of consumer debt growth related to it may as well.

    Low density populations are also part of the problem in terms of pollution-the further one lives from the services he/she uses the greater the transportation related time and energy that is put towards using them. With the bulk of current automobiles that use fossil fuels that simply means more CO2 in the air-not of benefit to the environment.

  9. Pete Murphy says:

    Nathaniel, I think you’re falling into the trap of misinterpreting data recently published that shows that the per capita emissions of carbon from densely populated cities is lower than the per capita carbon emissions of less densely populated areas. Lost in all of that reporting was that total emissions from the cities were far, far greater than the less densely populted areas, simply due to the number of “capitas” being so much greater.

    But we have steadily drifted off course here. The fact remains that it is impossible to avoid rising unemployment in an environment where per capita consumption is declining. And it is impossible for per capita consumption to not decline as population density steadily increases beyond an optimum level, forcing people to crowd together. The answer is to prevent an excessive population density, allowing all to have a high standard of living without degrading the environment or consuming resources at an unsustainable rate.

  10. Nathaniel says:

    As the emissions are actually lower per capita then who says it is a trap? Just because emissions from lower density areas are more spread out that doesn’t make them nonexistent and doesn’t reduce the overall amount of greenhouse gases (and so on) produced.

    As some, arguing a more doomsday like scenario for the USA, claim that US consumption is not economically (going back to the main point) sustainable the idea of declining consumption seems a positive thing if they are correct.

    In addition, thanks to globalization, it is possible the burden of any consumption decline related job losses would be spread out and that there would be less of an impact at home. Though, this is if you aren’t a don’t follower of the argument that if someone can no longer work in a directly consumption related job that he/she could find some other career (as the amount of time individuals change careers has already been rising).

  11. Pete Murphy says:

    Nathaniel, I’m getting the impression you don’t understand the concept of population density. If ten people occupy an island and each emits two tons of carbon, then the total emissions from that island is twenty tons. But if 100 people occupy an island of the same size and emit only one ton each, the total emissions is 100 tons – five times as much. The total emissions from both islands is 120 tons. Forcing the people on the first island to crowd together to cut their emissions in half only reduces the total emissions to 110 tons. But reducing the population density on the 2nd island to match the first island reduces total emissions to 40 tons. The solution is fewer people, not more crowding and lower consumption.

    This is getting tiresome. Let’s let someone else comment if they would like.

  12. Nathaniel says:

    I thought I had posted a reply. I don’t see it so I am going to again-I apologize if I end up repeating myself. This is nearly word for word what I said before.

    My comments don’t stop someone else from typing something and whomever else should feel free to.

    You’ve embraced the idea of continually expanding consumption which means that the island where each person produces 2 tons of carbon emissions will one day have each emit 3, 4, 5, and so on. Environmentally that leaves an even worse situation later because the carbon emissions from the island of 100 will be surpassed by the smaller group during a time in the future.

    This result would take place over time. If you are encouraging action right now (or at least fast enough that current habits, practices, technologies, and so on remain the same) then moving the 20 to the island of 100 would cut 10 tons of carbon emissions. If you want 80 of the island with 100 people to move to new locations where they mirror the emissions trends of the island with only 20 then you’ve added 80 tons of carbon emissions. This goes up to 100 more tons if the 20 people remaining on the island that formerly had 100 also start to emit at the same rate as the other island. The end result of these 2 options is a choice of adding 100 more tons of carbon emissions if everyone spreads out or lowering emissions by 10 tons if people “crowd” together.

    If you are advocating simply getting rid of 80 people from the island with 100 then that sounds like embracing things which I think each of us would find abhorrent. And this would be in addition to failing to prevent the growth in per capita emissions.

    You have tried to make the argument that efficiency isn’t important-which tends to go against some of the general concepts important (for different reasons) to both economics and environmentalism. Questioning that argument seems to be reasonable.

  13. Clyde Bollinger says:

    I’ve only just read your book for the first time, Pete, and I will be reading it again soon. I’d suggest that Nathaniel give it a first reading as well. The wealth of facts proving execssive population as the root cause of so many of our problems, to me, is irrefutable. The declining per-capita consumption concept is at first difficult to grasp, but once it becomes clear, then the other factors also becme clear.

  14. Pete Murphy says:

    Nathaniel, I’m going to relent and give you another try. You’re correct, you’ve kept the discussion civil and I appreciate that. However, you keep putting words in my mouth that aren’t there and it was beginning to irk me. Nowhere in this post, my blog, or in my book, “Five Short Blasts,” do I advocate “continually expanding consumption.” I do advocate maintaining high per capita consumption, as this is directly linked to a high standard of living and quality of life. Of course efficiency is important. Waste is always a bad thing. Continually expanding consumption is impossible and not even desirable. It would reach a limit where people are physically incapable of using and maintaining everything they own, so the consumption would be pointless.

    You are failing to acknowledge my point that it is quite possible (and economically mandatory) to maintain the high standard of living associated with high per capita consumption if the population is smaller, making total consumption less. Regarding my point about shrinking the hypothetical island’s population from 100 to 20, I don’t advocate “getting rid” of 80 people or any kind of action that others may find abhorrent. What I advocate is gradually reducing the population over a long period of time by using non-coercive economic incentives for people to choose smaller families, reducing the fertility rate below replacement levels. And, in the case of the U.S., I advocate limiting immigration to match the rate of emigration, removing net migration as a factor in overall population growth.

  15. Pete Murphy says:

    Nathaniel, you’ve gotten me off message with all this talk about efficiency. Efficiency, defined as consuming less resources and recycling more, is certainly necessary in order for the population to continue to grow. Efficiency is a solution (the only solution) to the finiteness of natural resources. Whether or not it’s a sustainable solution as the population continues to grow is another matter. As the population grows to infinity, per capita consumption of resources would have to decline to zero. Obviously, some limit would be reached before that. Economists maintain that population growth isn’t a problem because man is always ingenious enough to overcome any obstacle such as resource limitations. I won’t argue that point because they haven’t been proven wrong yet, but I believe they soon will be.

    However, I must repeat again that while efficiency is a solution to the finiteness of resources, applying efficiency to the finiteness of space (that is, of real estate) actually creates a problem from which there is no escape. It drives down per capita consumption, not because people want to be efficient but because they’re incapable of consuming at a level that is commensurate with a high standard of living. Since per capita output (productivity) is at historically high levels and growing all the time, this collision with low per capita consumption inevitably yields high unemployment and, consequently, poverty. There’s no way around it. High per capita output can’t coexist with low per capita consumption.

    The ONLY way to solve both problems – the finiteness of resources and the finiteness of space – without driving up unemployment and poverty – is to maintain high per capita consumption in a low population density environment. This is the only way to hold the total consumption of resources in check at a low level while allowing all people (in a smaller population) to live at a high standard of living.

    So, if you’re going to argue this point, you have to explain how people will be gainfully employed in a situation in which their per capita consumption is low. If you argue that they’ll be employed in some new technology or some new service, then you’re arguing that per capita consumption of that particular product will be extremely high – high enough to make up for low employment in all other sectors of the economy. If you argue that they will make products for export, then you’re actually ignoring the problem and suggesting that it be foisted off upon some other people.

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