“Five Short Blasts” Theory Explained: Part 5B

This post is the last in a series of articles that explains the new economic theory I proposed in Five Short Blasts. If you haven’t read the previous articles yet, just go to “The Theory Explained” category of this web site. This series of articles will be archived there in reverse chronological order. Just scroll down to find the beginning of the series. 

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Let’s move on to the rapidly worsening problem of overpopulation right here in America. If you doubt that we have such a problem, remember what I said in Part 5A about a persistent, large trade deficit in natural resources. That’s exactly what the United States has. In 2006 we ran a trade deficit in every category of natural resources: oil, gas, metals, minerals, lumber and even food. If you believe that all of our problems can be solved by somehow increasing the domestic supplies of these resources, then you’re either in denial or you’re a victim of the propaganda being served up by special interest groups who benefit from population growth and care nothing about the future of the nation.

Our population growth is due to two factors: 1) immigration, both legal and illegal, accounting for about half of the growth and 2) a birth rate that exceeds the death rate. Let’s begin by eliminating immigration as a factor by balancing immigration against emigration. We currently import approximately 1.1 million people per year through legal immigration, while only about 200,000 per year choose to leave the U.S. for foreign countries. (Of this 200,000, only about 50,000 are native-born Americans.) So, in order to balance immigration with emigration, we need to cut the rate of legal immigration by over 80% at first, and then continue to cut it to 50,000 per year as the percentage of the foreign-born population steadily shrinks. It’s the temporary visa program that fills the pipeline providing most of our permanent immigrants, and the vast majority of these are students and temporary workers. Therefore, it’s in these two areas that most of the cuts must be made. Oh, by the way, did I mention that illegal immigration must be completely halted? There’s been a lot of talk about making a “guest worker” program an integral part of “immigration reform.” This is a terrible idea. We don’t need any more temporary “guest workers.” In fact, we need to dramatically cut the number of foreign workers admitted if we are to have any hope of stabilizing our population. Cutting foreign workers would have huge benefits for American workers, creating up to 1.7 million jobs. And cutting the number of foreign students would free up hundreds of thousands of openings in universities, driving down tuition increases.

That leaves the matter of cutting the birth rate to match the death rate – no small task. (Ultimately, in order to reduce our population, as we must, the birth rate needs to fall below the death rate.  For a good discussion of birth rate and death rate, see the comment by “Evasta” below, followed by my response.)  And, by the way, this is another reason we need to cut immigration. It isn’t fair to ask American families to have fewer children so that we can make room for more immigrants. It’s easiest to think of the birth rate (the number of births per 1,000 people) in terms of the fertility rate – the number of births per female. You’d think that this figure needs to be 2.0, the number needed to replace each generation with the next. But you’d be wrong. That won’t achieve population stability because life expectancy keeps rising. Each generation is living longer than the previous one. The fertility rate actually needs to fall from its present level of about 2.1 to about 1.79.

Reducing the birth rate conjures up all sorts of repugnant images of practices employed in places like China, with their one child per family policy. Specifically, the practice of abortion is so controversial that it immediately stops any discussion of population stabilization before it even begins. For that reason, I eliminate it from consideration. Besides, it isn’t even necessary to achieve a reduced birth rate. It can easily be done without abortion. All that’s required is education and a system of economic incentives designed to encourage couples to choose smaller families.

Such an economic incentive program would consist primarily of tax incentives, such as:

Eliminating the current system of tax credits for dependents and replacing it with a lower base rate, accompanied by tax penalties for each child, or for each child above two. The “penalty” would have to be income-neutral so that the wealthy would have just as much incentive as the poor to choose smaller families. The penalty should apply for life, not just while the children are dependents.

Revise the way property taxes are calculated to factor in the number of children. Since a large percentage of property taxes are used to fund the local school system, it only makes sense that the number of children one has added to the school system burden should be a factor. I’m not saying it should be proportional, as that would negate the concept of a public school system. But, again, it should be a factor and it should apply for life, since those children will also be permanently adding to the school system burden with their descendants.

All costs for contraceptive devices and procedures should be reimbursed by the government through tax credits.

These are just some ideas. I’m sure that others could come up with additional incentives, perhaps better ones. The goal is not to collect additional revenue, but to collect revenue in a way that encourages smaller families. Oh, by the way, in the above incentives, abortions should be counted as live births to avoid creating an incentive for having abortions, as China has done with their one child policy. All of this would require some method of tracking pregnancies and births, creating some concern about privacy and government intrusion into people’s private lives. So any such programs would have to be sensitive to those concerns.

Ultimately, a constitutional amendment may be necessary, an amendment that would require Congress to establish a target population, a target upon which immigration and tax policy would be based to make progress toward that target, whether the target be a larger population (a very bad idea) or a smaller population. I’m not saying what the target should be. But at least this would force a national discussion of the issue. If the target were set at double the current level, where will we obtain the resources to support 300 million more people? Where will they be located? How will we provide them with water? How will this affect our dependency on foreign oil? How will we cut total carbon emissions in half at the same time that we double the population? Every one of these issues is critical today but not a single one of them gets the least bit of consideration because politicians want to pretend that the population problem doesn’t exist. A constitutional amendment would force it into the open. Why didn’t our founding fathers think of it? At the time, they didn’t even know how far west our boundaries extended. How could they have even contemplated a state of overpopulation? Now we can. Let’s pull our heads out of the sand and start managing this nation with some common sense.

Once you understand the theory I’ve presented in Five Short Blasts, you understand the enormous economic benefits that would be realized by stabilizing the population of the U.S. and by stopping the importation of the negative effects of overpopulation through free trade with overpopulated nations. We would experience an economic boom the likes of which hasn’t been seen since the end of WWII. We’d once again become self-sufficient in natural resources. Our greenhouse gas emissions would be cut dramatically. There’s almost no end to the improvements in the quality of life we’d enjoy.

And it’s easy to predict what failure to enact these measures would mean for America – steadily worsening unemployment and poverty and everything that goes with them: rising crime rates, health care out of the reach of a growing percentage of the population, rising death rates, crumbling infrastructure, growing homelessness, civil strife. That’s where our economists and national leaders are taking us. Do we want to follow? Is that the future we want for our grandchildren? It doesn’t have to be that way. There are reasons for our economic demise. All we have to do is open our eyes and our minds to the possibility that economists may be missing something – the relationship between population density and per capita consumption and what overpopulation, imported and home-grown, is doing to us.

I’m sounding five short blasts!



2 Responses to “Five Short Blasts” Theory Explained: Part 5B

  1. Evasta says:

    Sorry, but “cutting the birth rate to match the death rate” is sadly not nearly enough. Global population is nearing 7 billion. Global carrying capacity is about 2 billion. (This assumes some level of social justice and a low to moderate standard of living.) We will get to that 2 billion number the hard way (wars, famine, disease, and their accompanying losses of environmental quality, freedom, and social justice) OR the less hard way (immediately and drastically reducing our population voluntarily. It’s too late for any “us” vs “them” dances or any belief that national boundaries will do much to help anyone. For more on this I suggest http://www.paulchefurka.ca

  2. Pete Murphy says:

    Evasta, good catch. We definitely need to reduce population and the only way to get there is with a birth rate that is lower than the death rate. However, when researching what the birth rate needs to be in order to at least stabilize the population, I found something very interesting. Reducing the birth rate even slightly actually begins to drive up the death rate. How? It’s because the death rate is an overall rate for the population. But that rate varies widely for each age range. Reducing the birth rate only slightly reduces the population in the “<1” age range very quickly, and the “1-4” age range a little less quickly, age ranges where the death rate is only a tiny fraction of higher age ranges. The result is an upward shift in the average age of the population where the death rate is much, much higher.

    For example, today the birth rate is 14.14 per thousand, while the death rate is only 8.35. Dropping the birth rate to 12.1 would actually produce population stability at 309 million people in 2033 (assuming the birth rate began declining today). A drop in the birth rate to levels less than that will yield a steadily declining population. Again, this is because the death rate will steadily rise to match the birth rate, even assuming that average life expectancy continues to rise! (See pages 174-179 of “Five Short Blasts.”)

    Again, thanks for the comment. I’ve revised the post to refer readers to this discussion for a better explanation about birth rate.

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