Billionaires Meet to Curb Overpopulation?

This has been all over the blogoshpere in the last few days.  This London Times article is the only one I’ve been able to find that reported on the story. 

SOME of America’s leading billionaires have met secretly to consider how their wealth could be used to slow the growth of the world’s population and speed up improvements in health and education.

The philanthropists who attended a summit convened on the initiative of Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, discussed joining forces to overcome political and religious obstacles to change.

Described as the Good Club by one insider it included David Rockefeller Jr, the patriarch of America’s wealthiest dynasty, Warren Buffett and George Soros, the financiers, Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York, and the media moguls Ted Turner and Oprah Winfrey.

They gathered at the home of Sir Paul Nurse, a British Nobel prize biochemist and president of the private Rockefeller University, in Manhattan on May 5. The informal afternoon session was so discreet that some of the billionaires’ aides were told they were at “security briefings”.

Stacy Palmer, editor of the Chronicle of Philanthropy, said the summit was unprecedented. “We only learnt about it afterwards, by accident. Normally these people are happy to talk good causes, but this is different – maybe because they don’t want to be seen as a global cabal,” he said.

Some details were emerging this weekend, however. The billionaires were each given 15 minutes to present their favourite cause. Over dinner they discussed how they might settle on an “umbrella cause” that could harness their interests.

The issues debated included reforming the supervision of overseas aid spending to setting up rural schools and water systems in developing countries. Taking their cue from Gates they agreed that overpopulation was a priority.

Is it really possible that the world’s biggest benefactors of overpopulation, who rely upon further population growth to expand their empires and fortunes, could actually become conscious of the dangers of further growth?  This whole story seems rather implausible, but not impossible.  We can only hope, right?  These are some people with serious influence in power circles.  If the world’s richest elite grow concerned about overpopulation, can meaningful action be far behind?

12 Responses to Billionaires Meet to Curb Overpopulation?

  1. smonrad2 says:

    Once you have a billion dollars, you don’t really need to worry much about money. If you decide that population growth is an issue, you can try to do something about it. Even if it means the value of your investments grow more slowly, you aren’t going to hurt much because of it.

  2. silly girl says:

    I am still not clear on what you think is a plan for a healthy (stable?) population. You say Germany is overpopulated, but they have a very low birthrate. How fast do you think population can shrink? Russia is not densely populated and they are losing about 800,000 a year. Is that what you envision?

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Germany does have a very low birth rate but, at 600 people per square mile, they are very densely populated. (For comparison purposes, China has 360 per square mile. The U.S. has 85.) This population density disparity is directly responsible for America’s big trade deficit with Germany. Our per capita trade deficit in manufactured products with Germany is $541 per person – three times worse than China.

      To answer your question regarding the rate at which I envision our population declining, I offered a plan in my book that relies upon dramatic reductions in immigration and a reduction of our fertility rate to 1.79 children per woman to stabilize the population of the U.S. Reducing the fertility rate to 1.5 would yield a U.S. population of 254 million by the year 2075 (after peaking at about 315 million). But that assumes that we promptly get to work with reducing immigration and the fertility rate. So, as you can see, I’m not advocating anything extreme. But without taking these actions, our population will top 450 million by then. So these actions would result in a population that’s 44% lower than it will be if we do nothing.

      What’s your reaction to this approach?

  3. silly girl says:

    The US birthrate not counting the births of recent immigrants is very close to 1.79 already. Just ending immigration would get you there practically tomorrow. A birthrate of 1.5 is pretty extreme. Have you calculated what that would mean? Forget Social Security and Medicare. What you are describing is just about the net effect in China. Their birthrate is higher than one because of exceptions etc. They are looking to increase their birthrate to sustain the population. They have other problems of course. With such a huge elderly population, we would be a very weak country. Remember you can’t tax people at 100%.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      That’s one of the reasons that my approach to population reduction is so gradual. I should mention that, in projecting the population to 2075, I assumed that life expectancy would continue to increase at the historical rate. It’s possible that that won’t happen, which would accelerate the rate of population decline, making such a low fertility rate unnecessary. (By the way, you seem to use the term “birth rate” as a substitute for fertility. Fertility is expressed in the number of births per female. Birth rate is usually expressed in terms of births per 1,000 people.)

      Taxes would not have to rise to anything close to 100% in order to deal with an aging population. By the way, speaking of taxes, our problems with revenue would virtually vanish if we used tariffs to restore a balance of trade.

      • silly girl says:

        I cannot agree that a fertility rate of 1.5 will be a gradual decline. A fertility rate of 2.0 would be a gradual decline. Please explain how you could fund benefits for elderly (who will live even longer?) with a shrinking base of taxpayers when right now economists contend that even strong growth will not yield enough taxpayers. Also on this topic Smetters Gokhale report

      • Pete Murphy says:

        Like I said, my projection also includes a continuation of trend in increased life expectancy (in other words, a declining death rate) at the same time that the fertility rate is falling to 1.50. Without that factor, you’d be correct that the decline in population would be more precipitous. In that case, a higher fertility rate would be in order.

        First of all, you’ve got to stop listening to economists who are still clinging to 18th century theories that have been completely debunked in the last year. An aging population can be dealt with relatively easily. First of all, we stop giving away 6% of our GDP to foreign nations through free trade and start collecting revenue again. Secondly, tax rates are at historically low levels and need to be raised. Third, we stop spending ridiculous amounts of money on foreign military campaigns. We can’t afford to be the world’s cop. Fourth, we increase the age for collecting social security. We can’t continue to increase life expectancy without also increasing the length of time that workers remain productive.

        Better to deal with the problem now than years down the road when the size of our aging population has exploded.

  4. silly girl says:

    I would suggest Laurence Kotlikof’s book, The Coming Generational Storm as a way to understand the population structure and tax policy and the large elderly population.

  5. silly girl says:

    I am not sure what you think has been debunked. Did you look at the Smetters Gokhale report? What about their accounting measures do you contend is in error? I am referring to their accounting not just their opinions. Please be specific.

    I do not see how reducing the number of workers deals with the problem of the size of the aging population. Please explain.

    A fertility rate of 2.1 will mean an equal distribution of people across all age groups (eventually). A population equally distributed across all age groups is insufficient to fund the types of pension schemes we currently have.

    A fertility rate of less than 2.1 will create a continuing structural imbalance where there are always fewer people in the younger groups and more in the older. I don’t know of any economic system that can succeed within such a structure. How would you address that specifically?

  6. silly girl says:

    You say the population will not decline precipitously because people will live longer, however those extra years are not working years. If life expectancy increases that means whatever number of workers you have will have to support retirees even longer. With fewer workers this is a serious problem.

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Regarding the Smetters-Gokhale report, there’s a lot there and it would take a long time to read and digest all of it. But I’ve gone through the foreward, assumptions and conclusion and one thing about it I can say for sure is that the authors of the report make no assumptions at all about any improvement in our trade deficit. When this report was written in 2003, our trade deficit was about $500 billion. By 2006, it had risen to $750 billion. In the conclusion of the report, the authors observe that:

      “… the federal government’s long-term Fiscal Imbalance is $44.2 trillion as of fiscal-year-end 2002. This is the amount of resources in present value that the government must produce, either by cutting spending or increasing revenues, in order to put the nation’s fiscal policies on a sustainable path. This value is more than ten times as large as the size of debt currently held by the public; it is also several times larger than similar values published elsewhere under a seventy-five-year projection horizon. To fully eliminate the existing FI, wage taxes, for example, would have to be increased by 16.6 percentage points forever. Eliminating all discretionary spending immediately and forever would fall short by $1.8 trillion.”

      Assuming a trade deficit of $700 billion per year without any intervention to restore a balance of trade, then action to restore such a balance would add a cumulative $52.5 trillion to our GDP during the 75-year time horizon mentioned above. Even if all of this GDP were then confiscated in the form of taxes, it would leave our economy no worse off than it is today.

      Also, the authors assumed that the annual rate of decline in mortality rates would remain constant over the period of this study. One could argue the validity of such an assumption, especially since mortality in some of the younger age groups has actually begun rising instead of declining. It’s very likely that we’re approaching an upper limit on life expectancy and that mortality rates will level off. (In fact, I’d be willing to bet the ranch on it.) The study is extremely sensitive to changes in this mortality assumption.

      Their assumptions also retain the current limits on taxable earnings for social security. Why, I don’t know, because these limits are very likely to be raised or eliminated altogether.

      Also, the authors mention in the conclusion that taxes would need to be increased 16.6%. Well, yes, taxes will have to rise (as I said earlier), but when you throw in a restoration of a balance of trade, that increase would clearly be lower. And bear in mind that, a few decades ago, the highest tax brackets were taxed at 70%, more than double today’s rate, and rich people still did very, very well, thank you. So, to suggest that higher tax rates can’t be sustained without ruining the economy is just wrong.

      Anyway, like I said, it’s pointless to wring our hands over this issue because it has to be faced sooner or later anyway. Putting it off will only exacerbate the problem. It’s economists’ belief in never-ending growth that has gotten us into this mess and the only way to get out of it is to stop throwing more fuel on the fire.

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