As a blog devoted to spreading the word of an economic theory that calls for a reduced population, I feel remiss any time that there is a major catastrophe resulting in a big loss of human life without commenting, especially when it happens in a badly overpopulated nation like Japan. As I’ve done before, I’ll begin by stating that while there are those advocates of a reduced population who derive some satisfaction from the tragic loss of human life that accompanies such disasters, I’m not one of them for two reasons. First of all, it’s virtually impossible for such disasters to have any significant impact on the global population (aside from a strike by a massive meteor, more massive than any that has occurred during the course of human history), so it’s pointless to look to such events as a respite from our worsening overpopulation. So why derive any satisfaction from it when it happens? Secondly, the whole purpose of this blog is to stimulate an awareness of the need to manage our population to a lower level through a reduced birth rate as opposed to the poverty-induced increase in death rate that’s inevitable if we don’t. If I don’t want to see an increase in the death rate over time, I certainly take no delight in the sudden deaths of thousands of people, and those who do should be ashamed of themselves.
So, with that said, let’s consider the economic ramifications of this event. While it may seem cold to engage in such an analysis while events are still unfolding and people are suffering, such analysis happens anyway. Markets are certainly doing it, reacting negatively in a big way. The implications are many, and the following are some random thoughts from both the perspective of traditional economics and my new economic theory.
1. Economists have long maintained that man is ingenious enough to overcome all obstacles to further population growth. (The result of the beat-down they took from the other sciences following the seeming failure of Malthus’ theory.) More recently, a new twist on this approach is that we can accommodate a growing population by focusing more on “happiness” instead of consumption, consuming less and simplifying our lives. Of course, advocates of this approach offer no explanation as to how we’ll maintain full employment if consumption is reduced.
This disaster won’t change any of that. In spite of the nuclear power plant failure, the use of nuclear power will grow. Economists and world leaders will simply see it as another challenge that can be overcome by more technology. Nuclear plants will be upgraded and hardened. There’s really no other choice. Fossil fuel-generated power has run its course and those who see solar and wind-generated power as a solution simply don’t understand the magnitude of the challenge of providing energy to such vast populations, not to mention the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow.
So population growth, supported by ever-riskier technology, will continue. There is only one obstacle to unending growth that can’t be overcome: the inevitable increase in the death rate that will result from worsening unemployment and poverty. The only other possible outcome is a concerted effort to reduce the birth rate and manage our population to an economically and ecologically sustainable level.
2. This disaster is 20 times worse than it would have been if Japan weren’t so badly overpopulated. If Japan’s population density was closer to 40 people per square mile instead of nearly 900 – a density that’s both economically sound and ecological sustainable – there would have been no need for nuclear power plants. There would have been no need for people to live in tsunami-vulnerable, low-lying plains. Earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters are inevitable. Crowding people into situations where they’re vulnerable isn’t. It’s a choice that was made when we decided that never-ending population growth was what we needed to be prosperous. So, in a sense, we can blame the field of economics for the exaggerated effects of this natural disaster.
3. For all the hullabaloo in the media and the outsized negative reactions in the markets, the economic consequences will be minimal. In the near-term, the economy of Japan will experience a small recession as consumption by displaced populations will be impacted, but not much. Japan is so badly overpopulated that their per capita consumption is minimal. They will continue to eat and be clothed, which is little less than the economic activity they were already generating.
The economies of other nations will be either unaffected or will actually get a boost as shortfalls in Japanese exports must be made up domestically. At the very least, manufacturers forced to shut down due to shortages of imported Japanese parts and supplies will re-think their supply strategies. Maybe putting all your eggs in one basket – relying on sole, preferred suppliers – isn’t such a good strategy after all. Maybe keeping at least one additional supplier – a domestic supplier – is good risk management.
In the medium-term (next five years, give or take), the economy of Japan will likely be boosted by the rebuilding effort, and by programs to harden the country’s defenses against such disasters, more of which are sure to come.
The long range impact will be minimal. If anything, Japan will become even more dependent on manufacturing for export as large swaths of already-scarce land are deemed uninhabitable, whether due to radiation or the abandonment of tsunami-vulnerable areas, effectively raising Japan’s population density and cutting their per capita consumption even further. The economies of other nations like the U.S., whose manufacturing base pays the consequences for Japan’s overpopulation-driven dependency on exports, will be negatively impacted.
And our insane obsession with using population growth to prop up economic growth will continue. Events in Japan have changed nothing.