7 Billion People

http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/10/25/us-population-baby-idUSTRE79O4DZ20111025

Within a matter of days, we will mark a very sad milestone.  It is estimated by the UN that October 31st will be the day that the world population will breach 7 billion people.  

The world’s population continues to grow by approximately 1.1% per year, currently adding 77 million people per year, more than the entire population of the Northeastern United States.

It took the vast majority of human history to reach 1 billion people sometime in the early 1800s.  It took only a hundred years for the population to then double to 2 billion.  In 1960 we reached 3 billion people.  Fifteen years later, in 1975, we hit 4 billion.  Twelve years later, in 1987, we hit 5 billion.  Only 11 years later, we hit 6 billion.  Eleven years later again, sometime in the next few days, we will have added yet another billion to reach 7 billion people. 

And the pace of growth isn’t slowing much, at least not yet.  The UN projects that the world population will grow to 8 billion by 2025.  But then it does begin to slow, taking until 2042 to reach 9 billion.  It will then take over 40 years to add the next billion, reaching 10 billion by 2085.  Its projections are based on assumptions about development and declining birth rates.  (Although, as of the time of this writing, the UN has not yet published the assumptions that formed the basis for its projections.)  I can assure you, though, that the role of excessive population density in driving unemployment and poverty isn’t factored into their thinking.

Consider this:  as the world grows ever more overpopulated, per capita consumption is in a state of decline.  If per capita consumption held steady, then each person added to the population would find work at about the same rate as everyone up to that point.  A one percent rise in population would result in a one percent increase in jobs and unemployment would remain a constant. 

While that’s what economists believe, that’s not what’s happening.  Each one percent gain in population is actually driving down per capita consumption and driving up unemployment.  To make matters worse, productivity continues to rise at an even faster pace than our population growth rate.  What all of this means is that every person added to our population is headed straight to the unemployment line.  If we add another billion people by 2025 (about half of whom would be considered part of the labor force), as the UN projects, then the ranks of the unemployed, globally, will grow by 500 million.  And the U.S. isn’t immune.  As we add 3 million people to our population every year, or about 1.5 million new laborers, every one of them is doomed to the unemployment line. 

None of this is factored into the UN projections.  For that reason, I’d be willing to bet the farm that the world population will never exceed 10 billion.  In fact, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll hit 9 billion.  And I’d give you even odds that we’ll never even reach 8 billion.  Does that sound like wild-eyed optimism from a staunch advocate of stabilizing our population?  Hardly.  Grim pessimism is a better description because the conditions that will drive such a sudden halt to population growth is exactly what I’ve hoped we could avoid if only economists would pull their heads from the sand and begin advocating an orderly process of stabilization and contraction.  Just imagine the conditions that we are about to witness as the U.S. adds 1.5 million people and as the world adds nearly 40 million people to the unemployment line every year.  Societies are going to unravel quickly.  Nature is very unforgiving of species that don’t adapt to a changing environment.  And when that species’ ability to adapt depends on its intellect, as in the case of humanity, nature will be brutally unforgiving of self-inflicted ignorance perpetrated by its leaders. 

Look at this slideshow:  http://www.reuters.com/news/pictures/slideshow?articleId=USRTR2T6A3#a=1.  As you do, I want you to ask yourself, “what is the per capita consumption of the people I see in this picture?”  How much do they consume compared to how much they could produce if put to work in a modern factory?  If all consume so little but are capable of producing so much, how can all of them – or even a significant fraction of them – find gainful employment? 

Our economists and leaders need to wake up very quickly and stop pretending that mankind can overcome any obstacle to growth and grow ourselves into further prosperity.  Economies built on economists’ lies can’t endure and nature couldn’t care less what we believe.  This world is going to become a very ugly place very quickly, far more quickly than even I imagined when I published Five Short Blasts four years ago.

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2 Responses to 7 Billion People

  1. ClydeB says:

    At your most optomistic, we stand to have between 750 Million and a billion unemployed in a few short years if my calculations are reasonably accurate, and that assumes NO additional productivity increases. In order for even most to have a job, we need to return to the 1930’s level of mechanization and hand labor.
    What, other than wishful thinking, does the UN base the projection of a declining birth rate?

    • Pete Murphy says:

      Good question, Clyde. We’ll have to wait until the UN publishes its assumptions. (That alone makes you wonder: are their numbers based on assumptions, or are they only now crafting assumptions that justify the numbers?) I presume that they’re assuming that high birth rates now prevalent in undeveloped and developing countries will trend lower as those countries develop, following the pattern of developed countries. What I think they’re missing is that death rates will trend higher, not lower, as rising unemployment takes its toll with worsening poverty.

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