Elon Musk’s Take on Falling Birth Rate

December 8, 2021

I really like Elon Musk. He’s an incredible entrepreneur. I love the fact that, already an extremely wealthy man, he was willing to risk building his own car company to compete with the giants in the industry, something everyone said couldn’t be done. I love the fact that he’s dedicated to building the cars he sells in America right here in America, including the development of his own battery technology – batteries that he also builds right here in America. Musk is an extremely smart and ambitious man – an American hero.

So I found his take on falling birth rates – as reported in this USAToday article – very odd and disappointing. For such a smart man, his take is, well, downright dumb. Musk believes that:

  1. There are “not enough people in the world,” and
  2.  “… one of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birth rate and the rapidly declining birthrate,” and
  3. “…  if people don’t have more children, civilization is going to crumble,” and, finally
  4. people shouldn’t “try to live for a super long time.”

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Yes, birth rates have been declining. But they’re still high enough to drive exponential population growth, doubling the population every forty years. Look at this graph of world population growth. My God, that’s not fast enough growth for him?!?

It’s not surprising that CEO’s of major corporations favor never-ending population growth. They see it as a source of never-ending profit growth. After all, more people mean more customers. However, in this case, it seems contradictory for the CEO of a company like Tesla, dedicated to producing “green” products to combat climate change, an existential threat to human life, to actually be advocating for the very thing that’s driving that threat.

We live in a finite world that can only support a finite population. Any child who has ever had an aquarium with guppies understands this. Item no. 4 above seems to indicate that perhaps Musk has some grasp of this too. After all, if everyone lived forever, the birth rate would have to fall to zero. Otherwise, the world would quickly become very badly overpopulated. But advocating for a shorter life span and a higher death rate? Yikes!!

Economists assert that mankind is clever enough to overcome all obstacles to growth and, when they say this, they are talking not just about economic growth, but population growth as well. We know this because they say it in direct response to Malthus’s fears of the consequences of overpopulation. Such a statement has no basis in fact and is nothing but pure hubris. Just because it’s proven true up to this point doesn’t mean it will always hold true. Mankind is, in fact, very clever, but not that clever.

There are endless limitations that make never-ending population growth impossible. Human beings are made up of compounds whose supply on earth is limited. Take water, for example. We’re mostly made of water. As I pointed out in my book, Five Short Blasts, if population growth continued at today’s rate, in 850 years the world’s land masses would be carpeted in human flesh several feet deep. In only 1,100 years, every drop of water on earth would be locked up in the make-up of human flesh. These scenarios are obviously impossible. If theories don’t hold true when tested at their limits, then those theories are invalid. Mankind is not clever enough to overcome all obstacles to growth.

Other obstacles will prove to be insurmountable long before we reach the above scenarios. We may be witnessing some already. Take climate change, for example. Commitments to reduce carbon emissions are broken as fast as they are made because of a dirty little secret: the goals are unattainable, though we continue to pretend they are. All of the renewable energy can’t make a bit of difference without a backup source of power. And what about methane? Landfills emit tons of methane, and we need more landfills all the time. Cattle emit tons of methane, but we need meat. People emit methane, but no one talks about that. Instead, people like Musk insist we need more people.

Then there’s the one that’s the subject of this blog. Growing populations mean more crowding, which drives down per capita consumption and, along with it, employment. Nations, especially the U.S., are getting poorer thanks to social safety net programs meant to deal with the effects of rising unemployment. Maybe we could spend more to fight climate change – like making electric Teslas more affordable – if we weren’t being bankrupted by the costs of overpopulation.

I wish Elon would take a break from his Tesla and Space-X duties and spend some time pondering the subject of population growth a little more carefully. If he did, and came to the conclusion that maybe a lower birth rate and a stabilized population would actually be a good thing, he could have more influence in saving the planet from an existential threat than all of his electric cars ever could.


No U.S. Population Growth for Six Months?!?!

March 21, 2017

As part of my monthly calculation of the size of the actual labor force (for the purpose of analyzing the monthly employment report), I use the U.S. population as determined by the “Population Clock” on the home page of the U.S. Census Bureau.  As I write this, it stands at 324.73 million.  This figure typically grows at the rate of about 180,000 per month.  That’s a scary rate of population growth.  The U.N. estimates that half of all world population growth by 2050 will be caused by the growth of the population in only eight nations – seven third world nations and – you guessed it – the United States, the only developed nation that continues to experience third-world-like population growth.

But I’ve noticed something strange in the last six months, and especially since the beginning of the year.  In December, the population clock actually fell back by almost 600,000.  Since then, the population has been growing at a rate of only about 80,000 per month.  Today, it stands at almost exactly the same level as it did at the end of September.

This is great news, but I suspect that some of the reason for the slowdown is not good news.  You may recall that sometime back around December, the CDC announced that death rates in the U.S. were rising while life expectancy had actually declined slightly.  But there’s some really great news too.  Illegal immigrants are being deported and the entry of new illegal immigrants has slowed dramatically.  Even legal immigration has slowed since Trump took office.

Although it’s still early in this new trend, a couple of observations are in order:

  • Most economists predict economic gloom and doom to accompany a lack of population growth.  Contrary to that, the U.S. economy has experienced its best growth in many years in the past six months.  A brightening economic outlook is one of the outcomes I predicted in Five Short Blasts that would accompany a stabilizing or even declining U.S. population.
  • A rising death rate is another outcome that I predicted in my book for nations whose population densities continue to grow beyond a critical level, driven by rising unemployment and poverty.

This is all something I’ll be watching closely as immigration continues to slow dramatically during the Trump administration.


U.S. Life Expectancy Declines in 2015 as Death Rates Rise

December 13, 2016

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/12/08/has-us-life-expectancy-maxed-out-first-decline-since-1993/95134818/

As reported in the above-linked article last week, the National Center for Health Statistics  (NCHS) reported that the average life expectancy for Americans born in 2015 actually fell by one month – from 78.9 years to 78.8 years.  Here’s a link to the full report:  https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db267.pdf

This was the first decline since 1993 when the average life expectancy fell from 75.8 to 75.5 years – the only other decline since record-keeping of this statistic began in 1980.

One year does not make a trend, so one may question the significance of the decline.  However, there is a trend evident in the data.  Prior to 2o15, the longest stretch of flat life expectancy was three years, from 1984 to 1986, when the average life expectancy held at 74.7 years.  The decline in 2015 brings life expectancy to the same level it was at four years ago in 2012.  And it’s not as though human life expectancy is reaching some sort of limit at that level.  Thirty nations have a higher life expectancy – extending well into the 80’s.

Average life expectancy is a function of the death rate.  The NCHS lists the top ten leading causes of death in the U.S.  Among these top ten causes, the death rate rose for all but one – cancer.  But in spite of the fact that cancer and heart disease are far and away the two leading causes of death, the rise in every category except cancer was enough to more than offset the decline in the death rate due to cancer.  It seems that there may be something at work that crosses all categories of death rate.

It’s very likely that that underlying cause is worsening poverty.  Though poverty is never considered a cause of death, being an outside factor instead of a medical factor, it is far and away the number one killer in the world.  Consider this:  among those nations with a longer life expectancy than the U.S., the average “purchasing power parity” (or “PPP,” a measure of income) is over $41,000, the thirteen nations who rank at the bottom in terms of life expectancy (less than 50 in some cases) have an average PPP of less than $3,000.  It takes money to live a long life.  It takes money to pay for health care, to eat a healthy diet, to maintain vehicles in a safe condition, to hold depression at bay, and so on.

The U.S. ranks right up there (19th) with the top nations in terms of PPP.  However, the median household income peaked in the U.S. in 1999 at $57,909.  By 2012 it had slipped to $52,666.  It should come as no surprise, then, that average life expectancy since that time has been flat or, as in 2015, actually declining.

This is precisely the outcome, the inescapable collision between a growing population density and declining per capita consumption, that I warned of in Five Short Blasts.  Relying on population growth as a crutch for economic growth, the U.S. has continued to grow its actual population and has dramatically exacerbated the effect by exploding its “effective” population by engaging in free trade with badly overpopulated nations.  The manufacturing sector of our economy has been gutted and the supply-demand equation for labor has been thrown out-of-balance, driving down incomes.

The Obama administration can fool itself all it wants with its gimmicked statistics on jobs and unemployment, but they can’t alter the real world consequences of its failed trade and immigration policies.  Poverty is the very mechanism by which nature will eventually correct the problem of human overpopulation.  The 2015 life expectancy data may be the first indication that that process has begun in America.

 


Slowing Population Growth Boosts Per Capita GDP in 2nd Quarter

August 1, 2012

http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/national/gdp/gdpnewsrelease.htm

Things have been a little crazy here lately and I’ve fallen behind once again.  So the news about 2nd quarter GDP, released on Friday (link provided above), is already a little stale.  But there’s a twist in that news that merits comment.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) announced that growth in the nation’s gross domestic product slowed in the 2nd quarter to a very anemic annual rate of 1.5% from a slightly upwardly-revised figure of 2.0% in the first quarter.  So I expected that I’d be writing about a decline in per capita GDP to only 0.5% – very close to a recessionary level.

But that’s not the case.  When I crunched the numbers, per capita GDP actually held steady at an annual rate of about 1.1%.  Upon checking my numbers, I found that growth in the U.S. population, using data taken from the Census Bureau site, has actually slowed dramatically.  Here’s a chart of the percentage change in the U.S. population:   Quarterly U.S. Population Growth Rate

As you can see, although the growth rate in the 2nd quarter typically rises, it actually fell this time, to its lowest level since I started tracking it, with the exception of the correction that took place in the first quarter of last year as a result of the 2010 census.  But this isn’t just a one-quarter blip.  There seems to be an acceleration in the rate of decline in population growth over the past couple of years. 

The result is that there was actually a very slight up-tick in per capita GDP in the 2nd quarter.  In other words, every American is actually slightly richer as a result of fewer-than-expected people sharing the GDP.  Every American got a slightly larger piece of pie in the 2nd quarter because fewer Americans showed up at the table than expected.  Here’s a chart of per capita GDP:  Real Per Capita GDP

What’s going on here?  In my previous post, we learned that the fertility rate has fallen to a 25-year low, approaching the level needed to reach a stable population.  And, if the CDC (center for disease control) ever updates it’s data for death rates and life expectancy, I expect we’ll see that the death rate is actually rising slightly, primarily due to the effects of obesity, but due to the effects of rising poverty as well.  That leaves only immigration to maintain population growth and, so far, it doesn’t seem to be happening.  Has the administration been quietly ratcheting back on immigration too?  I don’t know, but it’s something I’m going to investigate.  More on this later.

In the meantime, the good news here is that slowing population growth is already yielding benefits for every American.


Myanmar (Burma) Cyclone Disaster

May 7, 2008

It’s now estimated that tens of thousands of people have been killed in the cyclone that struck Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) over the weekend – truly tragic.  I’m bringing this up as a tool to illustrate the how rapidly the world’s population is growing.  There are those (I’m not one of them) who believe that natural forces like weather disasters will hold the human population in check.

Not even close.  Assuming that 50,000 people were killed in Myanmar this weekend (the reported 10,000 deaths and assuming that the other 40,000 listed as missing are, in fact, dead), only six hours later – barely the time needed for the storm to pass – the world’s population was already higher than it was before the storm struck. 

Those of us who are concerned about overpopulation are accused by a misguided few of promoting a “culture of death.”  Not true.  Our hearts ache as much for these unfortunate people as anyone else’s.  We don’t want to see a rising death rate.  In fact, that’s exactly what we’re trying to prevent.  Only by returning our numbers to a truly sustainable level can all of the people of the world hope to have a high standard of living and quality of life, one in which they’re prepared for and protected from such disasters. 

Pete


“Culture of Death?”

April 26, 2008

Last night I encountered a blogger who referred to concerns about overpopulation as a “culture of death.” I attempted to post a reply; I just can’t let something like that stand. But the reply wouldn’t go. It seems the site was experiencing some kind of problem. (Maybe the problem was some sort of automated, cyber-close-mindedness?)I thought this would be a good topic for a post of my own. This is a reaction that those of us concerned about overpopulation often get. We’re accused of promoting a “culture of death.” I’m not sure what twisted logic makes them think that’s an appropriate metaphor; perhaps they equate a concern with overpopulation with advocating abortion. Or perhaps they think that we’d just like to see everyone else cease to exist. Neither could be further from the truth. We want a lower birth rate – true – but that can easily be achieved without resorting to abortion. This is why I removed it from the population equation in Five Short Blasts. It’s a non-starter for many people. They won’t even consider your position if it’s included. So why torpedo the discussion with something that’s irrelevant?

If you encounter this “culture of death” accusation from someone who doesn’t believe that we face a problem of overpopulation, politely suggest to them that it is actually they who are promoting a culture of death. Since there are only two factors in determining the size of the world’s population – birth rate and death rate – and since the population must stabilize at some point, then a refusal to consider a lower birth rate is, by default, a choice for a higher death rate. And if they can’t recognize that the population will, in fact, stabilize eventually, then they need some education in some simple matters of physics, like the finiteness of the supply of elements available for the make-up of human flesh. (It’s a ridiculously extreme limitation, but one that no one can deny, not even the most fanatic economist who insists that any resource shortage can be overcome.)

By and large, the people who spout this “culture of death” stuff are self-righteous religious fanatics who let their pro-life zeal pervert a reasonable stance against abortion into an illogical advocacy for never-ending population growth. Don’t be intimidated by their passionate attacks. Take them on. The truth is on your side.

Pete