“De-Development” Underway in Flint, MI

April 23, 2009


In Chapter 12 of Five Short Blasts, I offered two opposing visions of the year 2050 in America – one a grim future  in which our population has exploded to 455 million people, and the second its polar opposite, in which our population has been slowly and carefully managed downward to 260 million. 

I’ll admit that I considered omitting this chapter from the book out of concern that such visions could seem a bit “kooky” to the majority of people, hurting the credibility of what was otherwise a serious treatise on the topic of overpopulation.  But I felt it was important to give people a sense of how things could be, as opposed to what they’re likely to become if nothing is done. 

As a nation, I can already see certain elements of the first vision unfolding as we continue to grow our population by three million people per year.  Frankly, I never expected to see any elements of the second vision come to pass.  So it was with great surprise that I came across this above-linked article this morning, detailing efforts underway in the city of Flint to begin razing entire sections of the city and returning it to forest.

Dozens of proposals have been floated over the years to slow this city’s endless decline. Now another idea is gaining support: speed it up.

Instead of waiting for houses to become abandoned and then pulling them down, local leaders are talking about demolishing entire blocks and even whole neighborhoods.

The population would be condensed into a few viable areas. So would stores and services. A city built to manufacture cars would be returned in large measure to the forest primeval.

Part of the 2nd vision in Chapter 12 was a federal agency to manage the orderly “de-development” as our population slowly declined.

In searching for a way out, Flint is becoming a model for a different era.


Planned shrinkage became a workable concept in Michigan a few years ago, when the state changed its laws regarding properties foreclosed for delinquent taxes. Before, these buildings and land tended to become mired in legal limbo, contributing to blight. Now they quickly become the domain of county land banks, giving communities a powerful tool for change.

Indianapolis and Little Rock, Ark., have recently set up land banks, and other cities are in the process of doing so. “Shrinkage is moving from an idea to a fact,” said Karina Pallagst, director of the Shrinking Cities in a Global Perspective Program at the University of California, Berkeley. “There’s finally the insight that some cities just don’t have a choice.”

Of course, all of this is taking place in reaction to economic realities, as opposed to being part of a plan for an orderly down-sizing of our population in order to improve our standard of living and quality of life.    But, once completed, the net effect will be the same.  It won’t be pretty to watch it unfold but, relieved of excess labor capacity, Michiganders who remain will be better off.

USAToday Perpetuates Population Myths

May 1, 2008


This article, which appeared in USAToday this morning, is a perfect example of the kind of shallow journalism that prevents any in-depth analysis of the root causes of our problems.  In this case, “journalists” Haya El Nasser and Paul Overburg take simple statistics from the Census Bureau and transform it into the kind of pap that’s designed to please their corporate benefactors, interested in nothing more than promoting never-ending population growth as a means of propping up sales volume and profits while driving down labor costs by further distorting the supply and demand equation for labor. 

The connection between the authors of the article and corporations is clear.  The authors didn’t take the census bureau data and come up with the “labor shortage” connection on their own.  It’s clear from the article that they were fed this baloney by the Brookings Institution, one of those “think tanks” that thinks exactly what it’s paid to think by their corporate benefactors.  It’s appalling to me these propaganda machines (and that’s all any of these “think tanks” are) are held in such high esteem by “journalists.”  But why not?  They make the jobs of lazy journalists easy by simply feeding them articles cloaked in a mantle of veracity and authoritativeness that they scarcely deserve. 

Here’s a sampling of their distortions:

“The number of Americans ages 25 to 44 has dropped 1.5% since 2000, shrinking the pool of young workers in some states despite a 7% increase in the country’s overall population, according to a USA TODAY analysis of Census data to be released today.

The influx of immigrants, which has contributed to more than half of the nation’s growth this decade, has not been enough to offset the aging of the nation’s 79 million baby boomers, which has depleted the ranks of young workers.”

How did immigration and the implication that we need more creep into this article?  It’s because the Brookings Institution is paid to promote high rates of immigration in order maintain our labor force in a state of over-supply.

“The drain on the workforce is most obvious in the Northeast and Midwest, where most of the 20 states that registered declines of 5% or more in the 25-44 age group are located.

‘Older industrial states are facing a double whammy: the loss of the younger, high-fertility workers and a diminished attraction of immigrants,’ says William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution.”

“High-fertility?”  Yet another plug for never-ending population growth by the corporate sponsors of the Brookings Institution.  And to suggest that this represents some kind of “drain of the workforce” suggests that employers are being left high and dry, unable to fill jobs.  That’s an outright lie.  Young people are leaving these states because there is no work.  Take my home state of Michigan, for example.  The article reports that the 25-44 population fell by 9.1%, among the highest in the nation.  It’s because unemployment in Michigan is also the highest in the nation at nearly 7.5%.

“That’s the case in Massachusetts, which experienced nearly a 10% drop among 25- to 44-year-olds.

‘We do suffer from outmigration, and outmigration is primarily among younger people,’ says Dana Ansel, the research director at MassINC, a non-partisan think tank in Boston. ‘Losing people in their prime working years is not positive.’”

Why, if there is no work for them? (Note the inclusion of another “think tank” quote.)

“The oldest baby boomers turn 62 this year and the youngest turn 44. The nation’s median age as of July 1 was 36.6, up from 35.3 in 2000.

The gaps in the workforce have been exacerbated by more early retirements, prompting a push to retain older workers. Several states have launched campaigns to lure retirees back to work by offering flexible schedules and work sites.”

Yet another lie.  These workers haven’t chosen to take early retirement.  They’ve been forced into early retirement by down-sizing programs and they’ve left these states to find work.  It’s not that the states who have lost these people need them back to work.  They need them back to prop up their sagging revenue base. 

“The big gains in the 25-44 age group occurred in fast-growing states in the South and Mountain West, where families and young singles can find jobs and affordable housing.”

Finally, a smidgeon of truth.

“‘We’ve got a smaller pool of young workers who will be counted on to support a growing pool of older non-workers,’ says Alan Berube, research director at Brookings and former policy adviser to the Treasury Department.”

I could have predicted that Brookings would be sure to make that point – that we need to sustain high rates of population growth to support the older workers.  Stoke fear among the elderly.  It’s a very effective way of garnering support for illogical positions.  Yes, a shift toward a stable or even declining population will yield some transient issues with funding social programs for the elderly, but since population stability has to be reached at some point, one way or another, further population growth only forestalls the day of reckoning when the problem will have escalated exponentially. 

“Think” tanks.  When did the word “think” become synonymous with “septic?”