Monday, November 23, 2015

The Global Economy Cannot Be Based On Population Growth!

Isaac Asimov makes a crucial point about over population at his Queen's Park Lecture in Barbados, on Feb. 6, 1976. This photo was part of a write-up in The Barbados Advocate newspaper.

There is a good reason why most physical scientists consider the majority of economists to be blockheads and simpletons: they don't use rational or testable models. One of the most irritating aspects of market economics posits that population growth is essential for future economics growth. This simpleton proposition was expressed yet again in today's Wall Street Journal (p. A1, 'Population's Flagging Growth Undermines Global Economy')

The author, Greg Ip, writing:

"Previous generations fretted about the world having too many people. Today's problem is too few. This reflects two long-established trends: lengthening lifespans and declining fertility.

Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both. In either case economic growth suffers"

Which is total, unadulterated balderdash which no serious rational person should buy. It is merely PR and propaganda for a world we simply cannot afford.  See, e.g.


As noted therein, there's an 80 percent probability that world population - now 7.3 billion - will increase to between 9.6 billion and 12.3 billion by 2100.  This portends a basically unlivable world featuring assorted life-destroying forms of blowback (new diseases, mass starvation, antibiotic failure, disasters, wars) .

As Isaac Asimov bluntly put it in a magnificent lecture delivered in Barbados in February, 1976:

"We can either control our numbers, or.....let nature increase the human death rate"

A serious marker is the fact we humans are currently consuming the equivalent resources of 1.5 Earths per year, which is clearly unsustainable. In fact, it is now approaching 1.6 Earths because of the added humans - more than eighty million per year (1 million added every 4.5 days according to Alan Weisman).   The excellent BBC documentary last year on the Earth's population (hosted by Richard Attenborough) entitled: 'How Many People Can Earth Hold?' also provided much needed realistic insights on sustainability and the planet's bio-support capacity.

Attenborough didn't pull punches or mince words, noting that every current major societal, environmental problem:  from clogged highways, to overflowing hospital ERs to crowded schools, as well as scarcity of commodities (reflected in their much increased prices) to fouling of our water and atmosphere and the greenhouse effect, can be laid at the feet of too many people on this planet - each needing food, air, water and energy from the time it's born.  The more people generated the more CO2 produced as a result of their gobbling resources and assorted carbon footprints. While the latter are greatest in the West, because our societies are based on consumption,

By the same token, Greg Ip's idiotic complaint that the global economy will suffer from flagging population growth is based upon the market economy's over reliance on consumption - as opposed to services. It is also flat out wrong in its claims!

For example, Ip claims companies are "running out of workers". Absolutely not so!  There are an estimated 93 million unemployed or under-employed workers in toto in all the industrial (G 20)  nations and that may well be an underestimate. There are an estimated 150m - 250m unemployed workers world wide all with marketable skills. Why aren't their talents being put to use?  The answer is that capitalist market economies demand higher unemployment numbers - called the "employment rent" - a barometer used by the Federal Reserve to stave off inflation. (Alan Greenspan once stated that every 1 million unemployed workers lowers inflation by 1 percent).  Then there is the general tenet that too few unemployed workers  will drive up wage pressure. Also a goodly pool of "surplus workers" is supposed to strike fear into the existing workers not to complain too much about their jobs or one of the next 20 in line will take them. In other words, unemployment is based on FEAR in market economies.

This simply cannot hold and this attitude is unsustainable! This also applies to healthy, older workers - of whom there are tens of millions in the U.S. alone, who want work and are willing to work - not just sit in recliners watching reruns on TV all day! Why aren't these older workers being hired instead of being let go? Because of rampant ageism which the AARP has repeatedly exposed!  (This goes back to a Fortune 500 white paper that appeared in 1996 claiming that keeping workers past age 50 threatened companies with "diminishing returns". What utter bullshit!)

Hence, Ip's claim is palpable bullshit!

He also insists that companies are "running out of customers". In fact, the truth of the matter is too few companies are producing the service-based artifacts and devices that most people really need. Matching that, current wage levels don't generate the salaries needed (even for existing workers) to provide the disposable income to buy most of the durables  on offer without going into serious debt. (Subprime car loans are now among the fastest growing - totaling $30b according to the WSJ) . Hence, existing customers go for the low hanging more affordable toys such as HDTVs and Ipads etc, available on Black Fridays or at major sales.

Elderly people, since Ip complains about "lengthening life spans" -also need more and varied medical and other services. A recent AARP Bulletin report ('Caregiving in America 2015', Nov. p. 6) notes:

"An invisible army of 40 millions heroes sacrifice their days and nights to care for loved ones. It's time the nation recognized their work"

Indeed! So where the hell are the additional service workers to take over those stressful jobs or at least help them to make lives easier. THAT IS WHERE THE JOBS ARE NEEDED AND CUSTOMERS!  The piece notes that a total of "37 billion hours of unpaid caregiving worth $470 billion" is administered. Why can't companies do it and for a decent price?

Thus, Ip's whining that there is a "shift toward demand of services such as health care"  and away from durable goods - like cars and TVs - is understandable. Can't these stupid capitalists grasp that most Americans already have enough 'stuff'? What they need are more services of every variety, especially in the caregiving realm. (Not just for the elderly but also disabled younger citizens and those ravaged by serious cancers and/or cancer treatments.) There is plenty of work to go around and millions of "customers". And there will be no end to either going forward!

Ip admits (p. A14) that the population increase is indeed more than ample - up 32 percent by 2050- but the "working age" population (ages 26-64) "will only have increased 26 percent". Well, then "working age" needs to be redefined! He admits this means "working longer" or encouraging people to do so, but has absolutely no prescriptions, none, for getting companies to escape their ageist mold and hiring them.   It is obviously one thing to say people should work longer, another to ensure they can get the chance and not be discriminated against.

Contrary to Ip's obsession with durables production, we certainly don't need more stuff in our homes to end up in the massive trash piles and landfills for which we are already running out of space.  Already the inventories of unpurchased durables are so great that warehouses may not be cleared out in 2 years even if there's no further production. What we need, therefore, is a total re-orientation of jobs -including fixing our mangled infrastructure - as opposed to generating more crap to sell:  more Ipads, more Barbies, more X-boxes etc.

Besides all this, economic growth imperatives are toxic by their very nature.

As Charles Reich poignantly notes in his book, Opposing the System, Crown Books, p. 103:

"When society itself comes to be modeled on economic and organizational principles, all of the forces that bind people together are torn apart in the struggle for survival. Community is destroyed because we are no longer 'in this together' because everyone is a threat to everyone else. "

In such a capitalist-driven, consumerist organizational economic model, wherein the resource “pie” for the non-wealthy elite grows ever smaller, the young are threats to us oldsters, as we are threats to them, as neighbor is to neighbor. It can't be otherwise. This capitalist model has seen fit, in other words, to destroy our areas of commonality and common cause, replacing neutral civic space with demeaning commercial space and commercialist, market values.

Reich then describes the visceral 'dog-eat-dog', endless economic warfare that ensues between people in the never ending quest to 'make it' and not be left behind. A tragic game wherein every one, every man, woman and child has a 'market value' and all abiding principles, social or moral, are reduced to economics. Alas, the cost resides in devastated marriages, families and communities.

The capitalist driven “rupture” can occur as quickly as when your neighbor builds a large recreational pool, or puts in a hot tub, and you can’t afford one. Or when he makes a great home improvement add-on while you are left to humble by with the status quo.

By comparison, the endemic socialist, communitarian structures of Barbados or Norway (for example) promote a healthy growth of the social commonweal and the belief that what is done for the benefit of one, or a few, redounds to the benefit of all. Hence, the imperatives for government subsidized low cost housing, national health insurance for all, free education through college. The result is no one becomes hyper-rich (by virtue of the progressive, leveling tax scales), but no kid is starving when he goes to bed at night either, as shown on one CBS '60 Minutes' piece several months ago.

In the U.S. capitalist system, it is more rank commercialized competition that prevails - and that engenders a perpetual creative destruction that ravages precious resources.

IN a world in which already we are consuming the equivalent of 1.6 Earths a year, we simply can't afford more consuming inhabitants. The aim must be to continue toward a stable population policy and adapt economics to suit. Endless growth can no longer be part of the conversation or on the table. See e.g.

And here is a more useful template for our economist friends (or economics journalists)  like Greg Ip to go by:

1) The definition of economic assets must be extended to include ecological resources, including virgin forests (what is left!) fresh, potable water, and arable land.

2) The definition of growth must be expanded to include entities/activities that are not resource-intensive. For example, let's look at reading and writing poetry, giving singing classes or physics tutorials.

3) Time must be fully exchangeable for money, thereby allowing workers to have more of it via a reasonable monetary exchange. This is especially geared to the 40 million- odd caretakers in the U.S. who currently receive no remuneration for the 37 billion hours of time they invest caring for loved ones - saving the gov't $470 b a year.

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