When too much is too much....well, you recall Herb Stein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors under Presidents Nixon and Ford, author of “Stein’s Law”—“If something cannot go on forever, it will stop.”
So the growth syndrome so beguiling to world leaders will stop. Signs of its termination are everywhere.
Take this “Jobs, Jobs, Jobs” mania now in progress here in the USA for example. From a recent Barron's column by Alan Abelson:
“Joe [Quinlan, chief market strategist of U.S. Trust] graphically describes what's happening: ‘In a world of insufficient demand, excess labor, bulging new labor entrants in the emerging markets and productivity-enhancing techniques that substitute capital for labor, both the developed and developing nations are on the cusp of a jobs crisis that could spawn just as much volatility, uncertainty and damage in the financial markets as the European sovereign- debt crisis’.
“The numbers, he reports, are stark and stunning. A tally by the International Labor Organization shows the world will have to add 80 million jobs over 2012 and 2013 just to get back to where employment was in 2007. The reckoning is that the developed nations need to generate 27.2 million jobs in the next two years to return to normal. But the likelihood is that only 2.5 million will materialize, or a woefully shocking 25 million fewer than necessary.
“As for the developing nations, even though they've been growing somewhat more aggressively than their more developed counterparts, their employment prospects aren't exactly coruscating, either. They'll have something in the neighborhood of 53 million slots to fill in the next couple of years, but the projection is for the addition of 38 million jobs, or 15 million shy of that mark.
“The upshot, Joe notes glumly, is that in the coming 24 months the total shortfall in global job creation will approach a formidable 40 million slots.
“That's quite a heap, he points out, and it's ideal tinder for social and political instability—one might even venture upheaval—in any number of places around this troubled little planet. It certainly, as already alluded to, promises to occupy front and center in the coming election here and, Joe adds, jobs are a political imperative as well in China, the Middle East and across Europe.
“He warns that ‘millions of dissatisfied and idle workers are a combustible political-economic variable that will keep politicians and investors on edge for the foreseeable future. Nothing saps the confidence or the animal spirits of consumers, businesses and investors more than the ugly images of rioters in the streets.’
“Think Greece multiplied geometrically and you'll have a reasonable notion of the potential problem.”
Tinder For Trouble, By Alan Abelson, Barron’s, November 19, 2011
After a 40 plus year career in family planning and immigration reform, it is obvious to me that the population issue underlies all the woes we see. Thus a recent column from an Indian editor and writer, Ranjani Iyer Mohanty, one of numerous similar pieces from around the world, traces her country’s population increase:
“In the 1980s, before India's economic revolution, there used to be ubiquitous billboards showing the ideal Indian family-a father, a mother and two children-in order to encourage family planning. By the 2000s, these ads had been replaced by ones for Nokia, Coke and "India's Got Talent." We seem to have solved our overpopulation issue by using the philosophy "if you have lemons, make lemonade," or, if you have a heck of a lot of people, make them consumers.
“In 1952, when India's population was less than 400 million, the government initiated a family planning program, one of the first of its kind in the world. By the 80s, India's population had grown to 700 million. Today, India is the world's second-most populous country at 1.2 billion. By 2025, it is expected to surpass China and become the most populous country with 1.4 billion, and some predict that figure may reach two billion by the year 2100. To put the growth into perspective, over the past 40 years, the population of the U.K. has increased by seven million while the population of India has increased by 700 million. We proudly call ourselves the world's largest democracy, but that ‘largest’ bit might not be something to strive for…
“The predominant reason for optimism is that we seem to have moved to an era of ‘The market uber alles.’ Where India is concerned, the world and we ourselves have adopted a Panglossian attitude: all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds, as long as we have 8% growth.
“But Indians are not only consumers of mobile phones and credit cards; we are also consumers of food, water and sheer physical space. Food prices are rising. Water tables are dropping. Daily power cuts are common. Land conflicts are frequently featured on the news. The streets are clogged with automobiles, and the Nano isn't even out in full force yet. Competition is intense in all walks of life…
“Obviously, there are no easy solutions. No one wants to go the way of China on this and have a forced one child policy, particularly now that we are starting to see its dangers, such as a skewed sex ratio and a rising dependency ratio. Of course, even if it were desirable, such a policy would be impossible in a democratic India and political suicide for any politician who even mentioned the matter. However, there may be more gentle measures, like raising the issue of overpopulation in the media as a source of concern, discussing the benefits of population control both in high-profile platforms (similar to Davos) and public forums, and informing people about related government and NGO programs.
“Maybe those lovely ads of yore, jazzed up a bit to suit modern fashion, could be brought back. We could also have a population clock put up in city centers, similar to the debt clock in New York City. It may be just as ineffective, but at least we would be constantly reminded of the problem….For now though, there just seems to be a quiet and imperceptible rising of the tide, as we frolic in the waters. Very similar to the naive attitude that the U.S. can spend its way out of a slump, India hopes to procreate its way out of poverty….
“Ironically, the only thing I've seen in India lately that addresses overpopulation or even acknowledges it as an issue is an advertisement. Tongue planted in cheek, actor Abhishek Bachchan attributes India's overpopulation to the numerous power cuts, which leave people with nothing to do but procreate. However, once people have Birla's 3G enabled smartphone, they are too busy being entertained by it to ... do anything else. And therefore, the population drops. What an idea Sir-ji, and perhaps our best one yet”.
India Journal: Overpopulation? I’ll Buy That, October 7, 2011
And Ms. Mohanty doesn’t mention the immigration revolution which is sending unprecedented humans catapulting around the planet in search of jobs, safety, food, etc.
Surely the rise from under 2 billion humans at the beginning of the last century to our present 7 billion now, and the prospect of no stopping at the long-predicted level of 9 or 10 billion by the next century, must be understood in terms of the physical limitation of a finite planet. The sooner that gets grasped by our leaders, the sooner I and my fellow doomsayers can shake off our nightmares of human numbers huddling in growing despair.
I regularly encourage people with whom I discuss the immigration issue to view Roy Beck’s famous gum ball presentation. But most simply shrug and ignore my invitation—just like those vaunted leaders who now put winning reelection over our country’s best interests.
Bottom line: “Things that can’t go on, won’t”. The unnecessary price we and the populations of this planet will pay for this indifference is as yet incalculable. While the era of mindless, unlimited growth of human numbers is not over yet, its effects in due course will be disastrous.
All this—and our very own U.S. immigration disaster too!
Donald A. Collins [email him], a free lance writer living in Washington, DC. , is a long-time board member of the Federation for American Immigration Reform’s (FAIR). However, his views are his own.