Thursday, July 12, 2007

Zero Population Growth - The Scarcity Crowd

I read an excellent paper with lots of data and charts showing the effect of the tremendous population growth of the past century titled Too Many People? (pdf). It's an interesting look at how the scarcity crowd (e.g Al Gore and Earth in the Balance, Paul Ehrlich and Population Bomb, Club of Rome, etc.) are way off base in their constant predictions of gloom and doom.

Some interesting information from the report:
  • world population went from 1.6 billion to 6 billion during the 20th century
  • population growth hasn't really come from increased births, but from massive reduction in death rates, especially infant mortality
  • birth rates have dropped throughout the world (even third world countries have seen birth rates drop in half) during the last century
  • GDP has risen throughout the world despite more people (or maybe because of more people)
  • prices for food have dropped inversely with population growth (by 70% for basic grains) - exact opposite trend that Ehrlich and scarcity mongers predict (supply is up and hunger down as well)
  • prices for scarce commodities has dropped 80% with population growth. If we are consuming so much more of these "scarce" resources, why is this? Price indicators are showing that these resources are becoming less scarce as we consume more.
  • Population density is no predictor of standard of living

Here's the conclusion of the report:

"The tremendous and continuing spread of health and prosperity around the planet betokens a powerful and historically new dynamic that anti-natalists today only dimly apprehend. This is the shift on a global scale from the reliance on “natural resources” to the reliance on “human resources” as fuel for economic growth. The worldwide surge in health levels has not been an isolated phenomenon. To the contrary: it has been accompanied by, and is inextricably linked to, pervasive
and dramatic (albeit highly uneven) increases in nutrition levels, literacy levels, and levels of general educational attainment (figure 13, tables 3 and 4).

These interlocked trends speak to a profound and continuing worldwide augmentation of what some have called “human capital” and others term “human resources” – the human potential to generate a prosperity based upon knowledge, skills, organisation and other innately human capabilities.

In a physical sense, the natural resources of the planet are clearly finite and therefore limited. But the planet is now experiencing a monumental expansion of a different type of resource: human resources. Unlike natural resources, human resources are in practice always renewable and in theory entirely inexhaustible – indeed, it is not at all self-evident that there are any “natural” limits to the build-up of such potentially productive human-based capabilities.

It is in ignoring these very human resources that so many contemporary surveyors of the global prospect have so signally misjudged the demographic and environmental constraints upon development today – and equally misjudged the possibilities for tomorrow."

This is a theme I have written about often. Paul Zane Pilzer wrote about it in Unlimited Wealth 20 years ago. The pie is growing all the time, the sky is not falling and the Gore's and Ehrlich's of the world are preaching their religious Apocalypse into face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. For what purpose? Their Stalinist views that only government can save us from ourselves.

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