Brain Damage from Economics
We need a vaccine to immunize policymakers around the world from economics-induced brain damage. Policymakers nearly the world over have a fundamental disconnect with reality. Nowhere are they moving fast enough to keep climate disruption to a survivable level, thanks to their addiction to GDP growth. Action on other existential crises we face is just as absent – fertile soil depletion, aquifer and river depletion, toxification of air, food and water, and species extinction.
Every one of these threatens our very existence, but obsession with economic growth prevents public policy from pointing us in the right direction – that of reducing the scale of the human enterprise.
There are only two ways to do that – shrink our economy and/or shrink our population. Now that fertility rates in many nations are dropping and populations are on the verge of contracting, elected leaders are doing exactly the opposite of what is needed. They are implementing policy prescriptions to prevent population contraction – because fewer workers and consumers mean a smaller economy.
This is completely insane. An economy needs only be large enough to meet the needs of the population it serves. A smaller economy is a good match for a smaller population. But we are so hooked on growth that policymakers are not accepting the gift of population contraction. Recent headlines raise my anxiety over this:
“Spain reported a higher number of deaths than births for the first time last year Spain has appointed a ‘sex tsar’ to encourage the declining population to ramp up procreation in a bid to reverse a dip in the birth rate.”
“Sweden isn’t just good at helping parents care for their babies, as demonstrated by its generous parental-leave policies. A local Swedish official also wants to help people create those babies.”
“Across the European continent, countries are failing to produce enough children to keep their population size constant over time. But France is the exception…. France’s fertility rate was the closest to the magical number 2.1— the average number of live births per woman needed in a modern society to replace the population.”
A constant population size will be a smart goal when we have a sustainable balance of global population and economy (levels that won’t kill the planet). And it will be a smart goal for a country that has the resources within its borders to meet all the needs of its population. That is not the situation today in the (over)developed, industrialized nations of the world.
The attractive photo above accompanied this recent news story:
The politician touts the emotional, mental and relationship benefits of more sex. But Per-Erik Muskos is not quoted as recommending the practice of “safe sex.” Some news reports point out “the need” for his town of Övertorneå to reverse the gradual population decline it’s been experiencing.
While all the crises I described above make it perfectly clear that Earth’s life-supporting ecosystems are buckling under the weight of the human enterprise, most journalists are unaware, refuse to acknowledge, or are not allowed to report the truth. The language in all these stories reveals seriously flawed assumptions about the ability of the Earth to meet the needs of the 7.4 billion people currently calling the planet home. From this story:
“The average fertility rate across the EU was a dismal 1.58 in 2015 (a slight increase from 1.46 in 2001). Poland, Cyprus, and Portugal languished at the bottom of the list with a fertility rate of 1.32, 1.32, and 1.31, respectively. From 2001 to 2015, Cyprus, Macedonia, and, Luxembourg saw their fertility rates shrink the most. Richard Jackson, president of non-profit think tank the Global Aging Institute, says a fertility rate between 1.8 and 2.0, along with a bit of net migration is the “sweet spot” (i.e. no runaway population growth and no population in decline).”
There is nothing “sweet” about maintaining a population level that requires poverty and starvation for some, liquidates the Earth’s resources, pushes other species off the planet, and impairs ecosystems’ ability to meet our future needs. On a full planet, each nation needs a population whose needs can be met within its borders. Many nations just need to let it happen; others need to provide encouragement. Let’s get to the sweet spot, and THEN work on stabilizing population.
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