Sir David Attenborough just doesn’t get it, sadly

Sir David Attenborough: If we do not control population, the natural world will

This is, of course, true.

But what he doesn’t get is that we already know how population can and should be controlled. Get rich.

It’s a very simple point: as incomes pass through some quite low point (I’ve seen claims that it’s as low as $3,000 per capita) then fertility slumps and lo, we have solved the population problem.

So, if you’re a worrywart about population then you need to be arguing for the best and fastest method of getting incomes in general above that point (whatever it actually is).

No, it’s not availability of contraception (although that obviously helps at the margin, but it is at the margin, only 10% of the fertility fall), the education of women (that is an effect of the rise in income, not a cause), gender equality nor even of economic equality. It’s about the level of income. Thus it is the level of income that should be targeted.

And we also know what is the best method of getting income over that point. Capitalism red in tooth and claw along with free to freeish markets. That Industrial revolution stuff. Neoliberalism if you wish to call it that.

We can worry about all the social democracy stuff later, once the population part is solved. Assuming, of course, that you are one of those who think that population is the main problem to be faced.

Those who do worry about population and don’t support the neoliberal globalisation project are therefore being inconsistent, at the very least. Which happens to be most of those who worry about population in fact.

9 comments on “Sir David Attenborough just doesn’t get it, sadly

  1. The upper classes snivelling about how the plebs are breeding is like a tiresome stuck record.

    We would know if people who profess such views were serious about overpopulation if they were to lead by example. It would also make the rest of us a lot happier.

  2. Who are these “we” who are going to solve the population “problem”?
    And what authority is going to license “us” to operate compulsory abortions, sterilisations and euthanasia and the like?

    Not in my name, thanks.

  3. Maybe the debate about the wealth effect on fecundity is beside the point.

    I can see that economists find money interesting, it’s nice and measurable and easy to plug into a graph.

    But the real turning point is not wealth but the change from subsistence to cash, regardless of wealth.

    In peasant subsistence, children are a relatively cheap investment and you get pay back after about ten years and an insurance policy for your old age.

    A cash economy changes everything because you get labour mobility. Your children may not be around to “be” your pension.

    The immediate reaction to this is to have more children. But after a generation or two the advantages of having ten insurance policies instead of two start looking dubious and the birth rate falls.

    Yes it’s a pretty bleak view of human nature if we love our children for what they can do for us. But the reversal between effort / wealth cascading up the generations, then down the generations, cannot be denied. It has happened, it is happening, and it is correlated with smaller family size.

    For an example of this, compare the Black Death with the Irish famine.You’d expect Irish population to follow roughly the path of Europe’s population recovery after the Black Death. It never did, because, although they were still dirt poor, the Irish were suddenly in a market-cash, not a subsistence economy.

    Sorry about the long post, just getting this bee out of my bonnet.

  4. “Yes it’s a pretty bleak view of human nature if we love our children for what they can do for us.”
    Bleak but accurate. And don’t kid yourselves, parents, you have children for your own selfish purposes. All of you. That’s why you regard them as ‘your’ children. Otherwise, you’d willingly give them to those better positioned (objectively) to raise them..

  5. Think that’s why so many of those in favour of population reduction don’t necessarily practise population reduction themselves. ‘Their’ children not being part of the set that comprises everyone else’s children. It’s purely a strategy to enhance the prospects of their own offspring.

  6. If Man depended on nature for sustenance, the world human population might be one million. We stopped depending on nature millenia ago.

  7. Within 50 years (20 if we try) we will have the first O’Neill Space settlement. Building these is scalable up to at least millions a year. Once a few of those exist there are no real population limits.

    Actually floating islands (seasteding) could do it on a smaller scale right now (if we tried).

  8. The Population Bombers have been wrong in every particular since that incredible fuckwit Paul Ehrlich published his load of nonsense. You’d think that sooner or later they’d have the good grace to shut up but that’s not the way of these people. One has to wonder how much adherence to the scientific method they have – theoretical predictions continually failing to come about is usually a good reason to ditch the theory. Besides, second differential of population is already negative and first differential will probably follow suit around 2050. In 100 years’ time (assuming we haven’t all become machine intelligences or some other unpredictable thing) then we may very well be complaining that there aren’t enough people.

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