September 29, 2006

Get worried, have your choice

A couple of months ago Science gave us reasons to worry about the decline of fertility in developed countries. According to Science, shrinking populations would lead to economic troubles and "greater stresses on social security and health care systems as the proportion of older citizens increases." The news item cites with a straight face a poll conducted by the European Commission that found an apparent gap of about 0.5 children "between how many children parents would ideally like to have if they felt they could manage it and how many they actually do have" - ideally under what conditions? Convinced by this and other feats of reasoning reported in the article, some people enthusiastically support government subsidies to childbearing.

Not everyone is convinced, though. Some people enthusiastically support government restrictions on childbearing. In today's letters to Science, Ben Zuckerman talks about the biosphere being "on the brink of multiple disasters or even catastrophe," including "the worst mass extinction in the entire history of life on Earth," and would welcome "a rapid and massive decline in human numbers." And Richard A. Grossman and Richard E. White soberly mention the "horrendous environmental and health impacts" of Chinese growth and the fact that "human consumption already exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet by 23%." They "view falling [fertility] as a welcome sign that the human population is undergoing detoxification from its addictive [and destructive] growth." They finally advocate "creative economic thought and political effort that focus not on maintaining impossible exponential growth of consumption, but on the steady supply across the globe of the critical goods and services that humans need to lead lives of happiness and dignity."

Get worried!


  1. No creo que la falta de población sea un problema precisamente, al menos para Europa. Bastaría con permitir el flujo de población que intenta llegar a Europa desde África, Sudamérica y Asia. Supongo que tú que te opones a todo tipo de intervención del gobierno, bien en forma de incentivos bien en forma de penalizaciones, estarás consternado por los problemas que está poniendo la Unión Europea al libre ingreso de inmigrantes.

  2. Sí, yo prefiero la libertad de movimientos de la gente. Pero a largo plazo la inmigración no soluciona el problema de las pensiones públicas y la sanidad pública para la gente mayor. La seguridad social es un sistema piramidal que no se soluciona ni con medidas natalistas ni con la inmigración.

    Yo creo que las personas deberíamos ser individualmente responsables de nuestra jubilación y nuestra atención médica. Cada uno debería decidir cuánto ahorrar, cuánto gastarse en seguros, cuándo jubilarse, y cuánto dinero dar para ayudar a otras personas. ;)

  3. I wrote an article on this subject not long ago on Gristmill.

    I agree with Marcelino in that the problem can't be solved by goading citizens into having more babies. I think properly designed and controlled immigration, although not a perfect solution, can go a long way to help mitigate the problem.

    Here in the states, many of us are responsible for our own retirements. We will get social security, but for many of us it will be a small contribution that we could live without. In theory, the money removed from our paychecks all of these years should have been invested and should have grown enough to see us through, but that is the problem with handing money over to government. Still, a society that is top heavy with non productive citizens has a lot of adjustments to make. I suspect the doom and gloom scenarios will not pan out and trying to reproduce our way out of this problem is comical.

    I also agree with Jorganes in that a decreasing population in Europe will not be a bad thing and that maintaining or even increasing present immigration rates will be enough. Regulating immigration is one of the functions of government, and it must be regulated for obvious reasons I won't bother to go into.