Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The End of the Population Boom

The end of the population boom, and its effects, is a historical theme that will begin to take shape this century. The United Nations predicts world population will peak at just above 10 billion, around 2100, up from the current 6.8 billion.

This will represent a sea change in human history, and yet it is not much discussed. We humans have almost continuously expanded in numbers since the beginning of recorded history. Our social and economic structures are based around the idea of growth.

Capitalism is most successful when it is expanding into new markets, and accessing new sources of (usually cheaper) labor, to exploit for profit. What happens to world capitalism when markets become non-expansive and new sources of labor shrink ?

Environmental degradation has partly occurred because of an expanding human population. Will these effects diminish as the population plateaus ?

Countries that can successfully integrate immigrants seem poised to be the most successful in a time of population plateau, or decline. Germany, Japan, and Russia are among the major powers with extremely low fertility rates (around 1.3), that have a weak record in regards to integrating immigrant communities. How will retirees be supported when their proportion swells in relation to the number of workers ? There will have to be seismic shifts in cultural attitudes towards immigration, if aging developed countries want to maintain prosperity.

Three Charts

1-Fertility rates of some major countries

2-of selected regions

3- of countries stereotypically thought as having high fertility rates
(they are declining dramatically, as well)