Everlasting Growth

Today I read an article in the newspaper revealing that American births declined last year. With a birth rate of 13.5 per 1,000 (the lowest in the last century; in fact, in 1909 it was 30 per 1,000), the article expressed concern lest we slip into "choked growth" similar to that suffered by Japan.

The economy is disappointing all the economists - growth is too low, < 2% per year.  Seems the US consumer is actually trying to conserve cash, since jobs are iffy.  Credit is tight for consumers and businesses - the bad debts of the past year have resulted in the purse strings at lending institutions being drawn shut. So we can't get enough money moving to "unstick" the engines of growth. And growth we've gotta have.


I'm perplexed, unhappy, and worried.  Anyone with a lick of sense can tell you where unbridled growth in the human population is going to take us.  At some point, we're standing shoulder-to-shoulder and sleeping while standing, as there's not enough room on the planet to lie down. (Now, I know we won't reach that point! Countervailing currents will take action before then, but that IS a mathematical certainty of unbridled growth in population.)

Some of the sense that we MUST increase population comes from the realization we haven't funded Social Security adequately to handle us Baby-Boomers. (Well, we tried... but Congress kept robbing the Trust Fund. That's another rant, for later.)

When I was in school, there was an organization called Zero Population Growth that advocated restricting births to the replacement level (assumed to be 2.1 children per woman). I see from a Google search that it still exists, as "Population Connection", today. That philosophy rang truly in my thoughts then and does now. We simply can't support (adequately, at least) an ever-expanding human population.  Population Connection says that the world has increased from 3.5 billion humans when the group started in 1968 to 6.9 billion now.  We're headed towards 11 billion by 2050.

The people in the Third World want to move up. That's understandable. I've read that just in China, economic expansion has forced them to bring a new power plant on-line every week. For those of you fond of the global warming panic - think of what "more humans" means to the planet.

It seems to me that the next thing economists ought to be doing is researching how we can operate a First World country in a no-growth mode. I've read horror stories about stagnation, deflation, and such - they seem to be bigger bogeymen than inflation, which to us Boomers is a big concern.  But do we HAVE to keep growing our business to be happy, well-fed, and supplied with enough personal electronics? Wall Street rewards companies that grow, but isn't there a case for companies that simply make the same healthy income every year?  It appears the answer to that is "NO" in the world as we know it.

I suggest we'd better find out how to make that answer "YES."