Hi Buffy, it has been quite a while since we talked.
Hi Dick! Nice to see you!
When I saw your post on population. It raised an issue which has bothered me for over fifty years. Human beings are supposed to be intelligent (an issue I often find unsupportable). If they were intelligent, increasing population should have been seen as something worth worrying about but I never found anyone who would take the issue seriously.
As you know, I'm a flaming liberal capitalist, and I have always had quite a bit of faith in self-correction mechanisms in complex systems.
Mother Nature of course is a harsh mistress as the folks on Easter Island found though, so as a result, I have a strong opinions that government is a mechanism that more sophisticated ("intelligent" if you will) societies use to prevent Easter Island-like outcomes over time.
Now of course Malthus was the first recognized to be raising an alarm about the consequences of population growth, and thus I agree that "intelligent" societies should care, but I see a few sociological issues that have prevented it until recently:
- Throughout human history, having more kids has been a survival mechanism, although evolution meant that our increasingly large brains along with the survival success of complex social structure actually favored "small litters" because intelligent, social animals require longer maturation and socialization in "growing up." Thus far past the time where we became civilized, our religious institutions/governments admonished us to "go forth and multiply."
- Similarly, even as we became civilized, we were tribal, and high birth rates meant success for states as well as families.
- And as we grew into complex societies, having more kids literally provided "social security" for the elderly, until we actually started recognizing the social benefit of not letting old people die in the streets. It's literally cheaper to take care of those who cannot help themselves.
But it only takes a few minutes of perusing demographic data to see that one of the most consistent, and seemingly natural, trends that correlate to sophistication in societies is that they all start to drop their birth rates really fast. China may have had a one-child policy, but India and much of Africa have been seeing dramatic drops in birth rates as they have "civilized," and you can see that in the magenta line in the graph in my earlier post above.
So, I'm actually sure that we're finding an equilibrium on population, but of course it's "natural" and not, as you bring up, necessarily "optimal:"
I wanted to discuss the issue of an optimum population but everyone I ever talked to insisted there was no such thing. In my mind it seemed that increasing population always eventually led to suffering as taxing the environment would stop such increases via major suffering (starvation and death). If humans are to act intelligently, they should certainly make every attempt to avoid damaging the environment. Since we are certainly not "all knowing" we should make all attempts to avoid over population. Also, it would be rational to make every attempt to increase our knowledge about the consequences of our acts.
Now I'd argue that your description here is very Malthusian, and that the topping off of birth rates that we're seeing is coming well short of dystopian end-times that Malthus pointed to as inevitable. That viewpoint does hinge on the idea that without some "intelligent" intervention, that we will multiply to the point that there will not be enough food, water, jobs, space, etc. and that only then will we be forced to stop, or that we'll just keep acting like bunnies and let the weak die of starvation, illness, or neglect.
I think there are countervailing sociological imperatives that have balanced out our natural evolutionary and early-social pressures to multiply to the point where we actually completely run out of resources, and what I'm listing here is just an off-the-top-of-my-head top concepts of something that's got oodles of research behind it:
- As individuals and families become more comfortable due to satisfaction of needs by decent jobs, there is much less dependence on offspring to ensure future income/survival.
- Even for the less fortunate, a society based on jobs provided by others means that mouths to feed at home on a limited salary is an unsustainable drain on income.
- As the cost of children goes up, child care, schooling, piano lessons, camp, college, you really don't want more either.
- As the society itself sees that the cost of deleterious outcomes from the bottom half of society result in "treating the symptoms" through police, prisons and high cost emergency healthcare, are best dealt with via providing "free" social programs, the demand for more children also declines.
Again, this is what drives a natural equilibrium, but the question then becomes is this natural equilibrium very far off from what an "optimal" level would be? And on that last bullet point, are we as a society defining that optimal point not directly but rather indirectly through social programs that modify behavior but in fact do not bother to define a literal "optimal population goal?"
And switching to a pure macro-economic argument, economies grow through a steady, controlled growth of the demand and supply of labor, and the result of that growth actually produces technologies that increase what you might call the "comfortable carrying capacity" of a society. So even if you thought an "optimal population number" might be a good idea, there's a strong argument that it changes over time, and is a function of the "quality of life" that can be supported by the current technology.
To get all sci-fi, once we have the tech to build a Dyson Sphere, what is our "optimal population?"
So, I think when you say:
I thought about those issues and I came to the conclusion that the best situation occurs with the minimum population which maintains scientific investigation in all scientific fields.
I'd say we're aiming at the same thing, just with a different view of how to look at the problem.
And I'd argue that your plan:
In my mind that would require a minimum of five people in the most limited study: two new individuals (uneducated in the field) one young new investigator, one mature investigator to steer the investigation and one elderly individual to maintain the issues of importance.
Society would require a sufficient number to support the needs of every required science field and many fields could require hundreds of high level investigators. Finally, training would require a number of people with interest in each and every job. Lots and lots of thought can be put into those numbers and coming up with an optimum number humans becomes a rather difficult problem.
...is actually correct, but that our society is doing it on its own through market/societal forces!
In fact, it's a great example of a neural network finding an optimal solution without explicit programming of its rules!
So, what I'd suggest is that the lack of interest you've encountered...
I have tried to get people interested in discussing the issue but have pretty well failed completely. On my own, I have come up with a number of arguments as to the rough range of that optimum number. I am of the opinion that the optimum human population of the earth should be between fifty and maybe two hundred million.
Might be due to the fact that a top-down approach both seems ponderous and insoluble, along with a healthy skepticism that top-down tends to do a bad job of dealing with the details, along with a suspicion that "50-250 million" sounds an awful lot like an argument for, well, let's just say "Social Darwinism" on a sinister scale. That pretty close to 7 billion you'd need to, uh, "adjust."
I'd argue that the productive pursuits here focus on how we can change the rules and practices of government and society to ensure an "optimal quality of life" for everyone, which is what we "capitalistic liberals" say is the "optimal cost structure for society."
There's lots to talk about there!
The one real remedy is birth control — that is getting the people of the world to limit themselves to those numbers which they can keep upon their own soil,