T-plus 7 Billion and Counting

World Population Growth – The Economist

On October 31 2011,the 7 billionth person will arrive on the earth, according to the UN.

Up until now, the world’s population has grown exponentially: It took over 127 years to reach 2 billion (1927); another 50 years to double to 4 billion (1977); and slightly under 22 years to reach 6 billion (Adnan Nevic, born October 12 1999 is the UN’s 6 billionth living person). It took just slightly over 12 years for the population to go from 6 billion to 7 billion.  If population growth stabilizes at 1 billion for every 1 dozen years, we expect reaching 11 billion people by 2060.  This predicts a dire future: There is no parallel growth in the necessary resources (especially water and space) to sustain a continually growing world population.

But don’t plan your move to the moon just yet!  A more in-depth analysis predicts a different outcome.  Population growth is heavily dependent upon birth rate.  The trend in birth rate data predicts the world’s population might stabilize at 9 billion in 2050.   From 1810 – 1930, the growth in the world birth rate was insignificant from year-to-year, showing very small increases.  From 1940 – 1980, however, the birth rate nearly tripled – and combined with advances in our ability to increase the average life span, the world population exploded.

But since the 1980s, the birth rate has dropped slowly.  This is most evident in the average number of children born to one woman.  In 1950 the average woman of the world had 8 children (think back to the size of your parent’s or grandparent’s family).  By 1980 it dropped to 4 children per woman.  Currently the world’s ratio is 3 children/woman.  Already 80% of the world’s population lives in countries where the birth rate is less than 3 children/woman.  If this trend continues, the ratio would reach 2.1 sometime before 2050.  This is no random number – but the exact ratio that supports the smallest growth in population.  Projecting ahead, the exponential growth in population will slow down, getting us to 10 billion by 2085, according to the UN.

Ten billion is still an astronomical number (the moon is only 240,000 miles from the earth, for comparison), and supporting that population will not be easy.  Not only do we have to worry about distributing basic resources – food, water, space – but we will need to take into consideration how population growth impacts our ability to secure or produce them.  The good news – in my opinion – is that we have 75 years to curb our growth and continue to develop new technologies that will help with resource allocation.  And, just learn how to live with close neighbors.

Occupy us to where?

The #Occupy Wall Street movement has gained quite a bit of momentum, press, and popularity.  But it really is not new:  Remember the WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 (I lived there, and one night was literally locked in a restaurant with a friend, because the manager decided it was better to give the 10 people who just happened to be eating that night free food & drink, than open the doors and invite possible destruction)?  And just like then, it is really difficult to understand just where the movement will take us in terms of politics and federal economic policy.

The litany from the #OWS and its supporters describe a bleak world: 18% of those 18 – 25 in the US are unemployed, and the numbers in Europe are worse (Spain = 46%); According to the Economist, young workers face higher taxes, longer working time until retirement, and lower benefits compared to their parents.  The middle-aged, who in theory should be protected against turbulence in the market place due to work-place seniority and the advantage of having established savings, are watching their investments continually lose value.

Time to be realistic:  Our entire economic system is based upon free market capitalism, and we cannot undo what has taken 225 years to build without chaos worse than what #OWS has brought to our attention.  But if we are going to maintain and protect our free market system, then we must also maintain and protect those that power it.  If we protect a company’s right to off-source work to increase profits, then we also need the social services that can help those ungraciously dumped workers back home.  I find the politicians and pundits that vilify #OWS and simultaneously want to underfund unemployment benefits hypocritical – and unfathomable.

We have lots of proof that government interference distorts costs and quality in industry.  Remember air-travel before deregulation?  And the policies affecting housing and property markets circa 2005-2008 were not exactly laissez-faire (remember that from high school?).  It is hard to argue against the fact that allowing free markets to compete against one another, in the absence of aggressive governmental oversight, has resulted in success for the United States:  No one can claim we aren’t a military, economic, medical, or technological superpower of the world.

But to go as extreme as to say that our current model is perfect is just as narrow-sighted.  According to the US census, 50% of US households make less than $50,000.  And although it is tough to say what value cuts off that elusive 1% from the rest of us (if we used wealth, that would mean owning assets and income over $9 million, whereas if we used income alone it would mean making more than $750,000/year), we definitely need a system that eliminates tax loopholes for the super-wealthy, and requires companies to fund our social safety-nets.

For me, #OWS has crystallized three things: 1) Fairer tax policies, and a requirement that companies respect the social contract that provides them free market-policies; 2) More incentives & mechanisms for individual Americans to create savings (The US  cannot seem to figure out how to do this: In Sept 2011 Americans increased purchases of durable goods while savings and income remained flat), and 3) While our current entitlements & social well-fare programs (medicaid, social security, unemployment) are not perfect, they are still necessary. And in my opinion, what an ethical and just country should be proud to offer.

If I were to blog …

I’d say this.

Or something very much like it.  See, I’ve just taken the plunge, and am now Web 2.0 or something like that.  I have a blog.  So 2003 of me.  The thing is, if one (or me) were to blog, you really have to have something say.  Not just the ability to pound out words on the keyboard.  But I mean something meaningful.  Opinion, idea, witty social observation.  So, when I think I have something meaningful, you’ll find it here.  For all to see.

No promises to do this every day, or every other day.  Or even often, really.  But knowing how much I sit around thinking, debating with my friends (some may say argue), and hunting out the really interesting tid-bits of what is going on around us, I hope that I’ll be here often.

And hopefully, so will you.