“Population Stabilization” Hmm… Be careful what you ask for!

I bet some of you are familiar with the organization that calls itself “Californians for Population Stabilization”. Hmm… interesting title! While, clearly, the title says it all, here’s its stated mission:

Californians for Population Stabilization (CAPS) works to formulate and advance policies and programs designed to stabilize the population of California, the U.S. and the world at levels which will preserve the environment and a good quality of life for all.

Wow! These “experts” would profess to have quantified what the optimum population level would be to “preserve the environment”. There’s a fascinating irony here; I strongly suspect that a great number of those who would celebrate the organization’s efforts would subscribe to the notion that climate change is a hoax, or, at a maximum, it’s a cyclical phenomenon that has virtually nothing to do with man’s presence here on earth (me? I dunno)…

Since offering up an essay on the fact that we’ve been-there-done-that with Thomas Malthus’s flawed theories would occupy more time than I’m willing to devote this evening, I’ll share Matt Ridley’s offering on the topic instead:

As more and more people move into cities and they grow larger and larger, some scientists have begun to notice that cities themselves evolve in predictable ways. There is a spontaneous order in the way they grow and change. The most striking of these regularities is the ‘scaling’ that cities show – how their features change with size. For example, the number of petrol stations increases at a consistently slower rate than the population of the city. There are economies of scale, and this pattern is the same in every part of the world. The same is true of electrical networks. So it does not matter what the policy of the country, or the mayor, is. Cities will converge on the same patterns of growth wherever they are. In this they are very like bodies. A mouse burns more energy, per unit of body weight, than an elephant; a small city burns proportionately more motor fuel than a large one. Like bodies, cities get more efficient in their energy consumption the larger they grow. There is also a consistent 15 per cent saving on infrastructure cost per head for every doubling of a city’s population size. 

The opposite is true of economic growth and innovation – the bigger the city, the faster these increase. Doubling the size of a city boosts income, wealth, number of patents, number of universities, number of creative people, all by approximately 15 per cent, regardless of where the city is. The scaling is, in the jargon, ‘superlinear’. Geoffrey West of the Santa Fe Institute, who discovered this phenomenon, calls cities ‘supercreative’. They generate a disproportionate share of human innovation; and the bigger they are, the more they generate. The reason for this is clear, at least in outline. Human beings innovate by combining and recombining ideas, and the larger and denser the network, the more innovation occurs. Once again, notice that this is not policy. Indeed, nobody was aware of the supercreative effect of cities until very recently, so no policy-maker could aim for it. It’s an evolutionary phenomenon.

Fascinating! The more a city’s population grows, the cleaner, smarter, more efficient, and richer it becomes!

If you’ve found yourself unmoved by the above, consider the fundamental economic truth that the factors that determine our rate of economic growth happen to be the sum of the rate of productivity growth plus the rate of GROWTH IN THE LABOR FORCE!

Here’s the American Enterprise Institute’s James Pethokoukus on the subject:

Here is the  math: US GDP growth has averaged 3.3% over the past 50 years, with roughly half coming from a growing labor force (1.6%) and half coming from higher productivity (1.7%). But annual labor force growth slowing, productivity will have to increase if the US is going to avoid a slowdown. The McKinsey Global Institute thinks a higher retirement age and smarter immigration policy could boost labor force growth to 1%. But even then, productivity growth would have to increase to 2.3% long term just to maintain that historic growth rate. That won’t be easy.

Still unmoved? Well then, all I have left to offer is the wisdom of Nassim Taleb:

Once your mind is inhabited with a certain view of the world, you’ll tend to only consider instances proving you to be right. Paradoxically, the more information you have, the more justified you’ll feel in your views.

Our ideas are sticky. And we tend to stick to our theories. Good idea then to delay one’s theories, for once they’re made they’re very difficult to let go of.

And Tony Creszenzi:

There is now scientific evidence indicating that the part of the brain associated with reasoning is inactive when people are given information that conflicts with their own thoughts about a particular subject. In place of reason people seek out information and opinions that confirm their own views.

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