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The world might run out of people (wired.com)
103 points by tombot 13 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 197 comments





That's interesting. I've heard the exact opposite opinion somewhere, that the education of women doesn't have as big an effect as anticipated by the models, especially in Africa.

This graphs shows it

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/womens-educational-attain...

For some countries like India or China, the effect is very strong. Just a few years of education drastically reduce the number of children, but for other countries like Uganda or Zambia the effect is much smaller. The original source where I first heard this (which I sadly can't find again) claimed this was due women wanting almost as many children as men in these countries.


That's because it has to do with the death rate of children.

On average most woman want two children. But when a lot of them die they will get more (average of 6 around 1800).

The combination of enough food, education and good health care are why less babies are born.

So if you live in a country with good education but lack of food most women will still have more babies than two.


> On average most woman want two children. But when a lot of them die they will get more (average of 6 around 1800).

I don't believe that's true across cultures. Even in North America you've got social groups and organizations that are continuing to make babies like crazy.


Yes there are exceptions, but I was talking about the average.

The number 2 comes from the current world wide trend. In developed countries the fertility rate tumbles down but stops at around 2. So it is believed this is the average bottom.

Maybe you like this talk from Hans Rosling: https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_religions_and_babies


Cultures have nothing to do with it.

See Hans Rosling's talk on this [1] or see it yourself in data [2]. As soon as education, medicine, economic situation improves, you get a drop to ~2 children per woman across all cultures.

[1] https://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_religions_and_babies

[2] https://www.google.com/publicdata/explore?ds=d5bncppjof8f9_&...


While I see that there is a definite trend, if culture had nothing to do with it, why would the Israel and Faroe Islands outliers exist with many more children? And I see a ton of groups there that have the highest life expectancy and < 2 children, all Asian countries. That seems to indicate that 2 is not in fact a magic number at all.

>why would the Israel and Faroe Islands outliers exist with many more children?

Most likely answer, religion. Successful religions grow one of two ways, and generally have encodings for both. That is they tend to have means to convert the non-religious, and secondly, and importantly in this case, have 'strong' rules on having kids. For example, in the old testament Onan was killed for 'spilling his seed' and not impregnating his dead brothers wife.

That said, even in ancient times it appeared that birthrates did go down, as in Greces case, their city state succeeded. This left them open from attack and cultural take over by outside nations and ideals with higher birthrates.

In the modern world we are coming to the point where human labor is not as necessary and has been supplanted by machine labor. Also machine protection, in our weapons of war. This could allow a nation/culture to shrink dramatically while still being able to defend against outside threats. If such a shrinking culture were one that 'grew' by spreading its message to other cultures it may succede to grow and shrink the entire worlds population at the same time. These ideas of disappearing utopia cultures are often touched by science fiction.


Oh, I understand all that, but the two arguments made earlier was that culture had nothing to do with it (I'd say religion is in fact part of culture), and that societies move towards having two kids, which doesn't seem to be the case, it would appear that it actually goes lower, much lower.

> why would the Israel and Faroe Islands outliers exist with many more children

"Many more". Israel: 3.11 (down from 4 in 1960s), Faroe Islands: 2.6 (down from 3.2 in 1970s).

Compare to Niger: 7.24.

And especially compare to muslim countries which just love having kids, don't they? Oh, look dropping from 8 kids per woman to around 2 for most of them (some are understandably lagging behind, like Yemen, Iraq, Gaza)

> That seems to indicate that 2 is not in fact a magic number at all.

I said ~2 kids, i.e. about two kids, not exactly 2 kids. There's nothing magic about this number, it's sub-replacement fertility [1]. 2.1 for developed countries, 3.4 for some developing countries. Yes, some nations will dip below 2, can't see how that disproves my words. Neither culture nor religion have anything to do with it. Give people quality of life, education, access to modern medicine, and they stop having 8 kids per woman, and quickly dip to about replacement fertility rates.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sub-replacement_fertility


Numbers like 1.17 and 1.21 are not roughly two kids, it's half two kids. What wiggle room are we talking here? I was originally responding to someone who said

> On average most woman want two children. But when a lot of them die they will get more (average of 6 around 1800).

and that doesn't seem to be the case.

And you said that culture had nothing to do with it, but clearly the variation in the birth rates (50% to 150% of the ~2) in countries with roughly the same standard of living is due to something.


If what you said was true, muslim countries would still have 8 kids per woman. They don’t. Just go to the link and play with the slider.

Once again. Slowly.

As people gain access to medicine and education, and as quality of life increased, traditions and religion fly out of the window. Even deeply religious countries like the Gulf states go from 7-8 kids per woman to roughly 2 kids per woman.

These factors trump any other factor in determining how many kids a woman will have.

Once the countries get on more or less the same level in terms of these factors, only then will you see variations due to other things like culture, religion, what not.

Israel is 1.5 times more than other developed countries (and the difference is slowly but surely dropping)? So? Niger is almost 4 times more than other countries.

Medicine, education, quality of life. These three universally affect rates regardless of tradition, religion or what not.


The commenter is talking about averages and you're talking about the tails of the graph.

I think part of it is also social security of sorts - as a mechanism. One successful child can provide for you in old age better than eight struggling to get by.

A robust pension or welfare scheme makes it less mandatory. Some might want to go with six kids, others are content with zero or or one or two just to carry on a family line in at least a token way.


> On average most woman want two children. But when a lot of them die they will get more (average of 6 around 1800).

Citation needed, especially since we are talking about much different cultures.


It's fairly independent of culture, and where culture matters it eventually changes because women become enfranchised.

Use slider at the bottom to vary time.

https://www.gapminder.org/tools/#$state$time$value=2018;&mar...


You said "women want" and it sounded general statement. Not same as women decide to have nor actually have.

Had the price (not just monetary) of having child be different, the decisions quite easily can be different.


> that the education of women doesn't have as big an effect

It's likely because it's not actually about education, but about social hierarchy of women. And education may or may not move them up the ladder in each particular hierarchy. Having children usually does though. But it's still a hierarchy and it can be influenced.


I had a feeling it was more complicated than the interviewee made it seem. It almost made me want to get their book, just to see what new model they had in mind. Sure, the UN model is imperfect, but all the measures used directly tie to population and don't use debatable correlations.

Confused: that graph shows birth rates dropping like a stone, all toward 2.

If you hover over Africa you'll notice that the steepness of the lines is much lower than the rest of the world. Extrapolating from the lines I'm guessing they'll end up at 3-4 children instead of the ~2 children that most of Asia and Europe have.

No, they will end up at 2 or below when some form of long term stability is eventually reached. The political-economic situation, from outside nations messing with to internal corruption, explain a lot about its current birthrate.

China's current investment into Africa at this time may eventually bring the economic stability to many of these area. That said I'm not sure I'd want China enforcing my long term cultural stability.


China's 'investment' in Africa doesn't benefit Africa, from what I understand. They build entire towns of imported Chinese labor and take all the money out. Last I read about it.

Right? Most countries in Africa actually show dropping birth rates. The ones going up or stable are ones with war or poor social amenities.

I'm looking at Africa in the graph you've provided and the fertility rate quite clearly drops as the number of years in education increases, with a few notable exceptions that (I believe) can be explained:

* DPR Congo. By most accounts a failed state, although some would rather call it a violent kleptocracy[1] on account of the very successful exploitation of resources by the ruling elite.

* Gabon. Very underpopulated and underdeveloped given its size. It's not necessarily a poor country in terms of natural resources, but their massive debt and so-so management of resources and spending basically keep the population poor but healthy and well fed. In the case of Gabon, infant mortality rate is not that high (compared to neighbouring countries which almost double theirs) so I wouldn't take /u/pasta's suggestion that infant mortality or access to food has anything to do with the high fertility rate per mother. I would say that in Gabon it's simply the opposite: infant mortality rates have really dropped whilst traditional roles are still in place. There's also no pressure to have fewer babies as women (and men) don't and can't have much higher aspirations, economically and socially.

* Niger. Okay, literally one of the worlds most impoverished countries.

* The Gambia, perhaps the one I can't quite narrow down a reason for. I've been to Gambia on a few occasions, and I'd say that whilst it's still a very poor country (relying mostly on tourism, which isn't much, and agriculture -- not much land for it), it always felt quite safe. I would say the main reason for Gambia's high birth rate would be education and poverty. Most people still live in poverty and education is still not at desirable levels. In fact, the main reason I've visited the country was to volunteer with some non-profits involved in education.

I've also noticed that a few countries are not in that graph, for instance Ghana and Nigeria, two west-african powerhouses. I'd be curious to see what the line would look like for Ghana as this is one of the success stories of west africa. Extreme poverty has dropped to under 30% (from almost 60%) in two decades and it's one of my favourite destinations in west africa. Unfortunately, I couldn't find figures for female average mean schooling years to compare with their birth rate and infant mortality rate.

I do agree that there has to be a bigger picture here. I believe that the more choice an individual has, the fewer children. Economically successful countries will tend to have fewer children, depending on how their social structure supports them in raising the children. If it's something that may put a halt on your career aspirations, you'll probably delay having children or not have at all.

1. http://time.com/4545223/why-you-cant-call-congo-a-failed-sta...


Our economy and intellectual progress is massively predicated on specialisation of labor. When I consider any single aspect of our life, even something as "simple" as how elevators work, it's astounding the amount of complexity that goes into it. Complexity that we can handle because we divvy it up amongst many many people who are completely specialized in understanding and fulfilling that task.

Gradual increases in population don't really scare me. Technological progress has always scaled with population, and technology can free us of natural resource constraints. But in a world of shrinking population, entire fields of practical human knowledge and know-how can be lost forever.


>entire fields of practical human knowledge and know-how can be lost forever.

Plenty of examples of that happening as a result of technology.


Can you give an example? Technology may remove the need for physical skills, but I don't really see how it would wipe out fields of knowledge.

Smithing for instance. Used to be there were folks throughout the world that understood hand-working metal intimately. Now its almost died out.

Can you create abortificiants/contraceptives from local plants? Most of that knowledge, which used to be widespread among women, was never written down, and with modern pills nobody needs to.

The cause as per the GP is not technology:

> But in a world of shrinking population, entire fields of practical human knowledge and know-how can be lost forever.


navigate by stars and moon and position of the sun vs chronometers vs gps?

Yes, the practical skill of navigating by stars is not practiced by most people because we have better navigation methods. But the knowledge of how to navigate by stars was not erased by the invention of the gps. That's still part of humanity's body of knowledge.

Maybe, but if you're talking about recorded knowledge I'd argue we're still losing a bulk of it. Recorded knowledge fails to capture all the layers of depth that lived experience contains. Hopefully the recorded knowledge is enough to jump-start a new learner if no masters remain, but even that is not guaranteed.

I'm having trouble finding a source with a search engine, but I've heard of bronze age shields that were impossible to reproduce with current metallurgy. Ancient concrete recipes are rediscovered occasionally. These aren't fields though. The loss probably wasn't as simple as older technology being surplanted by newer tech.

I think what you are looking for my be found in farming though. I would think there are entire avenues of research abandoned.


they are fields. you're being biased. it's still lost knowledge that used to be known by lots of people. the point stands.

Of course it stands, regardless of the pedantry over whether it is a category or a detail.

I often think about this too, are people who understand incredibly complex things dying off / retiring faster than technology can keep up with it ?

I think about maitaitining really complex infrastructure, you kind of see this in Japan. So much complicated infrastructure, so many people checking out.


> So much complicated infrastructure, so many people checking out.

Do we know if Japanese businesses realized this at all? I think here in North America companies are still thinking it'll all be fine and the knowledge will somehow magically transfer to the next generation that they couldn't be bothered to train, largely as a lot of baby boomers haven't left yet, but they are going to, and soon.


They don't need to train them, and it will be "all fine": the executives making these decisions will be able to collect their golden parachutes and retire in luxury by the time the boomers retire, and their companies will flounder and die only after this point, so the executives have little to worry about.

As it happens most of those executives are Boomers as well, so it works out quite nicely all around!

Someone has realised it as Japan has finally warmed up to the idea of increasing immigration numbers sharply after resisting to do so for a very long time.

The trend of lower birth rates depends on increased development and education. The net effect is you could have a third of today’s population, and still more specialized elevator music backup vocals mixing engineers than before.

You suggest that technology would progress to free us of natural resource constraints, why wouldn't it also free us of manpower constraints? (after all the robots are coming).

As for population going to zero, I suspect it'll be a while -- and that we could increase birth rates with financial incentives, 2-3 years parental leave wouldn't be very dystopian :)


This cuts both ways, though. Elevators are quite nice, but what about nuclear weapons and Skinner boxes? (aka, smartphones) I'm not trying to paint a broad brush where technology is either all good or evil. But, quite a bit of the magic of population size and telecommunications are wasted on useless or evil efforts. And, at some point, there will be too many people. We can debate on the number the Earth can safely support, but we must agree it's lower than infinity.

So, there must be some balance to overpopulation and destruction it brings, and underpopulation and the progress it halts. Do you think there's a good balance we can / should arrive at? Do you think we're anywhere close to it?


Can you give an example of why this is bad? What more do we really need in terms of technology, to survive as nations and be happy? Could this point in our achievement be enough?

Maybe a drought of elevator specialists decreases the amount of elevators we can have. We have to walk up stairs more often. Not ideal. But maybe more people spend less time having and raising kids and more time working on themselves. Mental health improves and people are more compassionate toward themselves and others. I would choose that world, not actively fight against it.


>What more do we really need in terms of technology, to survive as nations and be happy?

What timeline are we talking about.

> Could this point in our achievement be enough?

To ensure eventual extinction, yes.

Modern technology is wholly dependant on a great number of unstable and unsustainable systems. Fossil fuels are the best example of a great technological boost that is destroying our atmosphere. Renewables, while so much better, are not without their drawbacks at a world civilization size. Still, it could create a nice, clean, and happy doomed world.

Below us vast volcanoes, things not seen for tens of thousands of years, wait to explode below us threatening to blot out the sun for a decade (hope you don't depend on solar panels). Above us rocks the size of mountains race through the blackness of space at insane speeds waiting to find a gravity well and vaporize what is at the bottom of it. There exists threats, ones we've only come to realize exist in the past century, that can wipe mankind off earth in the blink of an eye. The solution to most of these is making sure we just aren't on earth, and become a spacefaring civilization. For that we will need technology far beyond what we have now.


It's almost as if we are in Omelas, our worldwide festival of novelty and technology relying on a hidden destruction of the environment we do not pay attention to except once in a while (not to mention the countries.)

I don't believe space travel is worth it if we get there through war, interpersonal alienation and violence required by the only current system poised to do it. Sometimes we have to entertain the idea of letting go of preventing every possible bad outcome and focus on what is needed in the current moment. Regrettably I'm not the most persuasive philosopher; Gil Scott-Heron has a song called "Whitey on the Moon" if one wants to think more poetically about it.


> Maybe a drought of elevator specialists decreases the amount of elevators we can have. We have to walk up stairs more often. Not ideal.

Not really, it would make the skyscraper impractical. No one is going to climb 100 floors through the stairs.

Actually, this is not that bad...


I find it interesting where we as makers put our optimism and our pessimism. We post about space exploration and gene editing. We say "just wait for what humankind can do with this! Soon no one will have to have any disease, and space will be ours for the colonizing before some terrible massive event happens. It's inevitable with our abilities!" But when the suggestion arises that we slow down and imagine working with who and what we have, and trying to solution around our human and spiritual problems we have in the present, the tone flips. That's impossible, you'll never get people to do that. The masses are by nature lazy and combative and we might as well ignore it.

I think it comes from a competitive philosophy of life. Only some people are good enough to gift the world with their novelty and technology. Most people are fine in menial, alienating service jobs, they're just not good enough. This is inevitably how society works everywhere, and it has made people and life calm, fitter, healthier, more productive...


I haven't heard of a specie disapearing primarily because it didn't have enough babies.

Even the giant panda, before arriving to this situation, had seen their forests devasted by us.

So at best, I expect our specie to mess up in some big ways, then maybe, the finish blow will be reproduction.

Yet I doubt it.

First, other threats have a way higher likelyhood. India has no water, terrible social tension, instable border situations and the nuclear bomb. We killed 60% of the insects. There are microparticules of plastic everywhere in the oceans. Not to mention climat change, our mad scientist attitude towards everything, and the systematic conversion of limited natural assets into short term cash machines.

Second, fertility is something we have been working on for some time now, and our mad, but smart, scientists are pretty good at it.

Lastly, I even doubt that natural fertility will ever be a permanent problem. Nature has cycles to regular species population, and may impose on us some drastic mesure, but like all cycles, it goes back to where it was.


Calhoun's "Beautiful Ones" study from the 1960s is the just-so story here. A rat environment is built, becomes overpopulated, and eventually the children stop breeding and the colony dies out. However, it's of dubious predictive value.

As much as the Internet loves the Rat Park study, it’s important to note that it has never replicated; several groups tried and failed. Until more information comes along, it should be considered another victim of the replication crisis and not taken too seriously.

Well, look again. Humans are quite the only species capable of understanding at a higher level the reproduction and controlling it. So, yes, this plays a bigger role than environment, where humans can thrive in almost any conditions, if the technology is allowing it.

No intrisic force makes a woman to have children and how many, just cultural and basic economy.


> Even the giant panda, before arriving to this situation, had seen their forests devasted by us.

This only changes the question very slightly.

If people in modern cultures are unmotivated to have [replacement rate] babies just like the pandas, what metaphorical forests of human experience have we already destroyed?


Might want to look into pandas. They're not quite just going extinct from a low birth rate, but that's definitely an issue for them.

Sigh. Someone has a book to sell by going against conventional wisdom, and the classic approach of taking a small trend and drawing a huge long straight line through it. It's not really surprising that this has happened, given the extent of efforts to reduce birth rates as a way out of poverty.

This is the same argument that has been used for decades and centuries to worry about population explosion, though. Was that mere book selling? We've now seen a trend of below replacement in places like Japan lasting for decades now, and they've luckily been able to change their society to be more welcoming to immigrants in order to compensate, but that only works if there are countries with higher birth rates to compensate.

Or climate change? (Ducks)

PS: I realize now that people downvote not based on the content of the post or the argument but based on whether they don’t think the argument should be made because they dont like the conclusion.


No, climate change was predicted well before a temperature change was observed (i.e. over 100 years ago), and it was based on the fact that the world burns enormous amounts of coal and the fact that CO2 has a certain infrared absorption spectrum. It was a prediction based on basic physics before an empirical observation of the global result was seen.

But there is something analogous: look at birthrates, and you have a pretty good idea about which direction the population will trend to within a few decades. It's a pretty straightforward, fundamental relationship.


Right, but like all things it ignores other variables, such as for example the sun going into a cooler period or the gulfstream or el nino changing.

Obviously the former is global while the latter likely won’t counteract the warming effect much. But it’s extrapolating based on the assumption that we know there won’t be any other mechanisms — feedback, collapse, new phenomena being activated by this like the growing of new phytoplankton-like organisms or trees outside human habitats which automatically sequester trillions of tons of carbon back)

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/we-are-making-the-gl...

https://uanews.arizona.edu/story/dead-forests-release-less-c...

We can’t do it ourselves:

https://www.businessinsider.com/so-much-co2-planting-trees-c...

And

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/05/100503161435.h...

I happen to think that the extrapolation is going to closely approximate what will actually happen, but I could be wrong.


I think your understand of the issue is a bit fuzzy.

For example, the business insider article seems to imply that we can't "plant our way out" using trees. But you interpret this to mean "we can't do it ourselves". But no one ever said planting trees is the only thing we can do to stop climate change. We can also: change our crop and animal yields, use less fossil fuels, etc.

Same thing with the arizona article about dead forests releasing less CO2 than expected. That isn't to say that they don't release any. And it also isn't to say that live ones release more (live trees consume CO2 and produce O2, if you recall). That article is from 2013, so any climate scientist is going to already be using those findings in their models, so it's ridiculous to assume that a 6 year old article with a minor tweak to a variable means that today's cutting edge scientists are uninformed.

[edit] I'm not even gonna touch the thing about the "cold sun" conspiracy. http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2017/01/the-na...


I’m saying climate scientists were missing a lot 6 years ago and 30 years ago, and it’s unreasonable to expect that exactly now they finally are “totally informed”. There are tons of external factors and it’s hubris to think the map is the territory when it comes to such a complex system as the entire planet!

Or how about the entire solar system... I am not talking any conspiracies. I am saying our global warming may in useful and actually happen to coincide with a cooling period by the sun:

https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs...

https://www.livescience.com/61716-sun-cooling-global-warming...

Stop assuming the worst of your discussion partners :)

And of course the above headlines ard also hubris because we don’t even know if the sun dimmed a lot or if that was the main cause of the little ice age:

Foukal emphasized this dimming might not have been the only or even main cause of the cooling seen during the little ice age. "There were also strong volcanic effects involved — something like 17 huge volcanic eruptions then," he said.

I prefer to talk about CO2 pollution as a pollution problem, to avoid exactly this argument about temperature predictions.


I downed this because you posted 4 words with no thought or reasoning behind it. The lack of thought and self awareness that this is a discussion forum, not Reddit, is why this is downvoted.

The reasoning was provided by the previous comment, mine was that it can apply to climate change, a much more accepted theory

Agreed. If the population really started to decrease, human society would just change to meet the challenge. We talk about "Universal healthcare", but then we'd be talking about "Universal childcare".

There is certainly an argument to be made that with more women entering the workforce, and retiring age increasing, that there are less people at home to watch babies. That puts pressure for people to either leave the work force, or delay having children. Government sponsored nannies/childcare would be a natural step to alleviate that economic burden.

It's not like the government doesn't already have tax incentives for having children. It would not be a stretch for them to step in in other ways to reward and incentivise parents for creating future tax payers.


Analogy: If someone on a diet keeps losing weight, they will disappear too. But outside pressures and incentives change, and there's also internal regulation. Your weight will stabilize sooner or later. I think the same goes for populations. When people become scarce, making more of them will be rewarded in some way or another.

I'm not sure the authors believe humanity will celibate itself out of existence. But I'm sure they'll sell more books with "extinction" rather than "stabilization" as a headline.


> “In roughly three decades, the global population will begin to decline,” they write. “Once that decline begins, it will never end.”

I'll give you very long odds against.


Yea, the debate about the UN's demographic projections are interesting, but the framing that the world is going to run out of people is dump, and kinda distracts from the interesting parts.

8 billion people is still a pretty crazy number of people.


Yeah, I wouldn't be surprised if the decline ends at some point and a sort of long-term fluctuation takes over. Economic, political, and technological changes all affect how many babies people have, as well as how long they live.

Well, if we change 'never ends' to 'until the earth is uninhabitable by solar irradiance', then is premis can be completely true.

For example if we have 10 billion people and reduced the total population by 2 every year, that would give us 5 billion years, which is way after the sun has gone red giant.


Quoting Spandrell:

At this moment, every single human population with an IQ over 95 has a fertility rate below replacement; and the places where the most intelligent and productive people tend to live, big cities, have generally fertility rates below 1. Not below 2, replacement, but below 1, half of replacement. As I’ve said again and again, big cities today are IQ shredders, where the genes that code for high intelligence go to get shredded in the corporate and bureaucratic rat-race, depriving humanity of the biological building blocks for a better future.


Even though intelligence is negatively correlated with fertility rate, it is positively correlated with survival rate of offspring. The net effect is not clear.

Apart from that, when you differentiate between men and women, the correlations turn out to be different: while women still have a negative correlation, for men the correlation between IQ and fertility rate turns positive.

See for instance https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fertility_and_intelligence


Right, but that positive slope is only for within-country variation.

Is there a study that confirms this? I couldn't find any links in the blog post you seem to have copied it from. https://bloodyshovel.wordpress.com/2019/01/21/tucker-carlson...

Just compare TFR and average IQ tables. The pattern is obvious.

For thousands of years (tens of thousands, probably) cities were a demographic drain. More people died in London than were born there, and the cities only survived because you can make a lot more money there (including enough not to starve to death).

Perhaps in the future the same thing will happen: kids will be reared in cheap places, then move to cities for the opportunities there, then fail to produce at replacement levels, and get buffed up by people moving in to the city from the country.


What a terrible quote, horrible in the sense of reducing Man to the sum of his capability to build ever greater machines. Surely intelligence bears no relation to goodness!

I find Spandrell (and Land, who helped popularize the idea) atrocious.


You're mixing up goodness as in deserving, vs goodness as in capacity to do good.

Spandrell never said anything like smart people are more deserving. He says smart people have more capacity to accomplish things which most people consider good. E.g safety, comfort, health, stability, wealth - and not just for themselves but for others too.

Hard to argue with as far as I can see.


'Capacity' to do 'good' (even per your definition) is so strongly reliant on the environment that one exists in, that I do not think you can defend your position in a rational manner. I also find it mildly offensive that your comment, and that of Spandrell, implies that smartness is measured only in IQ. High IQ is only a predictor of high test-solving abilities.

What's more, people living in poor countries and outside of cities aren't 'incapable' of doing good. They are often poorly educated, lack role models, lack good parenting, lack a good peer group, and fundamentally, lack opportunity and a financially stable childhood. Virtually all of it is structural injustices thrown their way through the roll of a dice.


High IQ is only a predictor of high test-solving abilities.

Absolutely not. IQ correlates well with a number of desirable characteristics, for individuals as well as groups.

education, role models, etc

These things don't matter nearly as much as people like to think.

roll of a dice

A dice that appears to be consistently biased in favour of those with high test-solving abilities?


Please check out the recent posts on the subject by Nicholas Nassim Taleb. Illuminating. IQ tests work only to identify people who have a cognitive issue: low IQ is predictive. Anything above 100 is a wash in terms or real world success metrics. (Eg. Income)

Nope. Although the replies Taleb got from people who've actually read this stuff aren't a bad place to start.

He obviously means "capacity to do good" as in capacity to keep a high-tech society running, and continue making technological improvements. He cares both about the cream of the crop for the next generation of cancer drugs (or computers), and the solid middle for being able to run modern accounting, retail supply chains, large-scale farming.

Obviously "doing good" often means other things too, like calling your mom, and volunteering at a soup kitchen. Morally good. I think it's pretty clear from context that this isn't what he's talking about.


Sorry, gonna have to fisk this one.

>Capacity' to do 'good' (even per your definition) is so strongly reliant on the environment that one exists in

Yes, an environment created by the people in your community. Or were you talking about the climate and mineral resources and stuff like that? Because considering the inverse relationship between natural resources and the outcomes of countries, that doesn't come close to holding up.

>I also find it mildly offensive that your comment, and that of Spandrell, implies that smartness is measured only in IQ.

My comment implied nothing at all like that. Also even if I said that, which I didn't, it would be nonsensical to find it "offensive" unless you're using offense as a goal or a tactic.

>High IQ is only a predictor of high test-solving abilities.

Absolutely not. It is the #1 most predictive psychometric measure ever devised for predicting important life outcomes. It predicts criminality, longevity, income, education, health, and a host of other critical factors better than any other psychometric test that exists.

>people living in poor countries and outside of cities aren't 'incapable' of doing good.

In the modern world, low IQ people lack the mental tools to have a big impact. They're not smart enough to effectively write books, invent technologies, create or run movements or companies or unions, make strong political arguments, etc. It's not their fault, it's just how they are. They can do good in small ways, and many do amazing things in that area. But the modern world revolves around concentrated power, and power concentrates in the hands of those with high IQ.

>They are often poorly educated, lack role models, lack good parenting, lack a good peer group, and fundamentally, lack opportunity and a financially stable childhood.

True. The question is why.

>Virtually all of it is structural injustices thrown their way through the roll of a dice.

If it these injustices were a "roll of the dice", they would be randomly distributed across the population. They're concentrated in low-IQ communities, indicating that they're not random; they're actually connected to the fact the community is low IQ. I argue that there is a causal relationship: low IQ people tend to make decisions that make their communities worse (crime, dropping out of school, drugs, irresponsible parenting, etc), which creates the injustices suffered by the members of that community.


Smart people also have equally as much capacity to accomplish things which most people consider bad.

Capability and goodness are generally orthogonal.


> Capability and goodness are generally orthogonal.

They are not generally orthogonal. They generally correlate well.

See Gwern's "The IQ Halo effect": https://www.gwern.net/iq


Not sure how he’s defining replacement, and but the target for a stable population would have to be over 2.

Over 2.1ish due to childhood deaths and accidents before reproducing.

This doesn't fully explain why humans don't want to have a lot of kids. Have you ever been around kids? They're really a pain in the ass, especially if they're boys. (For instance, as a single guy, I'm far more likely to be interested in dating a single mother with girls than one with boys; little boys are just too destructive and disobedient.)

Smart people aren't having so many kids now because they don't have to. If they don't have a religion telling them they need to, and they have a good career and a very comfortable lifestyle that affords, why would they want to go to all the trouble that raising a lot of kids requires?

In addition to that, kids are very costly in today's society, and with adults not living near their families so much, you don't get any help with your kids when you need it, so that makes it even more unattractive.

Having a lot of kids made sense back in the days when you needed the help on your farm, and your whole extended family (or village) lived together and could collectively share the burdens of child-rearing. Now, it just doesn't.

The answer to me is simple: we need to outsource child-rearing to the State, as shown in the novel "Brave New World" where children were made in factories and then raised by trained professionals.


> Have you ever been around kids? They're really a pain in the ass, especially if they're boys.

Suck it up. What, do you want having kids to be as seamless as an Uber Eats order? It's not. It's hard work. I'm sure your parents gave up on a lot to have you, too. That's part of being an adult.


> Suck it up. What, do you want having kids to be as seamless as an Uber Eats order? It's not. It's hard work. I'm sure your parents gave up on a lot to have you, too. That's part of being an adult.

Seems wiser to remain childless than to have and raise kids that you never wanted. How would that work out for the kid, otherwise? Or are we going on the assumption that once the kid is born, OP will no longer see it as a burden?


There's something to be said for that. My kids do require a lot of attention and work and I sometimes I feel very tired out and short on time to get things done before crawling into bed for enough sleep to be productive at the office the next day. However, even though I really enjoy creative technology work at my job, on average my relationships with my kids give me greater satisfaction than any projects I work on. Maybe not everyone would feel the same way after having kids, but for a lot of us parents I think it's a natural thing that occurs within us that's very helpful for motivating one to give love and care towards a child amidst myriad other demands. I've heard many other parents confirm that they feel something they had never felt before, and that definitely pushes us through the tough times when parenting and provides a lot of enjoyment that might have been difficult to imagine beforehand.

I have a good friend whose mother tells her that she (my friend) ruined her life, and that she never really wanted kids or to get married to the man she married when she got pregnant.

In the TV series "Doc Martin", the main character comes from such parents.

They're not saying they want it to be easy, they're saying they don't want to do it and don't have to (which ties into the rest of what they're saying)

I think you're missing the point of the comment.


>That's part of being an adult.

As countless adults these days have proven, no, it's not. You can just opt out of the whole thing.


Which is why we have the problem at hand.

> problem at hand

Is it a problem? I would submit it is a solution.


It's a problem if you don't want your economy to collapse because of too many elderly people who can't work and not enough young people to keep things going for them all.

Yep. And if everyone does...

Why on earth would I "suck it up" when I can just never make any children?

That's precisely why I don't want them. I don't feel it's worth the time and effort.

Who do you plan on taking care of you when you get older? You’re going to pay nurses, and maybe live in a retirement home?

An average middle-income family with two kids spends more than $200,000 to raise each child to age 17, followed by college costs (and/or any other support). In coastal cities, the number is more like $250k. That price is rising faster than inflation at about 3%, and college costs are rising 4%+. To begin with, let's just ignore college and just annualize it all to $15,000/year.

Merrill Lynch claims that an average retirement 'costs' about $740,000. Demographic breakdowns are much harder here, since they depend on both luck (health, mostly) and post-retirement location, so let's just use it as is.

The average age of first motherhood is 26, and fatherhood is 31. However, to my surprise, that's a bimodal distribution; let's use age 30 for our coastal/urban parents. The average age of retirement is apparently 63, so childrearing costs arrive 16-33 years before retirement costs. A stock market index fund held over the long term can reasonably expect perhaps 8% returns after inflation. Investing that $15k annually for 17 years should produce a retirement nest-egg of a bit over $2,000,000.

I tried to be pretty generous with my math here; paying for college, going from zero to one kid, or adjusting for cost growth all worsen the picture quite a bit. (Having >2 kids or living off the coasts improves it somewhat.) But the really damning part is that kids may not take care of you at all (it's a pretty heavy expectation), and even if they do most people face needs and expenses family can't take care of. If you have health needs that require regular care from a nurse, much less costly surgery, your kids are only going to be able to help by putting up money. And quite a few health problems like severe dementia make living at home with family nearly impossible by requiring full-time monitoring.

Living with family is probably a much better experience than living in a nursing home, and of course it's inherently rewarding for a lot of people. The data is irreparably confounded, but I wouldn't be shocked if people with kids are healthier and even longer-lived than comparable people without them. But there's really no salvaging the idea that having a family substitutes for an expensive retirement.


I think we've also lost sight of something else in this kids-vs-no-kids argument: few kids.

Studies probably do show that people with kids are healthier and longer-lived than childfree people. And "sucking it up" and having a kid or two like someone above says can give you this. However, this still results in a declining population, remember, which is what the main article was talking about in the first place. Every couple having 1 kid isn't going to maintain the population, for obvious reasons, and not even 2 will do it (you have to have an average of 2.1-2.2).

Now add to this the fact that more and more people aren't even getting married in the first place (which is improving the divorce rate), and not having kids, not necessarily because they don't want them, but because they can't find a suitable partner. I see this all the time here in the DC area on the dating sites: women who are 35+, frequently 40+, sometimes even 45+, saying they're never married, have no kids, but want them. 45 is a little old for a woman to have kids, and most likely if she hasn't found a man to her liking by that age, she never will.


> I think we've also lost sight of something else in this kids-vs-no-kids argument: few kids.

This is a good point.

Even on the callous ROI level I was looking at, 1-2 kids is a particularly weird span. The first kid is most expensive and life-altering, so someone viewing kids as a retirement plan would almost certainly want to have a bunch of them. They're 'cheaper', it hedges against a kid not not taking care of you (for any of numerous reasons from a bad relationship to health problems of their own), and it makes providing care much more doable as a shared responsibility.

Honestly, a whole lot of social norms we took for granted actually seem to rely on families having 3+ kids who grow up to live nearby. Some mix of "community support" and "network effects" mean that the difficulty of raising kids has gone up substantially as family size and proximity have gone down.

Why does childrearing look so hard and expensive these days? Well, you probably don't live near family members with their own kids; my grandparents freed up time by trading 'daycare' with their multiple siblings who all had families.

Why does taking care of parents seem so rare and demanding? (Partly because we've improved longevity ahead of good health, so there are more parents who genuinely need specialized care. But also...) It's relatively easy to have a parent move across town into the spare bedroom that freed up when your kids moved out, and have your siblings come over when you're out of town. It's way harder to uproot your parents to come live in your one-bedroom apartment, or leave your job and friends to move back home and care for them alone.


Alzheimers patients need 24/7 care. This isn't something that small families with 3-4 siblings can do by reasonable means next to having a job, raising the next generation, and living in the neighbouring town or even further than that. In the old days, poor people just died young because of exhaustion and rich people well they have the means for proper care per definition.

In the event of Alzheimer’s, who do you think makes the decisions? Communicates with the nurses? Checks on them? Family.

Not sure what your point about poor people is...


It's looking like Alzheimer's will be a solved problem before too long, with all the current research on it.

There is indeed a lot of research on Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative diseases. But I'm a bit more sceptical than you. We still don't know exactly what's happening in Alzheimer patients. We might even split up the disease into multiple sub-diseases as it happened with cancer. However, you are right, a lot of stuff can happen before people who are young today (20s and younger) get old.

> Suck it up.

Why don't you suck up me not having any?


> Suck it up.

Why?


> This doesn't fully explain why humans don't want to have a lot of kids

Humans in (actual or perceived) stable social and economic environments with strong extrafamilial support systems adopt low-number, high-investment K-strategy, humans in (actual or perceived) unstable social and economic environments with weak extrafamilial support systems adopt high-number, low-investment r-strategy.

> kids are very costly in today's society,

Kids aren't (generally) nearly as costly for the people having lots of them in our society as they are for those having fewer, as a direct result of different child-bearing approaches.

> The answer to me is simple: we need to outsource child-rearing to the State, as shown in the novel "Brave New World" where children were made in factories and then raised by trained professionals.

In the short term, immigration works. If the whole world is ever developed to the point where K-strategy dominates to the point where maintaining population is a real concern, then, after the giant global celebration we should have for that accomplishment, setting economic incentives so that people with means to raise multiple children at the level society as a whole considered appropriate investment levels also have a rational incentive to do so isn't particularly hard. It's a problem we haven't solved today because we aren't anywhere close to having it, not because it's even a little difficult or requires some kind of drastic reform like you describe.


The phenomenon Spandrell describes is a concern largely independent of whether the total population is increasing or decreasing.

Every advanced country has built a system for vacuuming up the most talented individuals from the countryside, and giving them important jobs in rat-race cities, where (for various reasons) they will have fewer kids. To counter this, you'd have to draw from somewhere else equally talented newcomers, and maybe a few countries can.


>little boys are just too destructive and disobedient

Don't blame the boys - I've known equally pain-in-the-ass families of girls, and wonderful boys. It's the parents.


Boys are inherently more destructive and violent than girls; it's a biological fact, and is the whole reason prison inmates are over 90% male.

And those of you who aren't in prison, probably had better parenting right? (and some luck). Anyway, I don't mean to hijack this thread but if the parent is saying he doesn't want kids because they are unruly, he might look to the parenting of said kids. Kids can—and should!—be bringing joy and lightness and laughter and learning. It's a tragedy that the modern person avoids have children because of economic concerns and perceived issues of losing independence.

Just about everyone I know who has little boys has major problems with them: they all seem to have autistic traits, and severe behavior problems. I don't know what the problem is, but it makes me not want to be involved with boys in a parenting situation.

> if the parent is saying he doesn't want kids because they are unruly, he might look to the parenting of said kids.

To me your experiences only emphasize this point. Large portions of our society have decided that masculinity is inherently toxic. We've also, generally speaking, de-emphasized the role of discipline in parenting (I'm not talking about spanking). Our school system has long been stacked against young boys. I think that, as a society, we've forgotten how to parent children, especially boys.


Define ‘masculinity’.

Children learn from other children. Usually older children. Children are largely being raised by the state and that is never a good thing as it leads to conformity. Educational institutions look at children as future workforce and not as individuals.

My 2c.


I completely agree with you wrt. to where most children are getting their actual raising from. This is amplified by the lack of direction commonly given by parents.

As far as defining masculinity, I mean it in the sense that psychologists use it: the traits that are generally common to males.


These allegations don't seem to be problems in other highly-developed nations.

You're right. I don't think other nations have so watered down the importance of parenting as much as the US has. It's a real problem with American culture.

Interesting you should mention that. I have a pet theory that it has something to do with the Y chromosome.

Do we know enough about the Y chromosome? I think being ‘male’ is a genetic mutation with some undesirable effects. The SRY gene turns on/off around 4-6 weeks after conception determining whether zygote would be XX or XY. This has something to do with gonad formation.

I think fundamentally everyone is formed female as default. Not female = male. Which means it’s the Y. Something is wrong with Y.


> It's the parents.

The parents' DNA, in particular.


I hear this argument quite often : "Smart people aren't having so many kids now because they don't have to."

Depends on what you're counting on in the future.

If you want to be taken care of when you're older, and almost no one has children, then your future is bleak no matter how much you earn now. Inflation will eat most of your savings that you'd want to spend on care. Of course there's immigration or you can move but you're going to be lonely nevertheless.

It may sound controversial but it's a bit like not getting vaccinated and counting on herd immunity. Who would be writing all those HN comments now if our parents hadn't had children?


Another option is assisted suicide or suicide once you can't take care of yourself.

From a purely economic standpoint, treating kids like a retirement investment seems absurdly risky compared to the alternative. According to this link [1] the average cost of raising a middle class child to age 18 is $233,610. Plus the average cost of a 4 year out of state university [2] $36,420 equals $270,030. That’s $12,274 a year for 22 years. Let’s say instead you put that into a pre tax IRA earning 6%. At the end of those 22 years your balance is $532,597. Let that grow for another 10 years and you’re at $852,155. Assume 15% effective tax rate at retirement you have $724,331 after tax.

Is your (now 32 year old) kid going to have the means to provide you that much assistance in your retirement?

1: http://money.com/money/4629700/child-raising-cost-department...

2: https://www.collegeraptor.com/find-colleges/articles/afforda...


This model may work when you don't have a kid but most people do (ie the size of the workforce is stable). It does not account for situations where workforce drops by large % and there are much more retirees than workers.

At what workforce % does compounding interest stop working? Or are you saying interest rates will become negative as the workforce drops? Society’s experience replacing workers with robotics and automation may suggest otherwise.

Now may be the best time to stop having kids and instead invest what you’d otherwise spend. Chances are there will be few remaining un-automated jobs by the time they need employment. I say this as someone who has a kid—I fear for her future honestly.


I'm saying that if today there is one caretaker for one retiree, but tomorrow there's one caretaker for 3 retirees then caretaker tomorrow can easily demand a lot higher pay than today - he'll work for the highest bidder. Compound interest gains can be offset by this inflation. Similar localized inflationary pressures can be seen in SV where there is limited supply of houses and there are many highly paid specialists who generate demand for those houses.

Now translate demand for housing to demand for services, and low supply of houses into low supply of workers providing those services. Everyone around you is using compound interest, so relative to each other you have similar purchasing power to them. Now you compete with the same people for those services. It's the relative power that really decides whether you can afford the services or not. If the workers don't have to compete with each other then you'll spend all that nice compound interest chasing them.


Not all retirees will need “caretakers”. My guess is by the time I retire there will be a robot to inject me with my meds and another one to wipe my rear—as long as my retirement savings holds up I won’t need to hire anyone.

If it gets to the point where I need a full-time caretaker, then it's time for me to check out, because I have no desire to live life that way.

> Inflation will eat most of your savings

What? This is why investment advice for retirement generally revolves around allocation into stocks and bonds while leaving only an emergency fund plus regular expenses in more liquid assets like savings accounts. Inflation will only eat your savings if you fail to invest. If you want to talk about risk, well, inflation is why a total failure to accept risk is extremely risky!


Every service you buy with your savings has to be provided by people working at that time. More savings competing for fewer workers will cause inflation until your savings are reduced to match.

To take the extreme example, if everyone tried to save up and then take a sabbatical year in 2025, they would all find that their money became almost worthless -- they could buy capital goods (made before) but nothing else.

Before Paul Krugman metamorphozed into a political hack, he wrote some quite solid stuff about economics. His famous baby-sitting co-op [1] runs into this problem: Everyone wishes to earn tickets on weekdays / winter and spend them on weekends / summer, but this is impossible:

[1] http://www.pkarchive.org/theory/baby.html


Sure, this advice seems ok in current economic setting, where workforce size is replenished by newer generations.

Now think about what would happen if there are a lot of old retired people but the number of people willing to work for them is 50% of what is required, in most branches of the economy.

Money will start chasing the workers, and they pay will sky rocket. It's more like SV skyrocketing housing prices and total compensation, bit wider in scope.


> pay will sky rocket

Why do you think that this will entirely fail to incentivize prospective retirees to work for more total years of their lives in order to benefit from increased pay?


I think that he is talking about average person and you have rich classes in mind. Most people dont have money to invest in bonds.

"Most people" down into the middle classes (at least in the US) have money invested in the market already, through either an employer-related pension or a 401K-type plan.

And you expect your investments to continue to increase in value with a shrinking population?

My understanding is that Spandrell considers himself a "race realist."

Please don't bring right-wing racist thought into HN.


I didn't see anything right wing or racist in the original quote, did you?

It was an interesting observation regardless of who made it.


When we quote someone, we usually include the context of the quoted person. The same sentence is different when said by Dalai Lama and Usama bin Laden.

Sure, you would cite the name of the person you were quoting, just as the OP comment did.

But you certainly could quote bin Laden here if it were relevant and interesting. It doesn't mean you agree with him or the terrible things he did.

I don't know anything about Spandrell or what else the person has said or written, so all I had to go by was the quote itself. I found it interesting and thought-provoking.

Not that I agree with all of it. I especially do not like the concept of an IQ scale. Different people are good at different kinds of things, and I think IQ is a dangerous oversimplification.


I’m somewhat surprised by the tone of surprise in this article/interview.

While I still frequently see references to “out-of-control population growth” among laypeople here on HN or on Twitter, often in reference to Africa, I have long gotten the impression that the scientific and political communities have turned to models showing drastically lower birth rates coinciding with increased development.

Lower infant mortality, access to birth control, and social safety nets that do not rely on immediate family are obvious factors here.

This is umabigoulsy good news, unless you posit a harm from not being born. In any case, it’s unlikely that humanity is going to disappear of its own choosing.


The slowing of the birthrate to manageable levels is very good, but too much of that (i.e. below replacement) leads to an inverted age pyramid, which is NOT unambiguously good.

The fact that birthrates are falling and many countries will be left with a huge number of elderly folk without enough young folk to take care of them is not unambiguously good, particularly when it happens everywhere so there's nowhere to import young immigrants from.


An inverted age pyramid can be just fine if automation picks up the slack and causes productivity per capita to soar. The great thing about automation is that it’s always improving, never going back (except when old equipment gets retired). Once Tesla improves feature X it’s rolled out to all cars at once, for instance.

> if automation picks up the slack and causes productivity per capita

This is only true if the income disparity is not out of control. Current trends show us that income disparity is increasing where the super rich gain everything, and the poor are screwed without some kind of income redistribution (high wealth taxes for example).


That’s why I’d like to see us move in the direction of:

  UBI
  Automation
  Open Source Software
And I am putting my money where my mouth is, for 7 years:

https://qbix.com

https://intercoin.org


Its not unambiguously good news. There are several countries such as Japan and Sweden that are looking down the barrel of inverted population pyramids in their immediate future and the consequences are expected to be dire. Yes, overpopulation can and should be a concern, but underpopulation should be one as well, and already is for pockets of the world.

Have we ever seen this happen to a drastic degree in recent times? If so, what happened? Who says that governments couldn't address a crisis, when they often involve themselves heavily in crises the economy, bailing out banks and so on.

If a modern government can force every young person to to join the army for the ostensible "defense of the nation" (e.g. Israel) , why not force them to take care of old people?


>If a modern government can force every young person to to join the army.

"Joining the army" and "Fighting a battle every day" are two different things. Most of the time armies are not doing anything. And when they are, it is a significant threat to ones continued existence, something humans are highly optimized to fight for.

Keeping the old people alive has a few problems. First, if you take grandma to the roof and throw her off, it does not directly affect your continued existence (unless you consider law enforcement action, but we'll leave this out for now). In this case you are economically better having a geriatrics purge. Second, taking care of old people is insanely depressing. Throwing most people to these terrors is just going to increase the suicide rate in young people.

Third, and separately, how does the government 'force'? Right, they take young men with guns and point said guns at the population. So you're telling me that the larger old population is going to vote to tell part of the young population to take guns, point them at the other young population and have them take care of the old one. Um, so you want to have a revolution, ya ya.

Also, young (working age) people create wealth. Old people consume it. Where is this government going to get its tax dollars from?


Good thing war and military culture is not depressing, alienating and suicide-inducing.

The opportunity to help and care for other people is a great gift. Killing or culling individuals, populations... directly affects everyone's spiritual and mental existence.


>The opportunity to help and care for other people is a great gift

Which is why lots of people love the idea of pediatric care. You help them, they get better. You don't get better from old age. You deteriorate and die.


I should say that your previous comment has points I think are good ones! I just don't think it's a pie in the sky idea imagining a world where younger people can bring compassion, patience and kindness to an older population even as they deteriorate. I think increased technological complexity in life, the markets, and our current governments can not create, or exist in the same way in, such a world.

I didn't know this was controversial? The UN numbers referred to show that this is a likely outcome already on page 2.

At most the author seems to disagree with UN about ~1 billion people. Well within the uncertainty.

https://population.un.org/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2017_Key...


In the long run more agreeable (in a Big 5 sense) people have more children and agreeableness is fairly heritable so don't expect the decline in birth rates to last forever.

https://hopefullyintersting.blogspot.com/2018/05/falling-fer...


I've always kind of felt that man kind would go the way of the Mice Utopia experiment - https://www.returnofkings.com/36915/what-humans-can-learn-fr...

The article makes it sound like a journalist traveled around 26 countries (~10% of countries), interviewed only a handful of people in each (the ones they could reach), and concluded that UN's demographic projections - formulated with tons of data, academic methodologies, and carefully crafted by statisticians and global development experts - are wrong

The article and book sound pretty biased and clickbaity from what I can tell so far.

I'll stick with the UN for now ;)


That ended rather abruptly, and never even mentioned decline or running out.

In the short term, this is good news. Sub-replacement fertility is not zero; if the world population were to reduce by 1% per year for a few decades, it would reduce the pressure on the Earth's ecosystems and make some space for a better life for the remaining people. The population can always increase again.

This is indeed the leading theory about where the world will be heading over the next couple of decades. But I think the answer really depends on the culture of subpopulations.

In the USA for example, republican ruled states have more babies than democrat ruled states [1]. Or in israel, the fertility rate of the orthodox haredi minority is very high with 6.9 children per woman in 2017 (children not childbirths) compared to the non-haredi per-woman value of 2.4 [2].

So where will this lead us to? I think we'll experience growing percentages of conservatives/orthodox populations across the world while the liberal populations will shrink. Overall there will be a shrinkage but the conservative population growth might eat up that shrinkage and one day we might have overall growth again. But predicting the future is hard of course. For example, you could have the conversion of the conservative mindset towards liberalism which is happening in the entire world since maybe 100 years or such eat up every population increase of the conservative minorities.

Or you could have sci-fi tech that influences population infertility quite much, e.g. with artificial uteruses. With them, minorities that value large amounts of children might grow quicker and governments could want to influence how many children are being grown to fight population declines.

Or it might be figured out how to prevent/reverse aging and the number of "natural" deaths will sink to zero. Then your population will start growing again even without the contribution from conservative/orthodox minorities as the number of babies would still be larger than the (low) number of deaths due to accidents, crimes, etc.

[1]: https://www.fatherly.com/health-science/republicans-have-mor... [2]: https://en.idi.org.il/articles/20439


One might point out that orthodox-religious and Republican children are a major source of liberals.

Exactly, that's what I've meant with "conversion of the conservative mindset towards liberalism". Liberal groups have high capabilities of converting conservative people towards them while conservative groups have high capabilities of reproducing.

I don't worry about liberals for that reason: the more conservatives, the larger the pool of people they can convert to their ways. Liberalism originated in a world that was far more conservative than the conservatives we have today, and they still managed to get where we are now. I'm definitely not worried.


What I didn't see mentioned in the article is the 3rd possibility: that the population will grow but eventually reach a stable plateau. I don't know the number (<12 bil maybe) but this was argued by Hans Rosling.

Can any demographers weigh in?


IIRC the UN estimates in the early 2000s said it was going to top out at 11 to 12 billion and plateau there. This article is a much rosier estimate and expects us to top out at 9 billion or so before rapidly declining.

Optimal carrying capacity would be 1 billion.

We were half a billion in 1600s.

If everyone had 1/2 surviving child, we will start coming down in about 200 years. Would love it if someone smarter than me can do that mathematical projection?

We need everyone to have 1/2 child so we have genetic diversity.


Important to note that these two authors wrote another book in 2013, claiming that Canada would never elect a Liberal government again, because of demographics or something.

This was 18 months before the Liberals won a massive majority.

https://www.amazon.ca/Big-Shift-Canadian-Politics-Business/d...



I've not read the book yet (it only came out yesterday), but I think there are a few issues with the piece:

First, we should look at the authors of the book. Again, I've NOT read it, so this is based on a bit of internet sleuthing, and nothing more. The authors are primarily writers and news commentators in Canada. John Ibbitson writes for The Glode and Mail and is a political commentator[0]. Dr. Darrell Bricker is a pollster, political commentator, and author of a few books focusing on Canadian current events and issues[1]. I cannot speak for their personal knowledge on Earth's population nor the accuracy of a book that I have not read. However, based on their Wikipedia bios, I can conclude that they are not career professionals in global demographics. Speaking personally, they give me a Robert Reich/Thomas Friedman vibe more than anything.

Now, specifically about the Wired interview, there are some things that stand out:

> And then I saw one woman reach in and pull out a smartphone, look at it, and put it back. And I realized, here we are in a slum in Delhi, and all these women have smartphones. Who can read. Who have data packages. And I was thinking, they have all of human knowledge in their hands now.

Depending on the time and place that the authors were in Delhi, this may be incorrect. Free Basics was recently shot down in 2016, so if they were there after that decision, they are correct [2]. If they were there before that ruling, then it is highly likely that these women were only able to access Facebook and not the internet at large. In addition, though the Wired interview was very short, they may not have had anything other than basic phone functionality. I would love to know more about the actual data on how internet penetration occurs in the lower castes/classes of India.

> The UN says they’re already baked into the numbers. But when I went and interviewed ... Wolfgang Lutz in Vienna, ... he walked me through his projections, ... All he was doing was adding one new variable to the forecast: the level of improvement in female education. And he comes up with a much lower number ..., somewhere between 8 billion and 9 billion.

Based on some quick googling of Dr. Lutz, I would be a fool to disagree with his expert assessments [3]. He holds two doctorates, one in Demographics from U. Penn, and one in Statistics from U. Vienna and has been working in global demographics issues since 1985. I've not researched him in depth, but he seems like a level-headed person without much of an 'agenda'. He is a recent editor of a 1000+ page tome titled "World Population and Human Capital in the Twenty-First Century"[4]. So, if Dr. Lutz's believes that just adding in female education will drop the world population by ~two billion babies, then I would be loathe to argue with him.

> In the Philippines, for example, fertility rates dropped from 3.7 percent to 2.7 percent from 2003 to 2018. That's a whole kid in 15 years.

I'm not certain what 3.7 percent fertility means. I believe that there may be a mis-transcription here. What I think the authors mean is that the Philippines had a birth rate of 3.7 children per woman. For reference, Yemen is an even more extreme example:. In 1986, the fertility rate was over 9. Today it stands at 4; so 5 children in 30 years.

Overall, the Wired article stands as a good promotion for the recently released book. However, I feel that listening from Dr. Lutz himself may be a better and more productive use of time [5][6].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Ibbitson

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darrell_Bricker

[2] https://www.cnet.com/news/why-india-doesnt-want-free-basics/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wolfgang_Lutz

[4] https://global.oup.com/academic/product/world-population-and...

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xeDuJPJ5J5c

[6] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQJ7EApyi-A


I was expecting a link to the National Inquirer, and not Wired.

Utter nonsense


A world with declining population. Full of old people due to population pyramid inverted. Full of stupid, and impulsive, and likely religious zealots, as those are the only groups with fertility rates above replacement level.

Everyone who wants more than 2.1 kids is stupid, impulsive, or a religious zealot? That seems unlikely.

No, but it is true that groups with higher birth rates in spite of having middle class lifestyle tend to be religious.

there are lots of stupid, impulsive religious zealots with quiverfuls. But also a lot of wonderful, loving religious folks with quiverfuls.

I wish there were more other types who had a birthrate above replacement, but outside of religious circles, having more than 2 kids is rare and even considered uncouth.

If lots of couples have 1 or no kids and lots of people aren't even in couples, then we're going to need a LOT of people having 3 or more kids. But we aren't. Especially among the non-religious.

It could be that in the future, religion is a social trait selected for because it leads to higher birth rates.

I haven't seen a lot of introspection on this idea that doesn't quickly verge into, um, questionable rhetoric, and I'd like to see a lot more of it.


>It could be that in the future, religion is a social trait selected for because it leads to higher birth rates.

Why could it not also have been the case in the past as well? Many religions have tenets about raising many children. Could it be that this is why religion is very highly ingrained in society to begin with?


Quiverfuls are quite rare even in religious families with multiple children. It takes extraordinary conviction to continue when you are already feeding 10 children on one income. Even if those children do some of work.

It's not uncommon in some circles. I personally know many families with 7-12 children spread among all parts of the income scale.

In some circles, surely. But I took quiverful literally as that sect where they don't use anticonception at all (including counting days) and accept as many kids whenever they come. E.g. no conscious birth control at all.

They move in similar circles, because it is ideology. But I don't think they are much sizeable even among religious.


Agreed. But I suppose I was using a broader definition, like anything more than 3 or so kids.

>> it is true that groups with higher birth rates in spite of having middle class lifestyle tend to be religious.

I doubt that very much, that has not been my experience, my colleagues, or my relatives.

In fact, I wouldn't even agree with the point that religious people tend to have bigger families.


> I wouldn't even agree with the point that religious people tend to have bigger families.

That would be pretty silly then. Most successful religions have two things, both of them based on growth. One is a means to capture people not in their religion by conversion. The other is by codifying good parenting and breeding habits. The biblical old testament is rife with teachings like this for example.

Population fade with success is not a modern problem, it is an ancient one. In the past if you didn't have a large enough population you were at risk of attack by stronger nations.


Most religions are not 'successful', they are probably declining in numbers because the religious people in those religions are not having big families.

> I wish there were more other types who had a birthrate above replacement, but outside of religious circles, having more than 2 kids is rare and even considered uncouth.

I’ve never heard people having more than two children being referred to as uncouth. Honestly that’s disgusting.


>Full of stupid, and impulsive, and likely religious zealots,

They are so stupid, yet everyone else let themselves be out-bred by them? I think if that happens in the long-term, it more or less suggests "religious zealots" have adapted better.


Pew's numbers [0] predict greater than normal increase in Muslims over the next 30 years, by percentage of the world population.

I'm not suggesting that all muslims are "religious zealots", but yes, growth of population sections by religion is a real thing. On the other hand atheists are expected to stay the same, or even decline. No one can say what percent of people are going to be "zealots", but you could say it's hard to be a "religious zealot" without a religion. So, it seems likely, all other things being equal, that yes, religious zealotry (and all religious activity) will increase.

[0] http://www.pewforum.org/2015/04/02/religious-projections-201...


It's not stupid to be "out-bred": you're enjoying your own personal life more by keeping more resources for yourself, rather than sacrificing your time and resources on kids with the goal of continuing your family line. Your kids, grandkids, and descendants aren't likely to be of much help after you're dead.

This is an individual vs. society issue: having few kids is better at the individual level, but for society it's not sustainable unless we can figure out how to significantly extend lifespans (i.e., reduce the death rate in-line with the reduction of the birthrate).


One may argue that if you expand "for society" to a worldwide "for humankind", it's perfectly sustainable not to have kids at the current population level.

I think it's a safe assumption that those with religious dogma and those in regions of high child mortality will continue to have many kids, one way or another. The "educated" non-religious class is probably the only one that has a real choice to make. If they keep up reproducing at 2.1x replacement level while everyone else exceeds that level, the worldwide population is just going to continue to grow and then we're in real trouble.

I'm perfectly happy to let "my society" be taken over by "the other kind" who out-reproduced me and my peers. One way or another, we'll have to stop growing as a species, and one group's excesses have to balanced out by another group's shortfalls.


The only problem with that (if you care about what happens to humanity after you die) is that it will likely result in a major collapse of society. The religious nuts and those in regions of high child mortality (which means they're all poor and uneducated) aren't going to be able to maintain or advance a technological society. They can breed, but that's not enough to know how to keep complex systems running, and things will collapse just like Ancient Rome, with technology being lost and everyone going back to being feudal serfs, or worse.

Personally, I just don't see a way to avoid some kind of major collapse of society due to one or more of the many factors facing us. For this issue, I think greatly improving human longevity is absolutely necessary, and if we don't do that, we're going to have another Dark Ages of some kind.


If your only goal is to have children that can be done easily. The hard part is raising it with someone you may find out later you don't really like, that leads to dysfunctional or unhappy family situations. And regardless whether you are happy or not, having children limits your options in where can you go and what you can do. The goals of blue and white collar workers are different, the former is looking to just make a living to get by and have a family and that's the best they can hope for and sometimes that's all they need. The latter is seeking a balance of lifestyles that settling down makes it impossible to continue to seek the place where they are content and not settle for the next opportunity.

I think there's a documentary you might enjoy https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Idiocracy

Lots of religious people are perfectly nice and reasonably, by the way.

And they have lower fertility rates than zealots. See Christians, Hindus, Jews, and Muslims. The more tolerant, the lower the fertility rates.

As someone who is a practicing Catholic and therefore knows lots of people who are not family members who also regularly attend services, I can say at least anecdotally that tolerance and zeal for one's faith are not terribly correlated (as are intelligence and zeal, for that matter). I'm not sure about any studies, but the presence of counter-examples would make me look to confounding factors.

I’m not sure I’d call the people who successfully reproduce stupid. I wouldn’t call people that don't reproduce stupid either but there’s a case to be made around failing your primary objective as a living being not being a “smart” move.

Idiocracy on steroids!

I think you are experiencing the same gene pool concerns a racist would experience.

In the end the only thing one can really do it have your own kids.


It is happening across all “races” and cultures.



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