How Many People Do We Need?

How Many People Do We Need?

Matt HealeyTuesday,11 February 2014

The Snap:

Fine. I promised that I would try to write more and failed faster than a New Years resolution at the gym. However, I have been very busy – actually at the gym – on most evening so writing these had taken a back seat. If you are curious, based on Fitbit calculations, I tend to get between 6 and 7 hours of “very active minutes” each week. Still, I do like writing these so I am back to taking pen to paper. This post is following on the theme of income inequality. The question I now have centers around the total world population. Do we have too many people for income equality?

The Download:

It may seem weird to ask if we have too many people. Actually it may seem more than just weird, it may seem a bit macabre but as you read this please keep in mind that I am not advocating any form of genocide or forced reduction in the population. After all, almost all economic models show that a rising population is required for economic growth and economic growth is necessary to help lift the underclasses out of poverty. For a very long time that was true. Increasing people meant increasing available labor which translated into economic growth. Gains in productivity were slight so in general the relationship held for hundreds of years. Then it began to change with the first industrial revolution when things like the steam engine, invented in 1712, began to dramatically replace the need for human labor. Granted people were still needed, specifically as control mechanisms for the machines. However the numbers of unskilled manual labor began to decline. The decline increased in speed throughout the 300 years as machines got more efficient and the costs declined.

Then next major step, at least according to me, was in 1959 when the first IC was patented. Actually there were 2 patents granted and if the story was happening today, they would still be suing each other over patent infringement, but I digress. Over the next 50+ years the IC turned out to revolutionize what machines could do. As digital technology followed the same path as mechanical technology, the need for many professions was eliminated. Anyone remember the secretarial pool where memos were sent to be typed? I only do because of a strong union hold on the defense contractors in the early 1990s. They now can win at Chess and Jeopardy. Basically, they are now eliminating the need for a lot of jobs. Accountant – Naw, I’ll use Turbo Tax. Personal Assistant, Naw, Google Calendar does a good job. Truck drives, not needed, the Amazon Drones will deliver that package. Taxi Drivers, soon I will have a self-driving car that will take me where I need to go, likely with reduced chance of an accident.

So the question is, with the dramatic reduction in the need for humans, do we need as many of us? Would the planet, and the inhabitants be better off if there were less people?

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Image Credit: Flickr



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