Letters to the Editor, December 2023
Published: December 11, 2023
I just got my fall issue of Population Connection magazine. On the cover, I’m offered the news that an aging population is a challenge, not a disaster after all, and I’m presented with the image of some bright, happy, aging people moving through a lush green landscape. We all want to read good, happy news, especially if it’s about us.
This may be the gateway issue for those who are not already in stark overpopulation denial but simply have not been exposed to the facts. I bought 10 copies and am sending them to co-conspirators to enjoy and pass on. I’m encouraging these magazines to end their lives in public waiting rooms and laundry rooms, bus stations, libraries … anywhere that idle eyes may be looking for distraction. Everything that needs to be said is presented within these pages.
I may have neglected to tell you before that I very much appreciate what you do.
Re: Your September Editor’s Note, I not only want to raise my hand to register my sickness at reading “news” articles that claim economic devastation that the aging populations of high-income countries will inevitably bring, I am also taking you up on your offer to write a letter to the editor.
The people who make this bogus claim tend to be the same people who warn that the growth in robotics is going to limit the number of jobs for people. Yet somehow, they can’t add two plus two to realize that as robotics grows and becomes more sophisticated, there will be increased help for the aging population. They also tend to be the same people who support the Global Gag Rule, reducing access to contraception in low-income countries, while at the same time screaming about the wave of “illegal” immigrants.
And thus, in 2023, we see the same corporate entities trying once again to raise the specter of fear of what will happen if we reduce population, when the real fear should be what will happen if we don’t: depletion of natural resources, air and water pollution, super diseases, rising poverty, mass starvation, increased warfare. They should be learning as we have seen worldwide wildfires and super storms that there is no protection for them, not even in their gated mountain-top communities.
It may sound to some, reading this letter, that I am pessimistic. On the contrary, I am optimistic because it’s the only way to be that carries any hope for positive change, and because when we look globally at how much positive change there has been worldwide despite all the corporate and autocratic opposition, it tells us we are capable of so much more if we just keep up the good fight.
Michael A. Kalm, MD
I read the September Population Connection magazine today and thought it was excellent. You and your team produce great material on population issues. From your opening President’s Note to the article by Dean Baker to “In the News” to Brian Dixon’s coverage of Capitol Hill, the magazine deserves a population Pulitzer.
Bill Ryerson, President and Founder of Population Media Center
I completely agree that overpopulation is a much larger problem than managing the economic transition necessitated by an aging population, but the latter transition poses difficult challenges for everyone, not just ‘elites.’
As countries age, either the elderly must live with less financial support, the subsidy from workers to retired people must increase, the retirement age must increase, retiree funding systems must incur debt, or some combination of these must occur. Thus, younger people must sacrifice by working longer, transferring more income to the elderly, or paying down previous generations’ debts.
Baker argues that productivity growth can solve these problems, but that is politically naïve and ignores the history of people expecting more goods and services as productivity increases.
Though these problems are not as existential as the consequences of exceeding the planet’s carrying capacity, they are near-term, tangible, serious problems whose solutions are politically challenging because they require sacrifices from voters. To imply they are just a problem for ‘elites’ is misleading and therefore unhelpful.
Dean Baker’s article in the September issue was a compelling rebuttal of those who argue that declining populations will result in fewer workers to support growing numbers of retirees. In particular, he emphasized that higher productivity resulting from technological advances would make for greater economic efficiencies, thus compensating for the reduced number of workers. But nowhere did he acknowledge the effects of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on future productivity, which will result not from workers, but from their displacement by AI’s technological advances. In short, AI, which is still in its infancy, must now be taken into account when calculating the effects of future demographic changes.
Thank you for exposing the old fallacy of “too few workers supporting the aging population.” Higher living standards and longer, healthier lives experienced in all other peer nations (including many with larger elderly-to-working-age populations than in the U.S.), are rarely, if ever, reported.
All nations providing basic health care, housing, transportation, and education not only avoid far higher public costs from unmet needs, they increase the broader population’s purchasing power, in turn, increasing demand for production and employment that reduces inflation—a prerequisite for prosperity.
I agree strongly with the principal points in the article. I also believe that far from being a problem, a declining human population (negative population growth) is greatly to be desired. Although I believe this to be true, I realize that this is very unpopular. Difficult to go beyond what you stated in the article.
Dr. Robert Raynsford, Chief Economist, U.S. Dept of the Army (ret.)
The article “Aging Populations and Great Power Politics,” in the September issue, was great. One subject not included was the push by media, big business, and governments to increase the population because they feel they need more readers/watchers, consumers, and tax payers.
The Reagan philosophy of more people, more money is still alive and well in America and consequently in the world, with terrible, destructive consequences now being felt everywhere on our planet.
It’s really simple: more people + more waste + more pollution = extreme climate catastrophes.
Population, as Population Connection has tried its best to show, is obviously the elephant in the room, but no one wants to look at it, while it craps all over the place!
Starting to read my print copy of your magazine, I was encouraged by your first few stories. But Dean Baker strikes me as another Gen X economist who seems to have missed the boat on Barry Commoner’s resource economics. Covid should have taught us that we can’t count on continuously increasing productivity. We’d do well to admit that Japan and other aging populations have complex economic burdens related to their demographics but are still far better off than if their populations had kept growing in an island nation and in a world of limited resources. If we are going to convince population stabilization skeptics, we should focus not on Baker’s questionable arguments but on living/reproducing in harmony with a finite Mother Earth.
I believe there is only one problem facing life on Earth today, and that is why I support you. It’s hard to see a light at the end of the tunnel sometimes, but it behooves us to keep on trying.
There are too many people on the planet!
We must have population reduction and then maintenance of a static population level from that point on—forever and beyond! While in the process of making that happen, we must protect and enhance the natural areas of our planet—on land and at sea. Once that’s in place, we can live in harmony with our natural environment while we continue to protect it as we enjoy it.