The Sources of Unemployment

They won’t get there.  I have pointed out that the Population Division fails to recognize the limits to food production when it thinks they can get there.11 Those countries cannot feed themselves now.   They cannot hope to feed 4.2 billion people. The future has already come to Africa, and the wars we call tribal are driven by the competition of growing populations for dwindling in – and as richer countries buy up their farmland. Modern commercial fertilizers have just started reaching many of those countries, but they are becoming scarce and expensive, and that makes the situation even more desperate.  Most of those countries cannot compete for them, even while they are still available.

Women in those most fecund societies average 4.9 children.  That number has declined only 27% since 1965-1970. The UN projects a 57% decline between now and 2100, but even that would be far from enough. If they are hungry now, they need to get back to a population less than the present 1.2 billion – and very swiftly, before ravage their present scant resources.  Only a calamity could lead to such a reversal. The fertility decline in most of Latin America is looked upon as close to a miracle. It has dropped from 5.9 to 2.2 since 1960 – 64% in 50 years. But Africa needs a bigger miracle. Most of Latin America was less crowded to start with, it is still above replacement level fertility, its population has nearly quadrupled and has yet to stop.  That is no solution for Africa, or Bangladesh.

We can continue to try to help the “most fertile” countries to address their fertility, but many of them are corrupt and failed states, unable even to provide minimal government to most of their territory.  Fertility cannot decline enough in time to save them. Mortality will rise, and population growth will be stopped by starvation and disease. It is a terrible prospect, but one we cannot control from afar.

What will the people do? They will migrate. People will move away from poverty and turmoil if they can. Add to that the continuing migration of people – even in stabilizing countries – to where they have learned they can earn more. Mexico and the United States offer such an example.  A pattern has been established that will probably continue, even though Mexican fertility has declined to just above replacement level, and population growth will eventually stop. Right now, the migration is probably somewhat down because U.S. unemployment so long as the differential in wages exists. Unless we do something about it.

Those migratory pressures threaten to vitiate efforts in the less fertile societies to bring their population into balance with their resources. This is already happening. The United States would be on the way to losing population now if it were not for immigration.  The U.K. is experiencing record immigration levels, and it expects its population to grow by 13% to 70 million in the next few years, even though its fertility has been below replacement level since 1970. Because of immigration, the population of Italy is 9% higher than the UN thought that it would be by now, and it is rising rather than falling, despite a fertility rate far below replacement since 1980.

A Vanishing Window of Opportunity.  The pressures on the system are mounting. I have suggested the desperation of the “most fertile” societies.  For them, emigration may seem the only solution, but it is employment and wages, food supplies, and indeed to the very identity of the receiving countries.  The problems will increase with population growth, rather than go away.  The proposals I have made to deal with current unemployment in the United States are simply part of the measures that we and other societies must take to address the problems posed by population growth in the era of resource scarcity, climate change and the fossil energy transition.12 It is a time of stringencies and rising competition. Only by envisaging and enforcing effective immigration controls, by protecting domestic labor from a world in which too many people are competing for too few jobs, and by learning to live sustainably without rising debts, can the U.S. and the less fecund societies hope to preserve their own future. Triage is not a pleasant prospect, and it may not succeed, but the alternative is clear: desperation for the fertile and infertile alike, until we learn to come into balance with our planet.


Lindsey Grant

Lindsey Grant is a retired Foreign Service Officer; he was a China specialist and served as Director of the Office of Asian Communist Affairs, National Security Council staff member, and Department of State policy Planning staff member. As Deputy Secretary of State for Environmental and Population Affairs, he was Department of State coordinator for the Global 2000 Report to the President, Chairman of the interagency committee on Int'l Environmental Committee and US member of the UN ECE Committee of Experts on the Environment. His books include: Too Many People, Juggernaut, The Horseman and the Bureaucrat, Elephants in Volkswagen, How Many Americans?

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