Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Best and Most Frightening Article I Have Read in Some Time

Jason Collins wrote an excellent, concise article on a Malthusian meta-trap, in which K-selection (not Collins's term) only provides temporary escape.  High technological-economic growth follows from quality-preference (Collins's term) in family size (i.e., when people invest a lot of time and effort into mate selection and education, famine and poverty can be defeated).  Unfortunately, this era of plenty begins favoring quality-preference as people who are unwilling to choose mates or invest time in raising children have their children surviving at increasingly high rates.  This in turn kills the environment for prosperity, throwing the economy back into the Malthusian trap.

Easy to question the assumptions, but harder to disprove the prediction, based on the recent past.


bgc said...

Thanks for the link - I commented there.

The same conclusion derives from quite a wide range of assumptions and variables: modernity is self-destroying - a 'blip' in human history lasting only a dozen or fewer human generations, and not a permanent escape from the Malthusian trap.

Jehu said...

Another date with Malthus is largely inevitable barring extreme limitation of fertility, but the groups likely to get the demographic hegemony at that point might surprise many people. Mormons, homeschoolers, Amish, Mennonites, and Orthodox Jews all have very respectable TFR's. They're also likely to eventually resist having their fertility transferred from them to other groups via welfare and the like. Interestingly, it would only take a few thousand years for a few homeschoolers with sustained TFR 4 to totally fill even a Niven-esque Ringworld to present day Earth population densities. Exponential functions will always eventually rule if unchecked.

Justin said...

I think the major flaw in this theory is the failure to account for plummeting birth rates, which are, indeed, occurring just about everywhere. It also fails to account for the change in technology, specifically weapons technology, which makes, shall we say, rapid population depletion events... quite easy.

Talk of a Malthusian trap seems silly, quite frankly, when confronted with the obesity epidemic.

Overall, people are having smaller families, and getting fatter, the exact opposite of the Malthusian trap.

Jehu said...

Most groups ARE experiencing plummeting birth rates, but some are not (look at the groups I've cited). Basic principles of animal husbandry and mathematics tend to dictate that those subgroups that are immmune or resistant to the fertility depression of modernity are going to dominate.

bgc said...

Justin - the population of the world is continuing to increase very rapidly indeed.


Of course this trend cannot continue and will be stopped and reversed by starvation, disease, violence - the usual Malthusian mechanisms; but that is what is happening, population is increasing very rapidly - so I am puzzled by the common perception you seem to share that world population is stable or declining.

Olave d'Estienne said...

The illusion that world population is stable may partly come from a sort of unconscious "unweighted averaging" that happens when people consider that East Asian and Caucasoid birthrates are at or below replacement level, while African and Latin American birthrates are way above.

In fact, even if the big ethno-racial groups were approximately equal in size (they're not), equal percentage changes would still result, not just in shifts toward the growing group, but in overall population growth. The falling-pop groups would be numerically less important after a generation.