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Prosperity up, births down

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doug_thompsonBy Doug Thompson

Now here’s something new. Fertility rates are falling. The world’s population could stabilize by 2050 at about 9.2 billion. The Economist magazine reported that Oct. 29.

This drop isn’t caused by forced limits on family size in China. For instance, Iranian mothers were expected to have six children in 1984. That number is down to 1.9, the magazine says. The real cause is the economic benefit of having fewer babies. The world’s economy has developed enough to bring that condition to many.

Growing your own labor makes the most sense with subsistence farming. That seems like a paradox. Large families make the most sense at the ragged edge of survival? Yes, apparently because the more kids you have, the more likely some of them will survive. When you get beyond subsistence, the prospect improves of more surviving among a population of fewer children.

Now, can this planet sustain a population of 9.2 billion humans?

Your guess is as good as mine. The current world population is about 6.8 billion.

Let’s assume, however, that 9.2 billion people can live here — whatever the planet’s condition. We may all be pretty warm and Al Gore may be worshipped as a prophet, but that’s still 40 years off at least.

This means we will have arrived at this somewhat stable condition without every nation having to resort to what China did.

That would be nice. Forced abortions and sterilization are a form of rape. Some would argue the forced abortions are a form of murder. It would be good to be able to see, even in hindsight, that there were alternatives.

Of course, the comfort of that thought might be lost if the population growth slowdown proves to be too little, too late.

Hitting a population plateau so late in world history has another aspect to it. The population will stabilize with a lot of older people in it.

They will, by and large, be a healthier bunch of old people. But if these projections hold, a lot of the world’s stabilized population will be over 40 and much of it will be over 60. The trend will be most pronounced in the most developed countries.

There won’t be a whole lot of young working people supporting a relative few old, frail people — or older people playing golf.

I guess we’ll have to live with it.

All this is extremely speculative. One serious flu epidemic could change the whole picture. For now, however, it looks like “Soylent Green” scenarios are not part of our children’s future.

Speaking of The Economist, they had another article Tuesday about big national newspapers swooping into the wastelands left by the collapse of big city daily papers.

Some smaller, highly focused papers in tight communities are doing rather well. They’ve picked up some slack from the big dailies. For instance, papers in suburbs of Detroit are doing very well in the aftermath of the big town’s collapse.

The real winner, however, is the Wall Street Journal. This used to be an elitist paper. Now it is the best-selling newspaper in America. The New York Times isn’t far behind. It’s circulation fell only slightly. It’s moving aggressively to take over other markets, such as San Francisco’s.

What we’re seeing here is not collapse, but consolidation. It may look like collapse, but what we’re going to see are huge news conglomerates with local branches. They will be better financed when the really big leap comes — breaking free of a printed product.

I guess we’ll have to live with it.

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