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07/29/2012

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Andrew_M_Garland

Posner [edited]: The Black Death reduced the European population by a third in a relatively short time. This is sometimes credited with Europe’s economic takeoff. By substantially increasing the ratio of arable land to people, the plague substantially increased incomes.

Mr. Posner, possibly you could provide a link to the details which support this amazing argument. Lower population supposedly led to higher incomes (how?), but those incomes did not decline as the population recovered and even grew greater.

You shift from the "most important historical example of medieval Europe" to "the Black death is sometimes credited". Which is it: Most important example, or fringe theory sometimes credited?

Terry Bennett

The world may be inherently able to accommodate 7 billion people, but right now it cannot because we haven't figured out how to make enough resources available in the right places, and the result is rather brutal lives for large numbers of people and overwhelming pressure on the Earth itself. Continued innovation in response to this demand is one path toward a solution, but attrition is another. We can improve production and logistics to reduce starvation and poverty, but we can also reduce the overall population to the level we and our planet can accommodate under our current methods.

Two countries, China and India, account for over a third of the total population, and the bulk of their citizens live in poverty, to the discredit of both their leaders and their longstanding cultural assumptions. It is irresponsible and subhuman for any person in 2012 A.D. to procreate beyond his or her reasonable expectation of capability to sustain another child. Large numbers of people, both in uncivilized countries and in uncivilized subcultures within the borders of the U.S. and other modern countries, act like lower animals, leaving procreation to chance or actively seeking to have children they cannot possibly raise, and thus either damn these offspring to misery and proximate death or foist this externality on the rest of the human race.

In the case of India, the classic economics of supply and demand dictates the outcome upon the unintelligent behaviors of ignorant people no matter how educated. While they have not had a statute such as China's to force their behavior, the advent of amniocentesis was shortly followed by clinics springing into ubiquity all over the country to meet demand. In their culture, a girl has traditionally been seen as an expense, so much so that the family would have to pay (a dowry) to eventually get rid of her. Fast forward twenty-five years, and this repugnant attitude has been hoist with its own forceps. Pre-natal testing and the routine abortion of females has led to a perfectly predictable and condign glut of men looking for suitable mates, and the value of women has gone up. This phenomenon has also been seen in China. Stupid, pigheaded, male-centric Luddites! Bow down and kiss my feet before you dare even look upon my daughters!

Jimbino

The comment regarding the higher propensity of males for criminal behavior fails to consider that males do more of many things positive, including invention, innovation, travel, math, science, engineering, mining, construction, chess, haute couture, haute cuisine, filmmaking and economics.

Women consume almost twice the health care as men and more in retirement benefits. A society with 1/4 the women each making 4 times as many babies would be more efficient.

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TANSTAAFL

Bennett, as usual, expresses an articulate view. But doesn't his viewpoint rest on the idea that his DNA is superior to the DNA of "large numbers of people, both in uncivilized countries and in uncivilized subcultures within the borders of the U.S. and other modern countries, [who] act like lower animals"? That view is deeply troubling.

Christopher Graves

The historical appeal to the Black Death with its attendant decrease in population setting the stage for later economic growth leading to the Renaissance is well-taken. But it might very well might be the case that the analysis outlined by Judge Posner that finds beneficial effects from lowering the population of a nation, or a continent in this instance, is based on the fallacy of composition as it might over-aggregate the characteristics of the Medieval European population.

The salutary effects of the population decrease of Fourteenth Century Europe might be traceable not to the lower population per se, but to the quality of the folks who survived the Black Death. To survive such an ordeal takes superior insight and determination. While this is not true in every individual case, it could be that people who survived typically possessed qualities that enabled them to be more likely to survive such as foresight and reasoned responsiveness in avoiding areas that were demonstratively dangerous. The Black Death might have "culled the herd" of those who we would now describe as being members of an underclass. Consequently, those who survived were more productive on average leading to economic improvements without the drag of those who were less able.

Of course, all classes of people are needed to cultivate civilization. Someone has to do the "dirty work" in order to free the more talented to pursue more profitable uses of their time and energy as well as substantive leisure activities such as the arts and philosophy. But sheer numbers matter in setting the pace for social, cultural, and economic life.

It is very possible that we are now witnessing the inverse of this trend in population changes as more people survive who would not have in previous centuries leading to an oversupply of working class and poor people. Such a development could explain the rise in inequality of income and wealth as a growing economy allows the more able people to rise as the less able are consigned to less skilled forms of labor that do not pay as well and lack social status.

Of course, it is one thing for a civilization to reap the benefits of a natural occurrence such as the Plague. It is quite another for a central authority to deliberately plan the course of the development of a population. There are both practical and moral obstacles to such policies. We can see both constraints taking their toll on China now and continuing into the foreseeable future. When we consider moral objections to population control, we must remember the central importance of the principle of equality of moral worth as we should also simultaneously reject any other conception of equality especially equality of opportunity and equality of result. We should also reconsider our commitment to universal suffrage as the less talented vote themselves an income at the expense of the property rights of the more talented, imaginative, and energetic.

Terry Bennett

To TANSTAAFL - That's specifically contrary to what I was going for...

First, by whatever historical accident I am a cracker, and prominent among the uncivilized cultures within our borders to which I referred is the Jerry Springer White Trailer Trash contingent, who have the same DNA as I. Second, my first and only wife, of over twenty years, is a mestiza Chinese Filipina, and I married her knowing that my kids would have her DNA. I have flat feet and a dubious hairline; I would not wish my DNA on anybody, but my values are a sorely needed gift I'd love the world to accept.

Loosely, let's say that a race is a set of people who have the same DNA, and a culture is a set of people who have the same values. I'm talking about culture and not race. I am comfortable / bored with the expectation that the world will look less and less white with coming generations. The demographics of the U.S. are testament to that. I really don't care which gene pool dominates, but I believe the looming danger to the U.S. as we know it is dilution of the value pool. As a decreasing share of the population comes to consist of the people who made the country what it is by their heartfelt convictions about what is right and wrong, and an increasing share consists of people who do not realize the importance of valuing such things and either take them for granted or work against them outright, our nation suffers. It is the choices of these people I abhor. Most of them are a lot better looking than I am.

We are at a point in world evolution when people need to take responsibility for their actions. I do not believe those actions are dictated by the DNA that has been passed down to their blood, but rather by the cultural values that have been passed down to their minds. As the false promises underlying these values are exposed over time, it is appropriate that they be called out and criticized. The people of India, China, et al have overwhelmed their own resources with their mindless adherence to ancient attitudes. (The Philippine solution to this stupidity has been to export their excess young bodies as labor, and today their diaspora of overseas workers is a full 15% of the country, who support the homeland with remittance taxes.) If there were too many WASPs I would say so, but what we call poverty is almost laughable compared to the daily conditions faced by billions who have not yet taken their human responsibilities to heart.

TANSTAAFL

Thanks for the clarification, Bennett. I take no issue with anything you say, except, perhaps, to note that you could be a wee more charitable to the white trash that gave us birth. The same kind of white trash served General Washington well, not to mention Andrew Jackson. But let's not quibble.

TANSTAAFL

Thanks for the clarification, Bennett. I take no issue with anything you say, except, perhaps, to note that you could be a wee more charitable to the white trash that gave us birth. The same kind of white trash served General Washington well, not to mention Andrew Jackson. But let's not quibble.

TANSTAAFL

Oops. Apologies for the dual post.

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The world does have a population problem, it cannot continue to grow in this way for much longer. We are running out of resources at an alarming rate.

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jorod

Posner is a nut job. As income and education grow, birth rates drop. What is the source of ignorance and poverty? Socialism. The black death helped to end Feudalism (Socialism) and incomes rose as a result. Some of it was due to labor shortages but the end of serfdom was the real reason. Julian Simon wrote a great paper on population growth, economic growth and freedom.

William Bell

A society's overall birthrate may be of interest, but it also matters who has the babies.

In the U.S. and other meritocratic societies where anti-female sex discrimination in the job market is largely a thing of the past, women with the best career prospects -- that is, women who are most endowed with intelligence and other traits that make for success in high-level careers -- reproduce at way below replacement rate, while women with the worst career prospects have much higher lifetime fertility, bearing children both sooner and more frequently. The dysgenic implication of this birthrate skew was brilliantly illustrated in the opening sequence of Mike Judge's film *Idiocracy*, depicting a future dystopia that's considerably more plausible, at this point, than any conjured up by H.G. Wells, Aldous Huxley, or George Orwell.

David Friedman

Two comments:

1. Europe in the 14th century was a society where a fixed resource, land, represented a sizable part of total wealth. The black death dropped the ratio of people to land and so (arguably) made the survivors better off.

Land is much less important in a modern society, where the ultimate resource is, as Julian Simon argued, people. Contrary to what one might expect from the usual arguments about overpopulation, in the modern world many of the richer societies have high rather than low population densities. So I don't find that particular argument very persuasive.

2. You seem to take for granted the conventional view that raising temperature by a few degrees centigrade over a century would have a large net negative effect. I have not yet been able to find any good reason to think that that is true--the present climate of the earth was not, after all, designed for our convenience, and humans presently function across a wide range of climates. I suspect that, as in many other externality based arguments for public policy, opponents of a change point out the negative consequences, ignore or minimize the positive, and so "prove" that we would be better off preventing it.

You can find a more detailed discussion of that point on my blog.

Liqian Ren

I am against the policy but I think your post could be more informative if you mention these:

1.
I am a Chinese with a graduate degree from US but I have never heard about allowing me having more than one child as an exception. I could be wrong but this is the first time I heard about this.

2.Also keep in mind rurual residents account for about half of the Chinese population so it is not surprising the fertility rate is above 1. And in rural families, if you have a daughter first, you could have a second child.

3. There is an automatic stablizer in place, in that if both parents are one-child, then they can have two children. And true, many of them still choose to only have one child, as one study of Shanghai residents showed.

4. In many parts of the areas now as long as you pay the fine you get to have as many children as you want. Several of my cousins have two children. Just to give you an idea from my own family's experiences, the fine could be between 60,000-140,000Yuan, depending on your income.


Liqian Ren

William Bell

From a Darwinian standpoint, allowing only those willing to pay a substantial fee to procreate more than twice is more rational than the way it goes in the USA.

Dick Hertz

"The world does have a population problem, it cannot continue to grow in this way for much longer. We are running out of resources at an alarming rate."

Really? Which ones? Is it possible that before we run out of whatever resources you're talking about we will discover better, more useful alternatives?

Before we discovered how to use fossil fuels people like you were crying about running out of wood.

You might consider that human ingenuity might just be the single most valuable resource on earth.

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The black death helped to end Feudalism (Socialism) and incomes rose as a result.

William Bell

Dick Hertz to TANSTAAFL: "Is it possible that before we run out of whatever resources you're talking about we will discover better, more useful alternatives? Before we discovered how to use fossil fuels people like you were crying about running out of wood."

That may be true, but it can't be deduced from past events that substitute fuels will be found that will prove to be as cost-effective as fossil fuels have been to date. Nor is there any iron guarantee that the cumulative value of goods and services will forever outrun or keep pace with population growth.

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