Tim McMullen's Missives and Tomes

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Should We Fear David Brooks' "Population Implosion"?

Danny O'Keefe shared an article by David Brooks titled "The Fertility Implosion" which expresses Brooks' growing trepidation about birthrates falling worldwide. Danny offered the following intro: "A major point in this article is that when people expand their income ability (usually with the benefit of greater education) they rely less on large families. The Earth could use less people. If the capacity to create and retain wealth grows, then the only real problem with maintaining an equity standard would seem to be fair distribution. If that sounds like socialism then let your granny starve."

I responded:
Danny, I agree with your analysis of the issue, but I don't think Brooks does. Perhaps I am just so jaded by all the recent assaults on women's rights, but this reads to me like a subtle admonishment to the advocates of birth control that we are controlling ourselves out of "prosperity."

The irony of this way of thinking is that it is predicated on the interpolation or conflation of the perceived need for large families due to the low life expectancy juxtaposed with the capitalistic fantasy of endless growth for prosperity. The irony stems from the fact, as you have pointed out, that increased population does not mean increased economic growth when the wealth is siphoned off by a tiny percentage and the trajectory of the "trickle" ceases to be "down."

It is likely that, with the technology that David Brooks acknowledges, we could, indeed, feed the world and not only successfully sustain life but improve living conditions for all. This cannot occur, however, when the system designed to provide that sustenance is predicated on promoting predators and sacrificing workers to a slave-like subsistence.

Brooks laments the fertility implosion because the system he supports demands a perpetual supply of an ever cheaper and harder working labor force (i.e., the hilarious misnomer: increased productivity) who do not share in the profits that their labor creates. Adam Smith would not recognize this grotesque perversion of his theory of capitalism as distorted by the amoral and immoral elevation of greed and selfishness by the likes of Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand, two unlikely but sympathetic bedfellows, whose acolytes recite snippets of their philosophies like mantras without an inkling of understanding.

In OUR TOWN, Wilder has an angry man ask Editor Webb (the play's most centered and level headed character, played, incidentally, by Ronny Cox in the excellent 1977 TV production), "“Is there no one in town aware of social injustice and industrial inequality?” To which Editor Webb replies:

"I guess we’re all huntin’ like everybody else for a way the diligent and sensible can rise to the top and the lazy and quarrelsome sink to the bottom. But it ain’t easy to find. Meantime, we do all we can to take care of those who can’t help themselves."

In the last thirty years, we have completely reversed these goals, rewarding and promoting corruption and fraud as the methodology of the quarrelsome and lazy gamers of the system while the diligent and sensible see their prospects squeezed out of them as that desire to help others is seen as a foolish weakness and unaffordable indulgence: Socialism, if you will.

My guess is that the only way to turn this delusional, self-destructive juggernaut around is by simultaneously and wholeheartedly supporting workers rights, women's rights, immigrants' rights, LGBT rights everywhere in the world, coupled with a profound respect for and aggressive protection of the environment. If we can do those "simple" things, we just might overcome this offensive glitch in the slow but inevitable evolution of freedom on this little speck of dust.

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