Heading off the population bulge:
Despite my frantic warnings about a decline in fertility striking the populations that can best afford babies, the fact remains that there are more people in the world than can be supported by traditional technology and a lot more are on the way.  We are living off fossil fuels.  They may last a long time.  New methods of recovering natural gas from shale bid well to make the United States an energy exporter for the first time in a long and frantic time.  But there are limits with any technology. 

Survival depends on ever renewed technology, and that can only happen if the populations and the families that can produce new technology continue to have enough babies.  For instance, I am a medical doctor.  At the end of my career I finally “get it.”  I’m ready to start medical school now.  It took that long to accumulate the unteachable.  My professors, the most of them, strove mightily to prepare me, but they had limited ability.  My son, had I one who was a doctor, would only now be getting the best I have to offer, and he would already have seen through a lot of his career.  I would need a grandson or granddaughter in order to impart my hard won skills.

I’m sure the same goes for any demanding field.

That is the position I generally take.  But all the while, as everybody knows, the population is already too big for the planet and still rising. 

Efforts are being made to help people who want to limit their fecundity.  (Choice not Chance ECONOMIST vol. 404 no. 8793 July 14, 2012 page 53)  Such efforts do not have a good record.  Regrettable things have been done.  But it’s looking better now. 

And indeed, the efforts to limit births by acceptable means (and of course what you are willing to accept depends on who you are so maybe I should say “means that are more acceptable) is looking more respectable.

One reason the picture has changed is that the efforts of the UN and others are meeting with better acceptance on the part of the people least able to have a lot of babies.  That is a good thing.

On the other hand I still squirm.  The data suggest that the number of offspring depends on the kinship of parents, grandparents and possibly earlier generations AND THAT”S ALL.  How that number is arrived at varies from postponing marriage until one can afford it – to me the ideal way – to doing things that are better reported elsewhere.  I have not the stomach for it.

The title of the article I cite implies there are two ways to govern population size: through caution to the winds and let chance take over or take charge and make a rational decision. 

But I very much suspect that neither alternative is real.  I suspect that the greater acceptance is not a rational choice but a rational choice that has been made in the face of an inherited imperative.  This question has been specifically addressed as I have mentioned in the past.  For sure, there is a correlation between the number of women getting an education and their tendency to have few children.  But in a study done in Denmark it was found that the number of children could be predicted by the distance apart a couple was born and the size of the town they live in. Once those were controlled for there was absolutely no detectable influence of education or income on family size.

So the young women getting an education are getting more than an education.  They are getting a chance to meet people outside their own tight little circle.  And of course a tight population in which every relative gets to have an influence on one must at times seem to induce claustrophobia.  My own family to my thinking gets a gold star for not imposing on other members.  Yet we have scattered to the edge of the continental United States.  Somebody seems to have needed more elbow room. 

So I am heartened that birth control efforts are not as odious as they have sometimes been.  And I can see the logic.  I am just not quite sure that the real cause is anything but accumulated lack of kinship.  And if that is the case, if the most fertile parts of the world have already embarked on the long walk that the least fertile may be reaching the end of, then we could lose more than our technology.

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