No wealth but life

Posted in: Comment, New Publications

I usually avoid discussions about the 'global population problem' of the 'something must be done before it's too late' variety because there are usually no sensible policy options on offer – save ' more education' and/or 'more economic growth'.  Rarely does anyone dare to suggest anything remotely practical such as free contraception to all who want it, or abortion / assisted dying on demand – or, much more extreme – closing every neo-natal unit.

Such discussions are also usually free of theory; that is, there's an absence, for example, of any explanatory conceptual framework that enables our understanding of human population in the context of how we live our lives in the wider biosphere.  How useful it was, then, to find Herman Daly musing about these issues in a recent blog.

This begins:

A steady state economy is defined by a constant population and a constant stock of physical capital. In a way it is an extension of the demographer’s model of a stationary population to include non living populations of artifacts, with production rates equal to depreciation rates, as well as birth rates equal to death rates.  The basic idea goes back to the classical economists and was most favorably envisioned by John Stuart Mill.

The population problem should be considered from the point of view of all populations–populations of both humans and their things (cars, houses, livestock, crops, cell phones, etc.)–in short, populations of all “dissipative structures” engendered, bred, or built by humans.  Both human bodies and artifacts wear out and die.  The populations of all organs that support human life, and the enjoyment thereof, require a metabolic throughput to counteract entropy and remain in an organized steady state.  

All of these organs are capital equipment that support our lives.  Endosomatic (within skin) capital–heart, lungs, kidneys–supports our lives quite directly.  Exosomatic (outside skin) capital supports our lives indirectly, and consists both of natural capital (e.g., photosynthesizing plants, structures comprising the hydrologic cycle), and manmade capital (e.g., farms, factories, electric grids). 

Recommended reading, perhaps, for all who bang mindlessly on about something needing to be done about population without actually saying anything.  You know who you are.

20th January update

It seems that one political party does have these policies – the Greens. T his is what the Telegraph reports this morning after a close look at their election manifesto:

Assisted dying will be legalised, and the law on abortion liberalised to allow nurses to carry it out. “Alternative” medicine will be promoted.  Private healthcare will be more heavily taxed, with special levies on private hospitals that employ staff who were trained on the NHS.  It will be a criminal offence, with “significant fines”, to stop a woman from breastfeeding in a restaurant or shop, and formula milk will be more tightly regulated.  In order to prevent “overpopulation” burdening the earth, the state will provide free condoms and fund research for new contraceptives.

Not all bad, then, just most of it.  I tried to provide a link to the GP manifesto with no luck.  Must be all those prospective new members checking it out.

Posted in: Comment, New Publications


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