Open Letter to Economists and Other Human Types

Dear Fellow Earthlings,

Throughout my years on earth, most of them having been lived as an adult — thus consequently it may be said my conscience is fully formed, and more than sometimes I rationalize astutely — still, I have yet to understand coherently the relationship between economics and population.

Ever since the ancients wrote the Book of Genesis, it has been a principal motivation of mankind to ‘inherit the earth.’ Certainly, as it has measurably contributed to his economic wellbeing and advancement, man’s migration and propagation throughout the world have worked well in his favor — albeit mostly at times when natural resources have outnumbered him (such as during the early arrivals, in the 1500s, of scant Europeans to join the modest native populations of the primordial United States).

It seems reasonable to presume, considering that the landed United States today bear 319 million people, and counting (and the world billions more, and counting), that as humans continue to multiply, it will eventually be mankind that outnumbers natural resources. (Consider California, for example, where it has never been more evident that humans are gaining the upper hand over the earth. More on this later.)

Thus the pressing concern: If, indeed, we humans will someday outnumber our life-sustaining needs (those natural resources), how may that affect economic prosperity?

Back to the example of California. Note the auspicious insights on economics and population in The New York Times article, “Brown’s Arid California, Thanks Partly to His Father” (May 17, 2015), which laments the state’s now devastating water shortages — devastating, all the more, amidst a long-term drought. As California’s governor from 1959 to 1967, Pat Brown promoted significant (that is to say, unchecked) population growth for California, in part through the California State Water Project, which ensures water delivery to two-thirds of the state’s population, particularly in urban centers and to farmers.

At the start of Governor Pat Brown’s tenure, California’s population was 15 million. Today it’s 39 million, and [you guessed it] increasing. As a result of this endless human swell, California’s natural-resources infrastructure is severely pinched and getting, of course, more so by the day: this, the legacy of Pat Brown’s loud call for settlers, as well his, and his contemporaries’, narrow foresight about responsible natural-resources — and, dare I say, also population — management for the future.

In truth, we humans are party to a compelling paradox: As population grows, economies generally prosper; but natural resources decline. As population shrinks, economies generally flounder; but natural resources recover.

Considering these two ‘equations,’ it seems to me that only the latter — entailing fewer babies, humbler lifestyles, natural-resources conservation — incorporates the element of responsibility, and thus would reduce our onslaught on earth and climate.

Utopian thinking? I cannot deny that it is. However, it’s also rational, and for all (except the super rich) would pose no substantial hardship.

Most Sincerely Yours,

Kenneth Vanderbeek