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For so long I have listened to politicians talk about growth as though that was their major objective.  They promise more jobs, more companies, more housing, and more people, more, more, and more.  All of this is seemingly without any regard to the quality of life of the people that are already there.  And, the love affair with population growth is not confined to politicians.  Economists and demographers decry countries with low birth rates, such as Japan and most of Western Europe where the typical parents have less than 2 kids and thus are not “replacing” themselves, as being doomed to oblivion, and soon too.  I’m not so sure.

In my lifetime there has been a major transition in the economy from industrial/agrarian to technological.  Farm jobs have been reduced (sadly) by more than 90%.  Industrial/manufacturing jobs have been lost in America, first migrating to third world countries where labor costs are lower and government regulation much lighter, and then ultimately vanishing due to technological advancement. It is not just lower income jobs that are being destroyed though.  It is pretty easy to imagine that soon most jobs involving intermediation will be eliminated by technology.   Brokerage systems, whether in the field of real estate, investments, or any other, must inevitably give way to the realities that technology brings superior transparency and efficiency.  The elimination of jobs in these fields has already begun but millions more high paying jobs will be destroyed in the coming decade.  And the destruction will be much broader still as technology turns business models upside down.

The assumption that higher birth rates, and thus larger populations are a good thing is founded in the belief that the large majority of those people born will grow up to be productive and will turn over a portion of their productivity to retirees in the form of taxes.  But, what happens if too many of those born are not productive and instead become dependents upon the productive energies of others?  In this unfortunate case there will be a minority of people gainfully employed supporting the majority – old and young alike.  In this case, which seems to be a real possibility, countries with lower birth rates and an educated and productive society will be the winners and those who didn’t see change coming, and remain in denial or in a fog, and are thus wed to the model that worked so well for the prior two centuries, may be the big losers.

The U.S. population has surged 73% since my birth 53 years ago. At the same time infrastructure has absolutely not been built to support that growth, and thus the quality of life of inhabitants throughout the U.S. has necessarily diminished greatly.  Large portions of one’s life are now spent sitting in traffic.  So, is a high birthrate a sign of a healthy society or the opposite?

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