Population on a Finite World: No Vacancy.

Every niche on Earth where live is possible is fully populated to maximum capacity, and has been that way since within less than 100,000 years after life was first possible. Since then, ‘moving in’ has meant displacing the current inhabitants, in process Darwin declared “survival of the fittest”.

Is it easy to overlook that environments not fully occupied by “us” are always already fully occupied by “others”.

This is an exploration of how all environments becomes fully populated, how humanity has our current population and what we have needed to displace to get this far, and need to display to continue to displace to continue population growth.

  • Rules of Population Constraints on our finite planet.
    1. 100 doublings of population is beyond the maximum possible on Earth.
    2. If even 60 doublings were possible, even pandas or humans, could from 2 individuals within 3,000 years produce a population that would completely cover the surface of the Earth.
    3. Every living organism has had more than ample time for 100 doublings, and is normally population constrained by the limitations of a finite environment.
    4. Every niche for life, is full to capacity, except following catastrophes or major disruptions.
    5. Population growth of any species, requires environmental changes, or evolution enabling the ‘invasion’ of environment previously populated by of other species .
    6. Continued Population growth is only possible through continued reduction in populations of other species.
    7. Every species must find population stability at some point while limited to one finite planet.
  • What about humans? Are We exempt from the rules?
    • Human Population Growth, how does it continue?
    • Alternating Times of Stability and Times of Population Growth Through Technical Evolution.
    • Ignorant Displacement: Those displaced go unseen.
    • History of human population: growth steps through colonisation.

Rules of Population Constraints on our finite planet

Rule 1: 100 doublings of population is beyond the maximum possible on Earth.

Since 1 million is 1,000 times 1,000 such an organism could double its population 1,000 times in a million year timeframe, but doubling population even 100 times is more than enough for any fully populate the Earth with that organism. A doubling of population 1,000 times is , and double 63 times in 63,000 years.

The ‘wheat and chessboard problem‘ illustrates how large numbers grow by repeated doubling, also known as exponential growth.

The wheat and chessboard considers doubling 63 times, in 63 steps from step 1 to step 64, doubling each step. One grain of wheat on the first square (20=1)as the starting value, leads to 2 grains on the 2nd square (21=2), 4 on the 3rd (22=4), 8 on the 4th (23=8), all the way to 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 on the 64th and last square (263). So a single living organism would result in 9,223,372,036,854,775,808 organisms after 63 doublings.

Given the total land and ocean surface area of the Earth 510,064,472 km2, and each square kilometre is 1 million square meters, the 63 steps results in 18,082 organisms per square metre of the entire surface of the Earth, which for those who do not speak metric, is over 180,000 organisms per square foot. Not very comfortable for humans, but possible for something very small or perhaps microscopic. Allowing the 100 doubling steps would generate 2,485,275,234,437,872 organisms per square metre ( over 25 quadrillion per square foot) or 2,485,275,234 organisms per square millimetre of the entire surface of the Earth.

So 100 doublings would overrun the earth even with microscopic animals:

  • 2.5 billion organisms for every square millimetre of the entire surface of the Earth, as a result of doubling 100 times.
  • …or
  • So 25 quadrillion organisms for every square foot of the entire surface of the Earth, as a result of doubling 100 times.

For larger animals such as humans, even filling the ‘chessboard’ is not required, as just 60 doublings would mean over 1,000 individuals per square metre of the entire land and ocean surface.

Rule 2: 100 doublings need not take very long, even for humans.

Relative to length of time life has existed on Earth, 100 doublings of even slow population grown animals does not add up to very long time, relative to planet over 4 billion years old.

Every organism must have a mechanism to multiply, or they could never have reached their current population level, or recover population level in the event of catastrophe or disruption. Past population growth can be used to calculate a population doubling time. For example, pandas have been shown to be able to increase population 17% in a decade. A 17% increase means 117 pandas for every 100 after 10 years. Since 1.17 to the power 4.5 is greater than 2, then pandas at that rate would double in population in 4.5 decades, which is a similar to the population growth rate to humans between 1923 and 1972.

The population growth rate for humans makes sense. If every couple has 5 children, which is below the historic average prior to the 20th century, and if 4 of those 5 children live to have their own children, then humans would double in population every generation.

But a but a doubling in population every 50 years would result in 60 doublings in just 3,000 years producing more than 1,000 individuals for every square metre of the earth, which with animals the size of either pandas or homo sapiens, would more than completely cover the surface.

For perspective, humans doubling at this rate would have seen this would have resulted in 100 doublings during the time of Ancient Egypt (over 5,000 years with almost 30 centuries as the leading civilization).

The takeaway is that every living organism, even us recently evolved homo sapiens, have had far more than enough time to double in population 100 times, and overrun the earth as a result.

Rule 3: Every living organism has had more than ample time for 100 doublings, and is normally population constrained by the limitations of a finite environment.

Every organism on Earth has had far more than sufficient time for 100 doublings of it population, but no organism has reached the incredible population number that would result if they kept doubling unconstrained.

Since, in a small time relative to how long species survive, exponential population growth can exceed the limits of the size of our finite environment on Earth, for almost the entire existence of any species, the population of the species will be at the limit possible given environmental constraints.

This means every organism has normally reached constraints that limit further population growth.

Rule 4: Excepting for shortly after catastrophes or major disruptions, every environmental niche is fully populated.

The times an organism would experience unconstrained or less constrained population growth are:

  • When a species first evolves, first reaches a new suitable environment, or evolves new traits overcoming prior constraints.
  • Following a major catastrophe or disruption that reduced the population below previous levels.
  • In the event of changes to the environment that alter constraints such as weather or climate events, or disruption of predators or competitors for resources.

As all similar environments are not necessarily connected, an organism can be new to an environment despite having existed for some time in similar environments.

When population changes are observed other a for a new species or species new to the environment, or following catastrophes or other major disruptions, the population change is as a result of changes to the constraints.

Changes to population constraints can be short term, such as weather events, long term such as ice ages and long term climate events, or the result of evolution as observed by Darwin, or evolution of technology such as stone tools, or farming.

Rule 5: Population growth of any species, requires environmental change or evolution enabling the ‘invasion’ of environment previously populated by of other species.

If every environment is fully populated, then the only way to increase population is to outcompete other species, or for the environment to expand.

Outcompeting other species requires some form of evolution, either of genetics or behaviours.

The first land plants and animals appeared about 400 million years ago, when land first became inhabitable due to the atmosphere finally having enough oxygen to block harmful radiation and provide for respiration.

Since that time, the land joined the oceans in seeing a succession of life has replaced previous forms of life, with each species that dominated a niche reaching, and then remaining at the capacity of that niche, before eventually being replaced by an improved species.

Rule 6: Continued Population growth is only possible through continued reduction in populations of other species.

The logical consequent of these rules is that growth beyond original constraints can only continue while a species can continue to partially or fully substitute for other species within their environmental niches.

Rule 7: Every species must find population stability at some point while limited to one finite planet.

Continuing to replace other species has a limit. Eventually there is only one species.

What about humans? Are We exempt from these rules?

Human Population Growth, is it still in unconstrained growth?

It could appear that human population is still growing long after we should have reached our constraints.

With the pat t of humans can appear to have broken these rules. The theory says we humans should have reached a stable population close to 300,000 years ago, at which point population growth would stop unless humans continued to evolved to become ‘fitter’ for existing or new environments.

Yet human population growth still continues as was doubling every generation as recently as between in 1965-1972, and doubling every 50 years for half of the 20th century.

This would seem to suggest humans have never reached their limit, and our population is still growing unconstrained.

But further exploration reveals this recent growth follows pervious periods of population constraints. Homo Sapiens have existed for at least 300,000 years, which is sufficient for 6,000 doublings of population, yet if there were only 2 people 300,000 years ago, the population growth to 8 people billion now represents just 32 doublings in over 300,000 years. That would be a doubling at an average rate of less than once every 9,000 years.

To take 9,000 years to double the population requires an annual growth rate of around 0.008%. A rate so close to zero growth, that is far more likely the growth has mostly effectively zero, with occasional periods of real growth.

This means, most of the time, even the human population has had zero growth as been at a constrained level. But then, sometimes even populations that have reached a previous plateaux, experience additional growth.

In fact, looking at the history of human population growth, as far back as back as we have any data, we have never before seen population growth anywhere near the level that was seen in the 20th century.

But even excluding the recent population explosion, human population growth has extended far longer than the rules suggest, unless their has been an expansion of the environment, or evolution in some form.

Alternating Times of Stability and Times of Population Growth Through Technical Evolution.

Instead of a recent series of steps of biological evolution, humans have experienced technical evolution.

A list of some notable steps includes:

Note that even during periods of population stability, from 10,000BCE to 5,000BCE and from 200 BCE to 1600AD, there was still some population growth as humans managed to colonise more locations.

Ignorant Displacement: As Population Grows, The Displaced Go Unnoticed.

Our current society has evolved the technology to be ‘the fittest’ in almost any niches, that we can maintain a higher human population than ever before. We can also, per unit land, maintain a higher population of crops and livestock to feed us than ever before.

The downside is a history of not even seeing organisms displaced population increases are introduced.

In fact, historically even other humans displaced by humans have been repeatedly overlooked and/or underestimated. Despite that experts now believe between 10 and 16 million people lived above the Rio Grande in North America prior to Europeans arriving:

Few contemporaries agreed with Catlin’s lofty estimate [16 million] of the Indian population before contact with the white man. “Twaddle about imaginary millions,” scoffed one Smithsonian expert, reflecting the prevailing view that Indians were too incompetent to have ever reached large numbers. Alexis de Tocqueville’s cheery assertion that America before Columbus was an “empty continent… awaiting its inhabitants” was endorsed by no less than the U.S. Census Bureau, which in 1894 warned against accepting Indian “legends” as facts. “Investigation shows,” the bureau said, “that the aboriginal population within the present United States at the beginning of the Columbian period could not have exceeded much over 500,000.”

How Many People Were Here Before Columbus?

Even if there were only 500,000 people before Columbus, the nature of exponential population growth tell us, that as people had been in North America for around 30,000 years, the continent would have been populated up to the level of environmental constraints. Any land mass with even 3,000 years occupation will reach the maximum population possible for that society. Yet to people from Europe, America was ‘an empty continent’. Not only did the new arrivals not understand or see that the continent would be fully populated with the current population, they even failed to recognise the size of that population.

The new arrivals failed to recognise that this ‘new world’ continent was fully populated, and that their arrival must displace those living there already. In the 30,000 years since people first arrived in America, culture in free trading European/Middle Eastern/Asian society had managed to evolve 1,000 or perhaps even 2,000 years further in terms of dominating more of the environment, increasing population density and as a result displacing other organisms. The population of many species would need to decline in order to accommodate the influence of European/Middle Eastern/Asian evolution of society.

The spread to new territory and the impact on life before that spread highlights the changes humans had over time to the environment of Europe/Middle East/Asia, displacing other species as advances made humans the most ‘fit’ for ever more niches within the environment.

Delusions Shattered And Questions Raised.


Calculating these numbers, has shattered some illusions I had previously been misled by, but has also raised some interesting questions still to be answered.

  • Shattered Delusions:
    • Both North America and Australia were fully populated prior to the arrival of Europeans.
    • I had thought population levels have been growing because the Earth had never been populated to capacity.
      • The reality is, Earth has been populated to capacity for the hundreds of thousands of years. Population increases result from changes to society that allow humans and their food to displace other species of life on Earth.
      • The question that arises is, has the recent unprecedented population explosion stayed within the bounds of the population now supported by our changed society, or has the change to infant mortality created an ‘overshoot’ resulting in overpopulation and the environmental damage that follows.
  • Questions:
    • As already covered, has the population explosion resulted in overshoot?
    • What does natural population constraint look like?

What is the process constraining natural population?

Consider our close relatives in the wild, chimpanzees, bonobos and even gorillas. To our knowledge, none of these animals was experiencing significant population growth prior to recent population decline due to habit loss. What stopped their population expanding, given that, like all species, their birth rates can achieve population growth where the population is lower than the constraint limit? There seems no evidence that starvation is the mechanism of population control, as we do not see a percentage of chimpanzees, bonobos or gorillas starving. If starvation was the mechanism of population control it would be everywhere throughout nature.

This topic to be further explored.

Conclusion: If it isn’t already, one day the ‘farm’ will be overcrowded.

Long before the first human walked the Earth, there was already ‘no vacancy’. For humanity to even exist, we had to outcompete and displace other living things. But is it our mission to replace every living thing possible until it is just us and the food we farm?

If our mission is to perpetually deliver economic growth as opposed to wealth per person, then yes, continual population growth is the simplest path to that mission.

However it may be that at some point, it feels like humanity is being ‘farmed’ to generate wealth for a small subset of people, at some point our farm will start to feel crowded to the point of existing like battery hens, rather than having our free range.

Left vs Right Perception Bias: Idealists vs The Economy?

Vote centre left (e.g. Democrats in the US) to increase support for ‘idealist’, issues, such as climate change, or vote centre right (e.g. Republicans in the US) for a better economy. I (and others) suggest this is conventional thinking and there is a perception that the economy will be better under the centre right, but is it correct? Or is there perception bias that lead us to believe this regardless of the data?

Continue reading “Left vs Right Perception Bias: Idealists vs The Economy?”

Wealth Inequality: Who wants More Inequality?

The Wikipedia article on Wealth inequality in the United States describes wealth inequality as a problem almost every would like to see reduced. Yet wealth inequality is increasing, not decreasing. What gives? Is humanity unable to address this problem? Or is will to address the problem not as universal at it might appear? Either consensus for action to decrease wealth inequality in not sufficient to stop the increase, or alternatively, there are forces actively working against this ‘consensus’, which means it is not actually a complete consensus. Are there dissenters working (and succeeding) to increase wealth inequality? This post is looks at the question: Who wants wealth inequality to increase?

Continue reading “Wealth Inequality: Who wants More Inequality?”

Peak Population 2055: Really? That soon?


There are highly credible predictions (such as by Deutsche Bank) that we could reach peak human population as early as 2055. In fact we have already reached ‘peak child‘.  If we are on track to decrease by 2055, then we must be close to “peak under 35s”.  Digging deeper reveals it is definite we have stomped on the population growth brake pedal, and the stopping power is continually underestimated. What remains to be seen is will we stop, or just slow down growth to a crawl, and what will the implication be in either case?

Population growth took of in the early 1700s, so everyone alive on Earth today has only ever experienced a world where even history seems dominated by rapidly expanding human population, making claims of end to rapid growth sound unbelievable.  There are also frequently repeated warnings against ‘stagnant’ population growth, with dire economic consequences predicted and warnings of an unsustainable ageing population with insufficient young workers to support the elderly.  This post reviews these topics:

  • Can We Reliably Predict Population Decline So Far In Advance(2055)?
  • Prediction Threats: What Could go wrong?
    • Three Possibilities
      • UN: Peak Children and Fill the Pipeline (10Bn Peak)
      • Deutsche Bank: More Birth Rate Decline to Come (8Bn Peak)
      • The Ultra Rich and Powerful Disruption: More & More People Please!
  • Is A Population Peak a Positive, or is Never Ending Growth Preferred?
  • ‘Ageing Population’ and Economic Growth: Real Problems?
  • Conclusion

Can We Reliably Predict Population Decline So Far In Advance?

A decline starting in 2055?  How serious is a prediction be made 36 years prior to the event being predicted?  Who can predict in 2019, what will happen in 2055, with any accuracy?  Is this a case of make a future prediction that cannot soon be tested?

It turns out, a good analogy is a prediction that a car travelling which has been travelling at 110 kilometres per hour will stop in 36 metres.  Calculations on this linked page state that a car travelling at 110 km/hr will require 71 metres to stop. This means unless the car already has the breaks applied and has slowed to 78 km/h, the car will not stop in 36 metres!  So this is not equivalent to picking a random car travelling along the freeway and predicting it will stop, this requires picking a car that is already has the brakes applied and is behaving already as a car that will stop.

Population growth is slowing just like that car.  It takes almost an entire lifetime for population growth to grind to a halt in just one country, and globally, it takes even longer. A delayed impact of the ‘brakes being applied’ in some areas of the globe, means global population will take almost 100 years to grind to a halt from the time the brakes were applied, just like the car takes almost 100 metres to stop from 100km/h.

The brakes for population growth being a mix of contraception, improved education for women, better health care and lower infant mortality, women joining the workforce, and perhaps, even some influence from technology.  Research for the contraceptive pill began in the 1950s with first products by the 1960s, but there were limitations to supply to the general public, even within the USA until 1972. As you can see from the graph I have included, the brakes were applied around 1972, but it is safe to assume global adoption of oral contracption took longer, further supporting that there are also other factors at play.  This graph was simply from the first result I found from a search for “global population growth” as I wanted a result representative of what could be found from a search. Any data should be able to be accurate up to the date of publication, but the future, the “light blue shaded area”, is only a prediction.

What is clear from available data, is that the annual population growth has already dropped from 2.1% to 1.2%, which represents having halved. More significant in reality is the global “births per woman”, which has dropped from 5 to 2.5 in the same time.

This is a drop from around 2.7 births above the replacement rate (2.3) to around 0.2 births above replacement rate. A drop by a factor of 13 times!  A further drop in births per woman to somewhere between  2.3 and 2.1, is all that is required to trigger the end of population growth. The Deutsche Bank Report predicts a level of 2.3 by 2025, leading 30 years later to peak population in 2055.  This 30 year delay is caused by the population pipeline, which is the effect where there is a significant lag between birthrate and population growth.

The evidence is clear, we have already hit the brakes in terms of the rate of population growth.  Every thing necessary to stop population growth did commence back before 1970, so the forecast has some real evidence behind it. The question is: what will happen next?

Prediction Threats: What Will Happen Next?

Three Possibilities

If you have ever watched a car race, you may have noticed that sometimes, after applying the brakes and slowing down considerably, a car can then turn a corner and accelerate again.  As per the analagy, birth rates from this time forward could again accelerate.  Or the birth rates could continue to decline such that population growth stops, or this new ‘slower speed’ could become the new normal, giving three possibilies.

Before examining the possible next steps, it may be useful to put what has happened so far in perspective and examine just how effectively the brakes have already been applied. Considering that a ‘births per woman’ of 2.3 represents replacement level, the drop in birth rates from 5 per woman, to 2.5 per woman represents a drop from around 2.7 above replacement level to 0.2 above replacement level.  A level so low above replacement level it has been stated that we are effectively at ‘peak children’ level now.  Almost all population growth in the future will result from filling the population pipleline until all age groups are a result of the current almost static level of new births.

Option 1. UN: Peak Children and Fill the Pipeline at current rate (10Bn)

The most recent UN forecast is that having dropped from 5 to 2.5 globally in the past 50 years, birth rates may fall just a fraction further, to perhaps 2.3 or 2.2 in the next 50 years.   This means we are basically at peak children – or around the maximum level of children being born ever- now, or in the future. However total population of all ages added together will still rise as  population pipeline fills with generations born at this peak level replacing previous generations born in smaller numbers. As the pipeline gets closer and closer to being filled, the total population growth will decrease until it eventually stabilises. The UN predicts mortality rates in African and other high infant mortality rate countries will continue to improve, ensuring the birth rate stays every so slightly about the level of deaths from now until the end of this century.  The result being almost exactly equivalent to simply filling the population pipeline at the current level. The toal from this calculation is a peak total population of just over 10 billion in 2100.

Option 2. Deutsche Bank: Birth Rates Fall Further Given The Current Trajectory

The graph of world population growth shows a far less stable number over time, than the number from the graph of birth rates.  A key reason for the fluctuations of the level of world population growth,  is that the formulae for growth subtracts deaths of the elderly from births of babies, uses two numbers that are not closely coupled.   Population growth =  birth rate – death rate.  Death rate (at least of the elderly) does not directly drive birth rate.  People do not normally think, “oh, my great uncle Fred died, so maybe we should have another child”.   When looking at behaviour, look at is basically related to the rate people the number of people being born one lifetime earlier, but there is little evidence people are specifically motivated to ensure each dying person is directly replaced by a child, so the birth rate does not track the birth rate, meaning population growth is a less meaningful number than children per woman.

The better number to use to predict the future is the far more stable ‘children per woman’ rate.  The factors that have driven this rate downwards continue to apply and there seem no reason this number will magicall stop somewhere between the current level and the number between 2.1 and 2.3 which magically matches the death rate.  In fact in many countries, the rate has already fallen to as low as 1.4.

The Deutsche Bank projection is that the rate will fall to 2.3 by 2025, and then continue to fall to around 2.1 by 2055, after which time they stop projecting.   These numbers result in a peak population of around 8 billion that is decreasing from 2055.

Option 3. The Ultra Rich and Powerful: More People Please!

Throughout history, countries have sought to create empires.  The maximum population possible under one rule.  The path to power and extreme wealth is a big population.

The average citizen may be better off in smaller counry such as Switzerland, or one of the Scandinavian countries, but none of those smaller countries can deliver the power or wealth available within much larger countries such as the USA, China or India.

The same drive that pushed the wealthy and powerful to create empires, is behind a push today for population increase.  The ever present messages in English speaking countries as the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand is that population stagnation is a recipe for economic catastrophe. This is despite the fact that countries thse countries have population pyramids already reflecting full poulation pipelines.  Almost every economically developed country in the world now has a full pipeline, with immigration currently the resource for increasing population.  While the socially liberal members of society welcome immigration, the goal of population growth to futher the goals of the extreme rich and powerful is frightening, as immigration may give way to attempts to artifically drive up birth rates.

A second factor that can drive up birth rates is religious extremism, which can also seek to drive up birth rates to increase the relative population of specific groups.

The third factor that could increase population is a medical breakthrough that reverses aging.  If lifespans start to increase significantlly beyond current levels, the number of people alive at any given time also increases.

A Population Peak? Positive, or Never Ending Growth Preferred?

The Growth Proponents

Search ‘Overpopulation’ and you should find many stories that suggest people in the 1960s and 1970s were forecasting global catastrophes due to overpopulation and these people all got it wrong.  We have continued to grow the global population and everything is fine. The rules of the ‘petri dish’ where expansion eventally leads to starvation do not apply to humans.  Famines are lower with our huge population today than they have ever been in the past.


The fact is, examine the graphs above, and humanity basically turned off the poplation growth engine around 1968. Had the population growth continued at 1960s levels of 2.1% per year from the 4.3 Billion at the time we would now be at 1.021^50*4.4 = 12.1 billion.  In other words, we would have added more than twice as many humans since that time.  Perhaps there was a reason to be frightened, and we did avoid a potential catastrophie?

Or did we? Other species on Earth are dieing at a perhaps unprecedented extinction rate level as the Earth struggles to support the over 7 billion people now on the Earth.   People set targets such as reducing emissions by 55% by 2030 which would be rather simple if we had 55% less people on the planet.

It is hard to picture the entire Earth.  So simply picture your house.  Sure, you could add far more people. But as you, past a certain point living standards of those in the house decline.  There is too much garbage to be collected in allocated rubbish. You can avoid everyone starving in the face of a huge increase, but well before the starvation point the enviroment suffers and living standards of those in the house are impacted.  This is a model for the Earth.  Sure, the very rich and powerful who desire growth can ensure they have plenty of space and resources, but not so the rest of humanity.

The counterpoint is that we are already past the point of ideal population. Yes, we are not all starving, but we can afford to eat many of our favourite foods anymore without depleting natural resources.  The Earth is straining under the load, and our lives are already negatively impacted, as it the planet.

‘Ageing Population’ and Economic Growth: Real Problems?

One protest is : “If we halt population growth, then ‘ageing population‘ will be a disaster”. But, if ageing population was such a problem, the Niger would be a rich utopia and Germany an economic disaster. Strangely, this may not be the case!  A key reason why Germany is coping fine and Niger is not an automatic success, is that having lots of elderly people is no more a drain on society than having lots of pre-working age children. In a parallel, we seem to be at risk of creating a society where there is simply not enough work to keep the working age people we do have employed.

Per capita economic growth benefits all in society, but gets more challenging as resources levels per capita decline with population growth.  Gross economic growth lifts the top 200 companies (or however many in the relevant index) and benefits those who own shares in those companies.  Basically, population growth helps gross economic growth which benefits the very wealthy within society, provided the number of very wealthy does not also grow in number.  Population growth actually works against per captia wealth.


We have, perhaps, already made all steps possible to avert a population driven disaster.   This does not mean the disaster will be avoided, just birth rates have fallen to level that will help minimise the disaster.

But is it possible population will peak by 2055 at a level below 9 billion?  I really hope it is, but perhaps because population is still rising, it just seems hard to believe.  I know the current growth it is perfectly explained by filling the pipeline, and that hard data does support that we have turned the corner, but it just seems to good to be true.  Perhaps that is why the UN makes the more conservative projection that growth will continue longer.  If the UN projection is high, there are no negative repercussions, but if the UN prediction is too low, they have a lot to anwer to.  Plus, there is a risk of waking those pushing for infinite growth from their slumber.

The biggest risks now are:

  • the population level is still to high and birth rates still too high for an ideal outcome
  • no matter what we do, the damage is already done
  • the very rich and very powerful empire seekers find a way to drive birth rates higher again

Population – Wealth Equations

Formulae | Terms | Implications | Finite World

The formulae:

Annual-wealth-created = total-work-done + asset-wealth-accessed

Total-work-done = average-personal-productivity * population

Per-capita-wealth  =  average-personal-productivity  + (asset-wealth-accessed / population)

Asset-wealth-accessed = accrued-wealth + natural wealth-accessed

The Terms

Total Wealth.

The total wealth is simply the wealth of the society overall.  The sum of the wealth that is available for the total society to enjoy.  This wealth is available to be share evenly or not, but it represents that which is available to share.


Asset wealth is the sum of durable wealth which remains from year to year such as housing and infrastructure as opposed to wealth which is consumed such as food and holidays.

Assets can be man made such as housing, or natural, such as the land under the housing, fertile farm land and water to grow crops or mines as a source of mineral wealth.  For natural wealth,  only those natural resources which are being utilised add to the wealth of the community at the time being considered.  Unused land or undiscovered minerals which may potentially be part of future wealth, do not add to current wealth.

Per Capita Wealth.

Simply the total wealth divided by the number of people.  In a society with perfectly even distribution of wealth, each individual would hold the per capita share of wealth.  Raising the Per Capita wealth would raise the wealth of all in the society.  However, simply adding to the wealth of one individual will still raise per capita wealth, even though there is no distribution of the increase in wealth.  Per capita wealth only is a sound indicator of overall wealth if wealth distribution remains static, and the rich remain in the same ratio of wealth to the poor.

Per capita wealth creation follow the formula above and combines individual wealth creation with the share of natural resource wealth.  Growing population should allow specialisation which can have a positive impact on the ability of an individual to produce wealth, but as the population grows this effect reaches a limit.  While there are untapped resources, growing the population can also allow accessing more resources,  but eventually all resources are already leveraged.  The result is that there is a phase where as population increases per capital wealth should increase, followed by a tipping point when all resources are fully exploited after which per capita wealth will be driven to decrease by further population grown.

The Implications: Pre-Finite world

Logically, total work done should increase in proportion to population. However, increased opportunities for specialisation and economies of scale can result in an increase in total work done slightly beyond the logical proportional increase. Simplistically, it is feasible for a team of 200 to do more than 10x the work of a team of 20 because of economies of scale and ability to specialise.  But a team of 200 trying to dig the same 3meter diameter hole in the ground may not be 10x as fast as team of 20.

Pre-finite world, natural asset wealth could never fully utilised, as there was always new natural assets to be found and utilised.  As population expands, more land can be utilised, more minerals discovered and the accessible total natural wealth expands as the population expands.  The result is that increase in population has the potential to increase per-capita wealth.

Finite World Implications

Once we reach ‘finite world’ where all new land has been found, and there is already sufficient people to exploit all available resources, more people simply means a smaller share of available land and resources per person.

Like digging the hole in the ground, there is an optimum number of people on the team.  Less than the number the work takes longer,  but past a certain point adding more becomes counter productive… or a least results in no further increase in production and the proceeds of the work on a per person basis start to decrease.

Once finite world is reached, further increases in population simple mean less wealth per person.  This is the same with any creatures in nature, within a given habitat, there is a maximum population of each creature which can be sustained by the habitat before living conditions start to decline.

Finite World: Finite vs Unlimited.


Finite: What does ‘Finite‘ actually mean?

The Key: Not Just Two Possibilities, but three.

Even in a mathematical context, there are three possibilities:

  1. Finite.
  2. Infinite.
  3. Undetermined.

Depending on context, infinite and undetermined can be equivalent, and in both cases, you not aware of any limit. Something only becomes ‘finite’ when you become aware there is a limit.

Dictionary Definition Of Finite: It depends on context.

While ‘finite’ and ‘infinite’ have mathematical definitions, dictionaries reveal that common usage extends beyond the mathematical definition. The dictionary definition of infinite includes “immeasurably or inconceivably great or extensive : INEXHAUSTIBLE” as well as “subject to no limitation”, and for finite we have “completely determinable in theory or in fact by counting, measurement, or thought” .

By example, as a human we can consider the number of times a person in the open can breathe as being infinite, even though the amount of oxygen in the air is finite so there is a theoretical limit, a person can breath ‘an inconceivably large number’ and still have no noticeable impact the level of oxygen.

The Working Definition of Finite for this context.

The meanings of finite and infinite depend on context, as outlined below, so to avoid ambiguity, in the context of these pages, ‘finite’ means:

Finite: ‘known to have a limit that could, in practice, conceivably be reached’.


So yes, words have different meanings depending on context, but it this context, unless explicitly prefixed such as ‘theoretically finite’, ‘finite’ will mean with a known and potentially constraining limit.

Given the principle there are three possibilities, they become:

  1. Finite: known to have a limit that could, in practice be reached.
  2. Infinite: it is known the that limit cannot in practice be reached.
  3. Undetermined: there may be a limit, but if so, the limit has never been reached.

I would suggest that human nature is to assume that when the limit cannot be determined, then it will not in practice be reached, which means infinite and undetermined are seen as equivalent. In this context, the opposite of finite because ‘unlimited’.

Unlimited: Unconstrained by any known limit.

Again, me.

Again, words have different meanings depending on context, but it this context ‘unlimited’ will without any known constraining limit.

Finite World: When the world of humanity progressed from ‘undetermined’ to ‘finite’.

To the first people on Earth, it must have seemed that no resource was finite, virtually nothing had any known limit. It is not that people believing things infinite, it is that numbers seemed unknowable, and undetermined seemed equivalent to without limits.

There were always new lands to be discovered, hunting animals did not noticeably impact their population, nor did gathering fruit and vegetables make an impact. Fishing did not noticeably impact fish populations.

Most things remained finite until around 1650 CE. At that time no individual even knew of all the continents on Earth making even the amount of land seem unlimited. Sustainable was not a concept people needed to contemplate, as it seemed every thing humans did was inherently sustainable.

Fast forward to the 21st century and there has been a population explosion dramatically increasing the number of humans, and an industrial revolution increasing the impact individuals have on the planet. Now, most people see ‘sustainable’ as essential, but in surprisingly many ways, there are still people who do not, deep down accept the Earth is finite, and sustainability is essential.

Finite World and Sustainability: It is all relative.

Nothing is sustainable without constraints. Every ‘sustainable’ practice is only sustainable within limits as to the number of people who can engage in the practice and the length of time it can continue. In practice, ‘sustainable’ means ‘more sustainable’ rather than absolutely sustainable. Even ‘sustainable’ farming has a limit to the scale and thus the number people it can feed, and on a planet with a finite life, cannot exist forever.

A question becomes, to be ‘sustainable’ how many people can be supported and for how long? As an extreme example, even breathing air has a limit to the population size before it become unsustainable. There is always a window.

Some people see perpetual population growth as sustainable, and within a sufficiently small window of time it is sustainable. Others see burning fossil fuels as sustainable for as long as 50 years, and in their eyes that is sustainable, while younger people, of people who care about younger people, may require a longer time to be sustainable.

Then there are others who an in denial. Prior to around 1650 CE, everything seems sustainable, and it worked for so long then the same attitude can work today.

Free Education? Why not user pays?

The truth is there is no such thing as ‘free education’. There is always a cost so someone must pay, and the question is “who pays?”.  The choice is between ‘society pays’ (free?) and ‘user pays’. At first, the economic rationalist argument  “why should society pay for the university education of the elite?” appears compelling, but does it really work that way?

  • National Impact: Helicopter view
  • The impact on the individual
  • OK, who really pays?
  • Controlling studies: free market, vs university places
  • In depth, the fabric of the society we live in
  • Conclusion: The beneficiary pays

National Impact: Helicopter view.

“The individual should pay” because otherwise all society will be subsidising those will then have the highest incomes.  In other words, the individual paying will overall be more egalitarian.  But look at the countries where education is “free”.   This more in depth look at the debate in some of the main free education countries, free education is all about equality, and the countries offering free education include those that both value, and achieve, equality of citizens more than other countries.

So either these countries that both value and achieve equality so highly have it all wrong and only manage equality despite their free education systems, or the arguments for paid education representing equality are wrong.  So who has it wrong, those who best achieve equality, or those who have the worse record on equality?  If free education does deliver equality, why, and why would paid education fail?

The impact on the individual

The whole concept of paid education is that education is effectively an asset for the student.  The higher income earned from any asset, the better performing that asset, so the student should seek the asset which gives them personally the best return on their investment.  Each student should choose their degree based on which investment will provide them personally with best return.

The effect is to promote such studies as law and medical practice as opposed to subjects such as medical research or teaching.  Generally, careers which provide the greatest personal satisfaction, which can correlate to the public benefit that career provides, than areas where pay is the only motivator.  This means careers with a public benefit may have a higher study to income ratio, and therefore a lower economic yield as an asset.

Think of the idealised inspirational dreams of young children as in this video putting the case for ‘free’ education ( see 2:00) . End poverty, cure cancer, fix climate change.  All great aspirations, but none delivering the personal wealth required for a strong performing ‘university degree as a personal investment’.

But some noble aspirations do fit with the return on investment model.  Perhaps not merchant banking or even corporate law, but what about doctors?  Perhaps not creating the cures, but certainly administering the cures as a medical practitioner does provide for both: a real need within society and a strong return on investment?

Logically the laws of economics should ensure that the needs of society will be because the pay for needed careers will rise until there is supply.  So if a degree is expensive, then the market will ensure those with that degree earn sufficient to offset the cost. We need doctors, so doctors pay will be sufficient.  We don’t need a to eliminate poverty, fix climate change(at least not this week), or cure cancer.  In fact from an economic perspective, curing cancer could harm that section of the economy.  The problems thus should be restricted to the optional parts of the economy, or those things we need in the longer term.

So it is true not all aspirations are undermined by the user pays education system, as not all aspirations are long term, and surely in these shorter term aspirations and the things we need today, the system becomes more egalitarian?

Well… perhaps not…

OK, who really pays?

The case of a medical practitioner does sound like a strong argument for ‘paid education’ works for todays needs.  Society needs doctors, and paid degrees provides doctors because the pay for doctors increases until there is sufficient supply.  But this is also the problem, the cost of doctors rises to cover the cost of the degree.  If this is real, then doctors will receive highest pay in countries where degrees are most expensive, so doctors can in turn pay of the debt of their education. I did a search for the pay of doctors in the USA vs Scandinavia (where education is ‘free’). This comparison is actually the pay of doctors in a variety of countries, but the clear trend is the higher the cost of education, the greater cost of doctors.  Correlation is not necessarily causation, but the data does seem to confirm the prediction.

All this suggests that with paid education, the cost of doctors university degrees is in the end paid by those who visit doctors.  So ‘free’ education taxpayers pay, which puts the greatest burden on those who earn the most income, in place of the greatest burden of the cost falling to those who suffer ill health. The same rule will apply in each case, prices will flow through intermediaries until they ultimately reach the consumer.

Funding for medical degrees:

  • paid education: funding from those who suffer ill health
  • ‘free; education: funding from taxation revenue across all society according to tax rate

Generally the rules of economics ensuring the cost will ultimately be met by those with the need means the only reduction in society paying will apply only for services that are needed, but also have a strong export focus thus ensuring the cost is partially met from outside the tax base.

Controlling student expense: free market, vs university places

To my knowledge, there is no government in the world that completely eliminates spending on education.  At least some education is considered part of the function of government.  But at the other extreme, no government can be responsible for everything every citizen may have a whim to learn.  Paid education may suggest every citizen must full pay for all education, and ‘free’ education may sound like every student is indulged for whatever they desire, but neither extreme is correct.

‘Free’ education still will limit what courses are provided by state universities, for which citizens and non-citizens and for which courses, and countries with ‘free’ education will still also have fully paid education ranging from industry specific courses through to paid public education providers.

Paid education countries still subsidise courses and have state based universities, it is just that students still must pay.

Overall it is not automatic whether paid education countries spend more or less than free education countries.  Consider per capita spend on education between counties and there is little difference between free and paid education countries.


In depth, the fabric of the society we live in

Paid education ultimately forces a purely financial focus to education, and ultimately the choice of what people do in life.  Certainly a nail in the coffin of the sentiment “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country”.

Conclusion: The beneficiary pays

The answer to the difference is “the beneficiary of the education pays” in each case.  So do we want society to be the beneficiary of education, or each individual for themselves?  Do we want a society where people consider the overall society, or only themselves individually.


What really killed the dinosaurs?

485176_441599455926469_1655029236_nWhile I do literally mean the actual dinosaurs, there is also a lesson in the answer for the metaphoric dinosaurs that big companies can become.

“A giant meteorite wiped out the dinosaurs” is the catch phrase.  But have you ever wondered “why the dinosaurs, when so many other animals survived?”.  The alligators survived, fish survived, mammals survived, even other reptiles survived, and even frog species that seem so sensitive to any change in environment survived that meteorite.

So why the dinosaurs?  And what is the lesson? These answers after first some background and myth-busting. Continue reading “What really killed the dinosaurs?”

The Potential Scale and Impact of population growth: 7 trillion humans?


7 trillion looks like a typo, but no, the maths shows that either by continuing the actual global population growth levels typical the 20th century, or achieving 2% per year (or far less than what is currently happening in Nigeria), the maths produce this number in a relatively short time!

Alternatively, consider that if we had peak 20th century population growth rates from 1650 until now, we would already have 1 trillion humans.

While population growth itself is currently not the threat that it once was, we are still overpopulated, as any suggestion that returning to the out of control population growth of the 1960s and 1970s would cause even more long term damage to a world with 8 billion people, than that growth did on a world with 4 billion people.

Continue reading “The Potential Scale and Impact of population growth: 7 trillion humans?”

The New Economics of Population Growth in a Finite world


Summary: Most of us now live under ‘finite world economics’, where population growth results in a smaller share of wealth for each individual and the majority of the population, but increased revenues for Governments, nationwide businesses and multinationals who gain revenue from the entire population.  The rich win, the rest suffer.

The now finite World

When Christopher Columbus set sail for America, no one had a world map, doubt about a map the included America.  When Captain Cook ‘discovered’ Australia, as it approached the year 1800,  no civilization knew where all the land on Earth was located.  By 1900, humans knew where all the land was, but still had not explored all that land. Now (2017 at the time of writing), we basically know where all the land is and have even allocated ownership and mineral rights of all the land. Our world is now finite.

The post explores the ‘finite’ world concept, then discuss each of the two dynamics resulting in the widening of the gap between rich and poor.

Continue reading “The New Economics of Population Growth in a Finite world”

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