Will An Actual Vaccination Conspiracy In Australia Backfire Internationally?

Politicians who don’t buy into the conspiracy, face attacks and denials.

Secret Covid-19 Future: The Truth From a politician?

It seems in Australia we have a genuine conspiracy to deceive the public. This is a conspiracy in two steps, with many conspirators only committed to the more benign step one, but likely being drawn into the more worrying step2.

  • The Two Step Conspiracy: The People Don’t Know What’s Best.
  • The Big Secret Underlying the Conspiracy.
  • Fact Check: Zero-Covid-19 and Immunity Level Comparisons.
    • Zero-Covid-19 or “covid-zero”.
    • Immunity Level Comparisons Fact Check: Australia, NZ, US, UK.
  • Reality of the Choice for Australasia: Rocks and Hard Places.
    • Option 1: Use Reduce Transmissions to Improve “zero-covid-19” strategy.
    • Option 2: Use reduced hospitalisation as a result of vaccinations to then “live with Covid-19”.
    • Confirmation Bias And The Flood of Information.
  • A Conspiracy, really? Who are the conspirators and why?
  • International Consequences and A Breakup of Australia?
  • Conclusion.

The Two Step Conspiracy: The People Don’t Know What’s Best.

Step 1: The Santa Claus Vaccination Plan.

Most parents let their children believe the white lie: “If you are good, Santa will bring you presents”.

The Santa story, using a little bribery since children are too young to understand that being good is its own reward. As parents, we seem to feel this is harmless and, the end justifies the means.

The same principle is applied with the public and vaccinations. Internationally, there have been various attempts to provide a reward for being vaccinated, as insufficient members of the public seem to understand that being vaccinated is also its own reward.

So, some governments in Australasia, particularly Australian national government, push a post vaccination “paradise only better” mythical world awaits vaccinated people, as a way to motivate people who don’t understand vaccination is its own reward.

This is an even easier sell in Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne where previous zero-covid-19 now “paradise lost”.

Those who do not like deceit in general, don’t look too closely are the reality of the promise, as there is no real question about the benefits of vaccination, so even if the promise is questionable, surely the end justifies the means.

Given the motive at this step is all about getting people vaccinated, it is not difficult to get health care professionals on board. There is a desperate need to overcome provide some of the public with a vision of a rosy future, and these are not always the most reasonable people.

A vaccination centre at the Melbourne Town Hall would be shut until Monday after several of its staff were physically and verbally abused on their way to work, operator cohealth said on Thursday.

There have been several days of anti-vaccine, anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne: September 2021.

In fact, it becomes understandable for politicians to start to treat some of the public like children. But even if it is understandable, is it acceptable? It is valid to suggest “Santa Claus is coming” in the form of a post vaccine paradise, even after they have realised reality looks different.

There may be a degree of white lie, but some can excuse themselves as they are not spreading the lie, just not revealing the truth of what will happen after vaccinations.

Step 2: Government knows what’s right for public, so ‘railroading’ is justified.

Step 1, using a false promise to encourage people to people vaccinated is arguably relatively harmless, but it is step 2, the railroading of the public into the governments chosen path following vaccination, could potentially cost thousands of lives.

When vaccinations began back in March 2021, the original plan was that once vaccination levels achieved herd immunity, border restrictions to prevent spread of covid-19 could be safely removed. It has since become clear that target levels of vaccination will not achieve herd immunity, but the government plans to open anyway, despite the almost certain consequence of a Covid-19 death toll and hospitalisation rate far higher than seen in Australia or New Zealand previously during the pandemic.

The Australian government may feel the cost in potential lives lost is justified by trade and economic benefits of open borders, but does that excuse hiding the implications of opening from the public?

There are two potential options for dealing with Covid-19 delta strain in a vaccinated world:

  1. Use reduced transmission through vaccinations to improve zero-covid-19 of ‘past paradise’, and continue to work towards a goal of “herd immunity“.
  2. Use reduced hospitalisation as a result of vaccinations to “live with Covid-19” even without herd immunity.

This second step of the conspiracy is for the government to keep secret that vaccination targets no long provide herd immunity, and open anyway without allowing and debate as to whether this is what the public wants. The government choice may turn out best, but if so, why block debate in a democracy?

Originally it was thought when sufficient people were vaccinated, there would be herd immunity. Herd immunity with herd immunity cases would fall even after opening borders, giving the benefits of both choices. Now it is not yet proven that herd immunity is even possible.

The government wants to prevent any public debate on which option to choose.

The Australian government attitude is that, just as there people who do not know what is good for them and do not want to be be vaccinated, there are also people who don’t want borders open if too many deaths will follow, and they don’t know what is good for them either.

Step 2 is to keep it hidden that targets do not represent herd immunity and there will likely be many deaths per day following opening, allowing government to choose the next step without “messy” consultation or any need to ensure public support.

The Secret Behind Stage2: Paradise Lost With Delta.

Past Paradise: The Relatively Normal Life During Covid-19.

To understand why the reality how life after vaccine targets as planned by the government has to be kept secret, requires understanding how different live in Australia and New Zealand has been up to July 2021.

It has been no secret that, for most of pandemic up until July 2021, New Zealand and Australia were the places to be. Most of the time there were few restrictions New Zealand and the states of Australia, with the exception for some of the time of the state of Victoria and particularly the city of Melbourne. Every day life was quite normal, although restaurants and other venues did technically require 3d barcodes to be scanned, or least have people go through the motions of scanning, in order to record their visit, life was almost the same as pre pandemic. Except for one big restriction: international arrivals were limited and had to endure quarantine. In reality, apart from the quarantine, life was quite normal. No face masks or limitations to gatherings, even when attending full capacity sporting, or other stadium events.

Natalie Portman, Living Free of Covid-19 in Australia: December 2020.

Apart from a few rare outbreaks, no one was getting ill or dying, as there was simply zero-covid-19. Outside of Melbourne, Australia had less than 100 deaths from locally acquired infections, and New Zealand less than 20. Life was for most people, for most of the pandemic, unchanged except for those pesky travel/border restrictions, which was why so many celebrities were sitting out Covid-19 down under.

However, the national government was always strong opposed to the travel/border restrictions. They disrupted tourism and international trade, and the national government in Australia never felt it was worth disrupting trade to achieve zero-covid-19. Even the New Zealand government was running out of patience for tourism and trade. Vaccines have always been seen as the way to border and travel restrictions, so life could fully return to normal.

“Paradise” came at a cost: border/travel restrictions. Not even an option for most countries, but delivering a paradise for both Australia and New Zealand.

The Big Secret: From Paradise, To A Future Being Similar to the US or UK.

But now we get to the big secret: Instead of a return to life up to July 2021 in Australia, lifting border restrictions in Australia after reaching vaccination targets will most likely deliver a future similar to that in countries with similar vaccination levels who never had the same border restrictions. Like life in countries such the allies of the AUKUS alliance, the UK and US.

With Australia heading for similar levels of immunity to the UK and US, and planning to move to a similar policy border policy in respect of Covid-19, it should be not surprise that the result may be similar. But Australians are just not ready for that result.

The Big Secret: The Reveal, Denials, Attacks and Outrage.

The Reveal.

The big reveal is reported on here: “Annastacia Palaszczuk said the Doherty modelling predicted 80 deaths a day and 2,240 a month after six months. Is that correct?“.

There was outrage at suggesting Australia could see 80 deaths a day following the lifting of border restrictions, even thought, the projection is consistent with outcomes in other countries that do not have border restrictions. Consider daily deaths in the UK and the US:

Both countries have a larger population than Australia, so the figures need to be adjusted to deaths per 100,000 and applied to Australia’s population, results in these numbers for Australia:

  • 55 deaths per day based on the UK where immunity is higher than Australian targets.
  • 155 deaths per day based on the US with immunity as levels similar to Australian targets.

Denials

The 80 deaths per day suggested by Anastasia Palaszczuk, the leader of government in the state of Queensland, is certainly consistent with the numbers from the US and UK, as fact checked below. Yet Anastasia Palaszczuk was attacked and highly questionably fact checked as being “misleading” by Australia’s national broadcaster.

The claim of misleading was based on:

  • The figure of 80 deaths per day not being the only future included in the modelling.
  • Data in the modelling suggestion 80 deaths per day would no continue as lockdowns (even though not considered at a such a time in national government strategies) would likely be introduced.

Technically the quote is misleading as it draws not only on the modelling, but also on Australian government stated policy. Perhaps the quick quote should have been something like “if you used the data from modelling and assume current policy will be applied…”?

Yet, even the denial did not dispute that the main substance of the statement was in fact correct. The projections do show deaths of this magnitude, and in reality, looking the data, it does not seem logical to expect a different outcome.

To me this qualifies as a denial, and it seems the denial attracted more coverage than the original statement, which is why I have quoted a link to the “fact check”, and no link to the original reveal. In fact I found more then 5 sites reporting this denial, and none reporting the original reveal in any context other than in order to report the denial.

The Attacks and Outrage.

Annastasia Palaszczuk is questioning if and when borders should be reopened, given the death toll that will likely result. The problem is, given the strength of distain by the national government for any restriction on borders, even suggesting a discussion on how to proceed triggers the “pr” machine in response.

All the attacks and outrage incorrectly state Palaszczuk has declared she will not open borders, when in reality her words were a call for serious discussions:

“If New South Wales is the model of what lies in store for all of us, then we need to be having some serious discussions.”

VNExplorer

The premier said she will ignore the national cabinet’s plan to open borders at 80 per cent vaccination rates, saying it will send QLD ‘backwards’, ruining Christmas plans for thousands of people separated from their families.
On Thursday she said the national plan had ‘not been finalised’ and that she would keep borders shut to New South Wales despite soaring vaccinations.

Annastacia Palazczuk ruins holiday plans for millions: News Nation USA

It seems that to even question when borders should open is a plan to ruin Christmas!

‘A bad decision’: Palaszczuk border rules will cost Queenslander jobs

Eminetra

Again, just questioning with the border should open will cost jobs.

These are just sample I found on a quick search. I feel the important point is that just questioning when borders should be opened is what has resulted in the attacks.

Fact Check: Zero-Covid-19 and Immunity Level Comparisons.

Zero-Covid-19 or “Covid-zero”.

Australia always had a policy of “suppression”, not elimination. So what is covid-zero or “Zero-Covid-19”?

New Zealand, and the individual states of Australia all followed a policy of “zero community spread”, which has been also been reffered to as “covid-zero” and other variations.

They all mean a policy of using whatever means are required to end chains of transmission of the virus. There are three main ingredients:

  1. Border control with quarantine.
  2. Track and trace.
  3. Lockdowns in response to significant outbreaks.

Border control with quarantine. The first principle is to prevent people who arrive infected with the virus from infecting others during the time they are infectious. If no one introduces the virus, then there will be no “local transmission” of the virus. That is, the only cases will be those who arrive infected, having been infected before being “local”. Statistics of locations such as New Zealand still show cases being confirmed, even during long months of “covid-zero”, because people infected before arriving in New Zealand may only be confirmed as infected while in quarantine after then arrived. These people are not cases of “local infection”, but still count as cases within New Zealand.

Track and Trace. Border control with quarantine is not perfect, and cases still do get through quarantine, resulting in one or more “local infections”. When this does happen, the people who became infected, may have infected any number of people they have been in contact with. “Track and trace” is the process of trying to identify all people each infected person may have been in contact with, then test these people to identify any further infections. A complication is that most often the original case “escaping” quarantine will have been asymptomatic, and unknowingly infected several other people, and some of those may have been asymptomatic, resulting a many cases before an outbreak is even detected.

Lockdowns. When it becomes clear that there are, or will soon be, too many cases for track and trace, a lockdown is introduced to try to prevent or minimise spread while track and trace is used to isolate infected people. Prior to delta, even 20 cases was not necessarily sufficient for even a local area lockdown, but with delta, even the entire nation of New Zealand needed to lockdown with a single case was detected. This sounds, and is, extreme, but for almost 18 months this policy allowed New Zealanders to dine, socialise and attend sporting events unaffected by Covid-19.

Immunity Level Comparisons: Australia, New Zealand, UK and USA.

Immunity from Covid-19 generally results from either having previously been infected, or having been vaccinated. There is solid data on vaccinations, but on infections there is only confirmed cases, which depending on the testing regimes at the time and place will be somewhat lower than total infections.

Australia and New Zealand.

Both Australia and New Zealand have had negligible levels of infection so far, which on positive side means few deaths and hospitalisations so far, but the minus is that there is almost zero immunity from infection, which means there is no level of immunity beyond from vaccinations, so data from vaccination trackers is the level of immunity.

Levels of vaccination in Australia and New Zealand are quoted as a “percentage of the eligible population”, which is currently 16 and over in Australia, and 12 and over in New Zealand, which means numbers from the two countries cannot be directly compared. International data, as from vaccination trackers, is most often expressed as “percentage of the [full] population”, in order to allow direct comparison. Data reveals 18.7 percent of Australians were aged 0-14 in 2011, so assuming data is currently similar today and allowing for adding15 year-olds, gives around 20% of the population being under 16, so Australian vaccinations rates should be multiplied by 0.8 to arrive at rates for the entire population, while New Zealand number should be by 0.85. So opening levels for Australia at 70% and 80% represent 56% and 64% of the entire population.

UK.

As I found when exploring “Covid-19, Almost over?“, in early August 2021, researchers in the UK directly tested people was that 94% of adults in England had immunity to Covid-19. In the UK only those 16 and over are currently receiving vaccines, but the big difference in the UK is that a significant percentage of children would have already been exposed to the virus. Estimates so far suggest at least 90% of the total population would have some immunity.

USA.

I have not seen a study of immunity that allows projecting immunity levels nationally within the US. What we do know is that in the USA, 55% of the population are fully vaccinated as at September 21, 2021, which compares with 39.4% of Australians at this same date. Given significant number in the US who have been infected, the total immune level would I believe conservatively be at least 70%, which is almost double the current immunity in Australia.

Australian Situation: Lack of exposure in the past is a problem for the future.

The 70% and 80% immunity level for adults in Australia gives 56% and 64% population immunity, which even at higher of the two levels, is not only lower than the 90% estimated for the UK or even the 70% overall estimated for the US.

In fact, not matter what percentage of the Australian population 16 and over are vaccinated, it is not possible to reach immunity levels present in the UK. In reality, it will require a significant number of people being infected to ever match vaccination levels of the UK.

To achieve even current immunity levels present in the USA without a significant number of Australians gaining immunity through infection would require 87.5% of the Australian population being vaccinated.

Other factors may be different, but it will be difficult for Australia to even reach current USA immunity levels.

Reality of the Choice for Australasia: Rocks and Hard Places.

Australia and New Zealand have two real choices of next step:

  1. Use reduced transmission through vaccinations to improve zero-covid-19 of ‘past paradise’.
  2. Use reduced hospitalisation as a result of vaccinations to then “live with Covid-19”.

Both options are highly problematic and there is no easy solution.

Option 1: Use Reduce Transmissions to Improve “zero-covid-19” strategy.

There is no getting around that even in a fully vaccinated society, “zero-covid-19” still requires some form of “border protection” to prevent infectious people arriving and spreading the virus. The current system has failed in New Zealand and the Australian States/Territories of NSW, Victoria and ACT, and lead to lockdowns to contain the spread of the virus.

If all had remained the same, continuous streamlining improvements to border quarantine could have made life with zero-covid-19 better, but delta made it harder, while vaccinations should make it better.

It could be argued that if the relevant population(s) had been sufficiently vaccinated that spread would have been sufficiently suppressed that lockdowns may not have been needed, but how easy it is to solve the problem with the new elements of the delta variant and a vaccinated population is just unproven.

Australians in Sydney and Melbourne see people in the UK and USA now living what appears to be as free as people in Perth and Brisbane, and think “they have all the freedoms without any risk of outbreaks!”.

Option 2: Use reduced hospitalisation as a result of vaccinations to then “live with Covid-19”.

Many Australians are simply not ready for the levels of illness and death that accompanies those images where people in the USA and UK are living as just as free as people in Perth (Western Australia).

The illness and death are not seen, and to some, they don’t even matter. Protesters in Melbourne in particular, see their football grand final held in Perth Western Australia where there is no Covid-19 risk, while in the USA and UK the risk of Covid-19 does not seem to matter anyway. It seems there is no need to have borders and keep cases low, when life can look normal if Covid-19 is just simply almost ignored.

Again, it is a move into the unknown. Will the legacy of low cases and deaths in pandemic so far mean that lower levels of immunity will result in an even worse medical outcome in countries protected by vaccinations alone? There are those people who will care about the deaths. Or will it all just go away as Trump always predicted.

Confirmation Bias And The Flood of Information.

There is so much data on Covid-19, and much of it appears contradictory. In both providing and interpreting information, there is so much ambiguity. For example:

  • There is no universal agreement on what constitutes an ‘infection‘, or a ‘case‘.
  • Information of vaccination rates is presented as a percentage, but what it is a percentage of can vary make numbers look higher or lower.
  • Immunity from infections can be assumed to be at the rate of confirmed cases, or estimates of actual cases, which will normally be at least 2x greater, and up to 10x greater.
  • Data fluctuates so significantly making it “cherry pick” to support a variety of different conclusions.

For example, at the time of writing, both cases and deaths for both the USA and UK are higher than at the same date last year. This could be used to argue conditions have not improved, despite vaccinations. Alternatively, perhaps it is not time of year that is the deciding factor, but the phase of a ‘wave’ or ‘cycle’ and both countries it could be argued have far lower deaths and hospitalisations than at the same point in previous waves. There is data to support “things are worse than ever” and to support “things better than before”.

Given opinions are so polarised, there is a huge amount of confirmation bias happening when data is processed. Errors such as stating populations must have similar immunity levels on the basis of vaccinations alone and ignoring immunity from infections, is a typical example of distortions of reality that are rarely questioned.

A huge problem is that it is not just the public with ideas polarised through confirmation bias, it can also be the politicians making the decisions.

A Conspiracy, really? Who are the conspirators and why?

The essence of a conspiracy: A secret and hiding truth.

Just what is a conspiracy? There are many dictionary definitions, but there two common elements:

  1. There is a plot or plan with some motive for those involved in the conspiracy.
  2. The plot relies on keeping something secret that, if revealed, could the prevent the plan succeeding.

As you may have noticed, conspiracy theories have become rather common, and often with low credibility. Often it seems the “truth” claimed to be being hidden is not very credible, as with “flat earth” conspiracies, and other times it seems unlikely that the required number of people would all maintain secrecy if the secret was real, as with “twin towers” conspiracies that assume many many people participated in the consipriacy.

This conspiracy is all based on it remaining “secret” that opening border at the governments planned stage will likely result in deaths of perhaps 80 deaths per day, unless lockdowns continue following border openings.

At the core, this is a plot to ignore the science.

Conspiracy theories about Covid-19 are everywhere, but they are mostly where people who ignore science, or who believe the science is wrong, conspiring to protest and complain. Normally, the people in power are the ones following the science, although there have been some clear exceptions.

In the case of Australia, it is all about politicians with a history of ignoring science on other issues, doing it again. The Australian federal government has the history of choosing belief over science, and they have the same pattern with Covid-19.

Nationally, Australia’s policy with Covid-19 has always been “suppression”, based on the belief that the higher the level of cases, the easier it is to prevent more cases. While this may be true once a virus starts to run out of new people to infect, at more tolerable levels of virus in the community, growth is exponential. The very nature of exponential growth is, the bigger the number, the bigger the amount of growth. This means, in direct contradiction to opinions expressed by prime minister of Australia Scott Morrison, the more cases, the faster the growth and the harder the virus is to contain.

Fortunately it is the state politicians, who generally have a greater belief in science and act as a moderating influence who, as responsible for health, have run Covid-19 policy so far in Australia. Notably, state governments in Australia are also far more responsible with regard to climate policy.

But it is the goal of the core members of the conspiracy, the party lead by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, to censure debate and “railroad” Australians into a path return to “zero-covid-19” is “too difficult”, leaving “living with covid-19” as the only option available.

As with climate change where it not clear whether this political part believes climate change is no threat, if simply believes it is beneficial politically to act as their is no threat, it is difficult to know if the party members believes deaths in Australia will never reach per capita levels of comparable countries.

The Alternative Narrative: Borders must be open, consequences are just reality.

The Australian government never wanted borders closed from the outset, declaring the economic cost would be too high, and that even if health outcomes were would be worse, it was always about balancing health and economic outcomes.

This new plan is simply a return to original narrative, this time eliminating the arguments of opponents that health outcomes would also be costly by keeping the health costs secret.

Faith and Confirmation Bias, How Followers Join The Conspiracy.

The conspiracy of “opening anyway” relies on the “secret” that herd immunity no longer will not be in place when the border are opened. That all data suggests opening will mean cases rising to levels common elsewhere but previously seen in Australia under wraps until opening has gone too far to be stopped.

The national government alone cannot stop others realising. It takes medical advisors, and state leaders and news media to also continue to promote “just get vaccinated and all will be OK”. It certainly does not need those pesky states questioning whether they should open up and allow infections to rise.

In reality this makes a fragile conspiracy as there are both those for and against:

  • Supporting the conspiracy so far:
    • The Australian Government
    • The Rupert Murdoch controlled press and “shock jocks”.
      • During covid-19 have supported “the virus is not even a real problem” side of any argument.
    • Some Medical professionals fearing vaccine hesitancy.
      • If opening is seen as a reward for vaccination, perhaps promising open borders is ok, and surely the government will not really open if it is not safe?
    • State Leaders In States where are current outbreaks that are not under control.
      • Opening borders may not make it worse if covid-19 has already spread.
  • The Breakaways: Who will “spill the beans”?
    • Epidemiologists
      • Data is becoming clearer and clearer on spread even when vaccinated.
    • State leaders from states without covid-19 cases when targets are reached.
      • Palaszczuk from the state of Queensland
      • Most likely McGowan from Western Australia, and perhaps others in Zero-Covid-19 states.
      • The New Zealand government?

There are signs of supporters joining the breakaways as targets for opening come closer and potential problems begin to look like realities. The NSW state leader has already started qualifying messages on opening. I expect “leaks” of the truth to start to emerge from others beyond Palaszczuk, and will update this section as any emerge.

International Consequences and A Breakup of Australia?

There is more to explain, but for a few months in 2020, all Australia had lockdowns and the national government supported the lockdowns by funding a scheme to protect jobs while employees were forced to remain at home.

Contrast responses to the delta outbreak in NSW, Victoria and New Zealand:

  • The responses in NSW and Victoria were ineffective as workers needed to continue to work as the national government would no longer offer “job keeper” since the national government never supported Zero-Covid-19.
  • The response in New Zealand was effective as the national government still supports Zero-Covid-19.

Now consider what will happen in future with Western Australia:

  • The Western Australian Government will be very reluctant to open borders unless it is genuinely safe.
  • The National Government will not support Western Australia with any future lockdowns, or other Covid-19 support unless borders are open.
  • This could lead to a battle between a very popular state government in Western Australia, believing it should have the right to funding its own policies as it is a significant part of the Australian economy.
    • Western Australia could “go it alone” and keep their borders closed in defiance of the national government.
    • Western Australia “going it alone” would be a significant threat to national stability if deaths rise to expected levels in the eastern states.
    • The ultimate threat would be for Western Australia suggest succession, and given such threats have been present for some time, this issue could potentially be the “final straw”.

to be continued.

Conclusion.

The reality is that no country has managed the ultimate goal of herd immunity. It initially looked possible in Israel, before delta took hold. It even looked possible in the USA before delta arrived.

Neither:

  • “zero-covid-19” while it requires quarantine
    • nor
  • “living with covid-19” while it will result in even close to “30 deaths per 10 million people per day”

Is an outcome any country wants to accept going forward. A problem with covid-19 is that we cannot conduct live experiments with populations, and the world needs to be able to use results from countries who are able to do things differently to learn the best path. Australia and New Zealand, perhaps due in part to their isolation have provided data on alternative paths that is of value to the world. If either or both simply give up and join the rest of the world would be sad. To do so even if it will result in unnecessary deaths would be tragic.

It is not yet clear which is strategy is correct for Australia or New Zealand at this time, but as it is important for the world that somewhere tries “zero-covid-19” if it is at all viable at this time, it is certainly important that neither country is railroaded into just opening borders regardless of the alternatives because of an ideological position the prevents even open debate..

Australia: Climate Policy Fail? Or Democracy Fail?

Stockpiles of coal at the Newcastle Coal Terminal in the Australian state of New South Wales. (note 1)

Of all the developed countries, Australia has the poorest standing on climate.

Bas Eickhout: Dutch Parliament Delegation leader (via CNN) .
  • The ‘Standing’: Government Climate Denial.
  • The Politics: Coal Delivers Power.
  • Public Sentiment Doesn’t Match Government Policy.
  • Behind the Politics: The electorate has limited influence.
  • Democracy Fail For Australia, or a Problem with Global Reach?
Continue reading “Australia: Climate Policy Fail? Or Democracy Fail?”

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.

One million is 1,000 times 1,000. Which means that an organism which could double once in population every 1,000 years, can double 1,000 times in a million years. Humans can clearly double in population not only within 1,000 years, but as proven in the 20th century, can double population in significantly less that 100 years. Yet, doubling population even 100 times is more than enough for any species to totally overrun the Earth. So what have humans been doing all this time? How come it took humans so long to reach 1 billion? In fact, why is the Earth not just totally overrun?

Lets rewind and check these numbers.

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.

So starting from two humans, 62 doublings would result in 18,000 humans for every square metre of the Earth.

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, or a doubling approximately every 30 years. Just one child above replacement rate would result in a doubling every 50 years.

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 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 would be only one species.

Some species are automatically resource constrained from overpopulation. I suspect this applies to all plants, as a major resource, sunlight, cannot be ‘overconsumed’. However even a population of butterflies can reach a population level where their caterpillars consume all food in their environment, and as their food needs time to grow, this would leave no food for the next generation.

All organisms need to ensure they live sustainably, and for any organism that relies on existence of sufficient numbers of other organisms for food or coexistence, this means some mechanism to ensure they do not out compete the very organisms they rely upon.

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.

Overview.

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?

child

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.

Counterpoint.

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.

Conclusion.

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.

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.

Contents:

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’.

Me

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?”

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