Tom Friedman, world’s most cheerful optimist, made an unwelcome discovery while checking whether drought drives some of the fighting in the Middle East. He found that the three leaders of people struggling with drought and for control of a region’s last water-producing well have 36 children. Now, any ordinary observer would instantly conclude “population growth there has got to stop!” Those three and their wives instantly increased the need for water, food, housing, jobs, schools, resources and infrastructure five-fold. No economy or resource base can keep up with such skyrocketing Malthusian demand.
Unfortunately, Mr. Friedman is not an ordinary observer. He’s an economist. It is pathologically impossible for economists to utter the words “stop growth.” Just attempting it makes their eyes spin like dials on a slot machine and sparks shoot out of their ears. In Friedman’s case, his article (Olympian, May 25) took off on every topic except stopping population growth. It dispensed wisdom like “People need to work together!” and concluded (referring to the Syrian violence) with words like “We need to be real careful who we give guns to!”
Economists everywhere preach growth as the one and only route to prosperity. But nothing could be farther from the truth. From slow persistent degradation of the standard of living (e.g. Thurston County) to catastrophic collapse (e.g. East Africa), population growth is the hidden driver behind the scenes.
We need to destroy the taboo on talking about it and start moving toward a sustainable, zero-growth economy.