The Hidden Dividends of Stopping Population Growth

Skip to first unread message

Matt Beasley

May 25, 2022, 1:26:05 AMMay 25
The Hidden Dividends of Stopping Population Growth
by Kelvin Thomson, May 24, 2022, Overpopulation Project

Most people concerned about rapid population growth are
concerned about its impact on our environment, on other
species, and on future generations. They realise it is
unsustainable; that we are trashing the joint, and leaving
a poor legacy for our children and grandchildren.

But there are many other reasons why stopping rapid
population growth is a good idea that would benefit us
here and now. Two surveys this year point to two that
don’t get a lot of comment, but are seriously important:
honest government and the overall wellbeing of citizens.

Less Corruption
Transparency International’s Corruption Index for 2021 found
that the top 10 nations in combating public sector corruption,
in order, were Denmark, Finland, New Zealand, Norway, Singapore,
Sweden, Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Germany. Readers
won’t need a whole lot of statistics thrown at them to realise
that, with the exception of Germany, the thing these countries
have in common is that they have small populations. Most have
populations of between 5 & 10 million people, & only Number 10
on the list, Germany, has a population in excess of 15 million people.

Unfortunately, the global picture on corruption is not very good.
Transparency International – who give each country a mark out of
100 for integrity (the better the performance the higher the mark)
found that the global average remained unchanged for the 10th year
in a row, at just 43 out of a possible 100 points. Indeed,
27 countries are at their lowest score ever.

One of those is my home country of Australia. Back in 2011 we were
in the top 10, ranked 8th with a score of 88 out of 100. But in the
last decade we have fallen from 88 to 73 points and dropped to 18th
place globally. It is the steepest fall in standing of any developed
nation. During that time, we have also been running rapid population
growth, at rates among the fastest in the world (26% population
increase, 2005-2020). The decline in our standing could be a
coincidence, but I doubt it.

The good government rankings of the 10 most populous countries are as follows:

Corruption in the 10 countries with largest population in falling size
Corruption Perception Score (0: highly corrupt, 100: very clean):
China 45, India 40, USA 67, Indonesia 38, Pakistan 28,
Brazil 38, Nigeria 24, Bangladesh 26, Russia 29, Mexico 31

RANK: China 66, India 85, USA 27, Indonesia 96, Pakistan 140,
Brazil 96, Nigeria 154, Bangladesh 147, Russia 146, Mexico 124

These generally poor rankings suggest that countries with large
populations have a greater problem with corruption than the small
population ones. But it’s also possible to see negative effects
of population growth in the ‘top ten small countries’. From 2005–
2020, the top countries Denmark and Finland grew by 6-7%, while
populations of Norway and Sweden grew by 14-17%, due to higher
immigration. All Scandinavian countries saw their Corruption Index
score fall after the large immigration surge in 2015–16, but Sweden
more than others. And it’s not only corruption in government that
is seen to rise: at least in Sweden, black-market employment has
increased, especially in construction work, and 20% of the citizens
report they use personal contacts to bypass queues in the welfare system.

In countries with large populations, such as the ones in the
graph and table above, a likely cause of increased corruption is
the greater distance between elected representatives and their
constituents in large electorates compared to smaller ones. The
more voters there are in an electorate, the less possible it is
to get elected by meeting voters personally. Instead, you need
money to campaign. The more money politicians need, the more
obligations they acquire, and the more they turn a blind eye to
corporate misconduct and wrongdoing.

The late Professor Albert Bartlett, Professor of Physics at the
University of Boulder, Colorado, wrote a book called The Essential
Exponential for the Future of our Planet, with a chapter called
“Democracy Cannot Survive Overpopulation.” When he moved to Boulder
in 1950, the population was 20,000. There were 9 city councillors.
By the time he was writing, Boulder’s population had grown to
100,000, and there were still 9 councillors. He wrote: “in effect
today we have only 20% of the democracy we used to have in 1950,”
because it's harder for the individual to get access to a representative.

Prof. Bartlett said the massive increase in electorate sizes for
members of Congress made it impossible for them to personally
represent their constituents. They ended up getting their campaign
support, and ideas, from lobbyists and well-funded propagandists.
“As a result,” he wrote, “we often get one dollar one vote versus
what used to be one person one vote.” There is a crowding out
effect, and people become alienated.

This corresponds with my own experience. When I first stood for
public office, it was in a City Council with around 6000 households.
While I benefited from being a Labor Party candidate, because the
Labor Party was well regarded in the area, the small ward sizes made
it absolutely possible for independents of good community standing
to be elected as Councillors. This was true even if they could not
afford, or chose not to, spend money on their election campaigns.

This kept the political parties honest. If they selected a poor
candidate, voters would choose someone else. Secondly, Councillors
often got elected with little “baggage” – obligations to campaign
donors and workers. Their primary obligation was to the voters, as
it should be. Campaign expenditure was low. I engaged in low cost
or no cost campaigning such as doorknocking and street stalls.

The growing size of electorates works in favour of candidates with
money – either their own or somebody else’s. Presidents and Prime
Ministers in large countries are nowadays almost always extremely
wealthy. Ordinary people have no hope of getting a meeting with
these leaders, whereas they most certainly could get a meeting
with me and my Council colleagues.

More Happiness
Not only are small populations more honest and better represented
politically, apparently they are also happier. The World Happiness
Report is an annual publication from the Sustainable Development
Solutions Network, using Gallup World Poll data to evaluate
happiness and wellbeing across nations. The World Happiness
Report 2022, ranking countries’ happiness on a 3-year average
from 2019-2021, found that the 10 happiest nations were, in order:
Finland, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, Netherlands, Luxembourg,
Sweden, Norway, Israel, and New Zealand.

Once again, a dominant characteristic of these countries is small
populations. Of the 146 nations ranked, Afghanistan and Lebanon
were last and second last. The next 8 spots were filled by rapidly
growing African nations, with crowded India next at No 136.
The happiness rankings of the 10 most populous countries are as follows:
Happiness Rank: China 72, India 136, USA 16, Indonesia 87, Pakistan 121,
Brazil 38, Nigeria 118, Bangladesh 94, Russia 80, Mexico 46
Increasing population size leads to more traffic congestion, less
job security, decreasing housing affordability, decreased tree canopy
cover and access to open space, and loss of the mental health benefits
of interacting with nature.

I'm not suggesting there is a simple, unvarying relationship between
population size and honesty, integrity, and happiness. Many other
factors play a role in good government and individual wellbeing.
And given the number of countries we are talking about, inevitably
there will be exceptions. But the correlation is clear enough to
warrant both further research, and more attention from policy makers.

Given the importance of honesty, integrity, and happiness in our
lives, it makes sense for every country, everywhere, to put a stop
to population growth. And of course, doing so also represents an
important contribution to global sustainability.

Reply all
Reply to author
0 new messages