Monday, December 24, 2012

'Duty' to reproduce?

This evening, we were visiting some family for dinner and dropping by some gifts for those that won't be able to come over our house tomorrow. The food was good, and it was a good time overall. But then as we were getting ready to leave, a family friend asked when we were going to have a baby. I've blogged about this nonsensical assumption that marriage equal kids, so I won't go into that here. But after we stated that we don't really want kids right now is when he stated that we need to at least have one, because good people have good kids, and that we need more good people.

Okay, if he would have stopped there I would have been perfectly fine. After all, it is more likely that two healthy parents would have a healthier child than sickly parents. And two smart parents could be more likely to have a smarter child than those with more limited mental faculties (obviously genetics isn't everything with regard to intelligence). But he didn't stop there. He continued on to say that we should have two children in order to 'replace' ourselves.

He went on to reference the situation in Japan, where more of the younger generations are opting not to have children. Because so many are making this choice, the population and rate of births is declining. He said, that as this continues generation after generation, there will be very little Japanese left, and that the country will have to rely on immigration to remain prosperous. The inference was then made that we must produce at least two offspring in order to avoid such a calamity in this country.

Before I share my initial reply, lets look at the problems with what he had said thus far. First, the population problem in Japan... Something like 40% of the Japanese population is elderly. As you can imagine many of these people rely on the social programs set up by the government. But if less people are reproducing, that is less money going into the program and taxes in general. In fact, if birth rates continue at their current reduced rate, it is forecast that the population could drop one third by 2060. But there is one big problem with the statistic and the friends claim.

Yes, there may be a short term risk from the transition to the current younger generation. But there is no way of knowing that this trend will continue. In fact, there won't be a problem if the birth rate should cease it's decline and continue at the present reduced rate. If that occurs, then it will all even out. Disaster avoided. But was it reasonable to apply the Japanese population decline problem to the United States? I would wager that you can not draw such an equivalency. That would be because the US population is continuing to increase each and every year. Considering this fact, the decision of one couple to not have children is not going to put the nation in peril. Also consider that for the examples like us, there are other families having three, four or five children. The country's population is still quite healthy in number and is growing continuously.

So what was my initial and less lengthy reply?  I started out by stating that you could argue that less people also meant more resources to go around. However he countered that resources are made by people, and that less people means less sources. Well... Sometimes yes, and sometimes no. Lets imagine a farm. It is staffed by a few dozen workers. They sow the fields, tend to the crops, and harvest when they are ready. But lets remove one or two of the workers. Does this mean that they will now produce less yield? No, of course not. There are a couple options available. They will either work slightly longer hours to do more with less manpower (meaning  a greater profit), or can hire new workers that were otherwise unemployed to replace our hypothetical worker that was removed.

Factory settings can also sometimes mean that no productivity is lost if the job can be filled by a machine. But lets assume some sort of assembly line where the number of workers directly impacts the number of products produced on a single day. Let's say that this factory is staffed by 1,000 people, and it produces 500,000 items a day. Before we do anything about the staff figures, we can see that the factory is producing many more items than there are employees. Lets now remove my two hypothetical offspring from the factory's staff. Assuming a linear staff to production relationship, a workforce of 998 workers should result in 499,000 items made. This would be the worst case situation, where the removal of a few 'cogs' results in a ballooned shortfall on the other end. Of course, that is rarely how productivity works. As I stated before, there is currently no shortage of individuals that could and would fill any vacancy that should occur. But more importantly, in the computer age, such linear relationships between workforce and production are rare. What with machinery  and computers, our factory likely wouldn't notice the removal of a couple workers.

For the sake of argument, lets grant the worst case scenario for that factory. But lets also realize that some industries will be less impacted than others. Lets also realize that if the population were to be slightly lower, there is less demand. If the population is lower, our worst case scenario predicts a slight reduction in production of products (that people may or may not even want, and are already made in excess). So given the dynamics of the US population, and how little production would be lost (if any) the end result would be an evening out of the reduced demand and reduced production, or more likely a slight excess that can either be distributed to those that really need it, or drive prices down slightly.

The greatest irony though, was that this individual was originally from Africa. He of all people should know the very real problem of there being more people than there are resources to care for them all. Yet he is promoting (at the very least) sustaining current population figures. Sure, the US is a land of plenty, but there are still those, even here, that are forced to go without (usually for socioeconomic reasons). So even though resources aren't spread as thinly as they are in poorer nations, we can (and should) do better. Considering this, why should it be our 'duty' to produce children that we don't even want at this point in time?

Worldwide, population growth is out of control. It may be slightly controversial, but in my opinion, our fine globe may have too many inhabitants already. I feel this is an issue for the welfare of the people themselves, and for the welfare of our planet as well. One thing mankind is very good at, is exploiting and destroying the environment for it's gain. I agree with Sir David Attenborough when he said, "Instead of controlling the environment for the benefit of the population, perhaps it's time we control the population to allow the survival of the environment."

True, our family not producing one or two children won't make much difference. But a few things are true. We do not have a duty to reproduce, and that the dynamics of the United States and industry show that there is no risk to the country, or resource production. Our biggest worry shouldn't be if we are having enough children, but if we are having too many. Growing populations means increased demand on resources, but also an increased demand on housing. This demand typically translates to farmland being paved over to create more housing and retail locations. So what we really end up with is more demand and less supply. The very opposite of what the world desperately needs.

I find it sad that so many remain ignorant to these facts and instead choose to uphold the absurd assumptions that marriage equals kids, and that it is our duty to at the very least replace ourselves. What we really need it a carefully balanced population. One that (willingly) balances population with availability of resources. While Japan may see short term problems from their tapering population, they may be better off in the long run if other populations continue to explode and cause resources to be increasingly scarce. It won't be a problem for my generation, or one that is even answered by the next, but time will show that population growth can not be sustained indefinitely. Either we need to make a long term plan for the survival of humanity and the environment on which we rely on. Or we may very well create the next mass extinction event by our own actions.

-Brain Hulk

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