March 01, 2004 | Peter

Politicians Discover the Future

How amusing to see the government getting so concerned about the future of Oz’s population all of a sudden. Apparently, they have found out about this thing called ‘demography’ and are now all excited about it. “Demography is destiny” is the latest catch phrase, as if it was all some simple linear process of population growth equals economic growth equals prosperity for all.
The fact is that the tendency of population growth in affluent countries to flatten out is just about the only hope we have on this planet, due to the inaction of governments on a whole raft of vital environmental issues. And just as well since affluent countries use up disproportionate amounts of diminishing global resources. Last time I looked, an average Aussie used about 30 times as much of the material resources as a person in a poor country.
This population trend, when the hitherto exponential growth curve begins to flatten, is largely due to the decision by parents to have fewer children so they can spend more on the children they have, education etc being so important to success these days. It is also due to the decision by more and more people to not marry and/or not have children at all. In both cases this trend represents the growing independence of women in society, thanks largely to birth control technology.
Conservatives, of course, hate all this. They might not like to admit it, but really they want good old patriarchy, with women pregnant in the kitchen. Our current PM and his main offsiders like Tony Abbot try to pretend otherwise, but their discomfit with the greatly improved condition of women over the last few decades is obvious.
Anyway, whatever the current government comes up with as a solution to this supposed problem, no doubt it will have little to do with redistribution of the existing wealth and power. Globally, the sane thing would be to use the divergence in population growth in rich and poor countries to spread the wealth, through both immigration and aid to support population control in poor countries. This would be the best way to optimise economic growth, social satisfaction and political stability.
And finally, am I the only one who sees the irony of a government all excited about the growing proportion of elderly so negative about allowing immigration by people with large, young families from certain poor countries. Some of these hopeful immigrants are so desperate to come to Oz and work that they risk their lives in flimsy boats. But they are of course mostly non-white and have strange customs…
But what really gets me about this sudden discovery of the future is that this same government has steadfastly refused to see the much more imminent problems caused by environmental trends like salinity and climate change. Given the present situation, I make one prediction about the future: in twenty years Oz will not be obsessed with the demographic problem, it will be focussed on how to survive in a world struggling with serious climatic variation and rapidly declining fossil fuels, surrounded by nations grown tired of our selfish, introspective ways.

Posted by Peter at 1:06 pm | Comments (2) |
Filed under: Uncategorized


  1. Without having read all the demographic analyses, I would just about bet that they also haven’t taken account of the decrease in education spending that will be brought about by the decrease in the proportion of children. As well, the information revolution may well do away with the need for a lot of the traditional infrastructure of education, having replaced it with ubiquitous access to anything you want to know.
    It is also very sad that we have apparently missed out on the promise of technology – more leisure time. Now we are even going to remove the leisure that people have been expecting to enjoy in their later years, as well as the leisure already removed by the frantic pace of work and school) life.
    The real story is that we have moved more and more human activities into the “traded” sector – food preparation, child minding, house cleaning, gardening, lots of entertainment, sport coaching. In addition, we have further bureaucratised all large private and public organisations in the snese that we have loaded them down with policies, procedures and “best practices” – all of these require people to execute them. The additional layer on this has been the army of accountants and lawyers to police it all and to outsource our personal recordkeeping and dispute resolution.
    Of course, those who are shut out of all of this b misfortune or limited abilities have to sit on the sidelines watching with increasing cynicism and/or desperation.
    The bottom line is that our economic system has failed to deliver the benefits of technology in the form of more leisurely, satisfied lives. This goes beyond considerations of “markets” or “socialism” – it is a much wider failure of the social system.

    Comment by Alex McConnell — March 2, 2004 @ 7:10 am

  2. The reality of politics/government is that if a problem is to be raised there must be some program proposed to deal with it – demographics can really only be raised by Government as an issue when the Government has a policy and program about it. Govt has to be seen as a doer – not a debater.Even when it institutes ‘Inquiries’ it has to be seen to implementation-willing.
    Population growth retardation in developed countries will have almost no effect on world population growth nor will ‘aid programs’ for third world birth control. The only effective birth control in poor village situations has been the stern Chinese ‘one child’ regime (and that only partially).
    The sneer that the present Government wants to keep women pregnant and cooking is so ideological that it eludes commentability.
    Then there is the connotation that the national government is the polluter and environmental bad guy of the scene – what about the person – the family – the community – the company – the State Government? How much does the federal Government really pollute? It’s all the Government’s fault?.
    Redistribution of wealth? Let’s talk about where to put 2000 million who are destitute in South Asia, South America and Africa – let’s discuss the strange problem of a wide range of Islamic countries/cultures who seem to steadfastly be unwilling to come into the modern world. Let’s talk about the claimed ‘introspective and selfish’ Australian society in comparison to the wide open and free-giving societies of Malaysia, Indonesia, New Guinea, China and Vietnam – our neighbours.

    Comment by Neil Hudson — March 4, 2004 @ 10:39 pm

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