July 16th, 2024

Will a successful economy doom our species?

By Lethbridge Herald on July 9, 2024.


During the 1970s, many people were worried about “population explosion.” “How to feed the rapidly growing population with finite resource?” At the same time “baby bonus” in different names was never abolished in most of the affluent countries encouraging new babies. Labour shortages had been a serious problem for a long time. “Guest workers” or seasonal temporary workers” are a familiar presence in Western countries and Japan for decades. Which is more serious? Population explosion? Or shortage of labour? I smell hypocrisy. 

We know that agriculture, health care, manufacture, and service sectors will collapse without a large number of new immigrants coming into Canada. Recently many observers became seriously alarmed by the accelerating speed of population decrease in the world: Korea being most dire. If the current trend continues, we will face a severe world wide labour shortage.

Many observers say the crises have already been here for a long time. Soon there will be smaller numbers of income earners paying less tax to sustain the current level of social programs. I should be worried about who will pay into my pension fund. 

Do we have too many people? Or too few? China had a “one child” policy until a decade ago. They needed to slow down the rapid population growth. But now because of the very successfully implemented population control, soon China is expected to face a serious labour shortage. To meet the constantly changing situations, policy emphasis has been oscillating constantly between two poles – encourage childbirth and birth control. 

I grew up during the war time of 1940s in Japan. The emphasis during those years was: “Make babies as an act of patriotism.” The country needed an abundant supply of soldiers and factory workers. Abortion was prohibited, not because of the respect for life as such, but because people were needed as fodder. When the war ended in 1945, and soldiers came home the country faced a sudden population explosion and a serious food shortage. The abortion ban was quickly repealed and became available on demand. The policy makers became keen on family planning. Smaller family was encouraged. 

The Korean war broke out in 1950. An “economic miracle” ensued to support the U.S. fighting in Korea to provide logistics and to produce necessary goods to fight the war. The result was the rapid expansion of the economy. Japan became affluent. Soon the country faced serious worker shortage. Factory owners encouraged middle school leavers to move from countryside to the cities to work in factories by sending them airline tickets. It became abundantly clear to many of us that population increases in poverty and shrinks with affluence.

When I lived in Africa during the 1970s, all Western industrial countries were worried about poverty and food shortages in the developing countries of the south. They were afraid of migrants flooding into their countries seeking better life. Helping population control in the southern hemisphere became the emphasis of the foreign aid programs of the Western industrialized countries. How to stop the migrants from the south coming to the global north was the hidden agenda. The plan didn’t work. Africa and South Asia remained poor so migrants didn’t stop flooding into the developed West.

During those days, I was invited to attend a few all expense-paid, well-funded international conferences to discuss population control. Many academics and progressive commentators were against such an approach. I also attended one organized by the World University Service. I met many left-leaning academics. Their war cry was, “When you take care people, population will take care of itself.” 

The irony is, the developed industrialized countries have been facing shortage of workers for a long time. When you are rich, you don’t make many children. A quick fix was obvious: Bring in foreign workers. Many Western countries had been doing it for some decades in different names. “Guest workers” in Germany and Switzerland, “seasonal temporary workers” in the U.S. and Canada, and “worker internship” in Japan. None of them guaranteed permanent residency. They wanted foreign workers to come to work but wanted them to go home. The political right demanded, “build the wall!” 

 Such xenophobia goes against the capitalist principle of free competition and competitively skilled labour. Racism destroyed the competitive edge of South African economy because of it’s policy to reserve a certain job categories to specific races. 

So what do we do? Importing more immigrants seems to be a quick fix. But voters get angry and elect right-wing politicians when too many darker skinned foreign workers come into the country. The result of the recent election of the European Parliament has shown it. It revived the right wing nationalistic sentiment similar to fascism and the Nazis. It is endangering the future of the European Union. 

What about encouraging child birth in affluent countries? The Economist, May 25th, 2024 issue suggests the women who are already in the workforce are entitled to longer paid maternity leave and easy access to good and reasonably priced child care. Those programs should encourage women to stay in the workforce while being mothers. The Economist thinks that because of the current outdated system that had been created for male workers, women’s aspirations to advance in careers discourages motherhood. Consequently population decreased as women in the work place made fewer babies to stay competitive in the workplace.

It is an interesting suggestion coming from a business oriented journal. In Japan for example, Toyota Motors is already giving two-year paid maternity leave to a pregnant female employee. My grand niece gave birth to two children, took four years paid maternity leave from Toyota where she works as a nutritionist. 

Do such measures work? The jury is still out. I am not quite convinced that it will solve the problem of the world’s shrinking population unless fathers become full partners in child care. Are the homo sapiens doomed to disappear because of our successful economy which does not take motherhood into account seriously? Or should we hand over all work to artificial intelligence and robots? 

Tadashi (Tad) Mitsui


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Thanks for your comments Tad. As always your thoughts “open windows”, give me pause to reflect, grow… RESPECT.

Fedup Conservative

Tad some of the Japanese farmers I met in southern Alberta in the 1960s were sugar beet growers and those of us in the Royal Bank certainly had a lot of respect for them and still do. Thanks for being such a great inspiration over the years with your writing.
Like most of us know that war should never have happened and the friendships that have occurred between us since is something we will always cherish. Alan K. Spiller


and another thoughtful, thought provoking sharing, tad. thank you!
it is my observation, based on the last couple hundred years of history where we have witnessed the devolution of capitalism, that the “better” our economy is, the more its fallout undermines most everything that everything needs in order to be healthy and thrive.

Last edited 20 hours ago by biff

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