The Decline of the Human Race

The Decline of the Human Race

The human race is dying out. That’s not an apocalyptic prediction or a scare headline. It’s also not a guess. It’s a simple fact that we explain in detail below, with evidence and maths.

The decline in the human population is not because of climate change. There is some climate change, but it’s not that unusual and is easily manageable. Hysterical claims about climate change being an ‘existential crisis’ are simply false. We covered this topic in detail in a previous edition of The Daily Reckoning Australia.

The decline won’t be because of starvation or an inability to produce enough food. That threat has been discussed at least since Thomas Malthus articulated it in his 1798 book An Essay on the Principle of Population. The Malthusian view was that population grows exponentially and agricultural output grows in a linear fashion (if at all), so it was just a matter of time before the population’s needs exceeded the available food supply, and humans would begin a period of mass starvation.

It turns out that Malthus (an otherwise solid economist) was wrong on both counts. Agricultural productivity has soared while population growth has levelled off. The battle to feed the planet was won long ago. There is more than enough food for everyone on Earth. Any remaining pockets of starvation or low nutrition are due to political corruption or war. They are not due to overall food shortages. There’s plenty of food.

Will it be a pandemic, war, or natural disaster?

The decline won’t be because of a pandemic. Of course, pandemics are serious, and the current pandemic has resulted in an estimated four million deaths. That’s a large number and obviously tragic for the individuals and families involved. Still, it’s only 0.00053% of the global population (about 7.9 billion today). The Black Death of the 14th century killed approximately 33% of the population of Europe; some estimates are as high as 50%. The human race survived.

The decline won’t be because of war. Wars are tragic and can involve massive loss of life. Yet the most large-scale war in history, the Second Word War, resulted in an estimated 75 million deaths, counting both military and civilian casualties. That was about 0.033% of the global population at the time. That’s a horrific death toll, but not existential in terms of the survival of the human race.

Likewise, natural disasters, tsunamis, earthquakes, hurricanes, and other highly impactful events result in lost lives, but nothing close to threatening the continuation of human life. An asteroid strike on the Earth could be existential, but the last known impact of an object of six miles or more in diameter — known as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event — took place 66 million years ago.

We can’t rule out another such event next year, but the odds are sufficiently low that we can safely ignore it. Besides, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory is far along in developing asteroid diversion technology, so maybe we don’t have to be too concerned about asteroids either.

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Then why is the human race declining?

The reason humans are dying out is simple and straightforward. It’s best summarised in the famous line from Walt Kelly’s 1970 Pogo cartoon: ‘We have met the enemy and he is us.’ Humans are the reason humans are dying out. We’re not having enough babies. It’s that simple.

When we use the word ‘enough’, it’s important to put a mathematical value on that. This is not guesswork. The key number is 2.1. That refers to 2.1 children per couple, known as the replacement rate. The replacement rate is the number of children each couple must have on average to maintain global population at a constant level.

A birth rate of 1.8 is below the replacement rate of 2.1. This means your population is declining. It may be aging also, as the existing population lives longer and new births neither replace the dying nor lower the median age.

A birth rate of 4.1 is well above the replacement rate. This means your population is expanding and your median age is falling even as individuals live longer. Behaviour is complex, but the maths is really that simple. The replacement rate of 2.1 is the dividing line between population growth and decline.

Why isn’t the replacement rate 2.0?

If two people have two children, doesn’t that maintain the population at a constant level? The answer is no because of infant mortality and other premature deaths. If a couple has two children and one dies before reaching adulthood, then only one child can contribute to future population growth as an adult. A birth rate of 2.1 makes up for this factor and contributes two adult children per two adult parents.

Obviously, no one has 2.1 children. The replacement rate is an average. If five couples have three children each and two other couples have one child each, the average of the seven couples is 2.43 per couple, comfortably above the replacement rate of 2.1.

Likewise, there’s no need for each couple to have an equal number of boys and girls. Again, it’s all about the averages. If one couple has three boys and another couple has three girls, the overall boy/girl distribution is 50/50 and the birth rate is 3.0. That works just fine to grow the population.

By the way, in large population samples there are slightly more boys than girls born. That’s perfectly normal and is caused by genetic factors. It’s not a problem. As long as there are more boys than girls then there’s no practical limit on the ability of each female to reproduce. That’s what counts in demographics.

Stay tuned for my next edition of The Daily Reckoning Australia, where we look at what demographics have to do with markets and your investments.


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Jim Rickards,
Strategist, The Daily Reckoning Australia

PS: This content was originally published by Jim Rickards’ Strategic Intelligence Australia, a financial advisory newsletter designed to help you protect your wealth and potentially profit from unseen world events. Learn more here.