Friday, November 16, 2018

The Labour Shortage

The Evening Stanard recently carried an article challenging the view of zoologist David Attenborough that we face an over-poplation crisis. On the contrary, the looming problem is a declining population for many countries.

Attenborough is a patron of Population Matters, a charity that campaigns for government efforts to arrest population growth. It was formerly the Optimum Population Trust and it acquired some notoriety for suggesting that a sustainable human population was about half its present level and arguing for curbs on child benefit. The charity is less strident today but its message is unchanged: we are too many.

But what if our numbers are shrinking? What if the main problem facing us will not be hordes of starving millions but a shortage of workers?  In the developed world, human fertility is going negative. Women are giving birth to fewer babies than are necessary to replace the population — a rate of 2.05 per female. In the UK last year we were down to 1.7 births per female and, according to the Global Burden of Diseases study, published in The Lancet, fertility in 91 out of 195 countries was below replacement level. Average fertility in western Europe is 1.6 per female, in Canada and the US, it is 1.8. Central Europeans are down to 1.4 and the Japanese have almost given up; they are down to 1.3 births per female.

Those who recall the panic about soaring populations in South Asia might be astonished to know that the birth rates are now static or even negative — Bangladesh 2.0 births per female and 2.1 in India. China’s fertility rate is now 1.5.

The human population of Brazil can be expected to shrink in coming decades — its fertility rate is 1.8. 

If you want to know why Angela Merkel opened the door to a million migrants from Syria, Iraq, and Turkey, look no further than Germany’s birth rate, down to 1.4 per female. The powerhouse of the European economy cannot sustain itself without a supply of immigrant labour and neither can the UK.

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