Jan 26Liked by James Pethokoukis

I look forward to your look into what happens past “peak human.” I am a pessimist on this issue, but here are some of my thoughts:

Economist Charles Jones concluded that the “Empty Planet” future, is particularly harmful to society as knowledge and living standards stagnate for a population that gradually disappears.

From a financial perspective, a shrinking population is problematic. Global pension systems like Social Security were designed under the assumption that couples would continue having children at the same rate as previous generations. To fill the gap, as we are seeing in discussions in the US and elsewhere, politicians raise taxes on the young to fund depleted pensions. But as couples frequently cite financial considerations as the primary reason for having few children, raising taxes further threatens to exacerbate the fertility problem.

Further, most consumer products have high fixed costs and low marginal costs. An investor or entrepreneur needs a sufficient market size to sell enough copies of a product to justify that high fixed investment cost.

In a shrinking planet, there is simply less demand to justify the development and improvement of goods and services.

Expand full comment

I wonder if the pension issue is a canard based on a debatable assumption that the only source of funds is labor. If that is the case, a lower population means lower funds.

But if all the hype around AI and automation is true, we will have to shift our thinking and tax wealth, which could certainly lay grow faster than the labor force under a high-automation scenario.

Expand full comment

Yep! The one potential caveat is AI. AI has the potential to destroy us, but also the capability to make our lives better in unimaginable ways.

Expand full comment

"It's such a simple rule of thumb. If you want to forecast China: China is slightly below 10 million births; 10 million times 85 — most of us can do that in our head — it's 850 million. Well, their population now is 1.4 billion. So there you have a 60 percent reduction."

Hmm maybe he should not have done this in his head - that is a 40 percent reduction, not a 60 percent reduction.

Expand full comment
Jan 27·edited Jan 27

I have Zoomer kids who are very ambivalent about having families due to costs and uncertainty.

But I am also very curious about how much truth there is to stories that actual fertility is declining - meaning the ability, not just the willingness to procreate. There appears to be evidence of lower sperm counts in men that hasn't been fully explained.


Expand full comment

Population is still rising and might peak around 3 times the population when I was a kid when concerns about overpopulation were the rage. So why the worry?

Expand full comment