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Population decline will cause more misery than population increase ever could (or did)

August 6, 2018

Global population will decline from about 2100 onward. That demographic is already written in stone. For some countries the decline has already started.

By 2100 the global population will have reached about 10.5 billion. It is already too late for the subsequent decline to be completely averted, but it is the experience of countries such as those above over the next 5 decades or so which will be key in determining how the challenge is to be met. Declining fertility rate is now a global phenomenon but it is the rate at which population declines locally that will be the determining factor if, and to what extent, societal collapse occurs. The more interconnected and interdependent a society is, the more traumatic a collapse will be.

In well developed societies (and using Japan as an example) the first stress-point will come with the ratio of those in productive work (16 – 70 years) to those in need of societal support (<16 and >70 years). At some point the cost of this support will become prohibitive for the public purse. The support will not end abruptly but will become increasingly a function of the availability of private resources. Even within the last decade I have observed that public health care in Europe is now trying to reduce the number of hip and knee replacements for the elderly. For patients beyond a certain age, public health care now tries to avoid the more expensive procedures (cancer treatment, complex surgery ….. ). A new measure is now coming into play in decision making for public health care – YPPL (Years of Potential Life Lost). Once a patient is over 80, the YPPL is too low to justify the more expensive procedures.

The effects of depopulation would first be felt in rural areas where communities, which once were largely self-sufficient, become under-critical. These effects are already being seen in rural Japan where public transport is reducing, houses, schools and clinics are being abandoned and what little manufacturing industry was present has vanished. Those left in the rural areas are the elderly who have not the wherewithal to move. In central Europe it is the young, and especially young women, who move away from rural areas.

Japan Times:

The effects of a population decrease are already being felt. Cases in which road bridges have been closed to traffic because of a lack of funds for maintenance and a drop in the number of users are increasing. Forests exist whose owners are now unknown. The number of vacant houses are increasing. Some municipalities have passed by-laws under which they will demolish vacant houses that have become dangerously dilapidated.

In the countryside, traffic consists mainly of privately owned vehicles. As the population grays, however, more and more elderly people will be unable to drive, making it difficult for them to buy food and other essentials or to receive medical care. In local communities in mountainous areas in particular it is becoming extremely difficult to maintain a suitable level of social services for residents. It will become necessary for local governments to concentrate essential facilities such as medical institutions and administrative organizations in certain areas and take administrative steps to relocate elderly people who need such services so they can be close to them.

Paradoxically, cities could become inundated with populations moving in from rural areas which have become under-critical. The city services would be over-extended but without the labour force to be able to provide increased services. Misery would increase in both rural areas and in the cities.

The great mitigating hope is the development of AI and robots. However a fully automated society will also need much infrastructure investment and automation will not be able to stop the abandonment of rural areas. Driver-less buses and robot-manned clinics are entirely feasible but these will be solutions that will need a critical mass of population. Services for children and the elderly will be increasingly automated but will necessarily be concentrated in the cities.

I have no doubt that the challenges will be met. I suspect that automation and AI will be of greater value than mass migration. But the transition may take several decades and perhaps even a hundred years. Even though some central European countries are seeing a more rapid population decline, I expect that Japan will lead the way in finding the new solutions. By 2060 the Japanese population will be just two-thirds of what it was in 2010. Forests and farms will have to be automated to a much higher degree. Small, family-run rice production will shift to larger, automated farms. Rural areas will still be productive – but they will be unmanned. Growth will no longer be driven by population growth.

The transition to a much more automated society will come, but with a cost. That cost will be an increase in the misery index. The elderly in rural areas will be the first to experience an increase of misery. Longevity increase will level off and may even reverse. Public health care for the elderly will have to meet cost benefit criteria. Voluntary euthanasia for the elderly will become normal. There will be tax incentives for having children. Any need for an increase in children services will be met by automation rather than by humans. The success of automation will reduce the pool of routine, unskilled jobs available. Unemployment for the less-educated and the less-skilled will increase. The social rift between the unemployable and the more intelligent, skilled or creative could increase.

The increase of misery seems inevitable. But it will not last for ever. Population will probably stabilise but there will be a strong pressure for ensuring the long-term employability of those being born. A much greater degree of genetic screening of fetuses will result. Downs Syndrome and other genetic conditions will be eliminated. Humans may well be on the way to evolving to be more cerebrally capable and less capable physically.

Artificial selection will have arrived.



A day like any other – but Happy New Year anyway

December 31, 2017

The genocide paradox: Would you now prevent the dinosaurs from extinction then?

December 15, 2017

The genocide paradox is just another version of all the temporal paradoxes (grandfather paradoxes) about any historical event. Would you, in the now, take any action which will prevent something from having happened in the past, then? Knowing that some change to the past could make the present different? In all of these paradoxes, the inconsistency comes when the causal link with the past is broken.

We can only make judgements about the past. But the judgement itself is rooted in the now and cannot be applied to the past. If we, now, could take some action which will prevent the dinosaurs from having been extinguished 65 million years ago, would we? Of course, if the dinosaurs had not become extinct there would have been no room for many mammals or the great apes or humans to have evolved. If we could take actions in the now which will prevent any of the genocides of the past, we inevitably invalidate all that is in the present which is causally linked to that past. And so we have the Genocide Paradox. If we take actions now which will result in the Holocaust never having occurred, then we destroy our own existence and the entire causal chain which lies in our history.

The paradoxes arise because causality and the arrow of time are two sides of the same coin (and this coin may have more than two sides). You could argue that time is causality. We can make judgements today about how bad Hitler or Pol Pot were but their badness itself is an existential foundation for our own existence. In my own case I can make the causal link with Hitler quite easily.

For want of a nail image: grandmasnurseryrhymes

For want of a Hitler, the war was not,
For want of the war, Changi was not,
For want of Changi, an escape was not,
For want of an escape, a marriage was not,
For want of a marriage, a son was not,
For want of a Hitler, I was not.

So I can no more wish Hitler and the Holocaust away than I can wish away my existence.

Would the world be a better place today if all the great genocides through history had not taken place? That the world would be different is without doubt. There would be different people alive today even if the numbers of people alive would not – perhaps – be so different. The genetic mix of the people alive today would be different. But would the world be a better place?

We may regret the past, we may rewrite the past and we may think we would have behaved differently, but we cannot change it and we cannot wish it away.

It has become fashionable to revile figures from the past and their actions, but those figures and their deplorable actions are causal to the existence of those doing the reviling today. Reviling Hitler or Pol Pot or Genghis Khan or the slave traders or the colonists of the past is all the rage. But precisely those people and their despicable actions are our existential foundations of the present.


Misleading science: How a 1980 publication led to US opioid crisis

August 14, 2017

Not all of science is built on the shoulders of giants.

Sometimes science stumbles when it is based on political agendas, on fake science, on exaggerations and even – in this case – on mistaken conclusions.

Eventually science gets corrected, but much damage can be done till then.

In January 1980, the New England Journal of Medicine published this letter from scientists at the Boston University Medical Center (Vol 302, No 2).

This “letter” has been cited extensively in justifying the use of opioids and in the assumption that this would be non-addictive.

Now the same journal has published a new study (Vol 376, June 2017) which traces the current opioid crisis to this letter which has been “heavily and uncritically cited as evidence that addiction was rare with long-term opioid therapy”.

Leung et al, A 1980 Letter on the Risk of Opioid Addiction, N Engl J Med 2017; 376:2194-2195, June 1, 2017, DOI: 10.1056/NEJMc1700150

The prescribing of strong opioids such as oxycodone has increased dramatically in the United States and Canada over the past two decades.1 From 1999 through 2015, more than 183,000 deaths from prescription opioids were reported in the United States,2 and millions of Americans are now addicted to opioids. The crisis arose in part because physicians were told that the risk of addiction was low when opioids were prescribed for chronic pain. A one-paragraph letter that was published in the Journal in 19803 was widely invoked in support of this claim, even though no evidence was provided by the correspondents (see Section 1 in the Supplementary Appendix, available with the full text of this letter at

We performed a bibliometric analysis of this correspondence from its publication until March 30, 2017.  …….. 

In conclusion, we found that a five-sentence letter published in the Journal in 1980 was heavily and uncritically cited as evidence that addiction was rare with long-term opioid therapy. We believe that this citation pattern contributed to the North American opioid crisis by helping to shape a narrative that allayed prescribers’ concerns about the risk of addiction associated with long-term opioid therapy. In 2007, the manufacturer of OxyContin and three senior executives pleaded guilty to federal criminal charges that they misled regulators, doctors, and patients about the risk of addiction associated with the drug. Our findings highlight the potential consequences of inaccurate citation and underscore the need for diligence when citing previously published studies.

Without skepticism there is no science.


Would religions survive if children were not brainwashed into them?

May 25, 2017

Whether “indoctrination” of an empty child’s mind is less reprehensible than the “brainwashing” of an adult mind that has existing beliefs is not the point.  At issue is whether beliefs, which, by definition, exist outside the realm of knowledge, can be force-fed. No religion allows its followers to develop their own beliefs. All religions presume to instill their standard beliefs onto their own adherents and onto potential converts. Can beliefs be externally imposed or must they be developed internally? My own “belief” is that an idea, which is not the result of an individual’s own cognitive processes but is externally imposed, cannot be a true “belief”. All societies permit, and most approve, the indoctrination of children into the religions of their parents (or guardians). Apart from coerced conversions (which are still going on), I would guess that over 95% (and perhaps 99%) of all those who follow a religion, follow that of their parents.

Human behaviour has effectively made religion hereditary. Religion is not controlled by our genes except in that our genes may determine how susceptible we are to indoctrination. Yet our religious beliefs are determined by who our parents are. Unfortunately parents have not succeeded as well in indoctrinating children away from other undesirable behaviour. The growth or decline of religions across the world simply mirrors fertility on the one hand and the coercive conversion of peoples into the religion.

If a group of children were brought up in isolation on a desert island, by robotic instructors confined to teach only in the area of knowledge, and to answer any question in the space of ignorance with a “don’t know”, some of the children may well develop “religious” beliefs with divine power being attributed to the sun and the moon and the winds and the waves. But for there to be war between the sun-worshipers and the wind-worshipers there would first need to be those arrogant enough to anoint themselves as priests. There would be no organised religions without priests appointing themselves as special messengers of the divine powers. There would be no religious wars without “turbulent priests” bent on religious expansion. If every child was allowed, as it felt necessary,  to develop its own religious beliefs, organised religions would never catch hold. And if organised religions did exist they would merely wither and die without a continuous stream of new adherents in the form of brain-washed children growing up.

The problem lies not in whether one believes in gods or not, but in that organised religions exist and that they compete. They compete by claiming that one set of beliefs in the space of ignorance are superior or better than another set, also in the space of ignorance. The claims for the one or for the other are made by turbulent priests. It has been so ever since organised religions came into being. It is still so today, whether it is a mad mullah pronouncing a fatwa or a Hindu God-man calling for the destruction of a mosque or a Buddhist monk attacking unbelievers or a “celibate” Pope pronouncing on family values.

Who will rid us of these turbulent priests?


A politically correct distribution of the seven vices

December 25, 2016



Japan rejects Washington opposition as Putin visits Tokyo

December 13, 2016

The impact Trump is having even before he assumes office is becoming apparent, both domestically and on the international stage.

He is just the President-elect but it seems that shifts are already taking place in geo-political alignments. It seems that Trump is going to be a non-ideological, transactional and rather pragmatic President. Everything is going to be on the table and everything is going to be about negotiation.  China already has understood that they will have to “offer” something to get the new US to continue with the One-China policy. Iran has also understood that a new negotiation is underway. Ideological regime change is no longer an objective. Domestically, the defense industry is understanding that their normal cosy, bloated, overcharging of the government will be resisted. Trump needs to cut public spending drastically to allow his infrastructure projects to go ahead. Industry in general is getting the message loud and clear that there will be tax breaks for creating jobs and tax penalties for shifting them abroad.

Well, we shall see.

In the meantime the Obama administration has been trying to get Prime Minister Abe to cancel or, at least, postpone an Abe/Putin summit in Japan. But what the Obama administration wants no longer carries much weight.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin hold talks on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Lima last month. | KYODO

The Japan Times:

Japan has disregarded U.S. opposition to a planned bilateral summit between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Tokyo later this week, diplomatic sources said.

Last month Washington repeatedly conveyed its objection to the Abe-Putin meeting in the capital out of concern that it might relieve pressure on Moscow by the Group of Seven economies, but on Thursday Japan formally announced the summit for Friday, as well as another meeting in Yamaguchi Prefecture on Thursday. The administration of President Barack Obama has been critical of Russia over its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and for backing the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

But Abe wants to maintain good relations with Russia in hopes of achieving a breakthrough in the decades-old territorial dispute between the two nations and concluding a postwar peace treaty. The Japanese government’s decision to go ahead with staging a summit with Putin in Tokyo highlights a rift between Tokyo and Washington on the issue. …..

The U.S. government voiced concern that staging such a meeting in Tokyo could send the wrong message that the Group of Seven (G-7) industrialized nations is not totally united in pressuring Moscow, the sources said.

The Japanese government is believed to have told Washington that the Russian leader’s visit should not be seen as according Putin special favors as he will not be granted a meeting with Emperor Akihito.

A Japanese government source said, “Although Japan needs to play a role as a G-7 member, it is also natural for us to pursue national interests and holding a summit meeting in Tokyo causes no problem.”


It’s all over as the establishment circles its wagons around Hillary

November 7, 2016

They read fast over at the FBI.

650,000 emails read and analysed in a week is pretty impressive. That the FBI ( and the Department of Justice) are part of the political establishment that Hillary belongs to is fairly obvious. In any event the FBI interventions have put some life into the final stages but now, as the establishment wagons circle around Hillary, her victory tomorrow seems a foregone conclusion.

So the US will have another Clinton as another dodgy President. The new First Lady will probably be Huma Abedin. Bill Clinton can be President Emeritus.

The odds of another Clinton being impeached are fairly high. The odds of another President being forced to leave prematurely like Nixon are also fairly high.

The markets should gain today.


Diwali 2016

October 29, 2016

Little Diwali in South India today and the main celebrations tomorrow.





The Age of Man is the age of fire

September 1, 2016

There is much discussion about when to define the start of the Anthropocene  epoch “that begins when human activities started to have a significant global impact on Earth’s geology and ecosystem” . Scientists are looking for the parameters which could define the start of this geological age in the 4.5 billion year history of the Earth. There are suggestions that it should be 1945 when the first nuclear test was carried out or 1950 when radioactive particles began to be detected in the atmosphere. Others have argued for 1610 when “an unusual drop in atmospheric carbon dioxide and the irreversible exchange of species between the New and Old Worlds” began. Others still argue for 1964.

Homo timeline (Wikipedia)

Homo timeline (Wikipedia)

But I find these arguments unconvincing. There is, in fact, a single development (whether it was a single event or a development, discovered and rediscovered, perhaps at many places and over a long period). That single development was the control of fire. I wrote a year or so ago “The Age of Man began when Homo Erectus learned to produce fire at will and to contain fire in a hearth.”

The one single capability which initiated the divergence of humans from all other animals and which has resulted in the inevitable development and domination of modern humans is the control of fire. And that was around 400,000 years ago. The Age of Man began when Homo Erectus learned to produce fire at will and to contain fire in a hearth. I would even speculate that without fire Homo Erectus would not have survived to evolve into Homo Sapiens. Without fire Homo Sapiens would not have thrived through the ice ages or left the tropics to colonise more northern climes.

When our ancestors came down from the trees and developed bipedalism, they did not have control of fire. There were just another primate species – one among many. The earliest stone tools were developed without fire possibly by homo habilis. It may well be that this tool making ability was a key survival attribute which allowed this species to become skillful hunters and shift to a diet containing much raw meat. The brains of homo habilis grew in size and the species continued evolving to become homo erectus and other bipedal primates died out. And then around 1.8 – 1.5 million years ago, homo erectus gained some control over fire. It is possible that it was the skill in stone cutting which itself led to the discovery that flint and iron pyrites struck together could create a spark. It may have been an ancient stone tool maker who, accidentally, first discovered a method of creating a spark and igniting a fire. While the earliest known hearths are only from around 400,000 years ago, hearths are relatively sophisticated technology. Primitive ignition techniques and a rudimentary control of fire must have been available earlier and was probably available to the common ancestors of both Neanderthals and AMH (anatomically modern humans). The size of the evolving homo erectus brain grew sharply as cooked meat dominated the diet and the biological energy resources available to an individual of the species took off. The – albeit primitive – control of light and heat from an external source would have been revolutionary. Though fire was not necessary for stone tools, the ability to make and hone stone tools, and fire-hardened wooden weapons, after the hunting day was done would have been a giant leap in the technological stakes.

There is a clear link between diet and energy availability and brain size evolution.

Smithsonian: Wherever humans have gone in the world, they have carried with them two things, language and fire. ….. Darwin himself considered these the two most significant achievements of humanity.

Harvard biologist Richard Wrangham, … believes that fire is needed to fuel the organ that makes possible all the other products of culture, language included: the human brain. Every animal on earth is constrained by its energy budget; the calories obtained from food will stretch only so far. And for most human beings, most of the time, these calories are burned …… in powering the heart, the digestive system and especially the brain, in the silent work of moving molecules around within and among its 100 billion cells. A human body at rest devotes roughly one-fifth of its energy to the brain, regardless of whether it is thinking anything useful, or even thinking at all. Thus, the unprecedented increase in brain size that hominids embarked on around 1.8 million years ago had to be paid for with added calories either taken in or diverted from some other function in the body. Many anthropologists think the key breakthrough was adding meat to the diet. But Wrangham and his Harvard colleague Rachel Carmody think that’s only a part of what was going on in evolution at the time. What matters, they say, is not just how many calories you can put into your mouth, but what happens to the food once it gets there. How much useful energy does it provide, after subtracting the calories spent in chewing, swallowing and digesting? The real breakthrough, they argue, was cooking.

……. Carmody explains that only a fraction of the calories in raw starch and protein are absorbed by the body directly via the small intestine. The remainder passes into the large bowel, where it is broken down by that organ’s ravenous population of microbes, which consume the lion’s share for themselves. Cooked food, by contrast, is mostly digested by the time it enters the colon; for the same amount of calories ingested, the body gets roughly 30 percent more energy from cooked oat, wheat or potato starch as compared to raw, and as much as 78 percent from the protein in an egg. …..

…..Fire detoxifies some foods that are poisonous when eaten raw, and it kills parasites and bacteria. Again, this comes down to the energy budget. Animals eat raw food without getting sick because their digestive and immune systems have evolved the appropriate defenses. Presumably the ancestors of Homo erectus—say, Australopithecus—did as well. But anything the body does, even on a molecular level, takes energy; by getting the same results from burning wood, human beings can put those calories to better use in their brains. Fire, by keeping people warm at night, made fur unnecessary, and without fur hominids could run farther and faster after prey without overheating. Fire brought hominids out of the trees; by frightening away nocturnal predators, it enabled Homo erectus to sleep safely on the ground, which was part of the process by which bipedalism (and perhaps mind-expanding dreaming) evolved. By bringing people together at one place and time to eat, fire laid the groundwork for pair bonding and, indeed, for human society.

I can see that once fire had been controlled and cooking developed, the sudden (relatively) advance of that species was inevitable. Both for evolution and for technology development. Within the individual it provided the elements necessary for the brain to grow. That in turn led – also inevitably – to speech (c. 200 kya) and language (c. 100 kya) and writing (c. 50 kya). Stone tools were sufficient – without fire – to lead to meat eating. But it was fire which gave cooking, which allowed an energy-rich diet containing cooked vegetable and animal proteins. But fire did not just give cooking. It provided the starting point for virtually all technology as we know it today. Fire provided safety. Hearths gave a focus for a cooperative society to develop. Hearths led to ovens and kilns and eventually to smelters. Light in the dark and heat in the bitter northern winters, probably gave rise to the first ever “leisure times”. The Stone Age, with fire, gave way to the Bronze Age. As the ability to control and contain even higher temperatures were developed, the Iron Age was born. Gods and alchemists and priests and shamans needed fire. The Sun in its avatar of fire paved the way for the first religions (though this may not be considered much of an advance). Temperature was recognised as being a critical parameter because of the control of fire. Blacksmiths and alchemists gave rise to Metallurgy and Chemistry and Physics. Sand and fire gave glass and Astronomy. The Steel Age and the Plastics Age and now the Semiconductor Age were all inevitable once fire had been controlled and harnessed. The species not only survived Ice Ages, it thrived through them. Our ancestors only expanded into the more northern climes because of the availability of fire. In due course, fire gave rise to electricity and then the dark, or the cold, or the heat, could all be banished at will.

The Age of Man has been, and is, the age of fire.

First came hominids and then came fire and the rest is history.

Homo sapiens is now with gravitation where ancient  homo erectus was with fire. As the magic of fire was understood and brought under control and harnessed, so the magic of gravitation, too, will be understood and controlled and harnessed to the service of homo superieur.



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