We’ve had a couple threads dealing with overpopulation. While the topic seems to still be causing panic among some internet denizens, I don’t see many people with real decision-making capability devoting much attention to it. Hysteria about overpopulation seems to have followed the same trend line as platform shoes and Bee Gees music: it was popular in the 70’s but now it isn’t.
There is, however, a serious population problem looming in many parts of the world. It’s clearest in two regions: the Pacific Rim and much of Europe. The problem really comes from the aforementioned 70’s, when countries including Japan, Taiwan, and Singapore took various measures to lower fertility rates. The measures were a dramatic success. Today Japan’s fertility rate is 1.39, while Taiwan is at 1.16 and Singapore arrives at 0.78. (Cite)
Then, at some point in the 80’s and 90’s, the governments in these countries seem to have gotten a funny feeling that they might have done something really, really stupid. They started to wonder whether getting rid of half or more of future generations was really a smart idea. They started to think that their policies would actually lead to imbalanced societies, with vast numbers of elderly dependents sucking up money through pensions and health care while inadequate numbers of young workers existed to do actual work. And suddenly those same countries that had been so proud of their population control efforts did an about face and tried to encourage more births. They officially encouraged marriage. They increased maternity leave and other perks for parents. They forked government money directly to anyone willing to have children.
Guess what? None of it has worked. The numbers show that all of these desperate policies have had little or not effect on birth rates. It seems that it’s easy for the government to drive birth rates down, but much harder to drive them up. So now, while some people dither about overpopulation, many countries are already in or soon will be in a crisis of underpopulation. Moreover, all the possible solutions have been tried and failed. Government incentives to encourage childbearing have failed. Wealthy countries could try to prop up populations by bringing in immigrants, but immigration tends to cause problems and most places have moved in the opposite direction in recent years. Adjusting the laws so that elderly people don’t suck up so much money makes financial sense but will always encounter ferocious resistance. Those countries that made the wrong decision on population control 30 or 40 years ago may simply be doomed.