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The Seven Big Lies Of Cornucopianism

Cornucopians can select from an ideological buffet of arguments to deny that our growing human population is a serious problem. I have identified seven of them, but they are not exclusive---some overlap and could be treated as corollaries of others. Those in population-denial typically employ a coalition of them to make their case.

The Capitalist Lie:

We can grow the pie so that even the poorest among us can have a satisfactory slice. "A rising tide floats all boats". The larger the population base, the larger the market, and the longer the production runs, making per unit costs lower for everyone. Resource shortages are signalled by rising prices, which only encourage entrepreneurs to increase supply by the promise of higher profits, and tap into limitless human ingenuity by funding research to find alternatives to those resources which are exhausted or affordably accessible. In other words, we can "grow" the limits. The differences between Keynesians and free marketeers of the Austrian School are superficial---a petty dispute between those who believe that governments can create wealth by 'prime-pumping' fictional wealth into an unsustainable economy and those who believe that an unsustainable economy can best grow with less government intervention. Both schools of fiscal management assume that the human economy is not subject to bio-physical limits.

The Socialist Lie:

There is enough to go around, if only the pie was divided up "fairly and equitably". The problem is not with growth, but how the benefits of growth are shared. People are our greatest resource, the more the merrier. (Ask the Sandinistas). We need only ensure that they are properly fed and educated to exploit their potential. The root of our predicament is not over-population, but poverty, that is, capitalism. Furthermore, there is no "humane" way to control population growth, so it must be ignored. Growth can be 'sustainable'. The concept that there are limits, and that violating them might involve our extinction, and that nothing is more 'inhumane' than extinction, is beyond the pale of socialist consideration. The appalling environmental track record of command economies like those of the former Soviet bloc is ignored or forgotten, or if need be, disowned for not being examples of ‘true’ socialism, but rather, of “state capitalism”. Capitalists, however, are not to be granted similar dispensation to disown corporate debt capitalism. The “eco-socialism” that the green-left talks about is still on the drawing board. History is skeptical.

The Green Lie:

We can arrest economic growth---as we must---without reversing population growth. By reducing our personal footprint, by re-using, recycling and conserving, by making responsible consumer choices, by adopting 'green living' habits, by aspiring 'to live like Ghandi and not like Gates', by living simply, we can allow all of humanity to simply live. And by proper land use management, burgeoning human populations can be steered out of harm’s way from greenfield acreage, farmland, and sensitive wildlife habitat and concentrated in densely packed cities to minimize their energy footprint. You can't nationalize the environment. Environmental issues like climate change---which is the only important metric of environmental degradation----are global problems that demand global solutions and global cooperation. We must be 'inclusive'. We therefore cannot alienate other nations by strengthening our borders, rather, we must work to lower them and be welcoming to all who aspire to live here. We must remake our nation into a microcosm of the human family. Our mandate is not to constrain our population growth---which can be decoupled from GHG emissions, habitat and farmland loss----but to increase our 'diversity'. There is no national culture worthy of preservation, unless it is found in the developing countries. If migrants greatly increase their footprint upon settlement here, then our obligation is not to deter them, but to reduce our own footprint to responsible, third world levels. In short, let's move over, squeeze tighter, and consume and waste less to accommodate more and more newcomers. It was our profligate lifestyle that drove them from their homes, so it is our moral and legal obligation to assist them by opening our doors to them, even if it rescues only a fraction of their numbers. The Green slogan is that of Socrates. “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” And the Canadian version is "Canada---home to the world."

The Feminist Lie:

Population control is intrusive, it is another male attempt to control women's bodies. Population growth is not a problem but a symptom of gender inequality. If women are "empowered" by education and career opportunities, they will of their volition choose to have a number of children that is sustainable for the society at large. Procreative rights are incontestable. Sustainability is a by-product of human, women’s, workers and farmers rights, which therefore must be our primary focus.

The Technology Lie:

We can maintain or increase our extraction of renewable and non-renewable resources by developing more efficient technologies. Thus there is a confluence of socialist, green and feminist agendas into what may be termed the "environmental justice movement". The Jevons Paradox, that is, the fact that in the context of an economy premised on growth, more efficiencies, by making things cheaper, only provokes more total consumption, is not confronted.

The Religious Lie:

God or Allah will provide. Procreation is more than a right, it is a duty. And who better to enforce that duty than priests, mullahs and husbands? We are the creator's anointed species, with a mandate to grow and exercise dominion over other species. We can have our cake and eat it. We can expand without limit and push rival and subordinate species off the plate and be "good stewards" at the same time.

The Simonian Lie:

Julian Simon's assertion. The more people there are, the greater the chances that geniuses like Einstein will be born to generate the ideas that will save us. 15 billion brains are better than 10 or 7 or 2 billion brains. This belief, even if not overtly stated, runs like an undercurrent through all cornucopian lies. The notion that human brains, to function optimally, need proper nutrition, education and healthy bodies to carry them is a minor detail, as is the fact that the planet cannot indefinitely deliver those pre-requisites to the number of people who live now, never mind those billions that Simonians of all stripes want to add.

While the eco-Malthusian position offers an alternative perspective, it is often alloyed with some of the preceding impurities which confuse and compromise its central thrust: Without population stabilization and reduction, per capita reductions in consumption occasioned by frugal behaviour or efficiencies in technology or land use are ultimately futile, and that without cultural change and the force of law, unsustainable behaviours will persist even if the common people of both genders are "empowered" to make fertility choices. From speed limits to no-smoking bylaws to fish catch quotas, all laws are inherently "coercive", and all individual rights are ultimately conditional on the probability that their free exercise does not substantially restrict or infringe upon the rights of other people and other species to survive and flourish. Population reduction is not a gender issue, for over-population itself is more coercive in its influence upon women than anything the Chinese government has instituted. While the prospect of applying one-child per family laws universally is slim, the fantasy that voluntary measures alone will achieve the global population decline we need is even more remote. This is the "Malthusian Lie" that must be exposed when the cornucopian lies are finally laid to rest. The question that ‘voluntary’ family planning advocates must ask is, “Why, in the pursuit of population stabilization, with even the levers of total media control and a one-party dictatorship at its disposal, did the Chinese government find it necessary to complement moral suasion with legal sanctions?”

Tim Murray
January 20/2010

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While population growth to compensate for the burden of an "ageing population", is being promoted, at the same time 60,000 older Australians already pay accommodation bonds for their care, but tens of thousands more will join them in coming years under a proposed overhaul of the system.

The elderly, in their most vulnerable moments in their twilight years, will be slugged with more fees.

Hostels and nursing homes use the bonds as interest-free loans to invest in their buildings and services and can deduct up to $307 a month for up to five years but are obliged to return the balance to the residents or their estates when they leave or die. Such loans would require no repayments until the home was sold, effectively delaying repayments until after a person's death.

The elderly in high-care beds are charged a maximum of $22.72 a day for their accommodation if their assets exceed $38,500. Among the recommendations was a government-backed equity release scheme where older people could draw against the value of their house. It's like a HECS scheme for the elderly.

A second layer of fees, or co-contribution, would also apply for their care services for residents who failed a means test which, for the first time, would count the family home.

Those who are elderly now would have benefited from Australia's "Lucky Country" past, when we were a wealthy and fortunate country. However, with population growth and the dream of higher education and home ownership slipping away as a baby-boomers' memory, the next generations won't be able to afford homes, disposable assets or nursing home fees.

With unaffordable housing and many young people and families being denied home ownership in the future, the family home may be more and more relied upon as the only way of home ownership.

The elderly, mostly who have paid taxes all their lives and contributed to society, should not have their assets attacked so they can spend their last years or months in decent care. This plundering of estates at a time when families are under stress and are emotionally vulnerable is unethical and like a vulture waiting for a victim's weakest moment to attack.

With a blow-out of 36 million people or more by 2050, and thus more elderly people to cater for, just how will our budget cover their needs without depriving families from their assets? It could mean that more elderly will opt out for voluntary euthanasia.

More to pay for accommodation bonds, The Australian

The current nursing home accommodation scheme discriminates in favour of elderly who are fortunate enough to drop dead suddenly while still living in their hard-won homes. Children of parents who linger in nursing homes for several years already watch on as the fruits of their parents' labour (the family home) is gobbled up by greedy governments and nursing home administrations.

Why should someone who has invested their blood and sweat into paying off a home, maintaining it and paying all manner of taxes on it, then have it taxed again, while the neighbour who didn't bother to sacrifice anything, never paid off a home and relied on taxpayer generosity, gets nursing home care for free?

The inequity is staggering. It used to be comforting to know that the hard work and sacrifice that goes into paying off a home would go to the heirs of our choice.

I would like to see the massive and powerful seniors of this country out in the streets, telling the government where to bloody-well go. I would kill myself rather than see the government confiscate the home that was always meant to ultimately benefit my children. Maybe I should have avoided the proposed insult by lounging around in government supported accommodation all along - spent my money, had a bloody good time. But no, it was my choice to put my disposable income into something that would long-term benefit my offspring.

I don't know why there's no opt-in insurance scheme for those who don't want or deserve their family home to be plundered by government should ill health be their misfortune in old age. An opt-in insurance scheme could share the risk, instead of dumping so much of it onto the most vulnerable, hardest working people in our communities.

Being cared for up to death, with basic dignity, should be a government responsibility. Depriving the elderly of their assets and family home is theft. Yes, there should be some choices, and extras should be paid for, but why such draconian means of extracting assets from the vulnerable? People who have paid taxes all their lives should be provided for, and families will depend more and more on inheriting the family home due to rising costs. This plan is about stealing from the dying, and exploiting families at a time of sorrow.

Are these lies or indeed delusions or ratioalisations? They've all grown up in a the recent past. except the religious lie. These lies must be needed in some way by humanity in order to function. My guess is that most people cannot face the reality that it has all gone wrong, is hurtling out of control or that it really wasn't wise or humane to become a parent. If they even have a glimpse or a moment's comprehension of e.g what climate change means for the future they need to sweep it aside and out of every day considerations in order to continue, to survive to the end of the week.

There is a fine line between optimism and delusion : humans screen out uncomfortable truths by default, I believe.

The categories listed in Tim's article encapsulate this essential denial.

Cornucopianism is the belief that physical resources are ultimately less important than the resources of the mind. The philosophy takes its name from the Cornucopia; a Greek horn of plenty. The philosophy of Cornucopianism arose in contrast to the gloom-and-doom principles of Rev. Thomas R. Malthus.

We face a crisis, of energy supply, of raw material supply, of climate and ecosystem instability and destruction. The cornucopians are heading toward a technological lifestyle, with a focus on the development of machines, on re-engineering the human being in the same fashion. It's all about escaping the bounds of the biological and the natural limitations.

The unfortunate thing is that the cornucopians will always get the better publicity, better funding and better results, in the short term.
According to them, planning for sustainability should be viewed with suspicion, excessive and stifling precaution avoided, individual decisions left as free as possible, and market transactions and private property rights expanded to ensure rational outcomes. Population, termed by the cornucopian economist Julian Simon “the ultimate resource,” is part of the solution rather than the problem.

When faced with specifics, the cornucopians generally try to fight their way back to the generalities. That seemingly serious people passionately believe both that Science will solve our problems and the scientists who tell us about those problems are completely wrong is baffling.

Cornucopians see the problems, threats, and challenges of resource depletion and environmental degradation as largely self-correcting through the workings of markets and human creativity, if those operations are not unduly interfered with.
Despite scientific and technological advances, we still suffer from floods, typhoons, tsunamis, bushfires, famines, changes to climate, species extinctions and soil losses.

Cornucopian position is fundamentally flawed and those concerned about resource scarcity will someday be right—unfortunately, it's just a matter of time.

Enne K, you nailed it. Cornucopianism has never been better defined and exposed. And you are right----"cornucopians will always get the better publicity, better funding and better results---in the short term." And I would add, cornucopians will always get an audience. Let's face it, we're hooked on hope. In the face of disaster, we are eager to grasp at any straw. When diagnosed with a terminal illness, we are desperate to seizure on a miracle cure. We just don't want to acknowledge limits. We just don't want to deal with reality. We don't like being told the bad news.

Another problem is that there is money to be made out of scarcity - primarily by the rich, who own most of the assets. Due to their lack of conscience and empathy rich people take what they must realise belongs to the community. They keep it and charge rent. As populations are forced to increase, vital resources and economic resources get scarcer, these bad rich people get richer. When everyone else is miserable, they profit. When the environment suffers, it is because they profit. It is like an addiction. The misery of the rest of the world is compensated for them by their wealth, Many of them also gamble heavily, which is a sign that all was not well in the first place.

Sheila Newman, population sociologist
home page

Thanks, Enne K, Tim and other contributors.

The philosophy referred to as cornucopianism should be condemned totally. Beware, however, of accidentally giving cornucopians undeserved credibility whilst seeking to demonstrate their foolishness. They should be shown up as criminals, not fools. Cornucopianism is self-evidently even more intellectually and scientifically bankrupt than, for example, the literal upholding of the book of Genesis or the belief that the earth is flat. No scientifically literate and numerate person could believe that the planet could be better off, instead of worse off, if human population were to grow beyond the current 7 billion, when, for most of human history until barely more than 300 years ago, the number of humans inhabiting the planet was less than 500 million.

To maintain that the earth today needs yet more people is barely less idiotic than to argue that in 1942 the 2,600,000 inhabitants of the city of Leningrad needed, above all else, more inhabitants to fight the besieging Germans. By the end of the 900 day Siege of Leningrad, an estimated 642,000 civilians had died, mostly through starvation. This was on top of the Red Army's staggering 1,017,881 starved, killed, captured or missing around Leningrad. If the Soviet authorities only had to use their common sense to know that adding more people to the population of Leningrad during those years would increase the humanitarian catastrophe, why are so many of today's world political and economic leaders determined to further increase planet Earth's already vast human population? If these 'modern' plans to keep on stimulating human numbers are not stopped, then all the horrific tragedies of the Twentieth Century, including the Siege of Leningrad, which, together, cost an order of 100 million human lives, will seem like school yard scuffles in comparison to the terrible fate that will inexorably overtake many billions of humans.

Any educated and numerate person who seriously advocates further increasing human population is in my view, criminal. In practice, the outcome of what they are doing, if they are not stopped, will make the worst criminals of the 20th Century -- Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mussolini, Franco, the Rwandan Genocidalists, etc. -- seem humanitarian, decent and civilised by comparison.

Enough digital ink has been spent trying to show up the intellectual and moral bankruptcy of cornucopianism. It is time that we treated this as self-evident and instead focused more on naming the cornucopians and using their own words to show them up for the cynical criminals that they surely must be.

Ban Ki-moon: World's economic model is 'environmental suicide'

The world's current economic model is an environmental "global suicide pact" that will result in disaster if it isn't reformed, Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, warned recently. He doesn't mention "capitalism" but criticizes growth.

"We need a revolution," he told a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on how best to make the global economy sustainable. "Climate change is also showing us that the old model is more than obsolete."

Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations secretary general made global warming his personal mission, is ending his hands-on involvement with international climate change negotiations. Obviously, capitalistic nations like Australia are incapable of facing climate change. We are one of the greatest per capita emitters, but at the same time are intent on maximizing our population.

He called the current economic model a recipe for "national disaster" and said: "We are running out of time. Time to tackle climate change, time to ensure sustainable … growth."

Surely "growth" and "sustainable" are inherently contradictory?

Bill Gates, said that "you cannot have a just world by telling people to use less energy than the average European". One way to cap the world's consumption and carbon emissions would be to invest in family planning said Gates, who has invested much of his fortune in health projects in the developing world.

Ban said that political and business leaders need to embrace economic innovation in order to save the planet.