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Response to Manipulative population interactive on ABC that tries to normalise the babyboom

The page I am writing about is on the Australian ABC website, entitled, "You decide Australia’s population, we’ll show you how it looks," by journalist Inga Ting, Mark Doman, Ri Liu and Nathan Hoad. The arguments presented are a kind of demographer's fantasy. Demography is not population science; it is maths and statistics. Maths and statistics are not themselves science. They can be used as much for population science, to test theories, as they can be used for advertising and propaganda. Demographers are often also economists and they usually try to establish trends in population numbers in isolation from the environment, social values, or deep history. What they call population science is usually only economics, which many people think is now practised as a dogma. They do not tend to challenge propaganda and, for this reason, they are very useful for governments and corporate media that want to push peoples' thinking in a certain direction about population.[1] This interactive article on the ABC gets the reader to make certain decisions, comes up with biased feedback, and then invites the reader to change their minds. To be unbiased, this interactive would need to list the positives of lowering population growth. It fails to. It does mention some as opinions, but it does not employ related arguments in its presentation of demographic trends in Australia.

The message of "You decide Australia’s population, we’ll show you how it looks," is that if we choose low immigration, the size of the population over 64 will be greater than the size of the population under 15 yrs old. It compares the size of the post WW2 baby-boomer population, as if this were a norm, with the projected elderly population.

"In 2101, one in eight Australians will be children, compared to nearly one in three in 1960. At the same time, one in three will be 65 or older, compared to one in 10 in 1960."

There are a number of flaws in this.

1. The baby boomer population was the first of its kind, and should not be used as a norm.

2. There is an insistence on maintaining and increasing our current population in Australia and, by implication, everywhere else, but our current populations are the largest by an order of magnitude that have ever existed. They are not 'normal'. They are out of proportion to all human history and other species. They are an exception that is very hard to maintain materially, has many political, energy and biological-ecological problems, and few positives, except in terms of profits made by a few through inflation of resource prices.

3. Comparing numbers of children 15 and under to people over 64 is comparing one arbitrarily selected cohort over a limited number of years - 15 - to another of a larger number of years - 64 to, say, 100 - amounting to 36 years. If we were to compare a similar number of years in the older cohort, we might compare older people in 15 year cohorts, such as people aged 85-100, or people aged 70-85, or people aged 65-80.

4. The dependency ratio of children to adults 64 and over is not cut and dried, not predictable. Elderly people are much less dependent than babies, toddlers, school children, who almost never earn their living. These days children's dependency may last far longer than 15 years. Some people will never find any reliable legal work in our future society, due to the declining affordability and standard of Australia's education system, the effects of industry automation, and competition from immigrants selected for their education and skills.

5. The greatest cost in all cohorts - dependent and independent; children, adults and older adults - is the cost of land for housing and business. These costs are hugely inflated by population growth. If we allowed population growth to slow naturally, then no-one would have to work so hard to have housing, businesses would have much bigger profit margins, wages could fall and people would still have enough money to live well, and the few elderly people who finish up in high dependency care units for long periods of time, would not have to pay nearly so much for their care, because the land and therefore wage costs of those old-age care facilities would be greatly reduced.

This manipulative article talks about 'demographic problems' associated with Japan's population decline, but there were more problems associated with the overpopulation that Japan suffered from, including reliance on nuclear power plants in earthquake and tsunami-prone areas:

Perhaps most alarming, however, is the threat of a shrinking population. In South Korea and Japan, for example, very low birth rates combined with few immigrants and high life expectancy have led to a dwindling workforce and rapidly-growing elderly population. "Demographically these countries are in quite serious trouble," Dr Wilson said.

These 'problems' solve themselves. Expatriots are returning to Japan from Australia because the housing has become affordable again and it is a pleasant place to live. An older population does not need the frantic productivity that a young industrialising one does. The population will presumably return to much lower levels, perhaps those of the Edo period, which was a Japanese social pinnacle, when the country was self-sufficient.[2]

It is the property development lobby that wants population growth and which has lobbied for it since the 1904 Royal Commission into the Decline in the Birth Rate in New South Wales (which was actually caused by men leaving the state to goldmine in Queensland and then in West Australia, but don't tell anyone).[3] If the population growth rate fell now in Australia, then the growth lobby would just shrivel up and die, industry-wise, and we could get on with our actual lives. You can imagine the fuss and bother that the death throws of our malignant growth lobby would cause as they thrashed around in our parliaments and councils, our banks and insurance industries, our mining and road-building industries - but after the dust settled, most of us would be so much wealthier because our cost of living would have plummeted. Necessary industries would continue - as they did in Australia before the two wars, when we built most of the things we now import: cars, aeroplanes, scientific instruments, pharmaceuticals ...

Evolutionary population theory argues that the long-lived elderly people in tribal societies were the repository for knowledge and judgement. If everyone had only lived to thirty years old (as is often supposed) a society would have little capacity to develop culture or complex language. Consider what it may mean to our societies to have people living to one hundred years old and more. It might make the difference between a society that is wrecked by capitalist demands and a society with people who have many years of experience and can identify snake oil because they have heard it before.

Actual dependency: Are treatable illnesses that cause dependency and death in the elderly being systematically overlooked?

With regard to actual dependency in the elderly, as a person with a background in nursing, as well as sociology, I would suggest that we restart Vitamin B12 therapy for people over 60 [and for vegetarians and vegans and new mothers and their children. There is now a higher risk for everyone due to the addition of Folic Acid to our foods.] Diagnosing Alzheimers is not an exact science and I know from experience that much treatable Vitamin B12 deficiency goes under the radar, even while it is resulting in dementia and loss of the ability to walk. [See] There are so many more people in walkers and on electric carts these days. Question them and you will find that almost none have any idea of their Vit B12 status. I would also suggest that we revise our therapeutic levels for these upwards, to at least the Japanese norms. (Note that you can buy high-dose sublingual Vit B12 now which in many cases does the job the injections do.)

I will also just raise here the idea that we should question the use of Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) as the ultimate measure of thyroid health as many thyroid sufferers do on various forums growing round the world. We need also to be measuring T4, but especially T3, and taking note that quite a substantial number of people with hypothyroidism do not really improve on T4 replacement alone. Australia used to add iodine to salt, but this was discontinued and tests for iodine are not even rebated, yet our country and our diets are still low in iodine. Few doctors even test for this. Iodine is not the only cause of hypothyroidism, but it is a common cause. Several books have been written by doctors about the need to increase the use of specific hormone testing for suspected thyroid disorders.


I think that ANU Demography Crawford School Unit's professor Peter McDonald's 'coffin-shaped populations' is a case in point. Here is one of many examples: "This is a projection for Australia that leads to the 25 million population in 50 years time and close to zero growth subsequently. The essential difference between the two is that the Sydney population is younger. The Sydney population is beehive-shaped and the rest of Australia is somewhat coffin-shaped. As we shift Melbourne, Brisbane etc from the right side to the left side, this impression would become very pronounced. That is, a projection that provides a reasonable outlook for Australia is the sum of high population growth in the existing cities with considerable ageing and labour supply decline in the non-metropolitan regions. We need more work on this and we shall be doing this as a component of the AHURI study of future housing needs."

Professor McDonald seems to me to truly to believe that Australia must have a continuously growing population to fulfill a continuously industrialising economy based on youthful manpower. The growth lobby and its corporate press reward such theories and present their proponents in a very favourable light. That is why we hear so much from them and so little from the rest. How would a student in Professor McDonald's unit fare if he argued for a small population to keep essential resource costs low and wildlife corridors for native fauna? Would you even enroll in the Canberra Demography unit if you had those views?

This man also advises our ministers and people overseas, including Europe.

"Peter McDonald is Professor of Demography in the Crawford School. He is President of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population for the years, 2010-2013 and is a Member of the Council of Advisers of Population Europe.

He is frequently consulted on the issue of population futures (causes, consequences and policies) by governments around the world, especially in Australia, Europe and East Asia. In 2008, he was appointed as a Member in the Order of Australia. He is Deputy Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Population Ageing Research. In 2012, he was appointed as an inaugural ANU Public Policy Fellow. He is a member of the Australian Ministerial Advisory Council on Skilled Migration. He has worked previously at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, the World Fertility Survey and the University of Indonesia."

[2] See Tony Boys, "How will Japan feed itself without fossil energy?" in Sheila Newman (Ed.) The Final Energy Crisis, 2nd Ed. 2018.

[3] See, Sheila Newman, The Growth Lobby in Australia and its Absence in France, Chapter 6, Thesis minus 6 appendices.

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That interactive graph on the ABC site is supposed to convince anyone who uses it that Australia needs its current medicine of high immigration and population growth. This an attempt to persuade a population that does not like what is being done to it! Last year's survey by Bob Birrell and Katharine Betts tells us that over 70% of Australians are opposed to the current immigration led high population growth. People's feelings of being manipulated and told what to think as they lose their quality of life will not be overcome with a graph that gives them the illusion of control for a few minutes in order to see the future in terms of things that don't immediately impact on them e.g the proportion of people over 64 in 30 years. How does that compare with losing the parkland where you used to roam with your dog, losing this for a housing estate, never being able to guarantee reaching an appointment across town at the right time because of traffic, watching the trees where you live and the gardens destroyed as houses are demolished for developments bursting out of their blocks. and watching the council rates and rents rise as your local environment deteriorates before your eyes?

Just caught the end of this program. It was Liz Allen's dulcet tones, stating that Australia's population growth is only limited by our innovation! I haven't yet listened to it, but the program listing gives a scarily pro-growth line-up of interviewees. There is a clear intention to paint the "population debate" as a Trojan horse for anti-immigrant and protectionist arguments. Ian Lowe is in there as a token environmental voice. But from Liz Allen's closing words, no heed was taken to those. Looks like another cause for complaint to the ABC.

Talkfest, Saturday 17 March 2018 10:05PM
George Megalogenis, Rita Panahi, Lauren Duca, Peter Mares and others explore the problem of population in a rapidly changing political, economic and environmental landscape.

Debates about population often stand in for other issues in public discourse, from immigration to economic policy. This week on Talkfest we try to get to the heart of things and ask what a discussion of population should mean in 2018 Australia.

Peter Mares, Michele Grossman and Rachel Buchanan deconstruct the social and racial dialogue surrounding the population debate - particularly the question of immigration - and argue for a more thoughtful, imaginative discussion of population in Australia.

Ian Lowe, Louise Searle, Michael Buxton, and Lenore Manderson explore the many facets of the population question in Australia and how they intersect with the broader implications of a burgeoning global population.

And finally we hear from a panel including Lauren Duca, Kenan Malik, George Megalogenis, Tim Wilson, Shen Narayanasamy, Rita Panahi discussing the evolving political landscape, both in Australia and internationally and dissecting hot-button topics from immigration to economic protectionism.

Michael's co-host is demographer and social researcher, Dr Liz Allen.