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Sunday, May 17, 2009

The biggest bubble: human population

I've been watching BBC1's "Countryfile" and there was a reference to some CO2 reduction target, required because the world's population will be 9 billion by some date.

This is cart before horse. If we don't want the world to become composed solely of (a) people (b) things we need for food and drink c) weapons and (d) radioactive and otherwise polluted and barren desert, we need to:

1. limit human population growth...
2. ... without creating demographic gender imbalance
3. ... or demographic age imbalance

I read "Blueprint for Survival" in a Penguin edition in the 70s. One point it discussed, which had not occurred to me, was that the deceleration - population stabilisation/reduction - has to be slow and planned, otherwise we will develop serious imbalances that will destroy the economy and trigger a crash - a real, lethal one, not just the loss of some savings.

Time - time long overdue - for a plan to tackle this super-bubble. Wind farms and CO2 targets are near-irrelevancies.


Mark Wadsworth said...

The most effective brake on population growth is wealth.

Wealthy countries - i.e. first world, developed Western economies - have reached a plateau and have negligible population growth. It's the poorer countries, and especially the ones that get massive hand outs from first world, like Palestine, in which the populations are growing like topsy.

Just chucking a few known facts into the debate.

Paddington said...

Wealthy countries ... except for the US, which is growing like some Third World nations.

One answer to the labour shortage is more automation.

Sackerson said...

Rich countries v poor countries: this need breaking down a bit.

If (and I believe you're factually correct) it is essentially the poor that breed more, we have to think about:

1. Why we allow masses of poor people to come to rich countries, where for a generation or two they will have the same large-family expectations as before; and

2. Why we think its OK to allow a significant proportion of our citizens to remain poor, unemployed and on benefits.

Is there a self-interested argument for less social inequality and the continuance of the nation-state?

Nick Drew said...

Mark is sort of right: it is well-established that two generations after infant mortality is sorted in a society - highly correlated with wealth, of course - female fecundity falls to below that level needed to sustain the population (= 2.2 kids per fertile woman)

the countries with the lowest female fecundity ? Somewhat counter-intuitively, it is Portugal, Spain & Italy

Joseph Oppenheim said...

Yes, it is a rise in income which reduces birthrate.

And, the only real way to increase income, long term, for a group of people, is by upgrading their education.

However, there is good news on that front.

1. It is getting cheaper to educate people, through computers, high tech accredited distance learning programs. They are getting quite good and are being used more and more. The US military makes heavy use of college distance learning programs to have troops get college degrees while on active duty. Plus, even at lower levels, more US families are home schooling their kids with the aid of such tools at elementary and middle school levels. And, results show home schooled kids do better on tests leading to higher education. Plus, there are now programs to distribute $100 computers to remote poor places in the world. The move is on.

2. Globalization is spreading wealth and education. Heck, during the 90's 300,000,000 Chinese were lifted out of poverty.

3. One good thing about this economic mess, is that it shows signs of moderating wealth expectations, from wasteful phony materialistic lifestyles to more meaningful lifestyles. Think of the Great Depression of the 30s, recovery spurred long term healthy growth, with education and solid wealth expanding.

Mostly, humanity is optimistic. It are the most challenging of times which also offer the most opportunity for improvements.

Probably, the worst thing about the 30s, etc was WWII, where over 50M died. Sure, that temporarily stopped population growth, but this mess does show more global harmony to work together on climate change, the economy, fighting pandemics, etc.

There will always be the Chicken Littles, predicting mass disaster, but so too, will there always be the optimists, and historically, the optimists win out. Sorry.

Paddington said...

Joseph - I followed the analysis on this for some years. On average, in the US, the ranking has long been the following, based on standardized tests:

1. All public schools
2. All private schools
3. Home-schoolers

The last few years have seen some gains by the home-schooled, but the overall trend still appears to be that above. This is also based on my experience of doing academic placement for 7 years at an open-enrollment university.

Paddington said...

Joseph - another small point. If I recall, human population increased from 1939 to 1945. The one thing we know how to do effectively is breed.

Joseph Oppenheim said...

Joseph - I followed the analysis on this for some years. On average, in the US, the ranking has long been the following, based on standardized tests:

1. All public schools
2. All private schools
3. Home-schoolers<<<<

Wrong! In fact, many public school districts, like mine, have specific programs assigning accedited teachers to augment home schoolers.

Many sources prove it, like...

"ACT: (2002 and 2003) homeschool average was 22.5, national average was 20.8.
SAT ( 2002) homeschool average was 1092, national average, 1020. (HSLDA)

On average, homeschool students, grades 1–4, perform one grade level above their public and private school counterparts. The achievement gap grows in grade 5; by 8th grade the average home school student performs four grades higher than the national average. (SADC)

Students who have been home schooled their entire academic lives have the highest scholastic achievement. The difference is more pronounced during the higher grades; students who home school throughout high school continue to flourish while in that environment. (SADC)

Kate Grossman, Chicago Sun-Times reported noted, "The number of homeschoolers receiving National Merit Scholarships has increased more than 500 percent: from 21 in 1995 to 129 in 2003." (HSLDA)

Dr. Michael Donahue, Director of Admissions for Indiana University - Purdue University, has spent the last several years researching home-schooled students.
"The home school group has about a 3.0 GPA their freshman year," Donahue said. "In the entire freshman class, the GPA is between a 2.3 and a 2.4. They are well prepared. They're self starters. Faculty, in general, enjoy having them in class because they know how to do things independently." (Answers)

More than 74% of home schooled adults 18-24 years-old have taken college classes as opposed to 46% of the general population. (HSLDA)

Dr. Gary Knowles, the University of Michigan, studied home educated adults.
"None were unemployed and none were on welfare, 94% said home education prepared them to be independent persons, 79% said it helped them interact with individuals from different levels of society, and they strongly supported the home education method." (NHERI)"

Joseph Oppenheim said...

Joseph - another small point. If I recall, human population increased from 1939 to 1945. The one thing we know how to do effectively is breed.<<<

Yes, I'll grant you that one. I had thought WWII might have had a small drop in world population at the time, but it doesn't seem that it did.

It really gets me how the political forces in the US which oppose all abortions and sex education/contraception are the same forces which oppose spending more on all education, healthcare and essentially everything to help those born into poverty. But, they are the same forces which brought on this economic mess in the US, those wanting to expand poverty for the purposes of serving the well-off, so I guess I understand, though I do think we are trying to turn a corner.

Joseph Oppenheim said...

Oh, one other thing. Today, you will notice India's stock market is up about 17% because Indian voters rejected communism for capitalism.

Harry Dent, in "The Great Depression Ahead", though he doesn't think this mess will be as bad as the 30s, states that he thinks India will be the real driver for global recovery, and today is likely initial confirmation of that, in my opinion. Dent does foresee 2065-2080 as likely the next Depression, because of India leading the way for a reduction in world population because of improving prosperity.

Paddington said...

Joseph - nothing makes one feel rich like lots of poor people around. Just think that the food and comfort that the poor enjoy now in the West is far nicer than the wealthiest of a few centuries ago, let alone the fact that we finally have medicine that actually works.

Paddington said...

Joseph - I am not against home schooling with the current non-selective US system, especially for A) nerdy kids (likely to be bullied) of educated parents and B) children going to schools where they are more likely to be shot/addicted/pregnant than graduate.

However, the largest group by far is C) fundamentalist parents who don't want their children exposed to 'dangerous' ideas. They usually use a set of nationally-recognized texts which take an inventive (i.e. made-up) approach to science, mathematics and US history.

In terms of SAT/ACT scores, I would be careful when using data from the Home Schooling Legal Defense Association, which might be a little biased. Even their data shows the mathematics performance of home-schooled graduates to be almost a standard deviation below public schools.

In 2000, there were about 1 million US kids being home-schooled, giving 60,000+ graduating per year. However, in that year, only about 3000 took the ACT, compared with 40-80% in public school. That means a much more selective group, doesn't it?

Joseph Oppenheim said...

Yes, Paddington, I do worry about fundamentalist parents, yet even when such kids get to college they do very well.

But, there really is an advantage of having a mom teach her kids. For example, the Yamaha method for musical instruction has the mom and kid go to lessons, then the mom follows up by conducting the practice sessions at home. The mom learns along with the kid, the theory being that a kid learns best from his/her mom, and I really think the Yamaha method is quite good and saves money in the process.

Like I say, where I am, the generally regarded top school district in San Diego County, California runs such a home schooling program....

The Poway Home Education / Independent Study Program is designed to assist parents who wish to home school their children who are in Kindergarten through Eighth Grade.

The program provides each parent with the appropriate curriculum and materials necessary to aid in the instructional process. The parent and student are required to meet with the teacher to review assigned work.

We offer:

Curriculum (State Adopted/PUSD)
Guidance from credentialed teachers
Student Library
Parent network for field studies/events
Connection with school site for designated services (i.e., 5th Grade Band)
Computer Lab
Progress Reports
We require:
Direct instruction by the parent
Weekly contact with staff
Parent/Student/Instructor conferences
PHEP/PUSD curriculum must be used as the core curriculum
Completed student work
Minimum 5 days weekly instruction time (25 hours)

Paddington said...

Jospeh - not to drag this out, but I made my point earlier. The ACT scores for home-schoolers *for those tested* are about 2/3 of a standard deviation above those of public schools, except oddly in mathematics, where they are about 1/2 of a standard deviation below. However, only about 5% of home-schoolers appear to take the test, versus about 60% of the general population. Knowing converned parents (especially those who insist that their children are very bright, but 'don't test well'), don't you at least suspect that the home-schooled ACT takers are more likely to be the better ones?

If so, how do home-schooled students compare with the top 8% or so of those from public schools?

Joseph Oppenheim said...

don't you at least suspect that the home-schooled ACT takers are more likely to be the better ones?

If so, how do home-schooled students compare with the top 8% or so of those from public schools?<<<<

Yes, Paddington, I do suspect the kids who are home schooled are a better class of students, same as a good school is likely to have a better class of students. Also, likely the parents are a better class of parents. Sounds like a testimonial that home schooling works, especially when there is definitely a pattern which is favorable. Whether there might be a divergence in some micro-detail is certainly a possibility, but the positive pattern prevails.

Plus, that home schooling is increasing and the tools supporting it get better, and that top-rated schools are adopting them and enhancing them, is further testimonial that they are worthwhile. And, back to my main point, that they are cheaper and computers are part of what makes them both successful and less costly, sounds like certainly a partial solution to population growth.

I do share with you a concern about the evangelical aspect of home schooling motivations. Same, with some private schools, but likely such parents will end up distorting their kids no matter wherever their kids are schooled, but at least the home schooling tools are improving, plus a home schooling community is growing so they can share stuff.

Sounds to me the best course is maybe home schooling for a few years then integrating the child in main stream schools. Heck, I have noticed with athletes, some of the best have had their fathers coach them early on. Think, Tiger Woods.

Cerainly not a solution for everybody, but just another option which makes the totality of options more diverse.

Paddington said...

Joseph - you still appear to be missing the point. Only about 5% of the home-schooled take the ACT, versus around 60% of public school kids. HSLDA and others are trying to make the case that the home-schooled kids are better, because that 5% out-performs the 60% of public school kids.

I suspect that a more reasonable comparison would be to compare the 5% with the top 10% of public school kids, in which case the home-schooled would not be superior.

Having ones parents involved is a very US trend (think PTA, Band Boosters, etc). In other countries, such as Britain, the parents leave it up to the teachers, who are less emotionally involved, and more objective. I do not think it is a coincidence that US students lag about 2 years behind most of the industrialized world.

In the TIMSS study of a few years ago, the top 10% of math and science 12th-graders in US schools had performances around the median for all 12th-grade South Korean students. That is an economic disaster waiting to happen.

Joseph Oppenheim said...

I do not think it is a coincidence that US students lag about 2 years behind most of the industrialized world.<<<<<<

But, that isn't the full story. American youth, and adults, lead the world in creativity. I have seen reports that Japan, though beating US students in "objective" measurements, are envious of the US model, for that reason.

By the way, mental skills required to master video games are higher order and better developed, parallel processing rather than sequential processing skills required for traditional education like reading -sequentially processing one word after another. Howard Gardner has identified about 8 different kinds of intelligence, not just what typical IQ tests measure.

I do agree that the US can improve, specifically, in math and science, and I do think Obama intends to work on that.

But, what still is remarkable about the US, is that it is still high on the list of nations with college graduates, plus, unlike other industrialized nations, the US is arguably the most upwardly mobile, with extensive immigration from all over the world.

Plus, in the US, a student has unlimited chances to pursue a college education. As I understand, at least in years past in Germany, a schoolchild is/was only given a few chances to pass a test, to qualify for college in Germany.

Heck, the high school where I am, a very good one, about 100 different native languages are represented.

The US has the largest economy on the planet, to think it remains so with stupid kids, is nonsense.

One thing I have noticed, is that most Brits still don't undertand America, never really getting over the American Revolution. They still think it is an experiment, way behind Britain. We are a diverse nation, with lots of complexities, but somehow it works, even with guys like Bush setting us back a few years, but if it wasn't for the mess he created, likely the US wouldn't have turned to Obama.

America is unique. It really is a place where EVERYONE has the chance to reach whatever limits they are capable. Just look at Obama. To think his wife and kids are descendants of slaves, and slaves built the White House, I don't think many in the world can grasp that.

Paddington said...

One has to be careful with that 'economic leader' stuff. My analysis is that the US got rich in WWII, and started to become a net debtor nation in about 1975. The scientific lead that we had has eroded terribly in the past few years, and appears to have been due to large numbers of European immigrants after WWII, plus their children. That 'brain drain' is just not happening at the same rate as it was.

Last May, AP news reported that the students starting in science and related subjects that Fall would meet only 50% of the need in 5 years. We are in very serious trouble.

Wolfie said...

I think you've just been propaganda spammed!

Mr "Joseph Oppenheim" seems to have a lot of time on his hands, some very strong opinions and three very new and sparse blogs to his name. Looks very familiar to me.

[big yawn]

Paddington said...

Wolfie - thanks. If true, I was too dense to notice. Sorry if my comments bored you and others.

Wolfie said...

A reference to the modus operandi dear boy. ;-)

James Higham said...


Paddington said...

Read the latest Nationa Geographic, on world crop yields, and get very afraid.