The problem with those well-meaning Westerners who become actively concerned about world population is that they demean the intelligence of those billions of poor people who, in aggregate, are plainly over-populating the world beyond its food supply. They think that if only they could persuade the benighted masses to adopt modern methods of birth control then all will ultimately be well and that world population can at least be stabilized.
What they overlook is that parents have always known how to control the numbers of their children—and those older family dependents who are too frail to be economically or educationally useful. Parents have always done this because they themselves don’t want numbers to exceed their own practical economic comfort during the years ahead.
Indeed, this has been happening in spades for the last 30 years in European countries and white America where the birth rate has already descended below replacement rate (two children per adult woman) and is heading towards one. The reason is that, for the last 30 years, real average incomes have been declining (as opposed to nominal incomes). Previously, a man could afford to buy a house on a quarter of his wage alone and afford to raise more than two children and be able to buy the standard stock of consumer goods appropriate to his self-perceived status. Today, the average man and his wife need to spend a third of their total income in order to obtain a mortgage, while the cost of raising even one child to economic independence is shooting through the roof.
By means of infanticide, a variety of methods of abortion, and the neglect or mercy-killing of oldies, man was able to maintain balanced and economically sustainable populations whether in hunter-gatherer or agricultural times. In both eras this involved the development of appropriate cultures so that, when required, the practices were guilt-free, much as we might find them abhorrent today according to our relatively recent industrial culture.
And, indeed, it is the industrial culture of the last 300 years or so that has caused the present world over-population. Western methods of mechanized agriculture pushed increasing numbers of peasants off the land. Western methods of medicine overcame natural diseases and greatly increased the numbers of surviving children. However, cultures take several generations to change and this is why we now have a vast overhang of world population.
But, now that the majority of the world’s poor are in their new habitats—the cities—and with thousands more pouring in every day—they are becoming Westernized as quickly as possible. Almost all families are now beginning to enjoy the first fruits of consumerism—T-shirts, trainers and TVs—and family sizes are dropping swiftly by the use of one or other methods of birth control (whether Western or more primitively). Within a generation, or two at the most, world over-population will start to decline.
What will happen then? Fairly obviously population will become Westernized to the extent of not replacing themselves with sufficient numbers. World population will start to decline, slowly for a generation, and then increasingly swiftly. Governments all round the world will then want to try and increase their family sizes by means of pro-natalist bonuses. But, as France and Russia have already discovered, these are not successful. Presumably, the bonuses could work if they were raised to levels so that it paid enough parents to have as many children as possible (and buy sufficient consumer goods) without having to go to work themselves. But this would be fiercely resisted by those who work and pay taxes. This policy is just not feasible. Inevitably the populations of all governments will sink in the not far too distant future.
Birth-rates will only recover and world population will only stabilize in the longer term when the stress of buying enough of the ‘normal’ stock of consumer goods and the raising of children is at a far lower level than it is today in the Western countries. This will depend on a host of world-wide factors such as supplies of fresh water, food, energy, other resources, high educational availability and the wide adoption of a fairly uniform and comfortable way of living and working. This could be a half of the present population or even a quarter. It could even be much less—perhaps only the descendents of those whom we regard as the well-off in present-day Western countries. Who can possibly say at this stage?