Have More Kids?: Why Elon Musk’s Latest Hot Take May Not Be His Best
Elon Musk thinks the world needs more people. Here's why we should take his statement with a grain of salt.
Like he so often does, last week, Business Magnate and CEO of Tesla Inc., Elon Musk, kicked up yet another storm with a tweet that simply read, 'population collapse is potentially the greatest risk to the future of civilization'.
This is isn't the first time Tesla's CEO has been vocal about his fears of 'population collapse' destroying the future of human civilisation, though. This is a concern that Musk has been expressing since 2015.
Before we look at why this particular hot take of his may be more dangerous than others, let's answer a natural question that one might ask, 'well, why does it matter what Elon Musk says?'
With Great Power...
Elon Musk is like no other CEO. He has grand plans of colonising Mars and putting chips in our brains. And when he's not making billions, he finds the time to engage with the public on social media, share memes, and pull pranks on his followers.
He is, for all intents and purposes, a celebrity, but he's also 'one of the lads'.
His boldness and grandiosity coupled with a somewhat manic impulsiveness has gained him the title of 'the real life Tony Stark'.
It is no wonder that the public is interested in him.
Comparisons to a witty, intelligent billionaire, well, superhero aside, with this persona that Musk has created, he has also built himself something very few CEOs and business tycoons have been able to–an ardent fanbase that hangs by his every word.
Exhibit A, Dogecoin.
Elon Musk tweets the word 'Doge' and a string of other cryptic tweets in support of the meme-based cryptocurrency and Dogecoin–created in 2013 as a joke–soars to become the fourth biggest digital currency of 2021.
While guest-hosting the American comedy sketch show Saturday Night Live, Musk calls the cryptocurrency a 'hustle' and its value dropped by 36 percent.
Another tweet in support of Dogecoin and its soaring again, this happens again, and again.
"I think he's having a lot of fun ... He can say anything he wants about dogecoin or cryptos fully aware that just him saying something moves the price," James Angel, associate professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, who specializes in financial markets and cryptocurrency was quoted as saying, by Reuters.
So, clearly his words and his opinions hold a lot of power, enough to move his almost cult like fan following into quick action.
What happens when such an influential person dismisses the crisis of population boom, saying “most people think we have too many people on the planet, but actually, this is an outdated view,” and encourages people to have more kids?
Theory of Population Collapse
Musk, on many occasions, and on many platforms has been vocal about the 'threat of population collapse', calling it the 'greatest risk to the future of civilisation.'
What is the theory of population collapse?
Musk and other supporters of the theory like Alibaba group's co-founder Jack Ma believe that population decline and not overpopulation is the crisis that the world is set to face in the future.
The theory also suggests that less people having kids will lead to more elderly people, who will in turn create a heavier burden on the younger working-age group.
"Demographics, stratified by age, will look like an upside down pyramid with many old people & fewer young," Musk added.
Is the World's Population Shrinking?
At the 2019 World Artificial intelligence Conference, Musk reiterated, “the biggest issue in 20 years will be population collapse. Not explosion. Collapse.”
Although this may be an exaggerated time frame, it is true that the world's population is growing at a slowing pace.
According to a Pew report published in 2019, global fertility rates have been falling and the world's population is likely to take a mighty hit by the end of the century (not in 20 years).
Some countries, like Japan and countries in parts of Europe, like Italy and those in Scandinavia, are already facing an issue with an ageing population and low workforce.
But according to data, this trend is lopsided.
Because, on the other end of the spectrum, are countries like India, and those in Africa where the crisis of rising population continues to burden the social infrastructure.
According to the same Pew report, Africa's population is likely see a 'strong growth', expected to increase from 1.3 billion to 4.3 billion between 2020 and 2100.
South Asia's Population is also set to grow till 2050, from where on it may see a downward trend.
By 2027, India is expected to overtake China as the world's most populated country.
On the other hand, according to the United Nations, the populations of 55 countries or areas in the world are expected to start seeing a decline by 2050, of which 26 may see a reduction of at least ten percent. Most of these countries being in Europe.
So, yes, while parts of the world are set to continue to see their populations grow, global fertility rates are on a downward trend and so is the rate of population growth.
The question then arises, is this a crisis?
The Crisis of Economic Decline
One bolstering argument of this theory is that population decline leads to a decline in economic growth. This is something that renowned economist John Maynard Keynes, warned of as far back as in 1937.
Fewer young people means fewer people to work. Fewer people also means fewer consumers. So a declining population means declining supply and declining demand, and a string of other crises.
But there are other, more rational solutions that can help fill the gap in the workforce in these countries.
Japan, a country that has been faced with this issue for decades now, compensates for their high dependency ratio and small labor force with advancement in robotics and automation, which in turn increases the productivity of a declining labor pool.
Speaking to FIT, economist Reetika Khera says, those countries that find that ageing is slowing down their economy because there are not enough people in the working age group, could consider more liberal immigration policies.
This is something that Japan–a country that had been resistant for decades–has embraced as part with its historic 2019 immigration reforms, where the government plans on accepting 345,000 new foreign workers in five years.
"Instead, what you find is that in some European countries at least, tax
incentives are provided to those who have more children. These policies
can be seen as racist," she adds.
What About Sustainability?
The proponents of the theory of the population decline crisis usually speak in terms of the economic threat it poses.
But a growing population may not be as good for the environment as it is for the economy.
Musk's warning that a declining in population is the 'greatest risk to future of civilization' is one that centres around economic growth for the sake of growth with little consideration to the planet and sustainability.
Advocates of anthropocentric solutions like 'incentivise having more kids' to avoid economic decline have no qualms in stretching the earth's resources to its maximum capacity.
In the present times, most countries are already overshooting their biocapacity–the area of productive land and water that has the capacity to produce resources or absorb waste.
According to the Global Footprint Network, given our current consumption and management practices, the world's population today uses the equivalent of 1.7 earths to produce resources and absorb waste.
Further more, this consumption is not evenly not distributed.
For instance, as of 2019 the earth has a biocapacity of 12.2 billion global hectares . So if all 7.8 billion of us were to live like the average American (with an ecological footprint of 8.1 gha) the earth would only be able to sustain 1.50 billion people.
So coming from the modern messiah of sustainable technology, this stance is very ironic. Not to mention irresponsible considering the impact his words have.
But he is a businessman, and one of the biggest in the world at that, and so it makes sense for him to be concerned over a dwindling workforce and consumer base and would consider it the 'worst disaster' that could strike.
Musk also says his drive to boost population is also because 'Mars needs people', And the father of 7 says 'he's trying to set a good example' by having even more.
The root of this fear, is not only self serving but also tone deaf.
He fails to address that one of the reasons why young people in developed countries are becoming increasingly reluctant to have kids is economic uncertainty, and reasons like unemployment and unaffordable childcare.
While these are problems faces by developing countries as well, factors like a lack of access to family planning, contraceptives, and agency (of women) continue to drive up the fertility rate.
So while a billionaire CEO living in a developed country may not feel the heat of a dense population, those of us in this part of the world–where you couldn't walk in a public place without brushing shoulders with someone–are better off taking his advice with a grain of salt.
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