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Malthus, Marx and the Globalization Debate

First published: The Globalist, 28/02/2009

If Thomas Malthus and Karl Marx were alive now, they would be having a field day. The pressures of population and rising life expectancy on the global economy, resources and eco-systems are key concerns of the 21st century. But if we simply focus on anti-population concerns, author George Magnus asks whether we may end up perpetuating the very societal and economic problems we have to address?

The growing angst about climate change has focused attention on the human and environmental costs of sustained economic growth and of current consumption patterns. Moreover, the current boom in the prices of food, energy and strategic metals has been viewed as “proof” that the world is running into shortages of fossil fuels, food — and, some predict, water.

Two major demographic trends lie behind this concern. First, global population is predicted to grow from 6.5 billion to about nine billion by 2050 — although this represents a sharp slowdown in population growth to less than 0.5% per annum after 2035.

Troubling trends

Almost all of the world’s additional three billion citizens are going to be born in less developed countries — many already suffering adverse effects from population growth, urbanization and congestion.

Second, rising life expectancy and, in particular, the slump in fertility rates, are producing rapidly aging societies. In 1960, when the world population was about three billion, life expectancy was 52 years. Today, the population has more than doubled, and life expectancy has risen to 67.

By 2050, the world population will grow another 50% — and live an additional eight years. To maintain living standards, let alone improve them, you would have to conclude at first glance that either the Earth’s (limited) resources are going to have to be worked a lot harder and differently…more