The conventional wisdom has long held that the world is running out of everything except people of which there is an insupportable and growing surplus. The planet, in short, is doomed by the inevitable over breeding of the human race. Everyone from Thomas Malthus to the Club of Rome agreed on this.
Now, according to Jeff Wise, writing in Slate, “the rate of global population growth has slowed. And it’s expected to keep slowing. Indeed, according to experts’ best estimates, the total population of Earth will stop growing within the lifespan of people alive today.”
A consensus view on the perils of overpopulation led, logically, to proposals and programs aimed at saving us from its consequences. Government was, of course, the answer. More and bigger government. Government of a kind and scope that we had not seen before. And, in the meantime, more aggressive action by the governments that we already had. As for instance, China's one-child policy.
Now, it seems, a lack of population growth is the problem and it is possible that a “demographic shift toward more retirees and fewer workers could throw the rest of the world into the kind of interminable economic stagnation that Japan is experiencing right now.”
Or, running the present trends all the way out, in the way the Malthusians did “in the long term—on the order of centuries—we could be looking at the literal extinction of humanity.”
If this scenario were to frighten enough people into demanding government action to get people producing more babies ... well, too bad, because:
No one’s figured out how to boost fertility in countries where it has imploded. Singapore has been encouraging parenthood for nearly 30 years, with cash incentives of up to $18,000 per child. Its birthrate? A gasping-for-air 1.2.
Self-extinction is a long way off for humanity and, in the here and now, we have other fish to fry. Best, probably, to take comfort in something Calvin Coolidge said:
“If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you.”