Prince William takes on the Malthusian baton for another generation

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; Prince William Is Worried There Are Just Too Many People in the World

This has been the Prince’s father’s schtick for years so we shouldn’t be surprised that the same views are held by Windsor Jr.

The headline speaks to a common underlying view held by many people living in rich western countries, that there are limiting factors to the size of the human population and catastrophe awaits us when we trend closer to that finite number.

The development of this idea can be traced back to Reverend Malthus’ 1798 work, An Essay on the Principle of Population. In it, he offers the hypothesis that populations grow into the space they inhabit until they reach a natural limit based on the resources they consume.

It’s an intellectually-attractive theory and one supported by countless observable flora and fauna examples. With regards to human populations, however, the theory doesn’t seem to be correct, or it hasn’t been for over 200 years.

Perhaps Malthus is correct but we just need to wait a little longer?

Well, perhaps but how can we explain the glorious and happy fact that the numbers of people in absolute poverty has fallen consistently over the period since his publication? Better still, that number fell off a cliff from the 1970s and continues to fall.

This makes Mathusian predictions seem somewhat unrealistically pessimistic. We are feeding and keeping people alive longer and in far greater numbers than ever before with no obvious reason to assume that this trend will end soon.

Why then, does Malthus’theory stand true for animals but not the shaved ape we call homo sapiens? Human ingenuity, would be my guess; we’re the only species producing efficient farming techniques, improving crop yields and robustness, creating effective pharmaceutical products, building dwellings in locations where extremes of temperatures would usually kill us, etc.

That’s not to say Malthus will be wrong forever about human populations but, if we were to place a bet, the clever money would be on us innovating our way out of trouble long before the catastrophe occurred. If the catastrophe occurs 200 years hence, we’re likely to be capable of colonising other planets, for example. Who knows? Certainly not Malthus, he’s a long time dead, and it’s highly unlikely that a couple of members of the Sax-Coburg-Gotha British Royal Family  have any real insights to offer either.

Of course, if one truly believes that there are too many people in the world, it seems reasonable to ask what might be the possible solutions?

Well, there’s really only two levers we can pull here; lower the birth rate and/or kill a bunch of people.

Examining the delta between people’s expressed and revealed preferences is always a useful test; Prince William and his wife are currently expecting their third child.

So, let us be charitable and assume the Prince doesn’t secretly harbour desires for genocide, we can only conclude that he wants other people to have fewer babies to make more room for his. Which people? Poor people, presumably, people not of his group.

I’m not an evolutionary biologist but I’d suggest that there’s a deep evolutionary instinct at play there.

Bill’s Opinion

Malthus is wrong with regards to humans and has been since 1798. He might be correct one day but the data trends suggests otherwise.

When someone expresses a Malthusian sentiment, it is a great indicator that you are speaking with someone with subconscious authoritarian tendencies.

In his speech, the Prince goes on to bemoan the extinction of species due to human activity. It’s a shame this point was rather lost in the Malthusian guff as we probably all can agree completely that this is a bad thing. Killing millions or asking poor people to do what you aren’t prepared to do yourself isn’t the solution though.

Whither Korea?

With all the posturing and hype assaulting our news cycle, one wonders whether Occam’s Razor might help us predict the most likely short and medium term outcomes. We won’t bother with trying to predict the long term as, in the words of a famous pederast, “in the long term, we’re all dead”.

The Main Actors

Kim Jong Un – North Korea’s current iteration of the dynastic dictatorship

Donald Trump and the USA administration and military

The South Korean leadership

The Japanese leadership

The Chinese leadership

For the purposes of keeping this exercise to a manageable level of complexity, we’ll ignore our previous advice and view those last three governments as individuals. Given that they are all led by an individual who will have the ultimate decision-making responsibility, perhaps this is an acceptable delusion.

What is Kim Jong Un’s motivation?

Firstly, let’s assume he’s a rational actor. It’s too lazy to write him off as insane and, anyway, if that were to be the conclusion of the other actors, their only rational course of action would have to be his immediate destruction as a self-defence strategy. As this has not happened, we must assume the other actors have assessed him to be rational.

Due to the isolation of North Korea, Jong Un has really only one main stakeholder, the North Korean population. True, China is supporting the regime but this is not out of fraternity but geographic necessity; there are no natural borders between South Korea (a NATO country) and China. Even a basket-case buffer state is therefore more acceptable than having the Americans parked next door.

Kim can care less about anyone else’s opinion other than the population he tyrannises. If they were to lose fear/faith in his rule, he would be dead. As Machiavelli said, “if we must choose between them, it is far safer to be feared than loved”.

What is Trump’s and the USA administration and military’s motivation?

At its simplest level – regional stability and no further escalation of the threat of nuclear or conventional weapon use against the USA or allies.

In the case of Trump, there is also a domestic credibility concern. He was elected with an image of strength and was quick to flex military muscle in Syria despite previously stating a less-interventionist policy. North Korea is stepping over lines drawn in the sand and, with each step, he will be feeling the need of all politicians; to be seen to be doing something (regardless of effectiveness).

What is South Korea’s motivation?

Not to get nuked or be invaded.

A long way down the list of priorities after that would be re-unification, although, the longer the North Koreans are kept in solitary confinement on starvation rations, the higher the cost to be paid by the Southerners if that were to ever happen. There’s a well-documented height difference (3 to 8cm) between the two sides of the same genetic pool, for example. It might also follow that a divergence in IQ may also have occurred.

What is Japan’s motivation?

Not to get nuked or have a unarmed rocket fail on the way over a city.

There might be some elements within Japan who perhaps see a credible threat from North Korea as a good excuse to increase the Japanese military budget and take a more active role in the world. We’re a long way from Japan showing any signs of expansionism, apart from some nearby desolate rocks with oil underneath.

What might happen next?

1.   North Korea might attack South Korea, Japan, Guam or maybe even have a brain snap and attack China.

2.   North Korea might keep testing rockets and nuclear weapons as good internal PR.

3.   North Korea might stop rattling sabres and come out of the cold like a good world neighbour.

Bill’s Opinion

Short Fat Elvis with a silly haircut isn’t insane and he’s not stupid. He’s not going to launch a unprovoked attack on anyone if there’s a credible risk of a military response.

Similarly, he’s not going to risk presenting himself as weak to a population tightly-controlled by violence and starvation; opening up communications with the outside world would immediately show how dire their conditions are relative to everyone else.

Perhaps the simplest and therefore most likely solution is more of the same, a continuous cycle of rockets and nuclear tests but staying just the right side of international law or precedent.

If this is correct, then the real question is how great is the pressure “to be seen to be doing something” for the Americans? And that’s another question altogether……