Population Collapse — Not a Crisis of Capitalism
The world population is still increasing but is headed for a collapse. UN estimates say the global population will peak at 11 billion and then start dropping. More solid estimates say it will peak at 9 billion and collapse thereafter. A 10 billion peak can be generally agreed upon.
The collapse of the population has already started in the most developed countries. It will accelerate. The decline in birth rates is accelerating in some developing countries. Conservative estimates say the global birth rate will drop below the replacement level of 2.1 in 2070 (48 years from now). UN estimates say this will happen in 2100. Both of these estimates could be very wrong. The declines could take place faster and we drop below the replacement rate sooner.
The replacement rate is the rate at which a population can replace itself. Below this rate, the population will not grow but decline. Why is this worrying to many people? It is worrying because the capitalist model that focuses on growth is driven by consumption which is driven by population growth. A decline in the population means fewer people to consume goods and services as well as fewer workers. The system will be getting progressively less when it is used to getting progressively more.
This can be seen as a Crisis of Capitalism. The low birth rates can be seen as a crisis of capitalism. It is the modern version of capitalism that made it extremely difficult for a nuclear family to exist. It is capitalism that penalizes people for having more kids. Childcare is extremely expensive. Education (for the child to get better prospects in life) is expensive, and housing for the child is expensive. It doesn't make sense to have two kids anymore. For some, it simply doesn't make sense to even have a kid at all. The cost-to-benefit analysis is tilted in favor of not having a child. The social ladder was removed a long time ago. Having a child with no prospects of ever climbing up the social ladder doesn't make sense.
Having lots of kids was generally a bad idea. Having fewer kids makes sense. However, the pendulum swung to the extreme end where birth rates are falling below the replacement rate. When a couple has less than two kids, it means when they die, two people are replaced with one. The pendulum swung to the other end where people don't even have time to spend with their kids. People who don't spend time with their kids don't harvest the parental joy of watching their kids grow. In this state, kids become just another unnecessary cost center.
True to the capitalistic idea of profit maximization via cost minimization, unnecessary cost centers are shut down. Kids don't bring income and they don't bring any real benefit. In this capitalistic order, everything is viewed from a P&L perspective. The family is not spared. Family finances are scrutinized and screened in the same manner that corporate finances are. There are no sacred cows. Everything has to make financial sense.
If kids are a huge cost center that does not benefit the house in the short to medium term, what's the point of having many of them. What’s the point of having any of them? Just to see them running around crying daddy-daddy, mommy-mommy, consuming food. Having kids doesn't make financial sense at all, and in the capitalistic system “finances” matter more than anything else.
The more the world gets financialized, the more the non-financial benefits of having kids are overwhelmed by the financial benefits of not having kids. Thus, the crisis of declining birth rates and declining male fertility is a crisis of capitalism. It is a feature baked into capitalism by virtue of capitalism systematically disrespecting non-financial benefits.
Money is god. We worship it. If you don't make money, you don't make sense. Non-financial benefits don't make sense at all because they cannot be reduced to numbers. General friendship is senseless unless it can be monetized and viewed as “networking” or social capital to be later converted into financial gains. What about the good old plain vanilla friendship? The David and Jonathan type of friendship! That friendship is invaluable. However, the system we live in belittles it and elevates “networking”, whatever that means.
The same dynamics apply to the issue of having kids. Those who have kids often view those who don't want kids as selfish. Whether they are right or wrong in judging others is a matter for another day. The fact is selfishness is baked into capitalism as self-interest. It is an essential cog in the capitalistic machinery. Money is god. Greed is good. It is what makes capitalism tick.
No human society has charted the territory we are about to chart, that of a sustained population decline. No single country that has witnessed a birth rate dropping below the replacement level has been able to bring back the birth rate to above the replacement rate. It's not a surprise. Countries have tried to patch up the deficits with immigration and more child-friendly policies, but the birth rate still doesn't go back up to the replacement rate. The root cause is that of an economic system, and that cannot be fixed by piecemeal solutions on the surface.
So, what happens when the population continues to decline year after year? Well, we are about to find out. We are not very far from it, as a globe. The more we advance under the global capitalistic order, the fewer births we have, and the fewer of us will be around. With fewer people around, we will have fewer workers and fewer people to consume goods and services. This is an unrolling of capitalism. A pushback. Fewer resources are needed to extract from mother earth, less pollution, less damage, and less inequality.
You see why this might actually be a good thing. You see why the population collapse is actually not a crisis of capitalism. You see why it is a pushback on capitalism. You see why it is needed. You see how this all fits in. The declining birth rate is a mechanism to control the excesses. Once the global population declines to a level where extreme capitalism becomes a thing of the past, the birth might start to go up again.
Not a Crisis but a Solution to capitalism
Most commentaries on the subject have got it all wrong. The decline in the birth rate beyond the replacement rate is not a crisis of capitalism. It is actually a solution to capitalism. Extreme capitalism is the problem. Birth rates that decline to levels below the replacement rate is the solution. The world is a complex adaptive system after all.
Anything that swings into extremes is not ideal. It has to swing back from the extremes. Declining birth rates are a lever to swing capitalism back to normalcy from the extreme. Extreme capitalism is the virus, a birth rate below the replacement rate is the cure.
Look at what the capitalistic great leap forward has done to the environment and the family! It has damaged them and belittled them. The body-economic had reigned supreme over ecology and sociology for a time now. A balance has to be restored.
Whilst it is intellectually appealing to call it a crisis of low birth rate, it is not a crisis. It is a systemic rebalancing. It is a system rebalancing itself.
Why a Population Collapse is not so Bad?
The current stock of wealth can be shared amongst fewer people. There won't be a need to build millions of new houses. There could be empty houses and ghost cities. Though total GDP metrics can stagnate or go down (de-growth), the per-capita GDP might actually increase if we have fewer but more productive people.
The current living standard can be somewhat maintained or even improved upon. The constant chasing of growth in a de-growth environment can be eased a little bit and the earth (and all who are in it) can get some time to cool off a little bit.
Whilst there are many possible negative effects of a declining population, there could be some positives in other areas of life that offset the negative effects.