Friday 11 August 2023

Maintaining the human stock?


Population size is one of the hardest questions for politicians to tackle. But using the simple and obvious truth that it is impossible to make unlimited use of limited resources, the relationship between an ever-increasing human population and the impact of humanity of the planet is inescapable. Malthus may have been wrong with his specific prediction two centuries ago that rising population would necessarily lead to famine, but he had a point with the underlying principle.

Just a few days ago, Jake (or ‘Sirjake’ as we should probably now call him) was telling us that the UK needed more babies, and he had done his bit by producing six. It was now time, he said, for younger people to take over and produce more children. We should perhaps be grateful for small mercies – it’s hard to think of much that the world needs less than a few more Rees-Moggs. He probably thinks Boris Johnson has also done his bit by producing eight children (other numbers are, apparently, available). Given his support for the two-child cap on Child Benefit, he presumably wants to limit large families to the wealthiest in society, rather than encourage just anyone to have more children, echoing the concerns of the late Keith Joseph about the breeding proclivities of social classes four and five, which, as a later acolyte put it in even blunter terms, threatens the quality of the ‘human stock’. Quite apart from the racist and exceptionalist undertones, I can’t help thinking that they haven’t really thought this through. Coupled with their aversion to immigration, a population growth imbalance between the poor and the rich means that either the children of the rich have to do the jobs which the poorest are usually expected to do (Sixtus Rees-Mogg and Wilf Johnson flipping burgers or sweeping the roads together for the rest of their lives makes an unlikely picture) or see such jobs go undone. But then, people living very comfortable lives and measuring everything in terms only of its cash value have never been able to understand the real worth of the myriad of tasks performed by ‘the little people’ which are necessary to sustain their comfort.

What we do know is that the wealthiest countries in the world sustain their life style by using more than their fair share of the planet’s resources – and we find the same imbalance within the populations of those countries as well. Whilst there are arguments to be had about the methodology and assumptions used to arrive at the detail of such conclusions, there is no real argument about the basic message: if everyone lived the lifestyle of the richest, the earth’s resources would be depleted instead of sustained for the use of future generations. For those of us who can see that obvious truth, it is clear that continued population growth – particularly amongst the ‘most entitled’ demographic groups – depends on maintaining and increasing inequality and inequity (and that is, of course, core to the political philosophy of the Sirjakes of this world). From their perspective, human aspiration in the many is to be resisted at all costs; people should know their place, and stay there. Comfort and wealth for the few, drudgery and poverty for the many, is the golden thread of their political philosophy – it underpins their attitude to refugees, wages, cost of living pressures, public services and much more. They get away with it by persuading the slightly less poor that the even poorer are the problem, and the extent of their success in doing that was underlined by this article in the Guardian on Tuesday. It should be shocking to realise how many believe that the poorer should not be allowed any luxuries, hobbies, or leisure, as though poverty is entirely their own fault and sufficient to deny them any sort of life outside of their existence as workers. But it actually merely underlines how easy it is for those who control the levers to manipulate opinion and turn us against each other.

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