Last week, the American physicist Steven Chu spoke at the University of Chicago about the need to develop new economic systems that don't rely on perpetual population growth.
"The world needs a new model of how to generate a rising standard of living that's not dependent on a pyramid scheme." - Steven Chu at a talk hosted by EPIC & @UChicagoIME. More via @JeffMcMahon_Chi https://t.co/EBMeZRbmJK-- Energy Policy Institute at UChicago (@UChiEnergy) April 5, 2019
By keeping annual immigration at one million per year or higher, the United States government is "all in" on a great pyramid scheme. Congress will grow the economy through immigration, but leave the residual costs for future generations to pay.
Chu, who served as Secretary of Energy in the Obama administration, said the idea of always having more young people than old people is unsustainable, echoing the words of the naturalist David Attenborough, who has long lamented the "bizarre taboo" around the subject:
"The notion of ever more old people needing ever more young people, who will in turn grow old and need even more young people, and so on ad infinitum, is an obvious ecological Ponzi scheme."
In order to maintain the current ratio of younger workers to retirees, Congress would have to increase immigration to more than 5 million per year, which projects out to more than 700 million Americans by 2060, at which point Congress would have to increase immigration again. And again, and again until the U.S. would need to bring in more than the population of the entire world. To channel Jeff Foxworthy: if open borders isn't enough, you might be trapped inside a pyramid scheme.
Concerns such as Chu's and Attenborough's are sometimes dismissed by immigration expansionists as "Malthusian," after the 18th-century philosopher and economist Thomas Malthus, who theorized that population growth would eventually outrun the food supply. Since Malthus' time, the world population has doubled nearly three times over and predictions of mass starvation have notably not come to pass. Technological advances have enabled the world to feed billions more people than was previously imagined. That is not to say that we live in a world of infinite resources, or that the impact of our sheer human numbers is not profound.
Dr. William H. Schlesinger, President Emeritus (2007-2014) of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies, sees the impact of ecological ponzi schemes playing out in real time:
"As I look at the land cleared for new housing in central North Carolina, I see Malthusian impact not played out on the human population, but on nature. Nature is crisscrossed by roads, inflicted with noise, and dramatically illuminated at night. These stem, not from greater consumption, but simply from the provision of more living space for more human beings at the expense of nature."
Due to the nature of exponential growth, the costs of Ponzi demography loom largest over time, but not everyone benefits in the short-run, either. According to the National Academy of Sciences, Congress facilitates the transfer of nearly $500 billion every year from wage-earning Americans to the investment class -- through immigration policy alone. The benefits of high immigration tend to accrue to the wealthy and privileged, while the costs fall upon Americans who weren't born with the same advantages.
More moderate levels of immigration such as those proposed by multiple commissions over the past decades are more compatible with environmental sustainability and economic justice than are the historically-high levels currently in place.
To Chu's point, there is nothing sacrosanct about growth. Studies on human thriving find GDP growth to be an unreliable predictor of happiness. Bigger isn't always better. Economies exist to enhance human existence, not the other way around.
Furthermore, our ability to thrive is closely tied to the resilience of other species. As humans, we are at the top of the food chain, but we are still part of the chain.
"We must look beyond the self-centered view that we are the only masters of our own survival," Schlesinger says.
"The sooner we stabilise our numbers," says Attenborough, "the sooner we stop running up the 'down' escalator. Stop population increase - stop the escalator - and we have some chance of reaching the top; that is to say, a decent life for all."
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Tue, Apr 23rd 2019 @ 2:50pm EDT