Worshipping the god Parsimony

Following on from yesterday’s post, and from the parallel article on “Degrowth” as a national (or international) government policy to which I linked, I’ve been thinking about the ideological logic behind such policies. In essence, they are a hangover from eighteenth century Malthusian beliefs.

Thomas Malthus, back before the Industrial Revolution got into full swing, famously and pessimistically believed that any progress in material well-being would always be out-paced by population growth, leading to poverty, disease and death amongst the lower orders. Economic growth, he reasoned, was arithmetical, whereas population growth was exponential. And hence:

“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.”

As a clergyman he argued that this was a situation ordained by God in order to invoke moral restraint and so limit population growth. It is worth at this point remembering that if, in fact, his factual analysis turns out to be wrong, then what God actually ordained might be more in line with Genesis 1, in which God commands both man and beast to multiply and fill the earth, for which purpose he has endowed the world with abundantly sufficient resources. In that case, one would have to seek the causes of the poverty and hunger Malthius saw around him in other things – perhaps human sin in the management and distribution of those resources. Remember that Malthus wrote in the wake of the French and American revolutions, neither of which were responses to just government for the people.

Malthusian ideas spread, through Darwin’s application of them to biology, to “Social Darwinism” and the Eugenics movement. It was clear that expecting the lower orders to control their own population voluntarily was a non-starter. Additionally Darwinism raised the spectre that excessively breeding proles were not only outstripping their own, and the world’s, resources – they were weakening the gene pool with their heritary stupidity, fecklessness and Catholicism. There needed to be top-down control of the population problem.

From the point of view of resources, rather than population, the Technocracy Movement of the 1930s also pioneered the idea of top-down management of the economy, ideally by monitoring and controlling every individual’s purchases – a vision only now becoming reality through the rapidly developing programmable digital currencies being piloted by central banks and governments, in concert with the abolition of cash. Many Technocrats were also supporters of Eugenics, for obvious reasons, since the two movements both wanted centrally managed solutions to Malthusian overpopulation and resource depletion.

Since the Holocaust, scientific (so-called) Eugenics has gone underground, but has remained a preoccupation of elites (to whom the masses are a quantity, not human souls), as has the associated assumption that the earth has severely limited resources which they ought to control should be conserved for the common good. That lies behind the UN’s obsession, in Agenda 2030 for example, with “sustainability.” Their view of the world is like Oliver Twist’s workhouse, in which there is sufficient gruel only for one porringer for each starving boy, to be ladled out by the Master, and “a long grace was said over short commons.”

Those ideological commitments, especially when held by the rich and powerful, have been highly influential. Even amongst those skeptical of the whole “Great Reset” agenda, one frequently finds people saying that “The real problem is overpopulation.” To which one must reply, “So what are you going to do about it?” Somebody who tried, for a large proportion of the world, was Mao Tse Tung, through his one child policy in China. This, as I showed in a piece I wrote on the whole population question three years ago, barely affected China’s population increase:

In fact, what began to level off the growth around 1990 was China’s success in alleviating poverty. And as I argue in the linked article, that is what even the UN acknowledge will soon max out the world population well within the food resources of the earth. Those who would prefer instead to reduce the population significantly, whether Bill Gates or David Attenborough or anyone else, must learn from China’s experience that the only effective method is to kill the excess billions somehow. And that in itself would inevitably produce a demographic nightmare that would put China’s or Japan’s in the shade, quite apart from a stinking world of mass graves and PTSD.

Yet none of that has stopped the Great and Good from belief in the need to limit both the population and the use of resources, a belief which has led up to “Degrowth,” if indeed that is a hidden government policy. It would have to be hidden, of course, because no government can long survive telling its people that they must become ever poorer, let alone that they must die to prosper the rich.

It was Paul Ehrlich, back in 1970, who popularised the idea that “pollution” and depletion of resources would imminently destroy the world. He predicted water rationing by 1974, food rationing by 1980, and incidentally a new ice age. Meanwhile M King Hubbert had already predicted that “Peak Oil” would be reached by the time Ehrlich wrote. Both have proven to be false prophets.

Even more significant to the current situation, because of the behind-the-scenes influence it wielded, was the Club of Rome’s 1972 Limits to Growth, of which its co-founder wrote:

“The common enemy of humanity is man. In searching for a new enemy to unite us, we came up with the idea that pollution, the threat of global warming, water shortages, famine and the like would fit the bill. All these dangers are caused by human intervention, and it is only through changed attitudes and behavior that they can be overcome. The real enemy then, is humanity itself.”

Half a century has passed since then, and we have already seen that the population of the world has risen far beyond what the Malthusians said would cause planetary collapse. What that means is that the earth has proven, contra Malthus, quite capable of matching food production to what was, for a while, exponential population growth. Here I once again admit my own deception, for I once believed that fertilisers produced by the Haber-Bosch process, undoubtedly a major factor in the massive growth of world population, were a fossil-fuel evil leading to overpopulation. But is it not better to see them as the timely release of God-given resources to prevent millions of people across the world from dying from malnutrition prematurely?

In fact, far from the planet’s food resources falling behind, famines have become increasingly rare within my lifetime, and nearly all of them now are the direct result of political violence, not climate vagaries or overpopulation. Meanwhile, “Peak Oil” time has repeatedly been pushed forward by new discoveries (like fracking). Coal, which is now at the point of being cleanly useable, remains buried in the ground and yet sufficient, according to the UK mining industry at the time it was more or less closed down, for at least 400 years.

Were it not for the “parasitic human” perspective fostered by Limits to Growth, which has damned CO2 as a poison to be eradicated, there would be plenty of fossil fuels to allow the development of the whole world, and enable a natural economic transition to cleaner energy through existing nuclear technology and whatever forthcoming ideas can harness the abundance God put in the earth for our benefit.

That development would, of course, include responsible management of the natural world without simultaneously dispossessing people. Projects all over the world show how, when local populations are motivated, consulted, and their needs considered, they are as conservation-conscious as European city dwellers, or more so.

It’s tempting to add that the claim to be conserving resources rings pretty hollow too. The elements needed for renewable energy sources are rare earths rather than abundant hydrocarbons. Whether the predictions of soon outstripping resources of Lithium and so on prove to be true, or as empty as “Peak Oil,” the fact is that the mining is no less rapacious than what it claims to replace.

And what kind of money is more sustainable? Refining some gold or silver ore and striking a coin which can be circulated for millennia (or at small energy cost melted down and re-minted with some new Caesar’s image)? Or using electricity to continuously track every digital transaction round the world and process the interactions, whilst employing armies of bureaucrats to police what’s going on?

In summary, I don’t think that Malthusianism has got anywhere beyond an ideological assumption about the world, whereas it has been disconfirmed both in the fact that world population has increased eightfold since the time of Malthus, whilst poverty has decreased, and by the lack of evidence for actual depletion of resources of anything, apart from liberty.

On the other hand, the effects of negative growth are well evidenced throughout history from the level of families to the level of empires. The family whose income falls cannot sustain a home or its children. The failing business that once employed twelve people now employs six, at lower wages, whilst the other six are unemployed. The nation with a shrinking economy, even if it is shrinking by government fiat, does not become a rural Arcadia, but a crime-infested slum.

So when Jeremy Hunt says that the public will have to learn to adjust by turning their boilers down, eating less meat, and so on, he speaks as a Malthusian, like so many of these WEF apparachiks.

But he’s living in delusion.

Avatar photo

About Jon Garvey

Training in medicine (which was my career), social psychology and theology. Interests in most things, but especially the science-faith interface. The rest of my time, though, is spent writing, playing and recording music.
This entry was posted in Philosophy, Politics and sociology, Theology. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Worshipping the god Parsimony

  1. shopwindows says:

    Dear Jon

    Turning down thermostats, not travelling more than approved. Are we culturally self flagellating, basically somewhere between insane, guilt ridden, in search of meaning beyond consumerism. Somethings going on, maybe a murmuration, but this obsession with the end of the world, one has to revert to saeculum concepts to explain the maniacal vigor with which we are being thrust toward a deindustrialised state whereby we simply will not be able to support anywhere near the populace alive today.

    I studied Malthusianism at University and in those days bought the concept not so much of Indian and African famine by overbreeding as of lesser mortals inability to run advanced civil societies. Haber-Bosch massively improved the yield, irrigation helps but it all falls into disrepair unless those damn colonialists keep it organised.

    Oh, but the grand “we” owe reparations, our forebears plundered the world did we not?
    For those “effective altruists” who know better than us such that they deign to help us be less fecund, prefer contraception over conception, etc, the other tools in their armoury such as abortion seemingly not constrained to debate over how many weeks into embryonic development and enforced visits to dignitas by useless eaters, their elevated philosophical erudition exempts them from charges of democide.

    I am shocked at the bread and circuses gullibility of the enfranchised public who are fierce in their use of conspiracy theory smearing of opposition. “They” seem incapable of discerning true intent from snake words whilst no doubt anaesthetising their cognitive faculties every evening watching drama depicting villains of evil intent on their illuminated boxes. The cognitive dissonance is awe inspiring. Meanwhile of course courtesy of the state, the broadcaster helpfully slips in some cultural leadership cues as to what proles ought to do to be of the zeitgeist.

    I understand though haven’t checked deeply that Bitcoin after the latest rout is close to the energy/computing cost of “generating/mining” a new token. And this is progress from currency we could nibble, paper tokens and digits shuffled in electronic ledgers?
    Like so much contemporary economic activity it’s rather like scotch mist. I can see the value of interest recompense, exchange rate forward dealing for sales/production but most derivatives beyond that are supported by esoteric arguments of no economic value beyond croupier like creaming off of the honest productive output of bedrock functionaries who keep us fed and warm. As I write this I am a regulated free marketeer, not an Engels/Marx fan. But something has gone very awry in global corporate factors of production.

    Cynical, I know, but when governance tips from shepherding a harmonious liberated civil society to highly active sculpting of that society we have a problem. It’s called totalitarianism and whether fascist or communist is largely irrelevant. Despotism, ultimately a hierarchical reign of terror ensues. Apparatchiks is a topically relevant word as are degrowth, dehiring, deindustrialisation, depopulation, it’s semantics, we get the drift?


    • Avatar photo Jon Garvey says:

      Little to add to that analysis, Richard. I’ll just pick up on your “cultural leadership cues,” by noting that the reason Rishi Sunak gave for turning down the thermostats was “to beat Putin.” So we are expected to buy in to their ideological animus against a country we’re not actually at war with, as well as their economic (or anti-economic) one.

      Almost seems a reason to turn on everything and leave all the windows and doors open!

Leave a Reply