Voluntary Population Decrease: Toward a Less Crowded, More Caring World

The world’s population is estimated to be around 7.2 billion as of this writing in 2014. Only 45 years ago, it was half of this. A century ago, it was about quarter of this. (reference)

I recently watched this brilliant video called “Humans Need Not Apply,” about robots eliminating much of jobs, possibly causing as much as 45% job loss in the not-so-distant future.


Many people find this scary and distressing. I agree that it can be problematic, at least on a short-term. All and any change is painful.

The solution, however, has already started in some countries: voluntary birth control. Most women (and men, too!) in the so-called developed countries opt out from having more babies after they have had enough, and that magic number seems to be somewhere around 2; some want 3 or more, some just 1, and some don’t want any, averaging somewhere slightly under 2. Which results in slow but steady population decrease. (reference)

We are not talking about the end of humanity. This is the maturing of humanity. In our youth, we naively believed more is better. Human history is the history of increasing food production to avoid starvation and resulting population growth, leading to starvation deaths in bad years. Population growth has also caused wars; many thought, “If there is not enough food here, let’s go invade and steal.”

In the video, the author points out how the advancement of automobile resulted in the decrease of horse population. What he doesn’t seem to take into account is: Is that a bad thing for the horses?

Of course, violence is no good. We don’t want to control population by killing. Authority forcing its people to have less children is no good, either. (China has tried this approach and mostly failed.)

My humble prediction

The job loss will happen faster than the population decrease, causing much distress especially in the highly populated area of the world. Robots have already eliminated many manufacturing jobs—as the video points out, the trend will only expand into various other fields.

In the meantime, the trend of having less kids also expand — partly because of the job losses. If you can barely support one child, are you going to have another one?

The overall population grows old. This is the most painful phase of the shift. There will be so many retired people in comparison to working-age people. (However, I highly doubt if I can live as long as my parents and grandparents — the food we eat these days are so crappy, the environment is quite toxic, and so on, and so on. But this is a topic that deserves another article.)

Then the population will stabilize, maybe at about half of the current level. In other words, what it was half a century ago.

If I remember correctly, things weren’t so bad back then. I lived in a big city in Japan, and everyone back then thought there were too many people already. But looking back, there was still nature left even in the city. The vacant lot offered free fun toys like pine cones and little grasshoppers. As a small kid, I could play with my friends without adult supervision.

At my grandparents’ place in the countryside, people didn’t lock their doors. In a small community where everyone knew everyone else, crime was—not non-existent but—rare. In the summer (before the air-conditioner was available), we slept with doors and windows open, under the thin canopy that kept the bugs out.

In the less crowded world, job loss is not a problem; instead, we will live in harmony with the robots. And even more importantly, less human population is good for the environment, good for our own physical and mental health. (No animal thrives in a crowded cage.) There will be less insane competition, and our grandkids and their kids can enjoy their lives more in a smaller, more closely-knit, caring communities.

That’s the kind of the world I’d like to leave for the next generation, not the world that is obsessed with so-called growth. What do you think?

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