Population myths


Myth:

Population growth is not a problem as long as it is planned for carefully.

Fact:

  • No amount of planning can be successful in coping with an endlessly growing population.
  • All plans aim to accommodate a specific range of population load. Further growth renders obsolete both the plans and the costly infrastructure built to deliver them.
  • A good plan must be implementable, which means it must be affordable. Enough infrastructure for rapid population growth is simply unaffordable. That’s why it hasn’t happened – not because there weren’t plans.

Myth:

Population growth increases the tax base, giving governments more money to spend on infrastructure.

Fact:

  • The increased tax revenue derived from a bigger population is not enough to pay for the extra infrastructure needed by the bigger population. One percent more people might increase tax revenue by one percent, but increases the amount of infrastructure we need to build in one year by around 50%.
  • The result is more congested infrastructure, more government debt and more austerity measures diminishing the level of government services and increasing the out-of-pocket costs citizens pay for services like education, health and transport.

Myth:

Australia would need to close its borders to stop population growth.

Fact:

  • An annual intake of around 70,000 including refugees, skilled workers and family reunion, would allow our population to stabilise in a couple of decades.

Myth:

Decentralisation is the best way to stop overcrowding and congestion in our capital cities.

Fact:

  • Most regional towns do not have enough reliable water to support significantly larger populations.
  • Nor do their residents want the growth.
  • Nor are there competitive options to create sufficient employment.
  • Very costly government programs in the past have failed to change the distribution of growth. Government has no means to make it happen.

Myth:

To stop population growth, government would control how many children we can have.

Fact:

  • Australians currently choose freely to have small families. The average is 1.9 children per woman, low enough to lead to population stabilisation if immigration were sufficiently low.
  • Reducing incentives for large families might lower fertility further, making more room for immigrants and saving many children from being born into poverty.

Myth:

Reducing consumption is the best way to reduce our environmental impact.

Fact:

  • It’s not either-or. Every increase in population undoes some of our efforts to reduce environmental impact per person.
  • Continuous population growth will ultimately overwhelm all our efforts to live less impactfully.

Myth:

Our cities’ growing pains are because of government neglect of infrastructure spending.

Fact:

  • All levels of government have massively increased their spending on infrastructure in the past 10 years in response to our population surge.
  • The increase more than accounts for all their deficits, and is the main reason they resorted to selling assets and cutting back on social spending.
  • But it’s still not enough, because accommodating population growth is very, very expensive.

Myth:

Without population growth, our workforce would be depleted due to ageing.

Fact:

  • Ageing is only a temporary adjustment, and stops before there is a shortage of workers.
  • A stable population would give us similar dependency ratios to the 1960s (boom times!) only with more retirees and fewer children.
  • Retirees actually provide many economic and social contributions.
  • Fewer people ‘of working age’ means fewer unemployed, not fewer workers.

Myth:

Rising property values have made Australians wealthier.

Fact:

  • When house prices rise, it is inflation. Inflation means your income doesn’t go as far – that is, it makes people poorer.
  • Nothing is created – there is just a shift in wealth from the general population to a few of the richest. The beneficiaries are the small percentage of people who own or trade investment property, and the banks who finance mortgages. They gain by increasing the mortgage debts of the next generation.
  • Home-owners may benefit only when/if they downgrade to cheaper housing. In the meantime, they’re paying more rates.

Myth:

A bigger population makes us less vulnerable to invasion.

Fact:

  • Our military capability is not determined by our population.
  • The greater threats to national security are climate change and internal conflict due to too many people competing for too few jobs and resources.
  • Regional harmony will be promoted by Australia continuing food exports and aid programs, not becoming a debt-ridden food importer.

Myth:

We can delink economic growth and population growth from greenhouse emissions

Fact:

  • Some growth in services may have a low footprint, but a base level of provisioning per person needs physical resources and energy. Even service sector workers must be fed, clothed, housed and transported.
  • Construction is very emissions-intensive – we reduce per capita emissions merely by reducing growth rate and demand for infrastructure.
  • If we can reduce emissions despite growth, we can reduce them much faster without growth.

Myth:

Unless we restore replacement rate fertility, the population will collapse.

  • We had twice as many births as deaths, at a fertility rate of 1.7 children per woman.
  • It takes several decades for deaths to catch up to births, even with fertility well below 2.
  • After population peaks, we can adjust fertility and/or immigration upward if we choose not to let population decline. We can’t adjust population downward at our whim.

Myth:

Economic growth is a function of Population, Participation and Productivity (the Three “P”s)

Fact:

  • In plain language, this is saying “more people working longer hours for less pay!” What about income inequality and quality of life?
  • Wealth is a “per capita” thing. Population growth doesn’t increase the number of people per capita. But it does reduce participation (i.e. unemployment is higher) and productivity (resources are more scarce, rents are higher, infrastructure is congested and cash-strapped governments are less able to assist).

Myth:

Migrants create more jobs than they take.

Fact:

  • This could only be true if they were spending more in the local economy than their local income. That is, because of wealth they bring with them or additional exports they create, their total spending, minus what they spend on all imports and remittances and debt-servicing, exceeds their salary. This may be true of rich Germans retiring to Spain, but it’s not true of Australia’s migrants.
  • Countries with lower population growth tend to have lower unemployment, and less income inequality (i.e. better pay for low-wage workers).
  • The proponents of more migration themselves claim it will put downward pressure on wages (or “reduce inflationary pressure on wages”). This means people agree to work for less because it’s harder to get a job.

Myth:

People who want lower immigration are racist and xenophobic.

Fact:

  • Unlimited immigration makes sustainability impossible. This applies regardless of the race or ethnicity of the immigrants.
  • Many immigrants also want lower immigration, because they value the environment and quality of life in Australia.
  • Social progressives should want lower immigration, because high immigration enriches the rich at the expense of the poor. Immigrants themselves are exploited in the process.