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How Many People Can the Earth Support? Some Thoughts

October 30, 2011

Rather than a tightly argued piece with a particular conclusion, I want to just share some ideas (and links and videos) that have come into my head given the recent media flurry about the fact that, as of Oct. 31, 2011, there are going to be more than 7 billion of us.

Much hullabaloo has been made about this number, but it seems to me that virtually no one actually knows what on earth they are talking about.  Much of the commentary I have read seems blissfully unaware that population growth is actually slowing dramatically and that virtually all demographers expect human population growth to be negative by the end of this century.  Most are trucking along with an idea they heard in middle-school, helpfully illustrated by scary looking wall-charts, namely, that human population is expanding exponentially and will keep doubling until certain cataclysm.

Here’s a graphic refutation of those numbers:

(Now there’s a lot of refuting of the Population Research Institute out there, but I haven’t seen any refutation of this.  Feel free to share if you have seen such a refutation.)

If you’ve read the news stories and blogs, and especially the comments, you know that the ignorance people are willing to showcase on the issue is simply staggering.  Many will throw out some random number that they have no way to substantiate:  “The earth can support 3 billion people.  We’re already 4 billion over the limit!”  I mean, what on earth does such a claim even mean?  Others say things like, “We need a world war or an epidemic to save us from certain disaster!”  But world wars and epidemics are disasters.  What exactly are they saving us from?  Future wars and epidemics?  Of course dead people don’t do a lot of dying, but what of it?  One of the creepier things is the blatant racism in many of the comments I’ve read.  Concern about minorities breeding and coming to steal our land and resources makes me queasy.  And, in Canada, we’re begging them to come over in order to support our retirement funds.

One of the more balanced pieces I read noted that, as the earth’s population nearly quadrupled over the last century, it’s food production “miraculously” kept pace.  But why “miraculously”?  There were four times as many workers to grow the food, weren’t there?  And it’s not like we’re close to running out of arable land.  I mean, take a walk down the street and try to estimate how many potatoes could be grown on the lawns of you and your neighbors, should necessity demand it.  As urban gardening projects are starting to show, cities themselves have room to produce a serious percentage of their own food, especially poorly designed sprawling cities.  And the amount of resources we put into growing grass that nobody eats is overwhelming.  Heck, we grow grass on farms and ship it into the cities!

One of the more interesting things I’ve encountered in this schmozzle is an argument that the earth could easily support 100 billion people:  http://zeitnewsblog.blogspot.com/2011_03_01_archive.html

Now, while some Catholics will be happy to make such arguments their own, I would offer a caution against salvation by technology.  Benedict XVI himself has warned against this temptation.  And conservative Catholics who want to argue for the earth’s capacity to hold vastly more people than it currently does need to be careful about endorsing something that would necessarily require massive social engineering.

Now, I have no idea how many people the earth can support.  As Joel Cohen, who actually wrote a book on it, notes, the only reasonable answer is, “It depends.”  The problem is so complex, with so many variables (think only about the vast discrepancy in resource consumption between one person and the next), that no one can actually give any serious answer to it.  Cohen’s measured and thoughtful approach here is one of the more helpful things I’ve encountered:

In any case, these basic claims seem true:

1.  No matter how many people have lived on the earth in the past, a good number of them have been close to starving.  Getting rid of people isn’t going to get rid of this problem.  We live in an age where we can easily produce enough food for all, with such a surplus that there is enough to help when disaster strikes a particular locale.  We need to focus on building a system that distributes food justly and efficiently.

2.  Certain lifestyle choices and economic systems are destroying our environment and that destruction increases when such lifestyle choices are made by more and more people.  It makes no real difference whether that means people born into the most wasteful cultures, people who immigrate to them or people who are importing wastefulness into their own cultures.

It strikes me that population growth is not, in itself, a problem.  On the other hand it serves to highlight these two other problems (at least).  It may be that a lower percentage of us is near-starving than in much of human history, but the total numbers (900 million) still demand something be done, especially given our incredible productive capacity.  It is obscene to throw away so much food while others starve.

And something must be done about our whole throw-away lifestyle.  Our per capita waste keeps going up even as we recycle more.  My Mom was a teacher for 30 years.  When she began, the garbage pail at the end of lunch time has a few apple cores and banana peels.  Today it is overflowing with plastic.  Even recycling all that plastic, if it doesn’t go to the landfill, takes resources.  Consumerism simply produces too much junk.  And my Mom’s classroom is only a tiny microcosm of a world that throws away whole mountains and rivers.

There are some of my rather disjointed thoughts.  What are yours?  In particular, have you seen any credible claims about how many people the earth can support?

You might also find these other pieces of mine interesting:

Demography and the Future of Religion:  Eric Kaufmann’s Shall the Religious Inherit the Earth

Preliminary Ramblings on Population and the Environment


Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one.

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76 Comments
  1. brettsalkeld permalink*
    October 30, 2011 10:07 pm

    An interesting interview, but check out the top comments. Yikes!

    You can see the comments if you click the Youtube button in the bottom right.

  2. Dan permalink
    October 30, 2011 10:42 pm

    I would agree with your sentiment. Overpopulation is only an issue if you assume technological stagnancy. But that’s never been historically the case. I personally believe it is a safe and reasonable expectation that technology grows proportionate to population. The greater your population base, more geniuses you will produce at the edges of the bell curve and the greater aggregate resources they will have at their disposal to solve the issues which are plaguing society. Not enough rabbits to feed your village? The elders figure out how to sow a crop and teach others to do the same. Not enough crops to feed your growing village? Build a plowshare and share it with the villages next to you. Not enough grain to feed your oxen to plow your fields? Well, three villages over they have an abundance, so we’d better find a way to build a series of transportation lines to get the grain over here. Etc…

    If the earth had 20 billion people, people aren’t going to sit there and starve. There will be 100 Albert Einsteins backed by $10 trillion dollars in venture capital to figure it out.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      October 30, 2011 10:52 pm

      I suspect there is some maximum limit, but I have no idea how you figure out what that is. I don’t think we’re anywhere near it.

      In any case, technology can solve a lot of problems, but, as Benedict XVI points out in Caritas in Veritate, moral solutions are what is really required in the end. The two things I highlight at the end won’t be solved without change of heart, no matter how much food we can produce.

      • Dan permalink
        October 30, 2011 11:10 pm

        I suspect there is some maximum limit, but I have no idea how you figure out what that is. I don’t think we’re anywhere near it.

        I would agree. But I would assert that the maximum limit of earth does not have to be the maximum limit of humanity. By the time we would approach the maximum limit, we would likely have the technological capacity to move beyond the orb that we inhabit.

      • Melody permalink
        October 31, 2011 5:52 am

        Thanks for a thoughtful post. I agree with you about the throw-away lifestyles. I think there is a way to approach things somewhere between the scare headlines, and the world view expressed as, “Problem? There ain’t no stinking problem! Except that Catholics are slacking off and not reproducing themselves any more!”.

  3. brettsalkeld permalink*
    October 30, 2011 11:01 pm

    At the end of this video is a calculation based on, I think, current levels of production:

    The whole video (in 6 parts) is interesting, but has some flaws. It seems to deliberately avoid, for example, the fact that demographers expect populations to drop by the end of the century. Of course, viewers will not be surprised that the BBC does not take the Catholic view on contraception.

  4. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    October 30, 2011 11:20 pm

    I suggest a trip to Vietnam as a practical answer to this question. Somehow even more than India or China it drove home to me that we have too many people already, and they are all riding little motorcycles.

  5. brettsalkeld permalink*
    October 30, 2011 11:30 pm

    Billy Meier thinks we can handle about half-a-billion:

    http://www.futureofmankind.co.uk/Billy_Meier/Special:Petition

    Seems to me that he and the 100 billion folks both think they can engineer their way out of this. They both scare me.

    • Dan permalink
      October 31, 2011 12:47 am

      What evidence do you have to suggest we can’t engineer our way out of this? Seems to me that’s the only thing that we actually have historical evidence to prove – as the population has increased, the food supply has proportionately increased due to technological improvement. Why would we assume that would change? Especially considering technological capacity is increasing at a rate considerably faster than our population growth.

      The middle road isn’t always the most defensible position.

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        October 31, 2011 8:24 am

        Well, I guess it depends on what one means by “this.” I have no evidence we can’t produce enough food for 10 (or 20!) billion people. I’m not assuming our technological improvement rate will suddenly drop off. On the other hand, almost a billion of us are near-starving now, despite our food producing capacity. My point is simply that something beyond engineering is going to need to be done to make the world the kind of place it should be for all of us.

        I didn’t see myself as arguing for a middle road position somewhere between 0.5 and 100 billion. I saw myself as pointing out that groups with wildly divergent views about how many people the earth can support are in essentially the same mindset. Neither of them are willing to take any responsibility for their own consumption. Both imagine fairly invasive social management. Both of them use numbers that no one could really substantiate to make rhetorical rather than substantive points.

      • October 31, 2011 10:37 am

        Both imagine fairly invasive social management.

        Where do the 100 billion people argue for invasive social management? I don’t see it.

      • brettsalkeld permalink*
        October 31, 2011 3:49 pm

        “Our proposal for a Post-Scarcity Society, the Resource-Based Economy, is based upon a network of independent, self-sustaining cities. As discussed in an article by a fellow member of the Zeitgeist Movement, Douglas Mallette, a basic city design 10 miles in diameter could easily house and provide for ~3.4 million people over ~78.6 square miles – 1.6 times the population of Houston, Texas, with 13% of the city’s land area. Houston is 601.3 square miles, so a circular city of equivalent size would need to be ~27.7 miles in diameter. Using Doug’s calculations, over 26 million people could be easily and comfortably accommodated within this city, with a 39% lower population density than Manhattan, and 100 billion people could be housed in 3,806 cities of this size using as little as 4% of the Earth’s total land area(13), food, water, and electricity production included.”

        I think herding us all into a network of independent, self-sustaining cities (not to mention dense) would take quite a bit of invasive social management. Did we read the same piece?

      • October 31, 2011 4:56 pm

        The plan isn’t to herd people into these super-cities, anymore than people are herded into NYC now. The idea seems to be that this will happen organically and as a result of people being persuaded this is the right way to go.

        I should add that there is a lot in the specific website you linked to that I consider loopy (they want to do away with money, for example). But the calculation about the earth being able to support 100 billion doesn’t depend in any way on those ideas, nor does it depend on forcing people to do anything.

        • brettsalkeld permalink*
          October 31, 2011 9:26 pm

          Well, I’ll just say I got a different vibe about the herding. As for loopy, we got the same vibe. ;)

    • heryu permalink
      January 12, 2013 9:33 pm

      Dude I think all the extinct animal and plant species would agree with Billy Meier…..too bad they can’t cuz they’re extinct. Well the endangered animal and plant species will agree with him for sure. They want to live too and considering that we are actually the most destructive force on the planet (nukes, biological weapons etc..) then yeah I think we need to stop being so in love with ourselves. I don’t like people so much that I want the only abundant living beings on the planet to be humans …..uh no that’s just a bit too much.

  6. October 30, 2011 11:54 pm

    I can still remember the 1970’s dormatory poster of a globe filled with miserable humanity occupying every square inch and the Pope with Crossier on the north pole. But just to show how fertility responds to enviroment I’ll share this link of demography, marriage and family in Libya under the recent despot. http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2011/10/26/libya_sexual_revolution

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      October 31, 2011 8:35 am

      Very interesting article. Makes one very nervous about China though.

  7. October 31, 2011 12:46 am

    Wikipedia: Based on a world population of seven billion, the world’s inhabitants would, as a loose crowd taking up ten square feet per person (Jacobs Method), would occupy a space roughly the size of Fiji’s land area.

    Hmmm…Fuji has approximately 7,100 square miles…just imagine the the leg room available if the entire population of the earth moved to say…Texas with 228,601 miles!

    • Rodak permalink
      October 31, 2011 8:51 am

      Texas…hmmm. Good idea! That would serve most of the 7 billion right!

    • October 31, 2011 12:34 pm

      Yes it would… and it would solve the immigration problem to boot!

  8. October 31, 2011 1:33 am

    It’s easy to see what is scary about Mr. Meier’s proposals – he wants to have caps on the number of children you have, backed up by punitive fines and sterilization if you disobey.

    But what’s scary about the idea that the earth could support 100 billion people? Where is the comparable infringement on human rights?

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      October 31, 2011 8:14 am

      Oh, I don’t think that there is a comparable infringement. I’m just scared when anyone preaches salvation by technology alone.

      • October 31, 2011 10:46 am

        Oh, I don’t think that there is a comparable infringement. I’m just scared when anyone preaches salvation by technology alone.

        As well you should be. But I don’t see how the folks you are criticizing are preaching salvation by technology alone. All they are arguing is that it is technologically feasible to feed a 100 billion people on earth. If anything, I would think their argument strengthens your own point, since if we have the technology to feed 100 billion, then the fact lots of people don’t have enough food when there are only seven billion of us must be due to some other, non-technological cause.

  9. Liam permalink
    October 31, 2011 11:59 am

    What I find interesting is that, underlying the solution of calamity (war-famine-disease-disaster) is an assumption that this would most likely affect the peoples who are least like us in the developed world – in other words, the solution is to prune off what is not needed for the developed world to continue to keep its world.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      October 31, 2011 12:07 pm

      Indeed!

    • October 31, 2011 12:27 pm

      That would be called ‘the culture of death’.

  10. Rodak permalink
    October 31, 2011 2:09 pm

    It would seem to me to be a no-brainer that if the 7 billion we now have are dominated by the kind which let children starve in the midst of abundance, then the fewer of us there are, the better.

  11. October 31, 2011 2:42 pm

    A balanced yet thought-provoking perspective. Population growth has frequently struck me as being the thorn in the side of the consistent life ethic, or rather its greatest dilemma: if the human population threatens to max out the earth’s carrying capacity, this is a threat to all life, and yet no truly consistent ethic of life can accept as morally permissible any solution that would classify any category of humanity as expendable (a few of which you allude to here). If the problem is really more about wasteful lifestyle than sheer numbers, that would make more moral sense to me – not that this makes the solution easier.

    • October 31, 2011 4:22 pm

      I believe it’s a fallacy to accept that the human population must be driven to some unsustainable level towards disaster and such. This is a false notion that is promoted by the forced population control ideolgists, usually aimed at religious adherants. ‘Be fruitful and multiply’ is an outcome to morally virtuous behavior and gratefulness to God. It doesn’t imply overloading the earth as some petrie dish filled with bacteria.

      Even beyond our technological prowness are solutions of charity and fraternity. Ironically, when we are most open to grace we hear ‘calls’ of service and self-sacrifice that don’t involve marriage and childbearing. Consider the many religious and consecrated souls prior, who have dedicated their lives to service, such as caregiving and education. Little of this makes sense to a ‘dog eat dog’ world that idolizes self-interest and competititon.

  12. October 31, 2011 4:18 pm

    “One of the more balanced pieces I read noted that, as the earth’s population nearly quadrupled over the last century, it’s food production “miraculously” kept pace. But why “miraculously”? There were four times as many workers to grow the food, weren’t there?”

    But that’s not really the point. The point is that now we require much fewer people to grow a lot more food than we used to.

    Which brings me to this statement:

    “Certain lifestyle choices and economic systems are destroying our environment and that destruction increases when such lifestyle choices are made by more and more people.”

    Assuming that the “economic systems” you are referring to is capitalism, it’s capitalism that has made such efficient food production possible. So, more and more people and countries choosing capitalism, it seems to me, would be a good thing in terms of being able to feed future population levels.

    • brettsalkeld permalink*
      November 1, 2011 8:28 am

      Capitalism can take many forms. I, for one, think that part of the “strong juridical framework” called for by JPII should include restrictions on the production of crap destined for the landfill.

      I’m not convinced that the production on mountains of garbage is an absolute co-requisite of the free market.

      • November 1, 2011 10:46 am

        No, not an “absolute co-requisite of the free market”. However the more restrictions you put on what the market can produce, the less free it is. I’m not sayin’, I’m just sayin’. In other words, we can afford to produce disposable stuff because of the efficiency with which things are produced. And that efficiency is what enables so few to feed so many.

  13. Rick DeLano permalink
    October 31, 2011 6:43 pm

    The Green Revolution- funded by government, by the way- produced the scientific advance most proximately responsible for the (anything but) “miraculous” increase in agricultural productivity.

    Parson Malthus, of course, mathematically proved beyond all doubt that we starved to death approximately two centuries ago.

  14. Melody permalink
    November 1, 2011 5:46 am

    The scare headlines in all the newspapers yesterday “7 Billion People!!!” brought out the worst in people. It was not a fun time at coffee break at work yesterday. Everyone at our table except me thought governments (including ours) should limit people to 2 children. I was the only Catholic and the only woman, but the rest were at least nominal Christians. The ironic part is that most of them could be described as Tea Party sympathizers politically. Several were deer hunters, and I got a lecture on what happens when there are too many deer. I guess we’re all going to get Blue Tongue.

  15. Rodak permalink
    November 1, 2011 6:28 am

    I am unable to understand how any of you can look at the world today–or at any time in the past–and decide that we are doing things pretty much the right way. Even the most giddy of optimists can only say, “Things could be worse.” Capitalism is a game of winners and losers; that’s how it works. The trickle-down inevitably dries-up before it reaches the bottom. And then the “winners” bitch and moan about being to fund emergency waterboys out of their surplus. Can any of you show me one verse in which Jesus Christ says anything that would support capitalism as a way of life? Can any of you deny that the very first Christians–the men and women who actually walked with Christ and presumably lived as He taught them to live–set up a communal system? I have to ask, along with Dylan, “You’ve been picture-booked, by whom?”

    • November 1, 2011 1:33 pm

      Rodak:

      It’s just a fact that since the Industrial Revolution people are materially far better off, from top to bottom, in this country where capitalism has taken root. Life expectancy numbers alone bear this out. Immigration by poor people from other countries, seconds the motion. I’m not saying that makes capitalism the best we can do, since material well-being is not the only consideration. But I do think this disproves the assertion that material prosperity does not trickle down. If it didn’t, then poor people should be starving here as often as they do in, say, North Korea; and poor people from Latin America should have no incentive to come here.

      • Kurt permalink
        November 1, 2011 3:09 pm

        Since the Industrial Revolution, people are materially better off from top to bottom in western countries, all of which have adopted to various degrees social insurance systems designed to acheive this shared prosperity. Sadly even the most modest social insurance programs get denounced as “Socialism” by the TEA Party element and some others.

    • enness permalink
      November 1, 2011 7:26 pm

      Rodak,
      This common misconception that the “winners” are misanthropes who have a problem with helping anybody else strikes to the heart. I am sure there are some like that. More often, though, I think it is a misinterpretation of people’s legitimate resentment over being expected to funnel their charity through a middleman that hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in its stewardship. Because everybody seems to know (eyeroll) that the only way to help one’s countrymen is Federally…
      Also, the early Christians were a considerably smaller group, and they did this voluntarily.

  16. Rachel W. permalink
    November 1, 2011 8:34 am

    If you are really interested in the problem of people, population and what to do get a copy of Ultimate Resource 2 by Julian Lincoln Simon (d. 1998). Despite Libertarians embrace of his economic views, his understanding of population issues and resources is important for this discussion.

    He, quite famously, bet Paul Ehrlich (Population Bomb) whose views of resources and population would prove true. Dr. Simon won.

  17. November 1, 2011 4:03 pm

    Agellius: One problem with your assessment, it seems to me, is this: capitalism has accomplished these benefits through the systemic employment of a practice God Himself has condemned as sinful- usury. It is abundantly apparent that it was the expansion of credit- via usury- that created the counterfeit prosperity which is now imploding across the world. I think the assessment of the outcome of the adoption of usury as the basis of global economics will best be made once the other shoe drops. It is now dropping.

    • Dan permalink
      November 1, 2011 6:16 pm

      Capitalism and usury are not synonymous. Greed and usury are. The problem is capitalism breeds greed. The dance will continue until humanity learns that greed is not good, and that capitalism makes sense only in the context of the betterment of humanity.

  18. Rodak permalink
    November 1, 2011 4:51 pm

    Agellius–
    I have your opinion. I concede that you are with the majority in this country. But, I’m still waiting for you, or anybody who agrees with you, to support that opinion by quoting from the teachings of Jesus Christ to do so.

    I could easily do that to support my side of the argument. And I think that in your heart, you know quite well that this is true.

    So, just whose lead are you following?

    • Dan permalink
      November 1, 2011 6:20 pm

      I don’t think anyone can safely assert what Jesus’ opinion on macro-economics would be. Jesus’ teachings were meant to inspire a social (r)evolution, and generally independent of the economic framework in which they are to be upheld. Whether capitalism, socialism, or totalitarianism, a society based on love and charity would still usher in the Kingdom of God.

    • November 1, 2011 6:27 pm

      Rodak:

      The only statement of yours that I was endeavoring to refute was this one:

      “The trickle-down inevitably dries-up before it reaches the bottom.”

      • Rodak permalink
        November 2, 2011 7:31 am

        @Agellius
        It would seem that you don’t believe there is a bottom to which the trickle-down does not extend. Tell that to the millions of unemployed that the capitalist system is failing to support, even while other capitalists are endeavoring to legally remove the “safety net” separating those unemployed from homelessness and starvation.

        @Dan
        My contention is that “a society based on love and charity” cannot simultaneously be a capitalist one, since capitalism is fueled by competition, rather than cooperation, and by hoarding, rather than by sharing. The support of my contention is available for all to see in the 24/7 news cycle, and in the history texts.
        I also suggest that socialism does a slightly better job at socializing “love and charity” than does capitalism (despite the scoffing of American know-nothings), but almost every socialist system we have seen to-date has been flawed, and ultimately destroyed, by capitalist interference. So it’s hard to judge socialism’s full potential.

      • Dan permalink
        November 2, 2011 10:22 am

        since capitalism is fueled by competition, rather than cooperation, and by hoarding, rather than by sharing.

        Capitalism, in principle, does not necessitate hoarding. Greed does. Capitalism can exist without greed. It just doesn’t in a society of fallen human beings. Perhaps this is synonymous with your point. But that also implies that socialism would be unlikely to work in a fallen society as well. Capitalism breeds greed and envy, and socialism would breed sloth and gluttony.

        I think the point people are making that the real solution is not an economic system per se, but rather a wholesale change of the human heart. In that event, the economic system is really irrelevant.

  19. Rodak permalink
    November 2, 2011 10:40 am

    @Dan–“capital” is hoarded wealth by definition.

    • Dan permalink
      November 3, 2011 10:46 am

      So when a wealthy investor has 90% of his or her net worth invested as share capital (i.e. creating jobs), is that hoarding?

  20. November 2, 2011 10:46 am

    “The problem is capitalism breeds greed.”

    Oh, is that where greed comes from? ; )

  21. Rodak permalink
    November 2, 2011 10:48 am

    @Dan–True socialism would not breed sloth. It would be more like being in the military, where everybody does his best because his buddy’s life depends on it. In true socialism, where the workers actually did own the means of production, and benefit equally from that production, the same kind of principle would take hold. Every worker would do his best, both because his own livelihood depended on it, and because his fellow workers depended on his to do his best. In fact, workers in the employ of capitalists are much more likely to goof off as much as they can get away with, because their pay is the same whether they work hard, or not. And the other workers don’t care, unless and until they are required to pick up the slack–it doesn’t affect their pay, either. True socialism would not breed gluttony, because there would not be any surplus available to be gluttonized. Again, capitalism creates surplus wealth for a percentage of society that allows them to gluttonize while others do without.

    • Dan permalink
      November 3, 2011 10:49 am

      Communism works great on paper. Show me where in the world it has ever worked in practice.

      I think that’s the point – socialism does work as you say when the human heart is changed. Until then, it’s just as fallible as any other economic system.

    • Dan permalink
      November 3, 2011 10:53 am

      Further to your concept of “true socialism”, there is also “true totalitarianism” – a benevolent dictatorship where the overlords’ actions are exclusively ordered towards the betterment of all their citizens, rather than focusing on their own wealth and power. There is also “true capitalism” where people don’t hoard but invest their surplus into the betterment of society through philanthropy. The ideal of any system is a workable framework for the happiness of all, but that doesn’t mean that all systems are equal in a fallen society.

  22. November 2, 2011 10:49 am

    Dan writes, “I think the point people are making that the real solution is not an economic system per se, but rather a wholesale change of the human heart. In that event, the economic system is really irrelevant.”

    I’m with you one hundred percent.

  23. November 2, 2011 2:55 pm

    I disagree that the system is irrelevant. It is quite clear to me that fallen humanity will not miraculously pull itself up by its semi-Pelagian bootstraps.

    For this reason, the foundational contradiction which lies at the heart of capitalism- usury- is precisely the systemic cause of the present, global debt implosion.

    Not greed, which we will always have with us, and is therefore best constrained by a recovery of the teaching against the single most powerful weapon in the hands of the greedy- usury.

    It will be even much more clear in the coming months.

    • Dan permalink
      November 3, 2011 10:56 am

      I disagree that the system is irrelevant. It is quite clear to me that fallen humanity will not miraculously pull itself up by its semi-Pelagian bootstraps.

      The system is not irrelevant in a fallen society. It only becomes irrelevant if our priorities shift to love and fraternity rather than selfishness and competition.

    • Dan permalink
      November 3, 2011 11:00 am

      For this reason, the foundational contradiction which lies at the heart of capitalism- usury- is precisely the systemic cause of the present, global debt implosion.

      Usury is a weapon of mass destruction. But as with any other weapon, someone needs to wield it. Without greed, there is no usury. Without usury, the problem doesn’t go away; the greedy will find another tool to bludgeon their brothers with.

  24. Rodak permalink
    November 2, 2011 2:56 pm

    @Agellius–

    Perhaps it would be better to say “Capitalism encourages greed” or “Capitalism rewards greed” or “Capitalism makes a virtue of greed” — all of which are true.

    @Dan —

    I disagree. I still maintain that capitalism is antithetical to the “wholesale change of the human heart” of which you speak, and therefore to Christianity; the economic system is relevant.

    • November 2, 2011 6:40 pm

      Rodak writes, “Perhaps it would be better to say “Capitalism encourages greed” or “Capitalism rewards greed” or “Capitalism makes a virtue of greed” — all of which are true.”

      Encourages greed how? By making it easy to make money? Does it also encourage gluttony by making it easy to get food?

      One thing I will definitely agree with is that capitalism encourages lust.

  25. brettsalkeld permalink*
    November 2, 2011 7:12 pm

    I think any system will work better when people are virtuous. I don’t think all systems are equal in terms of encouraging virtue. We need a better system.

  26. Rodak permalink
    November 3, 2011 4:55 am

    “Encourages greed how? By making it easy to make money? Does it also encourage gluttony by making it easy to get food?”

    Yes, precisely by that. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

    • November 3, 2011 12:28 pm

      Rodak writes, “Yes, precisely by that. “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…””

      In that case, we should certainly come up with a system that makes it harder to get food, in order to deliver us from the temptation to gluttony.

  27. Rodak permalink
    November 3, 2011 3:13 pm

    Oh, come on. What we should strive for is a system in which everybody has sufficient access to all of life’s necessities–nutritious food, clothing, housing, health care, and education. Universal sufficiency should be the bottom line.I personally don’t care how rich some people get, so long as nobody is unnecessarily left wanting.
    I also think it’s fin and probably spiritually healthy, for individual persons to decide to live ascetically; but it shouldn’t be forced on anybody.

    • November 3, 2011 4:34 pm

      Rodak writes, “Oh, come on. What we should strive for is a system in which everybody has sufficient access to all of life’s necessities–nutritious food, clothing, housing, health care, and education. Universal sufficiency should be the bottom line.”

      I agree with all that, except that I don’t agree that any “system” will guarantee it. That being said, I think capitalism has come closer to providing those things than any economic system tried so far.

      • Rodak permalink
        November 3, 2011 7:52 pm

        I suggest that you go look for the slums and the hungry children in Denmark, or Sweden. Take your time. Oh, and ask them what they pay for health care and education. Ask them if they need to worry about where they’re going to live. And then ask them if they mind paying the high tax rates they pay.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      November 3, 2011 5:36 pm

      Good philosophy Rodak! And very realistic, and I believe ultimately workable.

  28. November 4, 2011 12:13 am

    Agellius: Let us stipulate to your assertion, that “capitalism has come closer to providing those things than any economic system tried so far.”

    The problem is that it has done so ( I do not believe it has, but we have agreed to stipulate to this) based on a theft of the wealth of future generations. In other words, the prosperity is illusory, is based upon usury’s parasitical extension of credit so as to divert more and more of actual productive wealth into the pockets of the usurers.

    If this analysis is correct, we can expect a global disaster of debt implosion, once the parasite requires more blood than the host can supply.

    We have reached that point.

    It will be even much more clear in the coming months.

    • November 4, 2011 10:56 am

      Rick:

      I hear you, I don’t think I agree.

    • Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
      November 4, 2011 10:58 am

      Rick,

      Your focus on usura makes you sound like Ezra Pound.

      • November 4, 2011 6:04 pm

        Our lack of focus on usura makes us sound like Willy Loman.

      • Rodak permalink
        November 4, 2011 8:17 pm

        Hmm. Since in this context “like Ezra Pound” can only be taken as code for “anti-Semitic,” I would suggest that it is even more “like Ezra Pound” to take criticism of usury as Pound-like.

      • November 4, 2011 11:30 pm

        Ummm……dos this mean that Mr. Fuch’s *wasn’t* alluding to the poetry of my………oh. I see. Never mind………

  29. Rodak permalink
    November 4, 2011 10:06 am

    @Rick DeLano — That’s a beautiful analysis of the situation. It makes it very understandable in terms of current events and their historical precursors.

  30. heryu permalink
    January 12, 2013 9:13 pm

    I think the major problem is the extinction of all the flora and fauna on the planet while we keep multiplying like tribbles. That to me is the main issue. When will we begin to care about wildlife. I really want to be able to see dolphins in the wild and big cats and bears etc..etc..

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  1. Reflections on Population Increase (Part I) « Vox Nova

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