If we keep pop­u­lat­ing, we will per­ish

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That was the title of an “Intel­li­gence Squared” debate I took part in last month–on the affir­ma­tive side. It was broad­cast on ABC TV’s Big Ideas pro­gram last week. The title is a play on a favourite say­ing of Aus­tralian politi­cians back in the country’s “White Aus­tralia” days, and the immi­gra­tion surge it caused iron­i­cally led to Aus­tralia becom­ing one of the world’s most multi-cul­tural nations. You can watch it on the Big Ideas Web­site:


Or on YouTube, below:

If you’d pre­fer to lis­ten rather than watch, here is the audio, down­loaded from the ABC Radio Pro­gram Big Ideas:

Steve Keen’s Debt­watch Pod­cast


My speech, which focuses on the “Human Eco­log­i­cal Foot­print” mea­sure of the impact human­ity has on the bios­phere, starts at the 40:40 mark. Other speak­ers are Aus­tralian busi­ness­man and phil­an­thropist Dick Smith and Aus­tralian Greens Sen­a­tor Larissa Waters (on the affir­ma­tive side), and ex ALP Pre­mier of Queens­land Wayne Goss, Jesuit Priest Father Frank Bren­nan, and psy­chi­a­trist and jour­nal­ist Dr Tan­veer Ahmed (on the oppo­si­tion). Geral­dine Doogue of the ABC chaired the debate.

Though I took a humor­ous approach to the topic, my talk was based on the con­cept of the Human Eco­log­i­cal Foot­print, which is a seri­ous mea­sure of humanity’s impact on the planet–and it asserts that at present we’re using 150% of the biosphere’s sus­tain­able capac­ity.

Australia’s data is also intrigu­ing. As I note in my speech, Aus­tralia is one of just 3 devel­oped nations whose eco­log­i­cal foot­print is below its full capac­ity.

Like the other two countries–Sweden and Canada–the foot­print per per­son has been rel­a­tively con­stant since the 1960s–so the per per­son load on the bios­phere has not risen.

How­ever, unlike Swe­den, Australia’s bio­ca­pac­ity is plung­ing rapidly, so that by 2025, its foot­print will exceed 100% of the continent’s bio­ca­pac­ity. Swe­den, on the other hand, has until 2300 before its foot­print per per­son will exceed its bio­ca­pac­ity. Aus­tralia and Swe­den began the post-WWII period with very sim­i­lar populations–about 7 peo­ple each. Today, Swe­den has about 9 mil­lion while there are about 23 mil­lion Aus­tralians.

The rates of degra­da­tion of bioa­pac­ity have been rel­a­tively con­stant in both coun­tries since 1960 (the ear­li­est date for which data is avail­able), so the dif­fer­ence between the two coun­tries can’t be explained by any more recent phe­nom­e­non, such as Australia’s min­er­als boom. The strong impli­ca­tion is that our ris­ing pop­u­la­tion is a sig­nif­i­cant con­trib­u­tor to our declin­ing eco­log­i­cal capac­ity.

About Steve Keen

I am Professor of Economics and Head of Economics, History and Politics at Kingston University London, and a long time critic of conventional economic thought. As well as attacking mainstream thought in Debunking Economics, I am also developing an alternative dynamic approach to economic modelling. The key issue I am tackling here is the prospect for a debt-deflation on the back of the enormous private debts accumulated globally, and our very low rate of inflation.
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  • elliottwave


    Please read this post as i am not being crit­i­cal of you and your the­o­ries.

    It is noble that you believe that the worlds future is our prob­lem now and that we must deal with this issue and not pass it on to fur­ther gen­er­a­tions.

    But you must under­stand that the one major issue in this world at the moment is some­thing greater than that, the earths great­est chal­lenge at the moment, one that will even­tu­ally starve the world of dig­nity and hon­esty is CORRUPTION

    Cor­rup­tion, be it in gov­ern­ment or cor­po­ra­tions is the sin­gle biggest threat at this moment. It does not mat­ter if we pop­u­late or do not because when the world is morally and eth­i­cally cor­rupt no amount of reg­u­la­tions, the­o­ries or laws will work.

    Look at Soma­lia, Burma, Africa, Europe, USA and the west­ern world every­one of these places and more is cor­rupted by greed.

    If you want to get on your high horse and speak about some­thing that will and can make a dif­fer­ence to soci­ety then speak about cor­rup­tion and how we need to elim­i­nate it from our earth.

    No one has the courage or will power to deal with the real prob­lem in this world.

    It is not cli­mate change, debt or over pop­u­la­tion.

    Noth­ing will ever be achieved in this world until cor­rup­tion is dealt with and that will never hap­pen as it can­not be done.

    This is the main rea­son that i believe so strongly in gold.

    Gold is ris­ing now and into the future because human­ity is slowly los­ing con­fi­dence in gov­ern­ment and ethics.

    Gold is not an infla­tion hedge it is a loss in con­fi­dence in human­ity hedge.

    So when some­one really speaks about the atroc­i­ties in this world that is being done to human­ity, star­va­tion, Wall St loot­ing etc, only then will i lis­ten to them all the rest is just noise that goes in one ear out the other.

    Star­va­tion in Africa is not caused by over pop­u­la­tion it caused by cor­rup­tion, pure and sim­ple.

    Gold is my big FU to the worlds morally cor­rupt lead­ers and their wall st cronies.

    Buy Gold and join in the protest.

  • I cer­tainly am not going to crit­i­cise you for those atti­tudes Elliottwave–I’m more inclined to applaud them in fact.

    I agree cor­rup­tion is a major issue. One of the best peo­ple work­ing actively in that field is Bill Black:


    Bill was the reg­u­la­tor in charge of sort­ing out the Sav­ings and Loans mess, and he went after the fraud­sters with deter­mi­na­tion and bril­liance. He is dis­gusted by the way the much larger Sub­prime fiasco has been han­dled, with not one pros­e­cu­tion out­side Bernie Mad­off.

    So if you want to pur­sue fraud and cor­rup­tion, Bill’s your man.

    As for me, my main focus is another major human prob­lem: delu­sion. Just as cor­rup­tion can lead human­ity into cri­sis, so can fol­low­ing deluded mod­els of how the world works. Con­ven­tional eco­nomic the­ory is such a delu­sion, and attack­ing that and devel­op­ing a real­is­tic alter­na­tive to it is my main pre­oc­cu­pa­tion. Mak­ing pre­dic­tions about the future course of any eco­nomic vari­able (gold included, which as you’ve realised I don’t make pre­dic­tions on) is a deriv­a­tive activ­ity to that.

    I agree that I could instead be work­ing on cor­rup­tion. But one of the few sen­si­ble things in con­ven­tional eco­nomic thought is about the advan­tages of spe­cial­i­sa­tion (actu­ally, Adam Smith was respon­si­ble for that, and it leads to the con­cept of increas­ing returns to scale, which is anath­ema to con­ven­tional eco­nom­ics; but I digress). I don’t have the skills to have much of an impact on cor­rup­tion; Bill does. On the other hand, I do have the skills to cri­tique con­ven­tional eco­nom­ics, and develop an alter­na­tive. So that’s what I do.

    Maybe you and I are not that far apart after all.

  • sj

    Well Elliot­wave first com­ment from you with some real moral fibre should your new user­name be Eliot GOLD Nest ready to fight the mafia Al Capone cor­rup­tion in the world with gold?
    Steve Keen did give you some good advice Bill Black is the man trans­parency and being held account­able is the only way.
    If you really want to fight cor­rup­tion use your money to start a pro­duc­tive busi­ness with real cash­flow that gives employ­ment and higher edu­ca­tion.
    His­tory has proven that a rich well edu­cated small busi­ness coun­try has less cor­rup­tion in the world.
    Coun­tries with hyper­in­fla­tion and high unem­ploy­ment become cen­trally planned and war like.
    Many exam­ples Hitler and Stalin hated the small busi­ness­man, because he was self reliant and was not fooled by the cor­rup­tion and power games.
    Invest in higher pro­duc­tive edu­ca­tion, inno­va­tion and small busi­ness not GOLD!

  • Lyon­wiss

    Steve Keen August 27, 2011 at 11:18 am

    Here is a sug­ges­tion for what to do about cor­rup­tion: not to change the world imme­di­ately, but to under­stand the world, before you can change it with con­fi­dence.

    If you accept that cor­rup­tion has a sig­nif­i­cant impact on the real econ­omy, then it has to be incor­po­rated into eco­nomic mod­els as a para­me­ter. For exam­ple, Key­ne­sian eco­nomic stim­u­lus recently has not been going into places where eco­nomic the­ory assumes e.g. real busi­ness and employ­ment.

    If you look at the data for CPI (Cor­rup­tion Per­cep­tion Index):


    CPI appears (with­out ver­i­fi­ca­tion) to be sig­nif­i­cantly cor­re­lated with polit­i­cal sta­bil­ity and eco­nomic per­for­mance. The hypoth­e­sis then is that greater the cor­rup­tion, the less effec­tive the gov­ern­ment or the mar­ket, lead­ing to lower eco­nomic effi­ciency.

    Effec­tively, I sug­gest finan­cial­iza­tion of recent decades has increased the lev­els of cor­rup­tion in devel­oped coun­tries. A macro­eco­nomic model should have a cor­rup­tion para­me­ter which adjusts for the rel­a­tive effi­cien­cies of gov­ern­ment spend­ing, invest­ment, etc.

  • MH

    Steve we are in over­shoot for many many rea­sons and most of them are unpleas­ant for many to think about or con­sider for to do so means you have to ques­tions a great many delu­sional ideas that have given rise to the world as we know it. I think Charles Daley has done the sem­i­nal eco­nomic the­o­ret­i­cal work on this and at least has been pre­pared to tackle the PPF enigma that has been hid­den from view not least from the delu­sion that growth is end­less (the magic pud­ding syn­drome) and that you don’t have to worry about the costs of our mod­ern mir­a­cles (con­vieni­ant but merely uncal­cu­la­ble exter­nal­i­ties Fried­man espoused). Had we had a GPI mea­sure instead of the accoun­tants GDP we may have come to some dif­fer­net con­clu­sions about where we as a species have been head­ing a long time ago. Seems we are about to dis­cover that the prob­lems we thought were solved and hence dismissed,Malthus about pop­u­la­tion, Marx about the dis­tri­b­u­tion of wealth, Keynes about unem­ploy­ment and these spec­tres from the past are now all arriv­ing in a grand con­flu­ence of time and his­tory. The strange thing is the way the issues and bad data which rep­re­sents; cli­mate change, nat­ural resource deple­tion and pop­u­la­tion growth con­verge at a turn­ing point roughly in time between 1975 and 1980 is fas­ci­nat­ing but now unstop­pable.

    I believe Australia’s resource deple­tion and bio­ca­pac­ity reduc­tion is per­haps worse than the data you sourced sug­gests and we may arrive at the cross over point much ear­lier than we antic­i­pate. I have been devel­op­ing an organic sus­tain­able farm in NSW and it gets harder and harder to plan or work out what the weather is doing, throw in the devel­op­ing dis­tor­tions of cur­rency appre­ci­a­tion and untem­pered polit­i­cal sup­port for min­ing and gas explo­ration (yeah I know its energy stu­pid) and it appears to start to look like the rush of lem­mings to extinctin. Hard to tell what is dri­ving what; chang­ing weather, a deplet­ing nat­ural resource base or pop­u­la­tion, but it is like the debt issued that neo­clas­si­cal econ­o­mists have stead­fastly refused to even con­sider, until you count the exter­natil­i­ties, mea­sure the PPF and actu­ally con­sider the costs of our cur­rent way of life then we will fail to change any­thing. We just can­not see that we are a liv­ing organ­ism con­nected to all other liv­ing organ­isms and the earth which we all share and the intel­lec­tual bank­ruptcy of the elites and techocrats world wide is is all quite depress­ing actu­ally. Nobody appears to want to lis­ten to thinkers such as; your­self, Pro­fes­sor Jared Dia­mond, James Love­lock, Charles Daly or David Suzuki, any­body from the CSIRO to name a few. We are now in my hum­ble view enter­ing a phase of com­pres­sive con­trac­tion and year by year more severe and devs­tat­ing nat­ural events which will in time be worse than the Great Depres­sion and from which none of the delu­sional views of the past will pre­pare us or help us.

  • @ Aac August 27, 2011 at 1:50 am | #

    So basi­cally, unless a new Physics comes along (ie. like hop­ing for Car­bon Cap­ture and Stor­age to work) Earth is home.”

    The State of our Sci­ences today, must be equated to “New­ton­ian Sleep” still how­ever many light years ahead of Eco­nom­ics which remains in the Stone Age.

    Cel­lu­lar Biol­ogy or Epi­ge­net­ics is light years ahead together with plasma physics, and com­mu­nica­tive elec­tron­ics.

    Tech­no­log­i­cal advances are also mega light years in from and still accel­er­at­ing.

    The advances in algo­rithm pro­duc­tion or cre­ation promises a totally new type of soci­etal struc­ture which should lead us to “stuff” pro­duc­tion includ­ing food, drinks and med­i­cines, etc. I posted here just what 3D copy­ing can now pro­duce.

    What is needed is to jerk Eco­nom­ics into the future as a sci­ence and do it as a tool of Gov­er­nance and not a whip­ping boy for the finance indus­tries and banks.

    I’ am with Alan Greasley but even on a much shorter time span of 100 years. The great inhibitor here is the energy burn in get­ting off the sur­face and past the ionos­phere, but there is a lot of promis­ing work being done for anti-grav­ity and it may not be that long.

    Of course, the first to break through bet­ter get off the planet quick before the mani­acs of the war empire find him.

    Home is where the head lays.

    @ Steve Keen

    … but 5.5 bil­lion years, at around which time, all life in this solar sys­tem will end.”

    What do you base this state­ment on please?

  • Agreed MH; one lit­tle tit­bit I noted dur­ing the dis­cus­sion at the debate was that soil sci­en­tists have told me that, at cur­rent rates of deple­tion, global top­soil will run out in less than 50 years.

    Of course there will still be some–patches like yours I expect–but the trend is, as usual, unsus­tain­able.

  • On the stan­dard model of star evo­lu­tion PJ, which sees our Sun as a stan­dard star about half way through its evo­lu­tion to a Red Dwarf.

  • Lyon­wiss

    Peter­jbolton August 27, 2011 at 3:45 pm
    Steve Keen August 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm



  • koonyeow


    Steve said:

    On the stan­dard model of star evo­lu­tion PJ, which sees our Sun as a stan­dard star about half way through its evo­lu­tion to a Red Dwarf.”

    Yes, Steve. It is nuclear physics in action.

    I am still trapped in my obses­sion with banks’ bal­ance sheet even after run­ning QED. I know the results of the QED are cor­rect. I will self-reflect where my trap is.


    Humans are after all an expres­sion of mind­less Self­ish Genes. The com­mon behav­iour of all genes is repli­ca­tion (increase in num­ber).

    Humans are a lucky species with brains that are able to use tech­nolo­gies to slow down or stop the repli­ca­tion of human genes.

    Steve was truth­ful when he para­phrased humans as clever mon­keys dur­ing the debate. I sus­pect that he might have offended a lot of peo­ple by call­ing humans clever mon­keys. I called Steve a Cas­san­dra in my very first com­ment because many peo­ple do not believe him even when his insights are very close to real­ity.

    It remains to be seen the out­come of the tug of war between our brains and our genes (or between our clev­er­ness and our mon­key­ness).

    I may sound pes­simistic, but I am just com­ment­ing as a real­ist.

  • Lyon­wiss

    Steve Keen August 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Also the evo­lu­tion­ary sequence of our sun is:

    Red giant -> White dwarf -> Black dwarf


  • @ Steve Keen August 27, 2011 at 4:04 pm | #

    On the stan­dard model of star evo­lu­tion PJ, which sees our Sun as a stan­dard star about half way through its evo­lu­tion to a Red Dwarf.”

    Thanks, but 5.5 bil­lion years +/-? That is of rea­son­able accep­tance.

    How­ever, there is fairly sub­stan­tial evi­dence that life on Earth formed in the atmos­phere of a Red Planet,where the milieu of a Red Planet is more con­ducive to life than our Planet Earth. Of course, this is of the Elec­tric Uni­verse arena which is the work of Wal Thorn­hill pri­mar­ily, but there many oth­ers. I have been read­ing this for 20 over years and in terms of com­par­a­tive analo­gies — The EU “Theory“produces more multi-con­tex­tual sci­en­tific cat­e­gories in pre­ci­sion than any of the accepted astro­nom­i­cal the­o­ries of the nuclear fusion suns, black holes, dark mat­ter, string the­ory, neu­tron star pro­tag­o­nists.

    It is inter­est­ing that you are in the same sit­u­a­tion as Wal, where­upon nei­ther of you are totally accepted and embraced by the main­stream, yet your work has much cred­able sup­port­ing evi­dence. The fact is, you are both a threat to your own estab­lish­ments and it was not so long ago, that you both would have been burnt at the stake for being Heretics.

    Elec­tric Uni­verse: http://www.holoscience.com/

    Plas­maU­ni­verse: Tony Per­ratt http://plasmauniverse.info/

    Thun­der­bolts: http://thunderbolts.info/tpod/00current.htm

    Cel­lu­lar Biol­ogy: http://www.brucelipton.com/

    Indeed: Glob­ally, top­soil is a prob­lem, but remem­ber, we humans appear to always go to the edge.

  • Tom Shaw

    @Steve Keen August 27, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Why do you think MH’s top­soil is more likely to sur­vive than any­one else’s? The no-till farm­ing prac­tices that pre­serve top­soil are gen­er­ally enabled by increased pes­ti­cide use, i.e. they’re not exactly organic. I’d be inter­ested to know exactly how MH is deal­ing with this issue.

  • Tom Shaw

    Cor­rec­tion: increased her­bi­cide use

  • Tom Shaw

    The broader point is that there seems to be a polit­i­cal and social alliance between the Lim­its to Growth spruik­ers and the envi­ron­men­tal­ists that really makes no sense.

    One warns of top­soil degra­da­tion; the other agi­tates against the chem­i­cals that enable no-till farm­ing. One warns of run­ning out of hectares of pro­duc­tive land; the other attacks the GM research that could improve yield per hectare, and pro­motes bio­fu­els that can­ni­bal­ize farm­land. One warns of a lack of fresh water; the other blocks the devel­op­ment of dams to catch rain before it runs to the sea. One warns of lim­its to fos­sil fuels; the other ral­lies against nuclear power, the only exist­ing base­load power alter­na­tive. One warns about pop­u­la­tion growth; the other pro­motes anti-indus­tri­al­iza­tion poli­cies which would dis­rupt the vir­tu­ous cycle of eco­nomic growth, edu­ca­tion and pop­u­la­tion sta­bi­liza­tion.

    Given these con­tra­dic­tions, I strug­gle to under­stand why the two groups are aligned. How­ever, I think the answer is in Steve’s speech: refer­ring to human beings as “bipedal mon­keys.” The com­mon thread of envi­ron­men­tal­ists and Lim­its-to-Growth types is this anti-human atti­tude that sees human­ity and civ­i­liza­tion as an out-of-con­trol dis­ease on an oth­er­wise pris­tine planet.

    Well I dis­agree. I’m not a reli­gious man but I do see human life, dig­nity, and intel­li­gence and civ­i­liza­tion as far more than mere “bipedal mon­keys.”

    To the extent that there are lim­its to growth (and I agree that there are real con­straints), they should be resolved one-by-one with the fore­sight and inge­nu­ity that make us unique, and I applaud events like this where they focus atten­tion on real issues.

    How­ever, I totally dis­agree with hand-wav­ing about vague fig­ures like a per-capita bio­ca­pac­ity “index”, with the impli­ca­tion that the only solu­tion is to force a reduc­tion in pop­u­la­tion. This is a repul­sive, total­i­tar­ian approach, and to the extent that it delays the vir­tu­ous cycle described above, com­pletely coun­ter­pro­duc­tive.

  • elliottwave

    Please watch the fol­low­ing video which is why Dylan Rati­gan is not on CNBC.

    My sen­ti­ments exactly.

    Cor­rup­tion is the dis­ease.

    Gold is the cure


  • MMitchell

    Some peo­ple might be inter­est in this recorded talk:

    The Chal­lenge of Man­ag­ing Change — Garry McDouall


    This is an intro­duc­tion to his topic “The imper­a­tive for change — food, fuel and finance; devel­op­ing key prin­ci­ples for regen­er­a­tive agri­cul­ture”.
    An assess­ment of the things likely to impact on agri­cul­ture over the next 10–20 years indi­cates that we’re enter­ing a period of extra­or­di­nary change. Meet­ing the chal­lenges of the future will require a change in mind­set from one of being threat­ened to one of act­ing on oppor­tu­ni­ties.

    Garry is a grad­u­ate of the Rural Profit Sys­tem and a very expe­ri­enced prac­ti­tioner of the holis­tic farm­ing prac­tices rec­om­mended by RCS. Garry is a teacher of all graz­ing pro­grams with RCS.

  • MMitchell

    Tom Shaw
    August 27, 2011

    I don’t think it is nece­sary to use chem­i­cals for no-till farm­ing. See Peter Andrew’s book “Back from the Brink” where he talks about the no-till tech­niques farm­ers used to use, which have been lost in mod­ern agri­cul­ture. OR even more rel­e­vant the work by Chris­tine Jones in rela­tion to this: http://www.amazingcarbon.com/

    She also appeared on ABC’s Land­line recently, there you can see footage of the prac­tices.

  • MMitchell

    Tom Shaw
    August 27, 2011

    PS: Sorry to harp on, but Peter Andrews also crit­i­cises dams as being inef­fi­cient and con­tribut­ing to salin­ity prob­lems. I think he actu­ally is highly under­rated, per­haps because of his lack of for­mal qual­i­fi­ca­tions, but he is a very astute guy.