Demographic Doom
Why the World is Falling Apart

A Book and Website Project by Glenn Campbell

  On this website: Main Page · Sample Chapters · Key Points · Manuscript · Newsfeed · References · Essays & Videos · Prehistory · Timeline · Glenn Campbell  

Bad times are coming to Planet Earth, and there is little we can do to stop them.
Low birth rates will trigger political chaos and a brutal economic collapse.
Debt systems will implode; worldwide economic growth will end,
and governments will have to live within their means.
...and then things will really get bad.

If you were an alien approaching Earth, the first questions you might ask are:
  • What is the dominant life form?
  • How many of them are there?
  • How do they reproduce?
  • Where is their population headed?
If you scanned Earth now, you would see that humans control the planet; they reproduce sexually, and there are about 8 billion of them. If you looked closer, however, you would see these creatures are in deep trouble. While humans continue to reproduce, they are doing it haphazardly, and they are failing their children in significant ways.

Among other things, they are not producing enough offspring to maintain their civilization. The humans that remain are getting statistically older, and there are fewer young people to support them. With fewer people working and paying taxes, heavily indebted governments will go even deeper into hock until widespread default is inevitable.

And those are only the short term effects. In the long term, there are serious problems with the distribution of talent on Planet Earth and the quality of human reproduction. These are complicated issues, which is why I need to write a book and assemble a multi-page website. My conclusion: Thanks to demographic imbalances, civilization is due for collapse.

Our demographic crisis will become acute within the next decade with a massive economic crisis I call the Great Reversal. The world must readjust itself from population-fueled growth to permanent contraction. Unable to support any additional debt, big governments like the United States will collapse. It may not mean the end of our species, but we will be forced to dramatically restructure ourselves. Power will shift to local fiefdoms, like Europe after the Fall of Rome.

Skeptical? Let me try to convince you. To learn more about our Demographic Doom, read the draft manuscript (under construction) or browse the links below.

Explore This Website

Sample Chapters (below) - The first two chapters of the book
Full Manuscript (pdf) - The full uncompleted manuscript following the latest revisions
(See below for more info and Revision History for latest changes.)
Structured References - Selected news articles and other references on demography and economic collapse, arranged by subject.
Newsfeed (via Twitter) - Relevant news articles and references as I find them, updated almost every day.
Prehistoric Essays & Videos - Earlier essays and videos on demographic issues, not necessarily consistent with my current views.
Facebook Page - Production notes and a few selected references. Not updated as often as Twitter.
Glenn Campbell's Main Website - Links to all of his works and data.
Revision Log - Timeline of changes to the manuscript and this website.

The Manuscript


Bad times are coming to Planet Earth, and there is little we can do to stop them. You may already be worried about climate change, drug-resistant disease, nuclear proliferation, killer asteroids and the decline of global democracy, but they are not the worst news. The really bad stuff is demographic, meaning it involves human populations and how they evolve over time.

The 1960s gave us the population explosion, the idea that the growing number of humans on Earth is far outstripping our natural resources. It was a simple concept everyone could believe in, but it was obsolete from the time it was conceived. Apart from a few isolated Third World countries, the overpopulation threat has largely passed, thanks to two other products of the 60s: birth control and women’s liberation. Today, most countries are closer to a population implosion, where births are insufficient to replace deaths. While reducing births was relatively easy, encouraging people to have more children seems nearly impossible, at least within current government structures.

Our demographic problems today are not simply a matter of explosion or implosion. Simultaneously, we are suffering from too many children, not enough of them and not the right kind. When the children grow up, they are not staying where they were born but are migrating to places where they can get the best deal. Meanwhile, the babies that are born are not optimally distributed. Today, poorly equipped parents are producing the most offspring, while the better educated and most materially successful are sitting on the sidelines.

All of these processes, taken together, are propelling us into a set of economic and political disasters I call Demographic Doom. Thanks to population changes over the past half century, everything is falling apart simultaneously: economics, politics, infrastructure and human capital. It is like Earth being hit by an asteroid, except this crisis is entirely internal, caused solely by births, deaths and migration.

Our impending storm is the product of two innovations in the 20th Century that seemed good at the time but that have turned out to be highly disruptive. One was the development of modern medicine, which began to seriously save lives only after World War One. The dramatic reduction in child mortality had the unfortunate effect of triggering a global population explosion. The other innovation was the legalization of the birth control pill in the 1960s. This set us up for a population implosion. It also changed the profile of who was having children. Young women with big plans put off childbearing until later in their lives, while those with fewer prospects had children right away.

Only a handful of Third World countries, mainly in Africa, are still experiencing a population explosion, with 5 or more babies born to an average woman. Most other countries are on the verge of a population implosion, where not enough children are being produced to sustain the local workforce. This happens when the number of babies produced by an average woman falls below replacement fertility, usually defined in developed countries as 2.1 live births per female. (She needs to produce two babies because men can’t do it, and the 0.1 is a correction factor in case her kids don’t live to reproductive age.) If fertility in your country lingers below 2.1 and you don’t make up the difference through immigration, eventually your population will shrink.

So what’s the big deal? It is hard to deny that the planet as a whole is overpopulated, so who could object to bringing down our numbers?

That’s where things get complicated. While we can rationally argue that the planet would be better off with five billion people than eight, there is no painless way to get there. Our current world economy is built on the assumption of unlimited population growth. If growth slows and reverses, government debts will become untenable, and many of the services and industries we have built our lives on will fail. For example, if population is falling, there is little need for a construction industry, because there are already enough homes and offices for everyone. If governments can no longer borrow money and their tax revenues drop, they could collapse. Chaos will rule our society, much like a state of war, until we build new institutions to replace the ones that failed.

1. Population Change

For decades, we have been told that population growth is out of control, and our senses often seem to confirm this. If you live in a big city, the traffic seems to get worse every year, and if you look at global statistics, population continues to climb, from 2 billion a century ago to 8 billion at the time of this writing to an inevitable 9 and 10 billion a few years from now.

What may not be obvious is the simultaneous slow-motion collapse of national populations in the developed world. You may not be aware of population loss in your country because it isn’t happening homogeneously. Rural areas are fading faster than cities as young people move to where the best opportunities are. Popular tourist destinations continue to be popular while places you would never think to visit are rapidly declining. Our senses are confounded by sampling bias, where population seems high because we have already chosen to live in a high population area. Conversely, if a rural town were to lose most of its citizens, we might never know about it, because there would be few people left to lament the change.

Population problems are analogous to climate change. It is easy to confuse climate and weather. When you see the traffic get worse in your city, it doesn’t necessarily mean the population of your whole country is growing. This is like saying, “Global warming can’t be real because this week’s weather has been so cold.” As peripheral regions become less viable, it encourages a mass exodus to the central regions. This is how Tokyo’s population can continue to grow even as Japan as a whole is shrinking.

The term “global warming” is now deprecated by scientists because it isn’t as simple as that. While the planet as a whole is getting warmer, some regions could actually become colder as established wind and ocean patterns are disrupted. Deserts could become tropical rainforests and vice-versa. “Climate change” is a better name for the whole package.

Likewise, it is inaccurate to say the planet is suffering from either a population explosion or implosion. It is better to use the term population change. This doesn’t mean that the situation is any less dire, but the factors are complicated, and specific regions may be affected differently.

Japan is suffering from a population implosion, as its population falls by hundreds of thousands each year. China will eventually follow, thanks to its overly successful and essentially irreversible One-Child Policy. Singapore, on the other hand, has an escape mechanism. It has endured even lower birth rates, but its losses are mitigated by immigration, which neither Japan nor China are open to. Meanwhile, some countries in Eastern Europe are suffering the double hit of low birth rates and a loss of young talent to Western Europe. In certain countries of Africa, the population is still exploding, but fertility in a few others has fallen nearly to replacement levels. There is no label that fits every country. The only thing certain is that nearly every nation is facing a demographic crisis of some kind.

Like climate change, population change will be highly disruptive. It will be the economic equivalent of whole cities vanishing below the sea. In the long term, humanity will probably find ways to adapt. Later in this book I will talk about the long-term ways humanity can save itself. It is clear, however, that a near-term disaster is unavoidable. When the size of the workforce shrinks relative to the number of old people, there are bound to be serious economic repercussions.

Humanity will survive, but it will require a radical restructuring of society. Raising children must be seen as a community undertaking, not the sole responsibility of one couple. This is so far removed from our current model of child rearing that it won’t happen overnight and probably not within current government structures. Traditional governments exert control mainly by forcing people to not do things, punishing them if they do. Governments aren’t very good at encouraging people to do things that aren’t in their personal best interest, like having more babies. To make this happen, people need more motivation than any government can supply.

Before humanity can rejuvenate itself, there has to be a lot of pain. Due to rapidly ageing populations, economies will crash and big governments will be weakened and may collapse altogether. In this book, I will show you why catastrophe is unavoidable. In hard times, people tend to have even fewer children, until your country is left with none but the old, incapable of having children at all.

Pain is necessary because only when pushed to the wall will people make the radical chances necessary to preserve their species. They will gather together in small groups and ask themselves, “What do we need to do to make more and better children?”

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