21 votes

How did we reach 7 billion people without informing/educating all about how we really live?

[M/29/small town India, English isn't my first language]

I'll admit to being what is called a country bumpkin. The education I received was lacking in many ways, I wasn't taught about the real world, I never really thought about how the food on my plate was grown or how we plunder the living world for resources etc.

My question is, how did humanity reach 7 billion plus people without even paying a thought about educating the kids properly.

There is a bitter irony to the fact that we have all been convinced to use the word "growth" to describe what is ultimately a process of depletion and breakdown. tweet

If we are depleting the earth of all resources, how will coming generations live?

But if we don't grow, how can we progress?

Edit: Why can't we have good quality education for everyone and good quality healthcare for everyone on this planet?

22 comments

  1. [11]
    skybrian
    Link
    Although economic growth isn't everything and inequality is a big issue, I think I can make a case for caring about growth: I think most people would say that, other things being equal, a rich...

    Although economic growth isn't everything and inequality is a big issue, I think I can make a case for caring about growth:

    I think most people would say that, other things being equal, a rich country is better off than a poor country? Many Asian countries are much better off now than they used to be. And economic growth does track countries becoming richer pretty well. If a poor country becomes rich, it matters a lot. And so, economists study why some countries become rich and others don't. (There are still many mysteries, though.)

    Although economic growth often does result in more resource usage, this isn't strictly necessary. There is also a lot that a country can do to make the most of what they have, rather than squandering it. Less waste usually does result in economic growth.

    A big problem with talking about economic growth, though, is that it's an abstraction. It's often hard to see how the numbers relate to how people live.

    7 votes
    1. [10]
      entangledamplitude
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      It seems to me like these standard economic theory statements are full of vague platitudes and abstract truisms, with little contact to reality. Your reply is full of common tropes in economics,...

      It seems to me like these standard economic theory statements are full of vague platitudes and abstract truisms, with little contact to reality. Your reply is full of common tropes in economics, so shall we dig into some of those claims?

      other things being equal, a rich country is better off than a poor country?

      Okay, but other things are almost never equal, and aspects like resource depletion become “externalities” (translation: somebody else’s problem)

      Although economic growth often does result in more resource usage, this isn't strictly necessary.

      Are there any examples where significant (non-illusory) economic growth has been achieved with decreasing resource consumption?


      EDIT: Economic theory has the tendency to make asinine assumptions, and then cry "but nobody could have foreseen" or "black swan" when one of those breaks down and we have systemic crises.

      7 votes
      1. [9]
        skybrian
        Link Parent
        I share your skepticism of economic theory. But are you still curious about why some countries become rich? It seems important. I don't think it's a good idea to jump to the conclusion that it's...

        I share your skepticism of economic theory. But are you still curious about why some countries become rich? It seems important.

        I don't think it's a good idea to jump to the conclusion that it's all through destroying the environment. This is placing emphasis on one factor among many other things that also increase in wealth. And if we're going to get any good at protecting the environment, we'd better hope there are alternatives, and look into them?

        It might be that "why do some countries become rich" is itself too broad and abstract a question, and we should instead study the histories of individual countries.

        Are there any examples where significant (non-illusory) economic growth has been achieved with decreasing resource consumption?

        Not at the scale of countries, but certainly there are lots of inventions have changed the world by making it considerably more efficient to do the same thing. A good example is the cost of lighting. Another is the cost of clothing. So it seems at least theoretically possible.

        Part of the problem is that when something becomes dramatically cheaper, usually we get a lot more use of it. I'm not sure what to do about that other than artificially raise prices, which tends to be unpopular.

        To be clear I am in favor of higher prices (for example, a carbon tax) along with universal basic income.

        3 votes
        1. [8]
          vord
          Link Parent
          Broadly speaking, the richer ones that got head starts by colonizing other areas, killing native people, and extracting their resources are the richest ones today (at least insofar as the empires...

          It might be that "why do some countries become rich" is itself too broad and abstract a question, and we should instead study the histories of individual countries.

          Broadly speaking, the richer ones that got head starts by colonizing other areas, killing native people, and extracting their resources are the richest ones today (at least insofar as the empires that were formed still remain). The poorer ones were/are the targets.

          Where do all resources come from? Ultimately the Earth, Sea, and Sun. The richest countries extract resources from other areas, keep the good, and export the bad.

          1 vote
          1. [7]
            skybrian
            Link Parent
            While it's true that colonization was an important part of many countries' histories, this is why I talked about Asian countries that became rich recently. Take South Korea. In 1960, a few years...

            While it's true that colonization was an important part of many countries' histories, this is why I talked about Asian countries that became rich recently.

            Take South Korea. In 1960, a few years after the Korean War, per-capita GDP was less than $100. Essentially all economic growth happened since then. It doesn't seem like colonization had much to do with this gain? (Although, Korea suffered from Japan's colonization during World War II.)

            Please put your preconceptions aside. This is an important question and deserves better than stock answers.

            1 vote
            1. entangledamplitude
              Link Parent
              Since you mentioned Korea as an example, one of my favorite economics authors is Ha-joon Chang, who has written about this, and other examples of how nations develop, along with a fairly...

              Since you mentioned Korea as an example, one of my favorite economics authors is Ha-joon Chang, who has written about this, and other examples of how nations develop, along with a fairly level-headed take on the strengths and weaknesses of both capitalism and economic theory.

              5 votes
            2. [5]
              vord
              Link Parent
              It is, and I stand by my point. Given your example of South Korea, you example only holds up within the context of post-Korean war. Look at the history of Korea. Some highlights: The Korean...

              This is an important question and deserves better than stock answers.

              It is, and I stand by my point. Given your example of South Korea, you example only holds up within the context of post-Korean war. Look at the history of Korea.

              Some highlights:

              • The Korean penninsula was, for the majority of history, not a tiny country, but part of a larger whole.
              • It was conqoured, divided, and re-unified many times over the course of centuries.
              • Eventually, after repelling Japanese invaders Korea became isolationist, and didn't modernize, thus had to sign unequal treaties with...Imperialist nations.
              • Post-WW2, The Soviets and the USA (major imperialist powers) divided Korea into North and South.
              • The Korean War started as an attempt to re-unify the country which turned into a proxy war between the Soviets and the USA.
              • At the end of the war, both Koreas were under strict military control, and eventually South Korea was liberated.

              It was only then, after decades of strife and Imperialist intervention, that South Korea was able to build itself up.

              If anything South Korea is a shining example of what I was talking about. For a long time they were a victim of the Imperialist powers, and it wasn't until they were out from under their thumb that they began to make their own economic progress again.

              The USA is the biggest example of modern Imperialism. We have the largest military in the world. We're constantly meddling in the affairs of other nations, especially if they threaten the petro-dollar or otherwise don't follow our wishes.

              3 votes
              1. [4]
                skybrian
                Link Parent
                Yes, South Korea suffered a lot from colonization, but the point is that they didn't become rich by exploiting other countries.

                Yes, South Korea suffered a lot from colonization, but the point is that they didn't become rich by exploiting other countries.

                2 votes
                1. [3]
                  vord
                  Link Parent
                  Let's say for example, I have a country, and my economy builds up as a result of exclusively importing resources from the USA, manufacturing goods and exporting goods exclusively to the USA. And...

                  Let's say for example, I have a country, and my economy builds up as a result of exclusively importing resources from the USA, manufacturing goods and exporting goods exclusively to the USA. And the USA is obtaining those resources by performing coups to instill leaders that provide USA with the lowest prices on those resources. That kind of makes my country implicit in the imperialism the USA does, as without them I wouldn't be able to build my economy to the same degree.

                  Think of imperialism as a pyramid. The highest point of that pyramid is the 5 countries that directly and heavily engaged in imperialist behaviors for a very long time, if not continuing to do so. Those top 5 countries (USA, China, Japan, Germany, UK) represent ~26% of the world population, but have over 50% of the global GDP. The next 15 are ~33% of the world population, with 16.1% of the global GDP. The remaining ~40% of the world population share 21.2% of the global GDP.

                  Looks a lot like the same kind of wealth inequality present in the USA doesn't it? 'Capitalist growth raises everybody up' is founded on the same bullshit logic as 'trickle-down economics.'

                  1 vote
                  1. [2]
                    skybrian
                    (edited )
                    Link Parent
                    Your example sounds like a classic pattern of colonization, for example, growing cotton in India for the British Empire, where India was not allowed to have its own textile mills. It doesn't sound...

                    Your example sounds like a classic pattern of colonization, for example, growing cotton in India for the British Empire, where India was not allowed to have its own textile mills.

                    It doesn't sound much like South Korea, though? They are doing high-value manufacturing. They can buy raw materials from whoever they like and move into whatever industry they like.

                    Japan is another interesting example. For a time, they were obviously colonialist exploiters (in China, Korea, and so on), and that didn't work out very well at all for them. After World War II, with the country in ruins, they abandoned colonialism and made out pretty well.

                    It seems like you're trying to explain all world history with a single theory rather than seeing diversity and changes in strategy. My thumbnail descriptions shouldn't be confused with real history either, since it tends to get more complex the deeper you dig. I can at least gesture in the direction of complexity, though.

                    2 votes
                    1. vord
                      Link Parent
                      Check out this site...you can drill down into various imports and exports for every country. https://oec.world/en/profile/country/kor/ The general theory I've kinda laid out along the lines of...

                      It seems like you're trying to explain all world history into a single theory rather than seeing diversity and changes in strategy.

                      Check out this site...you can drill down into various imports and exports for every country. https://oec.world/en/profile/country/kor/

                      The general theory I've kinda laid out along the lines of 'Strong economic growth is only accomplished by being an Imperialist power or serving their needs.'

                      Much like Newton's Law's of motion, they aren't applicable to every situation. But it's a useful approximation in general. They're also not solely my ideas, just kind of the rough amalgamation of the dozens of sources I've consumed over the years.

                      I forget many of these sources, but the one I most frequently find myself returning to is Paul Cockshott, an economist and computer scientist.

                      2 votes
  2. [3]
    emdash
    (edited )
    Link
    I do maintain that the current population level Earth is maintaining is not even close to sustainable—rapid catastrophic climate change is proof of that. It doesn't matter that we have so much...

    I do maintain that the current population level Earth is maintaining is not even close to sustainable—rapid catastrophic climate change is proof of that. It doesn't matter that we have so much food waste that we could feed everybody, if there's enough land, etc etc, contrary to a certain popular Kurzgesagt video, right now the plain truth of the matter is that 7 billion people do not fit on this planet according to our current societal life styles and economic outlooks—where growth is a requirement.

    It appears most of the time a prerequisite to population growth is in fact, a lack of education. Countries with poorer socio-economic outcomes, higher rates of mortality, lower rates of education, and so forth consistently have higher birth rates. And in that lies proof of "progress" without growth: many western countries have a burgeoning, university-educated population, and near-replacement or even in some cases, sub-replacement birth rates. Boom, right there, progress without growth.

    Progress simply isn't bigger numbers, more people, or more money. We should look at self-fulfilment, quality of life, and the outcomes we value as definitions of how we're doing as a species. Then work backwards and make those processes that enable that more efficient, sustainable, and better for the planet. Part of that is going to be trending towards a post-scarcity economy that is highly efficient and green, obfuscates hypercapitalistic tendencies amongst its population, and encourages 1 or 2 children per woman—no more.

    A big issue right now is humans consume vastly too much land—to the point where we are outcompeting the remainder of the world's species, destroying soil quality, and causing an extinction event on par with geological global catastrophes like the K-T event. So either we all need to use less land (for food, for housing), or we need less people. The answer is, sadly, probably both.

    7 votes
    1. archevel
      Link Parent
      I was largely of the same opinion, but I do think there are some technological glimmers of hope. Someone recently posted about Solar Foods which essentially seem to be creating food generated from...

      I was largely of the same opinion, but I do think there are some technological glimmers of hope. Someone recently posted about Solar Foods which essentially seem to be creating food generated from gene modified bacteria. That brought me sooo much hope. The land usage for their tech is vastly less than regular farming so I think there is some hope of being able to sustain a multi billion population whilst still having less of a environmental impact than we have today.

      As for the education level in the world we are doing a lot better than we used to. Literacy is higher than ever, and sure we can probably do even better, but changes do take time...

      3 votes
    2. [2]
      Comment deleted by author
      Link Parent
      1. emdash
        Link Parent
        Sure, in a vacuum where we ignore the crushing weight that many humans would impose on the planet's ecology and biodiversity, not even from the resources required for food production, but the mere...

        Sure, in a vacuum where we ignore the crushing weight that many humans would impose on the planet's ecology and biodiversity, not even from the resources required for food production, but the mere land use that trillions of people would need to live on.

        Even if you conservatively take "trillions" to mean 2 trillion people, the smallest possible interpretation of that word, considering Earth's surface area is 150,000,000km2, that's 133,000 people per square kilometre, over every inch of the Earth—national parks, Antarctica, mountains. That's 17.5x the density of Singapore, covering the entire planet's land area

        That's not progress. That's some weird form of dystopic, global human (not to mention, planetary) suffering. Maybe I speak for myself, but I kind of like open space and being able to get away from other people, if I please.

        That's why I hate all the nonsensical discussion around feeding billions or trillions with absolute perfection of cutting edge technologies. It ignores everything else on the planet—literally—to make a point.

        I therefore would summarily call Peter Joseph an idiot.

        7 votes
  3. [3]
    vord
    Link
    I'll see if I can find the source later, but one major factor has been a perpetually growing food supply. It's one of those self-regulating systems...A population generally can't outgrow it's food...

    I'll see if I can find the source later, but one major factor has been a perpetually growing food supply.

    It's one of those self-regulating systems...A population generally can't outgrow it's food supply. We've figured out how to drastically increase our food supply, but have not also taken equivalent measures to restrict growth of population. Both are required to insure nobody goes hungry and that the population doesn't exceed sustainable levels.

    In that vein...in some areas, hunting deer is very important to cull populations such that they don't outbreed their food supply and even more starve. The issues really stem when we also reduce their food supply and don't regulate the hunting.

    I'm not saying we should hunt people, but more widespread use of birth control is a pretty good option for us not to end up like the deer.

    3 votes
    1. [2]
      archevel
      Link Parent
      One notable/cautionary example is St. Matthew Island with regards to population and food supply.

      One notable/cautionary example is St. Matthew Island with regards to population and food supply.

      1. vord
        Link Parent
        Definitely. I'm mostly thinking of white-tailed deer throughout the US, at least before we drastically started destroying their habitats.

        Definitely. I'm mostly thinking of white-tailed deer throughout the US, at least before we drastically started destroying their habitats.

  4. [3]
    entangledamplitude
    Link
    See, here's a funny thing: It's modern "education" (actually a form of socialization into a particular set of beliefs) that plays the strongest role in disconnecting humans form their environment...

    Why can't we have good quality education for everyone

    See, here's a funny thing: It's modern "education" (actually a form of socialization into a particular set of beliefs) that plays the strongest role in disconnecting humans form their environment and living context. A child who doesn't go to school will naturally wonder what vegetables are, where they come from, how they reach the supermarket, how are they produced, depletion, etc. A child who goes to school doesn't have time for questions "outside the syllabus", because... (some form of) "opportunity cost".

    But if we don't grow, how can we progress?

    We need to think carefully about our assumptions here. Why is "progress" linked to "growth"? (that too, defined very narrowly as economic growth). I think that economic growth is a flawed metric that is only weakly correlated with improved quality of human life.

    2 votes
    1. [2]
      Loire
      Link Parent
      To be frank I don't understand what you are trying to suggest here. How is a child to learn about agricultural, supermarket logistics, and resource depletion without the modern school system? Are...

      A child who doesn't go to school will naturally wonder what vegetables are, where they come from, how they reach the supermarket, how are they produced, depletion.

      To be frank I don't understand what you are trying to suggest here. How is a child to learn about agricultural, supermarket logistics, and resource depletion without the modern school system? Are they formulating hypothesis and performing empirical research before being taught what any of that entails? How is a child "naturally" going to deduce mathematics?

      5 votes
      1. entangledamplitude
        Link Parent
        You’re arguing against a straw man. Access to information has not been a constraint for several decades now, so I don’t see why schools are particularly important. It’s easy enough to learn from...

        You’re arguing against a straw man. Access to information has not been a constraint for several decades now, so I don’t see why schools are particularly important. It’s easy enough to learn from other (older) people, or from books/internet/shows/etc. (Yes, I understand schools are often the lowest common denominator solution for serving underprivileged people, but I’m making an orthogonal point)

        What I’m arguing is that in modern times, curiosity & inquisitiveness (and connectedness to context) is far more lacking than access to information.

        I was specifically addressing OP’s question:

        I wasn't taught about the real world, I never really thought about how the food on my plate was grown or how we plunder the living world for resources etc.

        Every single person who was involved in making decisions to externalizations costs, globalize supply chains and reduce buffer inventory (Eg: wrt current crisis) probably was “well educated” and had access to all the information.

        But we have totally lost connection to the local context. We don’t think about where our food or our water comes from. We don’t know what goes into making high quality food (ingredients). Cut off from logistics we couldn’t survive a week (imagine a week long electricity/water disruption). We take so much for granted.

        1 vote
  5. Kuromantis
    Link
    Education has little to do with populational growth (and usually stymies it); Stuff like medicine, food, clothing and housing is fundamental to human existence and having sufficient health to...

    Education has little to do with populational growth (and usually stymies it); Stuff like medicine, food, clothing and housing is fundamental to human existence and having sufficient health to consider child bearing.

    The latter has been attained in most places to varying degrees of competency, the former hasn't because current capitalist democracy doesn't really help most people.

    1 vote
  6. mrbig
    Link
    I think your arguments has a glaring flaw: in thesis the more people you get the harder it is to care for and educate them. If humankind were comprised by 100 people the task would be trivial.

    I think your arguments has a glaring flaw: in thesis the more people you get the harder it is to care for and educate them. If humankind were comprised by 100 people the task would be trivial.