The threats presented by overpopulation were commonly called “The Population Bomb” even before the publication of the book with the same name in 1968. The author, Stanford University Professor Paul R. Ehrlich, “warned of the mass starvation of humans in the 1970s and 1980s due to overpopulation, as well as other major societal upheavals…”
As time wore on and the book’s most dire prediction, mass starvation, did not come to pass, the ideas put forward in the book generally fell out of favor; however, I would argue that many of the pressures of overpopulation are just now coming to the front and they threaten the economically advanced nations most because they have the most to lose. In other words, the impact was not a bomb but a series of guided missiles aimed at the developed nations.
Global population exceeds 7 billion. The rate of increase, now about 1 billion every 10 to 15 years, is not equal across the board; it’s highly concentrated in the economically-underdeveloped areas for religious, social-cultural, and localized economic reasons.
Only three of the 20 most populous nations, the United States (335 million, No. 3), Japan (127 million, No. 10), and Germany (83 million, No. 12), can be considered to have a widespread, highly developed, standards of living; their populations total 545 million and they have a proportional fertility rate of 2.07 births per woman.
The balance of that group consists of China 1.4 billion inhabitants, India 1.3 billion, Indonesia 256 million, Brazil 204 million, Pakistan 189 million, Nigeria 183 million, Bangladesh 160 million, Russia 142 million, Mexico 125 million, Philippines 102 million, Ethiopia 99 million, Vietnam 93 million, Egypt 85 million, Iran 79 million, Turkey 77 million, Congo 71 million, and Thailand 67 million. That is more than 4.6 billion; 8.5 times the population of the highly developed nations in the top 20. Those 17 nations have a proportional fertility rate of 2.39 births per woman.
These figures indicate it’s easier to prevent pandemics and mass starvation and to keep people alive at or near basic sustenance levels than to lift their standard of living. The result is that much of the worldwide overpopulation can survive, but has little or no chance to significantly improve their situation within their home nations during their lifetimes – so they move, often illegally, to more highly developed nations.
It’s not just a problem for America; the same flood of illegal immigration is happening in parts of Europe, Australia, and the more affluent parts of Asia as poor people flock to what they see as a better life just as they did in the 1800s and 1900s; only this time the destinations already have larger mature populations.
There are several other new catches. One is that the better economies often exist because the highly developed nations have controlled their indigenous population growth, even if unintentionally. Wealthy societies tend to have fewer children and aging populations.
At the same time, many developed nations were relying on an expanding natural population growth rate for funding the ballooning costs of their expensive, long-term, social programs, but that population growth did not happen. The classic example is the Social Security system in the U.S. where the declining fertility rate and increased longevity resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of workers available to support each retiree.
The result is that illegal immigration is both a blessing and a curse and that’s why it’s such a difficult problem to solve; we are working with conflicting interests and massive unknowns.
For both political and practical reasons we know very little about the real impact of all immigration; the subset of illegal immigration is even harder to evaluate.
In a complex society like ours every impact is synergistic; the elements combine to produce a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual parts. Studies that are done too often start with a conclusion and then work to support that opinion rather than comprehensive, fact-based data.
One would think that the federal government could do this wide-ranging evaluation and use the results to establish a sensible immigration policy, but if you think so you’d be wrong. You never get the truth when all the politicians are afraid of the answer.
All things considered we need to understand the impacts of the various group and strata of immigration; immigration policy is much too important to remain a political football or a search for votes by both sides.