Mark O’Connor, the author of Overloading Australia, has provided some very insightful observations on the preservenet website (see link here) , which features Siegel’s important article. Read Mark’s comments as follows:
The “preservenet.com” website is a very well set out website and very lucidly argued. It would make a good high school course in the theory of steady state economics.
I think young people, who are not yet accustomed to the ever-longer hours that employees are often required to work as they get more senior, would respond very well to its argument that the growth economy is stealing our leisure.
Turning that message into a form that would get through to thousands of young people — perhaps by a system of tweets, applied day by day and week by week to items in the news — would be an interesting challenge for Award applicants/winners.
I found a few less satisfactory parts in the site’s argument.
1. I would hate to think that such a high proportion of medical operations were unnecessary as they claim. If that were true in Australia there would surely have been a scathing 4 Corners program on it and a public outcry. I would like to think it’s less true than they claim, even in the USA. Even there, surely, a doctor who recommends an unnecessary operation simply to keep up the profession’s level of economic activity, is a fraudster.
2. I skimmed the argument that much or most educational spending is unnecessary, but I did wonder if it would stand up. No doubt there is waste in the education budget as in all large departments, but my understanding is that the main thing for which more money is needed is to have more (trained) teachers so that class sizes can be smaller. This reduces the burden on overworked teachers, and enormously improves the success rate of students.
3. The argument about population is fudged. In effect their line is “Yes, population is a multiplier, but we don’t need to worry about it because it’s going to level off quite soon.”
Not so ! In the USA — and almost all their remarks on other topics focus heavily or exclusively on the USA — population is rising rapidly and out of control, with absolutely no end in sight. It is quite wrong to suggest the USA’s population problem has been solved. And even at global level, their argument is week. First, the predicted growth to over 9 billion is not negligible. Second, this is only the medium variant. The UN offers no guarantee that that world population will peak at 9 billion, and concedes it could go as high as 12 billion if we slacken off our efforts (as this site almost recommends). Thirdly, current trend is for UN population projections to creep upward slightly, in part because various countries (including Australia and Kenya) in which the battle to bring population growth under control seemed to have been won are now backsliding.
Overall I think we are seeing the same problem that Overloading Australia documents in its chapter on the poor performance of our Greens — the feeling that population growth is an unpleasant and awkward topic that is best not thought about too hard. Consider this far-too-optimistic quotation from the site
Population growth has already been the focus of national and international efforts, and fertility rates have declined dramatically during the last few decades. We should continue to work on limiting population, but this is an issue that people already understand and governments are already willing to act on.
These three faults make me wonder how rigorous their thinking is on the more economic parts of their argument. Economics is not my strong suit, so I’ll defer to others on this.