More, More, More

By Cyberquill 07/15/201726 Comments

Being interviewed along with his BFF and presidential successor at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Dallas last Thursday, Bill Clinton lamented that

If you look at America, we’re only having a 2.1 replacement of our native-born population from natural births. We can’t continue to grow this economy unless we grow more diverse and take in more immigrants.”

The only good economy, we have been told ad nauseam, is a growing economy. Just as sharks must stay in motion in order to survive, economies must grow, grow, grow—but where to? What’s the end game?

Every gardener knows that, in order to prevent over-growth, growing things must be pruned on a regular basis: lawns must be mowed, brush must be cleared, hedges must be trimmed, trees must be cut back so as to minimize the danger of their being knocked over by a storm and crashing into the house, etc.; lest, at some point, one has grown an unmanageable jungle.

So why must economies, by contrast, always keep growing ad infinitum?

Probably because populations are growing, and ever more people need ever more stuff, more energy, more resources of any kind, and—last but not least—more jobs.

In other words, economies must grow in order to sustain, or improve, the living standards of growing populations.

Soon, alas, the paradoxical situation arises when ever more people are needed in order to grow an economy at the rate required to sustain ever more people.

In particular, ever more young people are needed to sustain an ever increasing number of retirees—young people that will eventually become the older and retired generation, in turn needing ever more young people to sustain them.

And so the growth-cycle continues.

The only thing that doesn’t grow is the planet and its store of natural resources.

A planet that, incidentally, keeps getting warmer, which leads to ever more droughts of escalating severity, accompanied by dwindling freshwater supplies all over the place.

Yet, in order to grow our economy at a sustainable rate, we need ever more people, who’ll need ever more water.

How can more resources-guzzling people be the solution to anything in this world without, in the long run, exacerbating the very problems that were supposed to be solved by population growth, whether by way of immigration or otherwise?

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  • Richard

    I have been very neglectful of your blog and must apologise. The fact is I find it difficult to keep up with you intellectually, but that is no excuse.

    You are quite right about growth. Yet it is innovation, increase in production and market activity, each encouraging the others, that has immeasurably improved the comfort and life expectancy of the great majority over pre-industrial revolution times. The measure is economic wealth. Whether this increases spiritual wealth is an open question. The effect is now beginning to show in the poorer parts of the world.

    It was FE Smith, I think, who once claimed that war is nature’s pruning hook. Is that (or is it not) the solution? Is war inevitable?

    • Cyberquill

      To my knowledge, World War Two barely made a dent in world population. Anything short of a global nuclear annihilation war is unlikely to do much pruning.

      When Ophelia began to find it difficult to stay abreast of Prince Hamlet’s intellectual peregrinations, her words, I believe, were “O what a noble mind is here o’erthrown.” So there are many different ways to put this, some more poetic than others.

      You are, no doubt, preoccupied preparing for the impending Brexit, which requires you to sacrifice other activities.

      Of late, I myself have been rather neglectful of blogs in general, my own included. I’ve done so much concentrated on-screen reading and writing over the years, I feel I’m suffering from computer-related eye strain, which takes some of the fun out of staring at the screen for hours on end. I need to get some protective anti-glare glasses or something.

      • Richard

        You have superbly kind depths to your moderately tetchy exterior, as your concern for animals and your vegetarian and teetotal scruples testify.

        FE’s metaphor is unfortunate since pruning increases growth. It works, though, in ways he might not have anticipated. Despite all the years that have passed since my botany lessons, I still can’t think of plants having hormones. It must be so, however, having regard to the Prince of Wales’ ability to chat them up. (Note my mode of expression and my ‘sixties credentials.)

        No, I take no active part in Brexit, just amuse myself displaying Leaver ignorance and lack of understanding to my highly gifted and informed Remainer relatives. The differences and conflicting ambitions of the nations involved, even at this stage, follow similar patterns to those at Versailles. It will be interesting to see who wins the peace, in that Britannia no longer rules the waves.

        Take care of your eyes.

        How are the Routemasters? Are they touring England soon?

        • Cyberquill

          By the time the Routemasters are ready to tour England, Brexit will have kicked in all the way and foreigners be barred from entering the island. We might, after all, be Middle Eastern refugees posing as an Austrian band and have no intention to return.

          If plants have hormones, the Prince may be able to hook up with them in addition to merely chatting them up. (Note my 21st century U.S. college lingo credentials.)

          Incidentally, why is he just the Prince of Wales and not the Prince of everywhere his mother happens to be the Queen of?

          • Richard

            I assume they will tour in Routemasters, which should finalise your work permits. I am happy to proffer this advice pro bono. (Note my canine credentials.)

            There were lots of Princes of Wales until (I think) Edward I killed them all so he made sure the Prince of Wales (singular) was his English heir. And so it has been ever since. There can be no doubt as to Britain’s welcome to all ethnicities and colours: a later Prince of Wales was the Black Prince.

        • Cyberquill

          You have advice for Bono the dog?

          • Richard

            You are as scathing as my Latin master marking my unseens.

            Since my innocent jibe (justifiably) misfired, I enquired of my internet connections if they knew of a Bono the Dog. It was with some gratification, therefore, I discovered this excellent animal’s success rate as a drug sniffer is even less than my success in translations of classical literature and he still wins his cases. He is in no need of advice from me.

            Not that my modern languages ever showed much promise. To me travail manuel is still “travel magazine.”

        • Cyberquill

          To me, the gift of kindness is a childhood poison.

          Marking your unseens? What does that mean? Recording your absences?

          • Richard

            Very true, or perhaps not.

            I am ecstatic tonight. In eight years ranging round this electronic community I have never been asked this question (the first question and, it follows, the two subsidiary questions) even by you.

            I have to be wary, it might be a trap.

        • Cyberquill

          No trap. I’m always eager to learn new words and phrases, including British ones. Perhaps to mark someone as “unseen” is a more precise way of making a note of someone’s absence. The person thus marked may, after all, be present but hiding from view. And so, instead of marking someone “absent or present but hiding,” British teachers simply use the more concise term “unseen.”

          • Richard

            Love it!

            Actually, it refers to an exercse in translation never, supposedly, seen before by the unfortunate candidate.

            They were excerpts, usually, from classical writers but I also remember being set some Erasmus.

        • Cyberquill

          I see. And what exactly does it mean to “be set some Erasmus”? To be tasked with translating a passage by Erasmus?

          • Richard

            Precisely. It contrasts to translations for homework where you are aided by dictionaries or primers.

            Candidate relates more to entry for a test or examination than, say, classwork.

          • Richard

            … Consider also: Our maths master set the regular tests, the head of maths set the terminal exams and we took the London University ‘O’ Levels. It was generally accepted that London’s questions were harder than the ones set by both Oxford and Cambridge Examination Boards. The same applied to ‘A’ Levels.

            I hope I’ve covered all aspects here. The examples come direct from the common usage of my contemporaries.

            It’s fun to receive questions from you, a master of the language. Do people say you speak with an accent? If so, how pronounced is it?

            Have you a preference for American English, If so, why? I like natural flow and directness of American English. The best British English also conquers subtlety in this way, but easily reverts to its more stultified versions, probably a historical legacy. This is evident from the way American and British newspapers deal differently with the same subject-matter. Again, over-matiness can pall and it leads to prolixity. British spellings can irritate Americans and unnecessarily long and obscure coinages annoy the British.

            All-in-all the influence of each on the other is a wonderful thing, although it does have its bad side. This is particularly so among the British young and inarticulate whose sensibilities are sometimes diminished by a poor and inept use of the flourishing American uneducated vernacular -- a clear instance of cultural hegemony, especially in the world of popular music.

        • Cyberquill

          Common tiny words like “set,” including the multitude of phrasal verbs they give rise to, tend to be the most difficult ones for non-native speakers in terms of acquiring an intuitive and comprehensive grasp of their usage and nuances.

          They’re also the most difficult ones to look up in a dictionary, owing to the sheer length of their respective entries.

          Nothing more frustrating than turning to the dictionary to ascertain the precise meaning of “put” or “charge” in a given context, and, while scrolling down that entry in search of the nuanced meaning I’m looking for, coming across a whole host of other yet unfamiliar nuances of the word, which invariably leaves me feeling like an English beginner that has yet to master the simplest words.

          Complicated words like dephlogisticate or discombobulated are so much easier to look up and wrap my mind around: the entries are short, the number of meanings limited.

          Regarding my accent, I’ve received conflicting feedback over the years, the general consensus being that it is miniscule, especially given that, aside from having studied English in school, I didn’t start speaking it on anything remotely approximating a regular basis until my mid-20s.

          I do have a preference for American English, although I don’t consider it any “better” than British. Depends on the speaker. To my ears, there are euphonious and less euphonious ways to speak either.

          It has, though, always annoyed me when people (like my first high school English teacher) insist that British English (i.e., the Queen’s or BBC newscaster incarnation of it) is the “good” English and American English is just a bad and corrupted version of it.

          One might as well argue that modern British English is but a corrupted version of the British from 500 years ago.

          Also, when I was a child, I liked Western movies and a lot of American music — 1950s rock’n’roll in particular — paving the way to my later predilection for the American sound, generally speaking.

          And then, of course, having lived in the U.S. for so many years and been surrounded by American English primarily, it would have been counter-intuitive and of questionable utily for me to focus my conscious accent-reduction efforts on trying to sound anything other than American. It would have been like living in Australia and trying to sound Scottish.

          I agree that there is something irritating about inter-national linguistic cross-pollination, such as the ever more encroaching Anglicization of German. Hard to find a native German speaker these days, a young one in particular, that can go for more than three sentences without throwing in “challenge” or “speed” or “meeting” or “kids,” etc., seemingly without caring, nor even realizing, that these are foreign loan words.

          On the other hand, we must realize that this has always been as much a part of the natural evolution of languages as it has been a source of irritation for humans ever since the invention of languages.

          How would modern Brits speak if their language were devoid of foreign influences like German, French, Latin, or Dutch?

          It would be a rather silent island, don’t you think?

          • Richard

            Indeed, and don’t forget Anglo-Saxon. Although I don’t speak a word of it I experience an affinity with it.

            I’m all for a heady mix of influences like “bungalow” and so on from various parts of the world.

            I like Churchill’s comment: Broadly speaking, the short words are best, and the old words best of all.

            Anything that simplifies grammar and spelling I also like.

        • Cyberquill

          One can debate whether it counts as a simplification to replace, say, one long word by two short ones, even if the combined total number of letters of the short ones were to exceed the number of letters of the long one, such as to say “make easier” instead of “simplify.”

  • Richard

    I can’t resist talking about Brexit, since you mentioned it.

    The insistence by the EU negotiators on a legally suspect immutable agenda and that the UK commit now to settle an unsubstantiated account has ominous parallels to the wrangling over territory and reparations at Versailles in 1919.

    The European Union may not be a theatre of war, but who will “win the peace” at Brussels?

    • Cyberquill

      I cannot predict the outcome of the Brexit talks. Absent all aspects that only lawyers and historians are smart enough to tussle over, to the casual observer it seems obvious, in a nutshell, that the U.K. wishes to shed the burdens of belonging to the E.U. while retaining the benefits. If the U.K. succeeds in accomplishing this, the E.U. is bound to fall apart, as other nations will want to do likewise.

      • Richard

        The U.K. wishes to shed its considerable, disproportionate burdens, it is true, but there is serious talk in a number of informed UK quarters that we should offer unilateral, global, tariff-free trade, a course I subscribe to. I don’t know if that is regarded in the EU as wishing to retain all the benefits.

        Also, we will comply with our legal obligations as we see them. Where there is a dispute, as there is over the EU’s financial demands, it can be submitted to independent arbitration. Beyond this, we will also comply with what we regard as our moral obligations.

        That seems to me to be a workable starting-point. Yet anything we suggest seems to be met with the proverbial <>

        II would not wish to see the collapse of the EU. If that is why it needs 100bi euros it should say so. Certainly, if we continue to contribute we should receive our proper share of the returns and the capital value of our share of the assets should be quantified and acknowledged.

    • Cyberquill

      The key word is “proper.” Everyone agrees that every person, entity, or nation ought to pay as well as receive their fair and proper share. The trick is to figure out what’s fair and proper.

      • Richard

        Sed nemo judex in causa sua.

      • Cyberquill

        That’s right. Neither the U.K. nor the E.U. should have a say in the Brexit settlement. A neutral party should arbitrate. The North Koreans might have some time between missile launches.

        • Richard

          Yes, independence is hard to find. We’ll have to rely on track record and submit it to our own courts, who have made numerous findings in favour the EU and have a worldwide reputation for independence and authority -- see, e.g., the Supreme Court insistence on Parliamentary approval of Art. 50 in the face of my (and the Government’s) opposition.

        • Richard

          I have seen a suggestion in today’s Telegraph that the Brexit bill be settled by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague: let Australian, Japanese, Indian, Russian and Kenyan judges decide.

          Seems a good idea.

        • Cyberquill

          If that doesn’t work, Donald Trump can step in and negotiate a fantastic deal for all parties involved. And Mexico will pay for it.

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