[FoRK] Re: [wta-talk] Re:Survey on the direction of Transhumanism (fwd from bhurt@spnz.org)

Eugen Leitl eugen at leitl.org
Fri Aug 6 02:23:41 PDT 2004

----- Forwarded message from Brian Hurt <bhurt at spnz.org> -----

From: Brian Hurt <bhurt at spnz.org>
Date: Thu, 5 Aug 2004 22:05:36 -0500 (CDT)
To: World Transhumanist Association Discussion List <wta-talk at transhumanism.org>
Subject: Re: [wta-talk] Re:Survey on the direction of Transhumanism
Reply-To: World Transhumanist Association Discussion List <wta-talk at transhumanism.org>

On Thu, 5 Aug 2004, Erik Aronesty wrote:

> : Technological advances are going
> : to make all of us extremel
> : y wealthy sooner or later (or
> : extremely dead, one way. or the
> : other).  Which will make us all
> : miserable.  Worse yet, life 
> “Everyone” *cannot possibly* be “extremely wealthy” on a population
> curve. 

By some measures we already are.  A while back I heard an interesting news 
item on NPR.  They had a problem with the program to give free TB 
treatments to the homeless population of NYC- many of the people weren't 
staying put through the entire treatment, and there were worried that the 
partial treatments might allow an antibiotic resistant TB to develop.  But 
consider something- if you're a homeless wino, you have something that 
even kings and presidents didn't have 100 years ago- a cure for TB.

But let's step back a minute, and ask a more interesting question- are we 
inexorably on an exponential growth curve for population?  A couple of 
years back, I made an interesting graph.  I took the CIA world fact book 
for (IIRC) 2001, and for each country I took two statistics: the GDP per 
capita in US dollars as a measure of wealth, and the births per 1000 pop 
minus the deaths per 1000 pop as a measure of population growth.  I used 
births minus deaths as a measure of pop growth to discount the effects of 

I then ploted the two in a scatter graph against each other, and this is 
what I got:

The data point in the upper right hand corner was added by gnu plot, it 
doesn't exist in the data (I checked).  

Now, I'd be cautious before making too much soup from this one oyster.  
Among other problems the graph has is that it doesn't factor out income
disparity- most of the outliers from the main curve are oil producing
countries- which have a small number of individuals making huge amounts of
money (pulling up the GDP per capitia for the whole country) and large
numbers of poor people (who pull up the population growth for the whole
country).  But one thing I think is clear from the graph is that the
higher the average income reduces the average population growth.

Note that religion and culture have little to do with where you are on the 
graph.  As an ex-catholic, the Catholic religion encourages population 
growth (no abortion, no birth control).  But very Catholic countries like 
Ireland and Italy are not noticably different from non-Catholic countries 
like Sweden or Japan.

This makes sense, if you think about it.  In sustenance farming families, 
children are an economic advantage.  By age of 5-6 they can start 
contributing the productivity of the farm, by age 10 they're almost worth 
another full adult.  And in old age, your children are your social 
security.  In industrial, and especially in info-technical, societies, 
children require years to decades of education before they can even start 
contributing to the welfare of their families- most children are 15-16 
years old before they get their first jobs.  And either you youself, or 
society at large, provides for your old age.  Children are a net economic 
drain on the parents.  There are still reasons to have children- but no 
reason to have 12 children instead of stopping at just two or three.

If we can get rich enough, we could conceivably drop the population growth 
rate to zero, or close enough, allowing us to preserve the wealth.

The UN agress with my analysis, predicting population will top out at 
about 10B around the mid part of this century, and then stabilizing or 
even retreating a little bit:

This is good news if, like me, you define happiness as "not starving to 
death".  This is not good news if, like you, you define happiness as 
"having a large family".

> My data was taken from a scientific article in (sciam or new scientist).  
> With some effort, I'd probably be able to find the source.  If anyone
> cares enough, I'll research it.
> Ever see the research done on lottery winners?  Miserable... the whole
> lot of them.

We're doomed!  Doomed, I say!

Here's the problem: we're committed.  We have two choices: "heaven" on
earth (limited to no dying, no disease, no poverty, no starvation), or
true hell on earth.  As in, five out of six people dying, or more.  Mass
famine, disease, poverty, dying.  There are simply too many people to go
back to the rustic "golden" era of agrarian society of poor and simply but
happy farmer folk- and, speaking as someone who grew up in farm country,
this is just so much romantic cow fertilizer.  Our current situation in
untenable- we either have to get a lot richer, or we'll get a lot poorer.

The problem I have with your argument- that wealth equals unhappiness- is 
that I know how wealthy I already am.  I'm wealthier than the vast 
majority of people on this planet.  And it doesn't suck.  No matter how 
much you argue it does, it doesn't.  Which is why I'm looking forward to 
being wealthier yet.  I would mind taking a swing at being a lotto winner, 

"Usenet is like a herd of performing elephants with diarrhea -- massive,
difficult to redirect, awe-inspiring, entertaining, and a source of
mind-boggling amounts of excrement when you least expect it."
                                - Gene Spafford 

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