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"Each individual should allow reason to guide his conduct, or like an animal, he will need to be led by a leash."
Diogenes of Sinope

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Thousand Flowers tapestry (15th Century) - Beaune, France (detail)

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Populate or perish

This article in The Australian takes a swipe at politicians campaigning in Australia's current federal election on platforms of halting development and population growth. Canada shares some of Australia's challenges - a relatively small population spread out over a huge area and largely concentrated in a few big cities.
Australian politicians at state and federal levels have obviously failed to create the right conditions for infrastructure services. But instead of admitting the mistake and doing something about it, they blame the people for just being there. It's not me, it's you.

It would make for good satire if it wasn't so serious. If the country is to get more wealth and choices and better services, it has to become bigger, not smaller. The economy needs population growth and a constant inflow of innovators and workers. For a scarcely populated country far from the rest of the world, it's still "populate or perish". The discussion should focus on the changes that it takes to keep a bigger Australia functioning.

That political leaders shrink from this challenge reflects a worrying lack of ambition and vision. Defensive ideas about halting growth and shrinking society are traditionally symptoms of a civilisation in decline.

And if it wasn't enough that stopping growth is economically destructive, it's also boring. Sure, crowds can be irritating. I'd much rather visit a multitude of bars, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and shops without being pushed around and waiting in line. But that is a bit like wanting to swim without getting wet. The choices are there only because the crowds are there.

When I listen to these expressions of enochlophobia I can't help but think of a passage in Bill Bryson's hilarious travel book Down Under. Bryson is a card-carrying believer in small Australia. When he visits Canberra, he writes admiringly about how the city has managed to avoid the awful urban sprawl, shopping malls and eight-lane roads that he is used to in the US.

And yet, when Bryson walks from his hotel to find a bar or just someone to talk to, he doesn't find anything. The only thing worse than a crowded place is a place that is not crowded.

In the end, Bryson returns to his hotel and gets drunk all alone in the hotel bar.


Anonymous said...

Which is it then? Growth or not growth? In the first world we adopted social policies that encourage wormen to work so the birth rate dropped. Then our masters said that we need to import people because the birth rate is too low. But, is there pressure on immigrant women to adopt modern feminist mores when they get here? Many contradictory views and of course the main argument is either money (growth), or survival (negative growth). Which is it and why is there no open debate? (real conservative)

Jeff said...

I've asked each of my five children to have five children when they marry.

Frances said...

Ah, but the question is very much: is there adequate colonizable land on which to build the cities to hold all these immigrants? Australia has serious water problems in much of its interior. Where, then, are the newcomers to go? Or do these people envision a country of highrises (except for themselves) around the coastal regions with a still sparsely popluated interior.

The same issue confronts Canada. Certainly, we are sparsely populated, but can anyone seriously envisage massive development north of 60? Even on the prairies, development is limited by water resources.

Jeff said...

The northern half of Saskatchewan is littered with lakes. Then there's Lake Winnipeg. But better than resources is human ingenuity that wins against the odds over and over again. And where can we get more human ingenuity? More humans.