Diary of a Knowledge Broker by Steve Bosserman

Independent investigation of the truth; collaboration for social justice

Independent investigation of the truth; collaboration for social justice

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November 06, 2005

Tackling Population Density, Diversity, and Disparity

Dateline: 4 November 2005, a NY Times editorial by Thomas Friedman entitled, "From Gunpowder to the Next Big Bang" outlines how China is grooming entrepreneurs to increase the rate with which business opportunities are identified and acted upon.

Dateline: 28 October 2005, an article by Howard W. French entitled, "China Luring Scholars to Make Universities Great," describes how China is making a concerted effort to beef up their academic institutions with rigorous, cutting edge research capabilities and open the door to more discoveries, inventions, and innovation.

Dateline: 26 October 2005, an editorial by Thomas Friedman entitled, "Living Hand to Mouth" explains how China is rapidly pushing the limits of sustainability by incurring heavy societal penalties in air and water pollution, deforestation, and loss of arable land to support the growth rate it has enjoyed over the past 10 years.

Other than being about China, what do these articles have in common? They highlight three essential tasks society is required to address as we come closer together as a global community.

First, population density. As the world's population continues to grow, more and more people will choose to live in metropolitan areas. China has over 40 cities exceeding 1M population with the most populous being Shanghai at almost 10M. India boasts 35 cities with populations over 1M, the most populous being Mumbai at just over 16M. Cairo, the most populous city in Africa, has a population of almost 7M. Sao Paulo, Brazil, with over 10M, is the most populous city in South America; whereas Mexico City, at almost 9M, is the most populous city in North America. More especially, counting the greater metropolitan area for Mexico City, the total population stands at over 17M making it one of the densest population concentrations in the world! How do people have a quality of life in such densities? Certainly, the migration of people to these population centers will only continue. The question begs answers.

Second, population diversity. As people migrate from one area to another in an effort to improve their lot in life, they encounter those from other races, ethnicities, languages, cultures, religions, etc. The United States is a nation forged by those who came to the country in hundreds of immigrant waves across a 500+ year history. The U.S. is not alone. All countries experience migration patterns through emigration and immigration coupled by varying degrees of mobility within their borders that sees people move from one rural or urban location to another. These migratory changes are unstoppable, but not always welcomed. The consequences range from an inappreciation and nonacceptance of difference to outright conflict and bloodshed as incompatible groups find themselves in one another's space. How do people learn to live together when they come from different places and have differing beliefs? This diversity will only continue. The question begs answers.

Third, population disparity. As people find themselves in the presence of others outside their native groups, they are confronted with a reallocation of power and resources--the pecking order is reordered. Depending on relationships with people new to the mix, this reordering takes away or grants influence. There will be winners and losers no matter what. If the losers are reduced to a point where they can no longer fend for themselves and meet their basic needs for subsistence, they will take extreme measures to assure their survival; namely, destroy the environment for water, food, clothing, and shelter, and increase the birthrate as a hedge. Both of these consequences are disastrous not only for those who are scrounging at the bottom of the power ladder, but ultimately everyone as the environment is compromised by over-population and other ways that adversely affect the whole system. How do people realize that to take so much from others and put lives at stake costs far more to correct than to leave enough so that even the least can enjoy a minimum quality of life? This disparity will only continue unless another course is taken. The question begs answers.

China is a nation dealing with density, diversity, and disparity. And the consequences of not adequately addressing these three are dire. However, as Friedman notes, China's leaders know the future is not going to be bright for long if these conditions persist or worsen. China is stewing in the questions that beg answering.

Friedman also states that what is needed is an integrated solution. This involves countries and organizations outside China working with institutions and groups inside China. That is where the articles at the outset of this posting have particular poignancy: China is reaching across internal and external boundaries to bolster research capabilities, strengthen academic rigor, awaken and advance entrepreneurial spirit, and direct attention to improving environmental quality and along with it quality of life for Chinese citizens. That degree of focus and commitment, coupled with an abundance of resources to put into the effort, give China the opportunity to learn and gain much. While China will not find THE answers to these questions, the lessons mastered in addressing them will benefit the world. May we all get an "A" in the course!


posted by Steve Bosserman on Sunday November 6 2005

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Readers' Comments

I would say that not only China is in a situation to confront population density, diversity and disparity. These are the exact problems we are finding in the Western nations. France, for instance, is going through a rough period of riots not unrelated to the population issues discussed in this article. Both the EU and the US are casting around for ways to effectively close their borders to the immigration of their poor neighbors.

These problems will get worse unless a solution is found that will allow people to gain economic security where they are.

One distinct problem is the move of rural populations to cities, fuelled by the hardships of rural life and the promise of easy money in manufacturing and service jobs concentrated in city areas.

The larger face of that same problem is that developing countries are kept from becoming an economic "threat" to the developed world by economic constraints and subsidies (especially the US and EU practice to subsideze their agricultural exports), which distort competition.

The result is a steady stream of migration of impoverished people to areas that promise better economic conditions. It's a natural response to starvation and it can't be turned off by force. You go where there's more food, and you find ways to get there...

The solution, in my view, will only be found in a more just economic system that emphasizes the economic sufficiency of the individual. First of all, that would mean helping the developing countries develop their own economy, so that their people can have a dignified existence right where they are. Ultimately however, we might need to change the parameters of the very economic system.

There are proposals for a re-establishing economic equilibrium by providing a guaranteed basic income to all individuals, to be financed by the money system itself. The proposal is discussed here


and here: http://www.anxietyculture.com/bluffecon.htm

In a previous article on my own site I have discussed economic measures and that could potentially lead to a resolution of these population-related problems.

Posted by: Sepp Hasslberger on November 7, 2005 09:23 AM


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