In my Age of Malthusian Industrialism concept (see archive), I explore the possibility of a future scenario in which technology stagnates due to problems becoming harder and dysgenic reproduction patterns. Meanwhile, the demographic transition will be reversed, since fertility preferences are heritable, and ultra-competitive in a post-Malthusian world. This may eventually bring the world population into line with the carrying capacity of the modern industrial economy (which I estimate at ~100 billion).
Since my initial series of posts on the AoMI, I realized that I have enough material to start writing a book on the subject, which I am now in the process of doing.
In the meantime, let me introduce the blogger and futurist Alexander Turok. Inspired by Hanson’s speculations on ems (as was I), he wrote the book Posthumanity: Anticipations of the Next Historical Era [PDF/HTML]. Though I’ve yet to read it*, I understand that it can be seen as an exhaustive socio-economic exploration of the “biosingularity” scenario from A Short History of the Third Millennium, in which bioengineering enables humans to turbocharge average IQ levels.
More recently, he has also come up with his own vision of how the AoMI will look like in an eponymous post: The Age of Malthusian Industrialism. I appreciate it when thoughtful bloggers and commenters take an interest in this topic, and I agree with the good majority of his projections about life in the AoMI. While I’ll expound on all this in much greater detail in the book, this serves as a good template for sketching out the big picture of this future.
(1) Turok starts off calculating how long it will take for the world population to converge to 100 billion people, assuming a starting point of 2070, with a fertility rate of 1.8 children per woman, a population of nine billion, and a narrow-sense heritability of fertility of 0.3. He estimates that the world will take eight generations to hit 100 billion people, and will do so at a fertility rate of 4.2 children per woman.
This is very similar to my estimates which I derived from demographic toy models. However, Turok has found a very elegant way to prove a simple relationship between the heritability of fertility and next-generation fertility rates.
He also notes that there will be a rather big crisis when the previously vigorously growing world population crashes against the world’s carrying capacity c.2300. This may result in some rather interesting geopolitical effects: “Most harmed will be those who reached their own Malthusian limit a generation or two before the world as a whole did and now rely on imported food, the price of which would skyrocket. The food-exporting countries, assuming they have sufficient economic power to sustain their agricultural sectors without trade and military power to resist foreign aggression, will do great, forming islands of relative wealth. However, if they do not control their own population growth rate, they will regress to the planetary average.”
In other words, countries that are currently ~two orders of magnitude short of their theoretical carrying capacity, as opposed to just one for the world at large – this would be Russia, Canada, the Scandinavian regions, with some help from global warming – can be expected to do very well during the onset of the AoMI, all else being equal.
(2) The next section covers some psychological observations and socio-economic observations about “malthdustrials”, as Turok terms this age’s denizens**.
While the strategies are unique, the groups will not be fully separate, rather, these groups will see their children leave the milieus they grew up in, mixing with mainstream society and one another. In some cases, as in their attitude to extra-marital childbearing, the attitudes of these groups will be opposed, while in other cases they will converge in viewpoint, if only for different reasons, such as a disdain for the lifestyle and beliefs of the urban SWPL. If the primary reason fertility is low despite an abundance of resources is because people are trying to climb the latter of social status, trying to get more money and live in a better neighborhood, trying to attract the highest quality of mate, (or quantity of mates) then natural selection will act against those who play this game, promoting the genes of those who do not care about it or those too incompetent to play it well.
This is a very good way of putting it.
An Icelandic study estimated the decline in intelligence per 30-year generation at .9, with 12 generations until the age of Malthusian industrialism, this equates to an IQ decline of 11 points. A decline that is this high will be easily noticeable by any modern time-traveler, and will reduce the quality of institutions significantly.
The round the table drop in IQ will be ~10 points from now to AoMI onset. Though I would note that there will likely be major differences in the rate of decline between different regions (see my blog posts on this).
Just as they will be adapted to resist mainstream society’s status game, they will also resist counter-cultural status games that lead to a lack of reproductive success, such as obsession with art, literature, extreme politics, chess, video-games, or whatever else gets in the way of family formation.
I am not so sure about this. In the AoMI, there will appear a class of ultra-rich oligarchs (a natural consequence of Ricardo’s Law of Rents, which will be very applicable to a world that returns to neo-Malthusian conditions). And like the industrial oligarchs of old, and moneyed noblemen before them, they will still seek to convert their wealth into status. (Indeed, due to technological stagnation, I posit that there will be confluence between the two, with industrial dynasties playing a very large economic role). Funding the arts is a reliable path towards that.
Video games will probably only rise in popularity due to the continued degradation of the natural world. There won’t be many pristine areas left in a world of 100 billion people. Nor will many people have the means to holiday to those areas that remain.
In the AoMI, more effort will be directed into agriculture and food processing, as agriculture will be more intense. However, even if the percentage of the population needed to work on the now more labor-intense farms doubles, it will still be a fraction of the total population, as advanced countries require very little of their labor force to be engaged directly in agriculture.
I agree with this. Agriculture as a percentage of GDP will go up from 1-2% in the rich nations to perhaps 5-10%.
Malthdustrials will still live better than their pre-industrial ancestors. They will suffer minimally from infectious diseases, globalization of trade will assure that famine deaths, except in the poorest countries, will be minimal.
I am not sure about the former due to antibiotics resistance. At the end of the day, the births/deaths equations do need to be balanced somehow, especially during the crisis at the beginning of the AoMI. A series of pandemics on a malnourished populace would be one of the likelier ways for that to happen. Another would be social adaptations, such as mass female infanticide, e.g. as in late Qing era China.
Malthdustrials will eat a mostly vegetarian diet, but nutritionists will act to make sure it is a healthy vegetarian diet.
The ideological predicates for this are already being put into place already, interestingly enough.
~2 years ago on @razibkhan blog I predicted meat-eating would be target of next big moral crusade.
What I got wrong:
1. Thought it'd occur over next decades (or centuries), not years.
2. Thought it'd be driven by concerns over animal sentience, not climate change hysteria. https://t.co/pYSkBdsq3A
— «««Апат🦠lу "Papa Nurgle Respecter" Каrliп»»» (@akarlin88) August 13, 2019
During the world wars in advanced countries, most implemented rationing, which implies that rationing ought to be expected during the AoMI. Rationing will prevent the iron law of wages from lowering wages completely to subsistence, as if a group of workers is currently making more than subsistence wages, they will not be able to use the extra money to buy more food and birth more workers, though excess rationing may end up causing so much economic distortion as to make the situation worse. Rationing will be connected to population control, with nations that do not impose a clear limit simply giving people a share of ration-cards that, beyond a point, does not grow with the number of children in the family. Rationing, and the black markets which will grow to evade it, will be a ubiquitous theme in Malthdustrial culture.
This is a very interesting idea that I have not considered. I am not sure why it would be more likely than other forms of redistributionism (e.g. subsidized bread and games as in Roman times). For a start, rationing is very hard to impose in non-emergencies, politically. The AoMI will be the new “normal”, not an emergency. And I expect governments will be weaker, with less legitimacy, than today (see just below):
Democracy in the pre-industrial era was rare, and it’s tempting to think that, with the backsliding in wealth, it should become just as rare during the AoMI. However, there are factors which make democracy easier today that will still exist during the AoMI, such as cheap communication and travel over distances, widespread literacy,(which will be needed for most jobs) cheap-record keeping to assure fair elections, and labor unions which demand expanded suffrage. On the other hand, the decline in IQ due to dysgenics will make the maintenance of democratic institutions harder. All told, we should expect less democracy during the AoMI than during our own time, but more than during the farming era. What democracy exists will be more corrupt and clientistic.
Whether or not inequality in dollar terms will be higher or lower during the AoMI, the practical outcome of equality in access to food, healthcare, and leisure time will be much greater. This indicates that more social conflict should be expected, but not necessarily a permanently revolutionary atmosphere. The poor will see no point in rebelling if they expect the result to be several years of violence and disruption followed by the institution of a regime that is every bit as exploitative as the one they overthrew.
I expect it to be a very unequal society (see above). That, coupled with the corruption and clientelism, should indeed result in regular “color revolutions”, jacqueries, pogroms, pronunciamientos, and so forth.
Making war for economic reasons will be more attractive in a poorer world, so we on this fact alone it should be expected to be more common than it is now, just as it was more common in the farming era. However, wars in the farming era were not as destructive of economic potential as wars are today, providing a greater incentive to avoid them. For the latter reason, I think the Malthdustrial equilibrium will be a series of great powers with client states arranged against one another, with nuclear and other WMDs in order to provide deterrence. This deterrence will not be foolproof, brinkmanship, accidents, and civil wars spilling over borders may turn the cold wars hot.
Reasonable take… though only assuming the current geopolitical structure remains more or less impact during the transition to the AoMI.
Jobs during the AoMI will require higher IQ floors than farming-era jobs, which will enforce some level of meritocracy which was absent during the farming era… Then, as now, the labor of an engineer will be more valuable than the labor of a manual laborer, and in a natural market his wage would be higher. Because of this, we should expect efforts to suppress the wages for these kinds of jobs, justified by egalitarian rhetoric.
This is also why I expect the “Farewell to Alms” effect to happen quicker after the onset of the AoMI.
A poorer society will care less for abstract political principles like liberty, privacy, diversity, tolerance, abstract forms of equality, (as opposed to clear-cut economic equality) respect, and empathy… Malthdustrials, thus, will be more open to policies which would offend moderns due to actual or perceived violations of these abstract principles. Although a poorer society cannot afford 1984-style surveillance, it will have less concern about the surveillance that does exist. Some Malthdustrial governments might force everyone to wear an identity badge on their clothing, similar to how we force cars to have license plates. Others might force auto-manufacturers to make cars which cannot exceed the speed limit; the fact that automobiles will be used less for personal transportation will also reduce their resistance to such a measure. Some countries might force everyone to provide a DNA sample to the government. Others might ban physical cash transactions to better collect taxes and prevent black-market trading.
Much of this is already happening, including many First World nations, so not sure to what extent this would be outgrowth of Malthusian Industrialism per se.
It should be obvious that a poorer society will spend less on decoration and fashion. Clothing and architecture will be more functional and less decorative.
I suspect that it might be the opposite (at least amongst those with money).
The ghastly utilitarian urban design of the 20th century was in part a response to very fast urbanization. The AoMI will be a period of macro-stability and concentration of wealth. This has often been associated with higher aesthetic standards in architecture.
Less money will go to subsidize education and what subsidies it receives will be steered to teaching “practical” subjects. More of it will occur through the internet and less in-person. There will be movements to shorten the hours of primary and secondary education. Summer vacation may come under attack, with proposals to replace it with year-long education and then, taking advantage of the newly available instruction time, shorten the number of years of education.
The obvious exit strategy for the AoMI is population control through a one-child policy or similar. Less obvious exit strategies are the development of advanced technology such as artificial intelligence, though if this didn’t happen before the AoMI, it’s unlikely to happen during it unless it lasts for a far-longer period of time.
I expect that it will happen when IQ levels recover, new technologies start getting developed, and carrying capacity begins to increase again. I expect this recovery to be much quicker than the millennial period that the Clark-Unz effect demanded.
* Incidentally, Alexander, any chance you could make your book available in epub/mobi?
** I haven’t actually thought up of my own name for them. Malthdustrials is OK, though it’s not as brilliant/succinct as “ems” (emulated minds).