[Note: Weiss is a libertarian whose views usually will be incompatible with those of individuals who construe themselves as "liberals" or "progressives." Since he provides a devastating analysis of the effects from the combination of population explosion and inflation on humanity, and since it is difficult to dispute that analysis, I felt that readers of OpEdNews should read what he has to say. I have omitted the latter part of his essay because, instead of providing solutions to the problems he discusses, and feeling the situation is practically hopeless, he only advises investors of where they should put their money, and I doubt that part will interest most viewers of OpEdNews, and it may only cause disgust, as it did for me. But I feel viewers and contributors to OpEdNews such as myself need to look at viewpoints and analyses that emanate from different perspectives, lest we become locked into inflexible attitudes. - Burton H. Wolfe]
When I was born, there were fewer than two and a half billion people on the planet. Now, barely 60 years later, there are six and a half billion. When my father first went to work on Wall Street in 1926, it had taken 125 years for the world's population to double in size. When he passed away in 1997, it had taken only 39 years.
The population explosion is beyond control. It has emerged as the single most powerful, immutable force on Earth, driving geopolitical change, stimulating economic growth and generating global inflation. Ultimately, it is the most persistent - but least understood - factor underlying virtually everything we've been warning you about here in Money and Markets.
It is behind food prices, which are going up despite rapid advances in agricultural machinery ... despite the great strides of the "green revolution" ... despite the highest crop yields in history. It is behind the cycle of debt. I'm talking about the greatest credit inflation the world has ever seen, including $41.7 billion in US interest-bearing debts, $101.5 trillion in derivative debts, tens of trillions in US government commitments for Medicare and Social Security, plus trillions more in Europe, Asia, Latin America and Africa.
It is behind a new crisis in the Persian Gulf. This is where Iraq's oil-rich region of Basra is about to blow up, potentially derailing the world's oil markets ... sending the price of crude to brand new highs ... and carrying most other commodity prices along with it.
It is behind Peak Oil - the critical threshold beyond which world oil production will start to decline ... even with major improvements in extraction technology, even with more exploration, and even after a shift to alternative sources of energy.
Naturally, there are many other valid ways to explain inflation and many other formulas for forecasting it. But every single one can be traced back, directly or indirectly, to the population explosion. Ultimately, it's the population explosion that drives economic expansion. And in the final analysis, it's the population-driven expansion that underlies government policies designed to sustain it.
Why are nations so committed to economic growth at nearly any cost? Why do central banks continue to pump in so much money long after they recognize the inevitability of its inflationary consequences? Why has GDP growth become the supreme icon of most governments, businesses and investors?
When debts and deficits run amuck, why don't our leaders just slow down, take a breather, and focus on finding a more stable path? Your answers may be varied. But if you trace back through the chain of cause and effect, you will always return to one single, overriding factor: the population explosion colliding with finite resources. More mouths to feed. More demand. More pressure to perpetuate growth. More inflation. This is the inescapable reality of our times. It's why millions of immigrants are pouring into Western Europe from Africa, and millions more are streaming into the United States from Latin America. It's a key reason we're beginning to see environmental destruction and uncontrollable epidemics on an unprecedented scale. And it's also why I think most observers continue to underestimate the danger of inflation.
The Vicious Cycle of Poverty and Inflation.
The dilemma the world faces today is reminiscent of the dilemma I personally witnessed witnessed growing up in Brazil in the 1950s and 1960s. In those days, Brazil was forever "the land of the future" - a future that never seemed to arrive. The main reason: In response to demands by a population desperately anxious for a better life, politicians routinely sought to create an artificial prosperity ... by inflating the money supply. But when they inflated the money supply, they debased the currency .. When they debased the currency, they destroyed the purchasing power of salaried workers, and ... That destruction, in turn, added a whole new layer to the impoverished classes, bringing even more desperation and demands for a better life.
In short, the zeal to escape from poverty generated inflation; and the inflation created still more poverty.
At the time, most economists didn't get it. They theorized about inflation from 30,000 feet up. But they had little concept of what was happening on the ground. So when I was 23, I returned to Brazil, camera and notebook in hand, to document the vicious cycle of poverty and inflation. Brazil's mandate to push for growth at any and all costs had driven the cruzeiro into the gutter. The country had suffered the most massive inflation of any large country since Germany after World War I. And it was ongoing. In rural areas I visited, this meant that a family's earnings were so devalued - and the cost of basics so inflated - every family member had to work, and it was impossible for parents to care for children at home. The children had to sit in the fields, fending for themselves. Pre-teens cared for 5-year-olds. 5-year-olds cared for toddlers. Many were entirely on their own.
In urban areas, the situation was equally desperate. While the real value of wages plunged, the price of food surged. So, any food that could be stored was stockpiled, and most merchants hoarded the stockpiles in anticipation of even higher prices. In warehouses throughout the country, sacks of rice and beans were piled high, while traders waited for raging inflation to drive their commodities up in value. Even if a significant percentage of their inventories rotted, they still held out for higher prices. Acute shortages drove values up; and higher values caused even more shortages.
Some Lessons for Today
That was nearly four decades ago, when the world's population was roughly half what it is now. And that was Brazil, which, relatively speaking, was actually less destitute than many other countries. Now, we see a situation in other regions of the world that's far worse, plus a new cycle of poverty and inflation just beginning to unfold.
In the Congo, for example, a relatively unknown war that began roughly eight years ago, has left 4 million dead - more than the total fatalities suffered by both American and Japanese troops during all of World War II. The destruction of crops is enormous; the relative cost of food, outrageous. In oil-rich Angola, a massive cholera epidemic has erupted - almost entirely due to water contamination on the grandest scale ever witnessed in any region on the planet. In most of sub-Saharan Africa, South America and South Asia, we see similar scenarios under way or in the making. These, in turn, are what are driving the millions of immigrants to Europe and North America.
It's a Malthusian nightmare, and it's starting to occur right now.
The outlook is so obviously desperate that even some of the richest and most famous individuals on the planet - people who in past eras might have turned a blind eye - have decided they can't ignore it any longer. Rock singer Bono has sidetracked his career to help restore some semblance of hope. Bill Gates has just announced his departure from Microsoft to dedicate the rest of his life to his charitable foundation with similar goals.