The article below is from Australia but I gather that the situation is similar in other Western countries. The writer uses “punters” to mean ordinary Australians — as in people who bet on horse races
The political class is on a collision course with the punters they are elected to represent over the issue of population growth, because they are failing to engage the public in a meaningful, mature debate.
While the major political parties have signed up to the official long-term projections of 36 million by 2050, the public overwhelmingly thinks that’s way too many. In response, the politicians bat on with the reflexive response “There is No Alternative”.
This dissonance highlights much that is wrong with our political system. It also opens up big opportunities for both the extreme Right and the environmental Left over the coming years.
The numbers speak for themselves, people are rejecting the idea of big population growth by a factor of two to one. I think the reason is that the public is struggling with this debate is that the arguments in favour of growth and loaded with internal inconsistencies which are too often served up as truisms. If you were to chart a discussion between the punters and the pollies on population, it would go something like this.
Punters: The cities are bursting at the seams, the roads are clogged, the trains don’t work; we need to build more power stations to keep things running: why on earth would we want more people?
Pollies: We need more people so we can build our economy, creating more job opportunities and more economic growth.
Punters: But isn’t growth the problem? Why do we need growth, if all we are going to do with it is pay for things like cleaners and cabs and the things we need to deal with a faster, busier life?
Pollies: But if we don’t have economic growth, we won’t build up the tax base so that we have enough money to pay for the aging population, all those Baby Boomers who are about to exit the workforce and expect to receive a pension to keep them going for another 30 years.
Punters: But you have spent the last ten years making massive surpluses and handing all the money back to us in cheques we never asked for. Now you are spending billions on school canteens and insulation batts that no one ever asked for – surely we could just save a bit more money now. Even better, pump up the superannuation to 15 per cent so we can pay our own way.
Pollies – But these injections of funds are important to stimulate the economy and keep it growing.
Punters; But who said we wanted to grow?
Pollies: And while we are at it, the insulation problem is part of the effort to make our cities more environmentally sustainable.
Punters: Don’t talk to us about the environment. If you cared about the environment you would not be trying to truck in millions of more people into our fragile continent. Adelaide is already running dry, droughts are becoming more regular – surely millions more people is not the environmental solution.
Pollies: Its actually pretty simple: with a larger population, you’ll be able to generate the economic activity to come up with environmental solutions.
Punters; You are talking about growth again, can you just explain to me why growth is good?
Pollies: Well, if you went to university like we did, you would know that basic economics dictate that economies that grow create wealth and jobs and those that contract are miserable and dangerous places where the common currency is the banana.
Punter: But you keep telling us we have a skills shortage, why would be creating jobs that we can fill?
Pollies: That’s precisely why we need to increase out population base, so we have enough workers to drive are growing economy.
Punter: You’re not listening to us.
Pollies: You are too stupid to understand the big picture.
Sadly, that’s where our national debate on population is right now.