The birthday of the famous economist Thomas Malthus was yesterday. That population grows in geometric progression and food production rises in arithmetic progression to eventually make the world unsustainable could indeed prove to be correct in the epochal long run, because technical change has its limitations.
The projected population of the world by mid-century is 10 billion. By 2100 it could be around 15 billion, with the average life expectancy around the world being about 80 years and perhaps one-half of all the other species sharing the planet with us becoming extinct. The planet has 6 habitable continents. Assuming geopolitical peace and the free movement of peoples around the planet, the average population per continent by 2100 would be 2.5 billion. 2.5 billion is larger than the combined current populations of China and India. The world would be as crowded as the largest cities in the world today as if New York City were on steroids, with a similar demographic makeup.
This very prospect is unnerving to the world’s wealthiest countries with the world’s lowest combined populations, because 2.5 billion per continent implies 2.5 billion each in Europe, North America (particularly the United States and Canada) and Australia, increasing their populations by orders of magnitude as the population density harmonizes around the world. The biggest barrier to liberty is the political hindrance to the free movement of people which is a basic human right. This is also the biggest barrier to world peace, because unless societies prepare for this demographic eventuality, whatever the climate, the social disruption could be far more consequential than the melting of the Arctic polar ice cap. The heat on the streets could be devastating.
Australia is already experiencing its backlash against South Asian students and immigrants, the United States is dealing with Latin American immigrants from the south as well as with the social ramifications of the economic impact of integrating the emerging and transition economies into the global economy, and Europe is nervous about Turkey and other Muslims to its south. The Muslims will also be the fastest growing and the youngest working age demographic over the course of this century, stretching from Sub-Saharan Africa into the Middle East, India and South East Asia. The Russians, occupying the largest political landmass on the planet spanning Eurasia and about 11 time zones from the Arctic sea and the Baltics in the north and west to the Pacific in the east, are wary of the Chinese moving up north into Siberia as much as they are also worried about ethnic non-Russians moving into European Russia.
So, the political question of leading and managing this inexorable process of social integration which is as old as human migration itself becomes complicated, especially as resources become scarcer. Who should bear more responsibility? The rich countries with a far smaller population density or the rest of the world with a far higher density of population? This question is no different from the recent and far less consequential wrangling in Copenhagen over who should pay for the emerging markets and poor countries to clean up because the world has resolved its energy problem and it is only a matter of time before it is fully implemented in their economic structures by all countries.
Social protectionism in the wealthy is really about per capita standards of living or the average income per person. Culture and religion are political masks on this existential conflict over the pocketbook because as the world’s pocketbook bulged over several millennia, culture and religion changed. The future would be no different, but the politics of integration is a matter of perspective: the most populous countries with smaller pocketbooks see integration as the primary responsibility of the wealthy. The wealthy seek cultural and religious compromises in return to minimize their level of social comfort.
This dance also occurs within what may seem to be homogeneous cultures on the surface, because ultimately it is all interest group negotiation over the distribution of resources and national incomes. It is a contest among various forms of ever changing self-identification. The world, forever, remains precariously perched on falling apart or integrating more peacefully.
Still, among parts of the world, as it stands today, with some semblance of stability of identity, the changing dynamic of the mutual need among the wealthy and the less so, with the wealthy and the more militarily powerful trying to be socially protectionist and economically integrationist at the same time by using their wealth and power to that end, perhaps the game ought to be taken over by the more populous, where the future of the sustained prosperity of the wealthy lies.
Reverse discrimination can be turned into reverse integration because the most to lose culturally in the framework of global integration by the west are the more populous and less wealthy ― post-war and post-colonial Japan, India and China being examples. Non-western cultures would be better off becoming melting pots by making space for the west within their societies as they become wealthy, without succumbing to the west culturally to become wealthy.
The non-western eagerness to ingratiate and integrate themselves into the western world as is currently the case in Asia and Africa must be turned on its head to let the west into the cultural frameworks of their societies to lead the process of social integration which the west is pathologically unable to lead because of its own cultural chauvinism. Modernity, moderation and secularism are abstractions that are just as applicable to all societies without necessarily having to change culturally to fit into the west. Modernity is not the immoderate, non-secular cultural fundamentalism of the west that has the tendency to eradicate the other in order to integrate, which was the principal trigger of 9/11.
The socially protectionist and the less populous west would then face the choice of either being isolated in a new cultural paradigm in which it will have its space or change itself to embrace that paradigm, for the society is a far greater power than either wealth or military.
Reverse integration or the geopolitics of the inclusion of the west into them to culturally co-exist, rather than culturally evangelize like the west, within their societies by the emerging countries is the best geopolitical political mechanism to transition to a more peaceful and sustainable world because the west is confusing its wealth and power with its illusory cultural superiority. It is far easier to integrate the 1 billion or so wealthy in the west culturally into the rest of the 6 billion than the 1 billion in the west orchestrating cultural shifts among a multitude they cannot sustainably control, let alone change.