Saturday, 28 December 2013

The shrinkage problem for the Enriched World

This morning, there is an interesting article about an emerging and natural problem for an “industrial” Enriched World: that of urban shrinkage due to lowest-low fertility and/or large-scale out-migration.

These problems are inherent in a postindustrial Enriched World (at least practically) due to the combination of:
  1. extreme comparative disadvantage in non-mobile resources (agriculture, mining, forestry)
  2. limited flat land supply for maintaining replacement-level fertility
  3. high taxes demanded by the working classes since their formation and eventually enforced on governments after World War II further reduce the money available to form families
  4. inherent (at least in practice) large welfare states further reduce the incentives for women to have children
Despite this, there has generally been very little discussion of how the real Enriched (and Tropical) World will actually respond to urban shrinkage from lowest-low fertility or limited job opportunities.

In this context, although I was not able to read the full article, ‘How does(n’t) Urban Shrinkage get onto the Agenda? Experiences from Leipzig, Liverpool, Genoa and Bytom’ is a fascinating article to look at. It considers four European cities that in recent years have lost large proportions of their populations to these features and argues that policymakers do not take this into account.

However, I have not seen evidence of different attitudes by the real “policymakers” of the Enriched World – the working and welfare-recipient classes.

Urban shrinkage is no doubt easily accepted by locals who feel they can gain more space without losing the personal luxury items that are not obtainable in the more sparsely populated Australian suburbs where music listening and reading habits are comparatively exceedingly standardised.  The extremely materialistic character of welfare recipients will make them think population shrinkage is a good thing, because fewer people could theoretically spread the same wealth more widely.

However, each Enriched nation’s product of least comparative disadvantage does not remain such permanently. This is in severe contrast to Australia, Africa and Arabia where comparative advantage remains in the same specialisation – primary products – at all stages of development. It is difficult to see whether Enriched World governments will forever be able to cope with tax revenue loss from either departing industrial corporations or fewer working people. Personal luxury items which serve to define each individual in Enriched World cities are unlikely to provide the tax base people in these cities generally desire, and Enriched World politicians have enough dilemmas trying to maintain profitability and reduce debts without becoming vulnerable to an overthrow from the highly politicised – though outwardly peaceful – masses on which they depend. These masses fear that if regulations were dismantled and taxes reduced, they would lose job security, because secondary and especially tertiary industries are much more mobile than those sectors where Enriched World comparative disadvantage is greatest – agriculture and mining. This is made worse by their desire to spend so much on their favourite specialised consumer goods, rather than save for difficult periods.

Declining populations in many Enriched World cities have little hope to improve allocation of land, partly because the decline will mean more and more single-person households, but also because demand for high living standard will make people reluctant to ease development laws to permit more efficient use of land. In their book The Poverty of Nations: A Sustainable Solution, Barry Asmus and Wayne Grudem say:
“Just as environmental policies that are too lax [as in Australia and Africa today] allow for the careless destruction of the environment, so environmental policies that are too strict [as throughout Eurasia and the Americas today] prohibit wise use of the environment, as these restrictions also hinder economic growth”
These strict laws create problems for development of the large areas of steep land in Europe which surround cities built on tiny areas of flat land. If they were removed, it would be interesting to see if this steep land would be able to be used for anything other than recreation or wildlife habitat?? Most free-market urban planners (e.g. Wendell Cox) say nothing about whether urban housing can be built economically on slopes too steep to farm: if they can, there is, even allowing for erosion and other hazards, potential for dealing with the land shortage the Enriched World faces in a small way at least. Then, if the land shortage can be eased, so might lowest-low fertility, unaffordable welfare states, and a radically “selfist” culture – changes whose benefits I have noted before.

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