Wealth is fundamentally an availability of abundant survival resources. Hillsides full of tall green grass are a deer’s wealth. More grassy hills can support more deer. More deer eat more grass until overgrazing causes deer to starve. The deer population drops, grass rebounds, deer population rebounds, grass dwindles… and so on. This is the perpetual boom to bust to boom cycle of nature.
I assume this cycle applied to humans initially. Advances in tool technology made hunting and gathering more productive and secure. This increased resources and the human population rose. Tool technology has now made us the dominant species on this planet, the top of the food chain, and our numbers continue to increase. When does the bust phase of nature’s boom or bust cycle kick in? When, like the deer, do we consume all resources?
If all our tools disappeared tomorrow, food and other resources would plummet and our population would return to that of Paleolithic times. Let’s face it, without tools — from the stone ax on up — we are a wimpy species. We would be lion food. Speaking of lions, a total boom or bust cycle can’t occur with deer if lions are around to keep deer population in check. We solved that problem for our species by killing most of the lions, wolves, bacteria, virus… any predator that would help keep our population in check.
In lacking any predator to keep us in check, nature has made us our own predator, so to speak. We drive too fast, eat and drink too much, wage war, etc. What’s more, who knows what man-made disasters lie ahead — nuclear, genetic engineering, global warming, or some future unknown? So far so good, the natural balancing process is straightforward up to this point. Now for the odd part…
As people become more comfortable and secure, a primary result of wealth, the human population appears to trend downward rather than rising as it would for deer. If this trend holds up in the future, world populations will plummet as more and more of the world’s population becomes wealthy enough to feel comfortable and secure.
Why is this? As wealth increases, the standard of living rises. This increase in comfort and security lowers our tolerance for less. (I’ve also noticed the same effect in pets). The more comfortable and secure, the less grounded in nature we become… we lose perspective. We neurotically stress ourselves over increasingly petty matters. This leads us to spend more time indulging our ideals about the perfect life rather than on raw survival and procreation. If this is correct, it would make us the only species wherein the population eventually drops as wealth and access to resources increases. We certainly are an oddball species, but then perhaps no more so than Mother Nature’s other experiments.