The main idea of this book is that aging and deterioration of human abilities with age is not an inevitable natural process caused by irreversible accumulation of errors in DNA, but rather disease caused by accumulation of epigenetic changes that regulate genes expression. As such, this disease could be treated by restoring epigenetic environment of youth that would allow normal DNA expression and elimination not only of old age disabilities, but even death itself. In support of this idea author discusses results of his team research and findings.
Introduction: A Grandmother’s Prayer
Author starts this with description of his grandmother’s quite adventurous life and her vitality that disappear with age, substituted by physical and then mental disabilities. This was one of important stimuli for author to go into the specific field of biology and medicine.
Part 1: What We Know (The Past)
Chapter 1. ‘Viva Primordium’
This starts with description of initial evolutionary development and how living things developed ability to fix breakdowns of DNA. Here is pictorial presentation:
From here author moves to discuss overall approach to healing, noting that it is often fight against symptoms, rather than real causes. He discusses cancer as generic disease of immune system, rather then specific illness of lung or liver or some other part of the body. Author also discusses aging in evolutionary terms as seen via group selection, which prevents selection for immortality or even especially long lifespan. Author summarizes current prevailing attitude that aging is result of combination of factors and provides the list of these factors:
- Genomic instability caused by DNA damage
- Attrition of the protective chromosomal endcaps, the telomeres
- Alterations to the epigenome that controls which genes are turned on and off
- Loss of healthy protein maintenance, known as proteostasis
- Deregulated nutrient sensing caused by metabolic changes
- Mitochondrial dysfunction
- Accumulation of senescent zombielike cells that inflame healthy cells
- Exhaustion of stem cells
- Altered intercellular communication and the production of inflammatory molecules
Author does not really reject any of this, but rather goes around, first stating that he understands low feasibility of one cause for complex processes, but then presenting just such cause at the high level. He views bodily functions based on two types of information processing: digital presented by DNA and analog presented by epigenetics, with former reliable and unchangeable and latter vulnerable and is often broken due to variety of contingencies. Author correspondingly believes that this analog process is more or less regularly cleaned up and presents genes named SIRT1 to SIRT7, and a few other genes and enzymes that do just that. The final point author makes that accumulation of too many problems over time at epigenetic level makes this cleansing and fixing process less and less effective leading to aging. Consequently medical intervention that would restore effectiveness of such process would lead to elimination of aging.
Chapter 2. The Demented Pianist
Here author discusses incompleteness of DNA mapping and what he calls the Information Theory of Aging that he formulated. It started with research on one of the simplest living creatures – yeast. Author used it to analyze protein SIR2. Here is how author describes core of his discovery: “Broken DNA causes genome instability, which distracts the Sir2 protein, which changes the epigenome, causing the cells to lose their identity and become sterile while they fixed the damage. Epigenetic changes cause aging. There was, I imagined, a singular process that controlled them all. Not a countless number of separate cellular changes or diseases. Not even a set of hallmarks that could be addressed one at a time. There was something bigger—and more singular—than any of that. This was the foundation for understanding the survival circuit and its role in aging.“
The main analogy of this chapter is piano as DNA and epigenome as Pianist. The failing of SIR proteins allows accumulation of errors in epigenome, so pianist becomes demented, even if piano is good. Author discusses it in details and provides graphic presentations:
The main point that author makes here is that, as disease, aging is susceptible for treatment and that is what author is working on and he believes that such treatment is possible.
Part II: What We’re Learning (The Present)
Chapter 4. Longevity Now
Here author presents what is known about longevity and various examples of it occurring. He provides some recommendations: fasting, food mix, exercise, a bit of cold exposure, and so on. However he admits that the most important factor is good DNA.
Chapter 5. A Better Pill to Swallow
Here author moves a bit to philosophy and history, discussing Gilgamesh, Schrodinger, and nature of life. Then he moves to biology presenting:” The three main longevity pathways: mTOR, AMPK, AND SIRTUINS, evolved to protect the body during times of adversity by activating survival mechanisms. When they are activated, either by low-calorie or low-amino-acid diets, or by exercise, organisms become healthier, disease resistant, and longer lived. Molecules that tweak these pathways, such as rapamycin, metformin, resveratrol, and NAD boosters, can mimic the benefits of low-calorie diets and exercise and extend the lifespan of diverse organisms.
“. He also discusses resveratrol and some other compounds.
Chapter 6. Big Steps Ahead
Here is graphic representation what author believes in achieving:
And here is the way author plans to achieve this:
Chapter 7. The Age of Innovation
This chapter is about the last centuries of innovation in medicine. It starts with discussion of DNA and diagnostic and treatment feasts it made possible. Then author moves to more technical discussion about tools summarizing this in this picture:
Part III: Where We’re Going (The Future)
Chapter 8. The Shape of Things to Come
Here author looks at what will happen if his anticipation of elimination of aging in near future would come true: lifespan and health span extended beyond 100, leading to families of 4-5 generations, stress on resources, slowing down of scientific and political progress because individuals in power live a lot longer, social insecurity, renewed Malthusian challenge, and so on. However author ends the chapter on semi-optimistic note that humanity managed to overcome challenges before, so there is a chance that it would overcome this one too, especially if it means population of healthy, active, and productive 100 year olds.
Chapter 9. A Path Forward
The last chapter ends book with standard pitch of contemporary science: “we are about do and make great things, just give us more public money. No, make it a lot more public money”. In this particular case it sounds like complain that other get more for various diseases with really not that big impact, while aging impacts everybody and treatment of this disease would fix all others such as:
The final point here is that people should be able to die when they want to die and be healthy and productive until this moment.
In conclusion author describes his and his team current activity and stresses that so far there is no approved treatment for aging. However he can share what he himself does to prevent this disease:
- I take 1 gram (1,000 mg) of NMN every morning, along with 1 gram of resveratrol (shaken into my homemade yogurt) and 1 gram of metformin.
- I take a daily dose of vitamin D, vitamin K2, and 83 mg of aspirin.
- I strive to keep my sugar, bread, and pasta intake as low as possible. I gave up desserts at age 40, though I do steal tastes.
- I try to skip one meal a day or at least make it really small. My busy schedule almost always means that I miss lunch most days of the week.
- Every few months, a phlebotomist comes to my home to draw my blood, which I have analyzed for dozens of biomarkers. When my levels of various markers are not optimal, I moderate them with food or exercise.
- I try to take a lot of steps each day and walk upstairs, and I go to the gym most weekends with my son, Ben; we lift weights, jog a bit, and hang out in the sauna before dunking in an ice-cold pool.
- I eat a lot of plants and try to avoid eating other mammals, even though they do taste good. If I work out, I will eat meat.
- I don’t smoke. I try to avoid microwaved plastic, excessive UV exposure, X-rays, and CT scans.
- I try to stay on the cool side during the day and when I sleep at night.
- I aim to keep my body weight or BMI in the optimal range for healthspan, which for me is 23 to 25.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I think it would be wonderful if author is correct and his research would lead to elimination of the most profound and most dangerous epidemic that kills 100% of people impacted – aging. I would not hold my breath in anticipation of this, but I believe that a number of point here are valid:
- Epigenetic nature of aging rather than DNA error accumulation
- Potential for regular maintenance of this epigenetic environment that would eliminate or greatly diminish symptoms of aging.
However I do not believe that lifespan extension would be a problem economically or environmentally. Economically advance of Artificial intelligence will eventually make humans redundant for production of goods and services, freeing them to pursue happiness as the main business of live. Environmentally it would also not going to be a problem because we are getting closer and closer to finalizing stable level of population and establishing complete control over environment by setting up closed loop of production/consumption and controlling additional inputs/outputs into the system, including most important: solar radiation. In short the future is bright and we’ll probably see a glimpse of it.
The main idea of this book is to present a bit of reality to people brainwashed by constant flow of negativism about economy, human industrial activities and their consequences. This reality is that over the last hundred years with technology development humans produce a lot more goods and services with a lot less of raw materials and external pollution of environment. It is also demonstration of futility of CRIB ideas that come down to using less of goods and services to save the world. In addition to some reasonable ideas author moves supports panic of global warming and demands resource allocation by very big government and behavior changes from people to prevent it.
Here author previews the book, explicitly stating his argument: Unlike what people believe, in reality the world and especially USA constantly produce “more with less” raw materials. It was achieved via computerization, by “substituting bits for atoms”. Author believes that this caused by combination of 4 factors: tech progress, capitalism, public awareness, and responsive government. Author also proudly declares that everybody will find something not to like in this book: environmentalist – his claim that industries are not evil, socialists – his support for capitalism, capitalists – his support for big government and taxes. So author calls for open mind and claims position of neutral observer.
Chapter 1: All the Malthusian Millennia
Here author reviews Malthus and Hobbes ideas and even provides quite convincing prove that it did worked like that until recent time: graph with relation of population to salaries:
Here author moves to the bad staff of early modern age: slavery, children labor, colonialism, pollution, and destruction of wild animals such as buffaloes and whales.
Chapter 4: Earth Day and Its Debates
Here author discusses the Earth Day: April 22, 1970 when America celebrated the first Earth Day. Author considers it turning point of Environmental movement. He refers to previous disasters such as explosion on Union Oil rig in California, Cuyahoga rover fire and so on. He also writes about Paul Ehrlich and other doomsayers who predicted unrealistic scaring scenarios, which nevertheless captured imagination of population, especially miseducated youth. Then author moves to proposed remedies that he does not believe in:
- Consume Less
- Impose Limits
- Return to land
Somewhat interestingly author also present ideas of Julian Simon that there is no scaring emergency and the Ultimate Resource are humans, who will eventually find solution to any development problems. Author also discusses bet between Ehrlich and Simon on future availability of raw materials that Simon won hands down. Obviously it did not stop promoters of gloom from continuing promoting gloom and make money in process.
Chapter 5: The Dematerialization Surprise
Here author reviews books and essays that documented dematerialization of American economy, meaning decrease of use of raw materials to produce consumable goods and services. Here are a couple of graphs demonstrating this trend:
Chapter 6: CRIB Notes
In this chapter author revisits of CRIB implementation: Consume less – Recycle – Impose limits – Back to land ideas, reviews how they worked over the last decades, and concludes that they had at best marginal influence on the process of dematerialization. Then he suggests that the causes are presented in the next 3 chapters.
Chapter 7: What Causes Dematerialization? Markets and Marvels
Here author states his believe that four main forces are responsible for dematerialization, and that it’s helpful to think of them as two pairs, with the first reviewed in this chapter being Capitalism and technological progress. Then he proceeds to review a few examples:
- Increase in agriculture that dramatically decreased use of land, fertilizers, and pesticides
- IPhone that substituted a half dozen of different devices from telephone to photo camera, to TV.
- Decrease of use of coal, pushed out by gas
- Computerization of transportation that dramatically decreased need for rolling stock
The key feature here is that people need benefits of final products and services, while raw materials are costs; therefore technology that reduces such costs is implemented enthusiastically.
Chapter 8: Adam Smith Said That: A Few Words about Capitalism
Here author provides kind of critic of critic of capitalism, albeit it is half hearted. He starts it with what he considers valid criticism:
- Capitalism is selfish
- Capitalism is immoral
- Capitalism is unequal
The he presents his critic of what he believes invalid criticism of Capitalism:
- Capitalism is cronyism
- Capitalism is anarchy
- Capitalism is oppression
Author then moves to discussing socialism. He mentions Hayek’s theoretical prove that socialism could not possibly work and then proceeds to discuss real live catastrophic consequences of implementation of socialism, concentrating on relatively benign case of Venezuela. Author even completes this chapter stating that the problem with Capitalism is that there isn’t enough of it.
Chapter 9: What Else Is Needed? People and Policies
Here author goes to critic of capitalism: externalities, such as pollution and stresses his opinion that capitalism needs supervision in form of “responsive government”. He combines it all in image of “Four horsemen of the Optimist: call technological progress, capitalism, responsive government, and public awareness.”
Chapter 10: The Global Gallop of the Four Horsemen
This chapter is quite optimistic presentation of recent developments: outreach of technology to even poorest people, demise of global Socialist system and switch of its key countries USSR and China to market, Global movement for good government, and so on.
Chapter 11: Getting So Much Better
This is discussion of the world’s getting better thanks to some extent to feeling worse. He complains about humans leading other species to extinction, compulsory global warming, and so on, but then presents a bunch of graphs demonstrating that everything is actually getting better like this one:
Chapter 12: Powers of Concentration
Here author moves to discuss urbanization and globalization that connects world into one with mix of positive and negative consequences. He provide 3 scenarios of change:
- There’s strong economic growth. The rich get much richer, but middle class and poor households also do better. Because wealth and income gains are fastest at the top—because the rich get richer faster than the rest do—inequality increases, but all segments of society see growing incomes and wealth. Tech progress exists but is not highly disruptive; people continue to do the same kinds of jobs for the same kinds of companies in the same communities year after year. Important institutions such as the educational system and the courts remain stable and inclusive.
- The elites capture the economy and the political system and turn inclusive institutions into extractive ones. They change the laws, pack the courts, demand bribes, assume control of the largest companies (publicly or behind the scenes), hire security services for themselves and let law and order decay for everyone else, and so on. The economy slows down because it’s so badly managed, and all tech progress has to be imported. The elite get fantastically rich while everyone else suffers and becomes poorer. Wealth and income inequality skyrocket.
- Economic growth is healthy and institutions remain inclusive, but tech progress is extraordinarily powerful—so much so that it disrupts industry after industry. This progress fuels many types of concentration; it allows more crops to be grown on less land, more consumption from fewer natural resources, more output from fewer factories, and more sales and profits from a smaller number of companies. The people at the top of these superstar companies see huge wealth and income gains. Gains for those in the middle, however, slow down considerably. And some segments of the labor force face particularly tough challenges; the factories and farms that used to employ them close, and new ones don’t open. Job opportunities concentrate in cities and in service industries. Wealth and income inequality rise a great deal.
Chapter 13 Stressed Be the Tie That Binds: Disconnection
Here author moves to discuss disconnect that developed between Americans of different persuasions. He starts with James Mattis stating that it is his biggest worry, by far bigger than Iran or North Korea. It follows by discussion of decrease in social capital due to multiple challenges such as deindustrialization and loss of good jobs, opioids, inequality, and widely existing knowledge of staff that is not so. All this creates disconnect between members of society and consequently undermines its stability.
Chapter 14: Looking Ahead: The World Cleanses Itself This Way
After giving way to challenges in previous chapters, author states here his overall optimist based on believe that:
Chapter 15: Interventions: How to Be Good
This is author recommendation to what should be done to reconnect country back. So he goes through main points starting with “statecraft” required to save the world from global warming with taxes. Then he takes on corporations that should drop whatever they are doing and direct resources to saving planet. Finally he does the same for non-profits and citizenry, at the end issuing the list of strong recommendations:
- Reducing pollution. Pollution is not a necessary cost of doing business; it’s a negative externality that causes great harm to people and the environment. However, efforts are now underway in America and other countries to roll back restrictions on pollution to reduce businesses’ costs. The better health is much more important than higher profits.
- Reducing greenhouse gases. Greenhouse gases deserve to be called out separately from other forms of pollution because of the long-term harm they can cause across the planet, and because they’re not yet being controlled with regulations, taxes, and the many other tools used for dealing with externalities.
- Promoting nuclear energy. We currently have only one power source that doesn’t emit greenhouse gases and is scalable, safe, reliable, and widely available. We should be working to drive down the cost of nuclear power, and to overcome barriers to adopting it.
- Preserving species and habitats. Even though capitalism is now shrinking its geographic footprint in many countries, it still has a great thirst for attractive pieces of real estate, and for many animals. Conserving land, limiting hunting, and banning trade in products made from threatened species are highly effective interventions.
- Promoting genetically modified organisms. GMOs have been extensively studied and found to be safe. They also have the potential to greatly improve crop yields, reduce pesticide use, and improve nutrition. Yet they are strenuously resisted in many parts of the world. This needs to change.
- Funding basic research. Private businesses spend money on research and development, but they tend not to invest much in areas and ideas that won’t become products anytime soon. This means that governments have an important role to play in supporting more fundamental scientific and technical research as well as research into social phenomena such as disconnection.
- Promoting markets, competition, and work. Capitalism is widely unpopular at present, and socialist ideas are making a comeback. Yet markets, competition, and innovation have brought us previously unimaginable prosperity. As we’ve seen, they’ve also finally enabled us to take less from the earth. So we should not turn away from them now. Instead, we need to focus on finding meaningful opportunities for people at risk of disconnecting from society.
Conclusion: Our Next Planet
In conclusion author laments what humans did to the planet by living and multiplying and expresses hope that his “4 horsemen of optimism” will save whatever has left of it.
MY TAKE ON IT:
From my point of view this book is filled with duality. On one hand author looks at the past with optimism and recognizes that doomsayers where absolutely wrong and technological growth and increase of knowledge led to vast expansion of production combined with decrease in use of raw materials and pollution. This part is convincing, filled with data, and very reasonable. On the other hand author jumps to the same panic mode about global warming that he just criticized about previous fear of resource exhaustion and environment annihilation. This part is not supported by any serious data, filled with the same unjustified fear, and the same demands for government to interfere and save the world. I think that there is no real difference between people who made good living by scaring everybody about population bomb, resource exhaustion, and pollution in process falsifying data and attacking everybody who did not agree, and people who currently doing the same under the flag of global warming. Actually they are either the same people that did it in 1960s and 70s, if they are older, or just the next generation of crooks who look to make good living and obtain power over others by scaring them out of their wits.
Author presents main points of this book in introduction as such:
- Meritocracy promises to open way up for lower and middle classes and this promise become false
- Meritocracy oppresses middle class and exploits elite
- Meritocracy divides society into haves and have notes
- It is paradoxical because on one hand it divides society into elite and non-elite, but on other hand it makes both of them miserable creating resentment in non-elite and anxiety in elite.
- There is the way to escape this trap and author see it in political actions:” To escape the meritocracy trap, politics must overcome all the vulnerabilities and bad incentives that meritocracy enshrines in public life. Both the rich and the rest must learn to see through the anxieties—from populist and nativist resentment through small-minded competitiveness and arrogant condescension—that currently divide them. Both classes must recognize that their distresses, and even their antagonisms, share in meritocracy a single source. And both classes must join in a coalition in which each eases its own afflictions by empathizing with, and even shouldering, the meritocratic burdens that now afflict the other.
Part One: Meritocracy and Its Discontents
ONE. THE MERITOCRATIC REVOLUTION
This chapter describes history of meritocracy raise beginning in early XX century when leisured rich started to be pushed out by up and coming meritocrats trained in elite schools. These meritocrats without great wealth worked hard to obtain it via complex intellectual work in law, management, science, and arts. Author discusses in some details the nature of such works.
TWO. THE HARMS OF MERITOCRACY
Here author uses a town of St. Clair Shores, which used to be prosperous manufacturing town with middle class and elite living side by side. Now it is not that awful yet, but it is not any more prosperous town, which elite left behind and where the next generation of middle class cannot repeat success of previous decades. The author looks at what happened to elite and finds it not less awful: practically unlimited long hours, constant work stress, and even difficulty to enjoy significant wealth produced via these efforts. In short, elite highly exploited.
THREE. THE COMING CLASS WAR
Here author looks at one of the most elite places in USA – Palo Alto where rich people are miserable due to stress and poor find it hard to satisfy elementary needs like housing. Then author moves to discuss formation of new class of meritocrats via marriages and raising children in highly competitive environment, which requires lots of money to keep up with others. The next part of discussion is growing political division between meritocrats who use money, connections and skills to control government and use it for their benefits at the expense of middle and lower classes. In response these classes move to nativism and populism and use their numbers and democratic process to bring to political power their own champions. This political struggle scares author and makes him believe that country is moving to revolution.
Part Two: How Meritocracy Works
FOUR. THE WORKING RICH
This is somewhat repetitive description of how working rich pushed out from center stage old leisured rich, how much money top meritocrats make, how stressed they are and how they are different from majority of middle class that could not catch up with development of technology and knowledge based economy, seeing their own earning power stagnating or even going down. The result is the growth of inequality and corresponding stress on society.
FIVE. THE MERITOCRATIC INHERITANCE
This is about how difficult and expensive it is now to raise a meritocratic child, how much investment it involves from paying for upscale kindergarten to hiring multiple tutors, trainers, and consultants to get into top college without which it is not possible to achieve high level position anywhere. Author applies here monetary calculations for all fees and other payments required, eventually concluding that successful raising of contemporary meritocratic individual costs around $10 million. Author considers it as non-taxable inheritance.
SIX. GLOOMY AND GLOSSY JOBS
Here author compares meritocratic and regular jobs in various areas from restaurant to hedge funds management demonstrating the huge gap between them in both: efforts and returns.
Part Three: A New Aristocracy
SEVEN. A COMPREHENSIVE DIVIDE
The chapter starts with Clinton and Bush who had similar childhood even if one was son of salesman and another son and grandson of high-level bureaucrat and politician. It is not the case any more – the lives of their children is very different than the same generation middle class kids. Then author goes to review various aspects of these differences: Work, Family, Culture, Consumption, and Place of living,
EIGHT. SNOWBALL INEQUALITY
Here author reviews history of how this divide happened starting with increased role of education, changes in business management, and overall change in economics that values knowledge and skills much more than just plain hard work.
NINE. THE MYTH OF MERIT
In this final chapter author discusses where the notion of meritocracy came from and what is the nature of merit now in real live. He finds that it relates mostly to obtaining credentials, successfully playing some kind of bureaucratic games, and/or conducting complex activities in areas of information processing such as law, high level management, and such.
CONCLUSION: What Should We Do?
In conclusion author provides currently obligatory logically inconsistent invective of Trump and complains that “progressives” fail to answer effectively because they are under “meritocracy’s thumb”. Author points out that their move to identity politics and demands for equalization would inflict damage on meritocrats and middle class so it is not viable solution. He believes that solution is comprehensive restructuring of society:” To escape the meritocracy trap, politics must overcome all the vulnerabilities and bad incentives that meritocracy enshrines in public life. Both the rich and the rest must learn to see through the anxieties—from populist and nativist resentment through small-minded competitiveness and arrogant condescension—that currently divide them. Both classes must recognize that their distresses, and even their antagonisms, share in meritocracy a single source. And both classes must join in a coalition in which each eases its own afflictions by empathizing with, and even shouldering, the meritocratic burdens that now afflict the other.
In order to achieve this author suggests two paths to reform: ” First, education—now concentrated in the extravagantly trained children of rich parents—must become open and inclusive. Admissions must become less competitive, and training less all consuming, even at the best schools and universities. Second, work—now divided into gloomy and glossy jobs—must return mid-skilled labor to the center of economic production. Industry that is now concentrated in a superordinate working class must be dispersed widely across a broad middle class.”
Author also suggest to close meritocrats’ ability to transfer wealth to children via expensive elite education. Author considers it unfair tax shelter so he wants tax such expenses. On the other path: gloomy vs. glossy work author is looking for massive government intervention to define how what kind of jobs exists and how they paid.
MY TAKE ON IT:
Author is university professor and it shows. While his analysis is generally correct, it suffers from relatively poor connection to reality. For example the idea that law firm that charges 500 billable hours a week for work done by 5 lawyers has 5 people working non-stop 100 hours per week is very touching, but not at all realistic. Much more important however is author’s missing the most important part of the idea of meritocracy: who defines what merit is. Traditionally merit in American republic was defined by market place. Person who did something that other people voluntary pay for would earn more merit, expressed in more wealth. Because human beings generally are not that different in their capabilities, it led to society of nearly equals. Certainly a few people, who get in the very right place at the very right time and are capable to come up with some great idea that they are capable to implement, benefit hugely. These people like Rockefeller or Ford or Gates becomes million times richer than average not because they are million times smarter and hard working, but because being somewhat smarter they won lottery of time and place. This lottery winner as all other lottery winners are lucky exception to general rules of live and therefore have little impact on society’s structure. The current meritocracy comes not from ability to do something that people need. It comes from government power to take from people resources by force and redistribute these resources between hierarchical structures of government supported multitude of educational, legal, environmental, non-profit, and other bureaucracies, which do something that nobody would voluntary paid for. Correspondingly good places in these bureaucracies come from connections, elite education, based not on real knowledge and skills acquisition, but rather credentialism, racist preferences, donations, and other forms of corruption. Idea that it could be remediated by more government intervention strikes me as something slightly funny and completely unrealistic.
In my opinion, the real remedy would be dramatic decrease in government intervention in economy and all other areas of human live, removal of massive redistribution apparatus that mainly redistribute wealth not from rich to poor, but rather from middle class to bureaucrats, making these bureaucrats rich. Actually it looks like American people already start applying this remedy by electing and supporting Trump’s administration that author and majority of his peers so sincerely despise.
The main idea of this book is that the demographic is very important part of any society’s survivability and prosperity. This feature to significant extent defines society’s economic and military power and place in the world among other societies. The secondary idea is that there is quite consistent path of development that occurred over the last few centuries:
Step 1: scientific, economic, and cultural progress lead to decrease in childhood deaths, while level of births remains the same causing population explosion
Step 2: increase in survivability, new opportunities for improvement of quality of life, decrease in dependency on children in old age, and reproductive control technologies lead to decrease in births, which lead to stabilization or even decrease in population
Because different countries go through this process at different time and at different tempo, the end result is that countries that got there first, specifically Anglo-sphere and then Europe end up with materially smaller populations than countries that got there later eventually changing balance of power between different populations of the world.
Part One: Population and History
It starts with the story from 1754 in London when life was nasty, brutish, and short, killing lots of children who died very young, living population numbers very stable despite high number of births per woman. Then author briefly retells the story of the last 250 years when improved hygiene and medical services dramatically decreased number of deaths, while social welfare, emancipation, education, and growing opportunities greatly decreased number of births. Finally author defines the objective of the book: discuss role of population in history. Author cautious to stress out that demographic is not the destiny, but it is material part of it.
- The Weight of Numbers
Here author defines time scope of this book as starting from 1800 and Malthus and ending in the future. He then presents demographic history of British royals, which he shows to be quite representative to overall trends. Author then expands this discussion to overall population of the world and its dramatic increase. He also introduces idea that because process started with developed nations the cycle: improvement of living conditions – decrease of infant deaths with corresponding dramatic population growth – further improvement in living conditions leading to decrease of births and pursuit of happiness leading to decrease of births below replacement level – probable stabilization of population. This process seems to be common for all nations, religious, and other groups with the once that delayed process had stabilized at higher levels of population, sometimes much higher. Finally he discusses the difference that demographic makes in military balance of power and economic clout and applies this logic not only to balances between countries, but also to balance between various groups within countries, specifically referring to USA. Finally he provides a nice graph demonstrating current status:
At the end of chapter author identifies his own point of view on demographic issues:
“First, human life is an inherently good thing, and the saving and extension of it is a worthy pursuit. If it is good to save the life of a single child then all the more is it good to save the lives of millions of children, which is what happens when infant mortality is brought down. Healthy, civilized and long lives are better than nasty, brutish and short ones. Violent and catastrophic mass deaths are an inherently bad thing; if we regret the loss of a single life then the regret at the loss of multiple lives should be proportionately greater. What we do not wish for our families and friends we should not wish for other human beings, whether this is in the name of equality or environmentalism or any other potentially worthy but abstract goal.
Second, when women have control over their own fertility, they collectively make wise decisions, with or without input from their male partners. When women are educated and have access to contraception, they will not choose to have more children than they can support and, just as the hidden hand of the market works in economics, so the hidden hand of demography will work if allowed to do so. Enforced limitations on childbearing are not only wrong; they are unnecessary. In matters of demography as in so many others, the decisions of ordinary people, given the educational and technical tools to take them, will turn out to be best for their societies and for the planet as a whole.”
Part Two: The Gathering Tide: Among the Europeans
- The Triumph of the Anglo-Saxons
This chapter is about Britain being the first country that successfully broke through Malthusian trap by using scientific approach and industrial revolution. Author discusses here also other countries of Anglo-Saxon sphere, especially USA, claiming that its dominance of the world was derived from the rapid growth of population that resulted from being the first in this change.
- The German and Russian Challenges
This chapter is about similar processes in European countries that picked up steam in late XIX / early XX century. Author specifically discusses how it changed balance of European power making France fearing Germans who ran ahead in population growth, then Germans fearing Russian who did the same.
- The Passing of the ‘Great Race; 6. The West since 1945 From Baby-Boom to Mass Immigration; 7. Russia and the Eastern Bloc from 1945
Here author moves to the overall picture when Europe started falling behind in population growth because its advancement in technology, including medical, public services, economy, and overall prosperity that makes families smaller, promoting quality over quantity. Author also discusses here Europe self-inflicted tragedy of World Wars, massive epidemics that still occurred, and immigration with racial issues related to it. Finally author discusses European dictatorships of the first half of XX century and their demographic impact. At the end author poses the question “Is the Europeans in Retreat?” and pretty much replies that they are based on decrease in European population as percentage of the world.
Part Three: The Tide Goes Global: Beyond the Europeans
- Japan, China and East Asia The Ageing of Giants; 9. The Middle East and North Africa 10. Nothing New Under the Sun? Final Frontiers and Future Vistas
In chapters of this part author applies the same logic to all other countries of the world where he finds the same processes under way: Improvement in quality of life, leading to decrease in early death, which initially results in dramatic growth of population, but later on it leads to decrease in family sizes and stabilization or even decrease in population. Author ends very reasonably refusing to make any predictions on future demographics either of the worlds or specific countries. He only stresses his believe that whatever will happens demographics will be intertwined with destiny as it had always been before.
MY TAKE ON IT:
I completely agree with author’s presentation of demographic trends and history as it developed over the last couple centuries. However I do not think that division of people of the world in different populations makes a lot of sense presently and would make any sense in near future. Whatever is racial and cultural breakdown of the world population we find up at the moment in next 50 years, when population growth stops, it will become less and less relevant due to continuing mix of all populations both genetically via interracial births and culturally via expansion of popular culture in which input of population of western developed countries is completely dominant. I believe that in relatively short period of time, a hundred years at most, an average person would have as hard time answering question about his/her genetic roots, as average American with all 8 great-grandparents being non-immigrant with various roots: English, Scottish, German, Italian, or whatever else went into the mix. The only question in my mind is not about genetic demographics, but rather cultural dominance: which of European traditions become dominant in future genetically intermixed world: hierarchical, even totalitarian big state with suppression of individual freedoms and control from the top down, or flexible free association society based on individual freedom with minimalistic state restricted to prevention of wars and maintenance of law and order. The future answer to this question will define whether people of the world will live in misery or relative happiness.