Mr Nickell, the OBR and Population

Posted by: on Dec 11, 2014 | No Comments

OBRMr Nickell, the OBR and Population

Mr Nickell does have a history as a bell weather for being the wrong side of the market or argument, although I am hesitant to criticise him as he does have an honour from Her Majesty The Queen, but Mr Nickell’s immigration outpouring yesterday belies a fundamental issue which runs deep into the psychology and economics of our nature.

In the natural world, populations are naturally limited by access to food, water, shelter and the ability to breed.  Nature culls an overpopulation if access to those necessities are stretched as stress levels rise. In the managed world of dairy or beef farming practitioners have concluded from practical experience that their land has an equilibrium or optimum “stocking rate”, of maybe 4 cows per Ha to sustain both the animal, land and the farm.

Surely it doesn’t take a leap of faith to translate that logic into our own lives. Malthus recognised this 200 years ago and so do the majority of the Great British public.  If population densities rise, although we have developed the ability to provide food and water, stress levels are exposed in other areas such as access to shelter, movement, and other services.  These stress levels can be managed as people move away but on our island this ability is limited by other factors, such as access to work.

I haven’t heard of anybody suggesting population numbers and density can have an empirical cap but much like a balloon, pressure can be measured to prevent it from bursting which is obviously unpredictable and uncontrollable.  The South East of England is approaching that state.  It was suggested yesterday that the South East has “masses of space” just look at all the golf courses.  These golf courses are private clubs and unless they are members, the general public has no right to those spaces. If he is arguing for SNP style land confiscation for house building that’s one thing, but using that to plug the holes in his argument is tantamount to being “in up to the arm” in the barrel of implausibility.

Of course this really belies a greater truth, the fact that fiat economics demands growing markets to survive, a very inconvenient truth which people are struck dumb by, just ask Robert Peston.  Sustainable economists know population density does have limits as deviations away from equilibrium grow. These stress levels may change but cannot survive periods of sustained breach.  Mr Nickell is barking up the wrong tree with an argument ignoring natural logic and reason.

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