Minnesotans For Sustainability


Home ] Up ] Feedback Please ] Table of Contents ] Search MFS ] MFS News ]

Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.







National Optimum Population Commission-NOPC-proposal

National Population Policy; Justified

M. Boyd Wilcox, Founder
October, 1998


Although its establishment may be a difficult and complicated process, the basic concept and reasons for existence are so simple, one might easily conclude that we have been brain-dead not to have done it much earlier. What is IT? A National Population Policy-NPP. Why?

Two fundamental perspectives help to clarify the obvious. The first has to do with simplicity. How many times do we hear people, from all walks of life, utter with sad resignation something like the following: "I just wish our lives were not so damn complicated!"

We must realize that, among other factors, each person added to any group affects both size (scale) and complexity. It does not matter if the group is a family, church, school, business or pool of constituents seeking democratic representation.

By increasing the size, each additional person ratchets up complexity by just being there and interacting with others in the group. These interactions are often cooperative, but can also be competitive or conflicting. In any case, simplicity is sacrificed as the group gets larger.

A second perspective substantiating the need for a NPP extends to the nation, where we now have a group of about 270 million individuals. The sum total of each person's contribution to both size and complexity is what the nation is composed of and what drives the U.S. forward into the future. Is this size and complexity a conscious choice? Is it reasonable to hope for a simpler existence under these circumstances?

With an historical retrospective, it is clear we have established broad, well understood, crucially-significant national policies to oversee major segments of our collective lives. The executive, legislative and judicial branches of government continually revisit these policies in order to make mid-course corrections, but the fundamental need for most of these policies is almost never questioned, because they are so important to the smooth functioning of our nation and society.

Examples are in areas such as: transportation, commerce, health and welfare, military preparedness, agriculture and natural resources, foreign affairs, labor, energy and education. Do these categories sound familiar? They should. National policies associated with this listing are considered so essential to the nation's well-being that they have advocates residing in Cabinet positions chosen by the President.

Why is there no cabinet position for the category of national life that is at least as important as any of those mentioned above; that of demographics? The size and complexity of our national population is the great magnifier, the determinant of our common future. It operates as both a dependent and independent variable. Understanding this leads inevitably to the need for a National Population Policy.

As a dependent variable, population pressure interacts dynamically and synergistically with other factors that determine overall national quality of life. These connections are most evident when one considers the factors that influence fertility; education, health and welfare, empowerment of women and minorities, distribution of wealth, etc.. Fertility and/or desired family size are crucial variables because they are the ones that ultimately determine the size and complexity of our national population. (Death rates and migration are also critical. Most would argue that death rates should be as low as possible. Immigration and emigration must be balanced if a stable population is desired, given replacement-level fertility.)

Because population pressure also acts as an independent variable, we come full circle in understanding that numbers, in fact, do matter. There are hundreds of examples that could be offered, but it is most instructive to choose one based upon our most cherished national tradition; representative democracy. The positive mythologies surrounding this tradition are the bedrock of our system; it is required reading in most government and civic classes, and it is projected as the "glue" holding our diverse and potentially-volatile society together. With the size and complexity already attained in our national population, how useful and secure is this "glue" as we critically assess the present and look towards the future?

The key words here are dilution and alienation! We have 435 members of the U.S. House of Representatives. If we wanted to restore the original ratio between the House and constituents, we would need 8,700 members. (The original ratio was 1 / 30,000. It is now 1 / 600,000 or a 20-fold increase. 435 x 20 = 8,700.) Or we could reduce our population to 1 / 20th current levels; 13.5 million instead of 270 million. This is how tragically diluted each individual's affective political relationship has become at the federal level. That dilution leads to alienation is obvious. Is it any wonder why less than 5070 vote in national elections? Carry this analysis into your own life, feelings and participation in national politics. All things considered when it comes to democracy, population pressure is paramount. There is absolutely no credible argument that more people in the U.S. (or anywhere) serves to promote democracy. Clearly, we must move in a different direction, and a NPP will help get us there.

What would a National Population Policy DO?

It could begin by engaging at least the following objectives:

1. A National Optimum Population Commission -NOPC- requiring a national debate and analysis; leading to legislative, educational and public-policy directives that would place us upon a long, multi-generational pathway to achieving a stable population at a level or range deemed sustainable for the long term future. The conclusions of NOPC would be the foundation for a NPP. This process would be very easy to jump-start, by simply dusting off the work and conclusions of the 1972 Rockefeller Commission and adding wisdom gained the past 26 years.

2. The establishment of a Presidential cabinet-level department of Population & Demographics, which would be largely responsible for carrying out the NPP. In so doing, it would be integrating policy and action in areas of national life, such as:

    1. Population redistribution within the U.S.. While there are millions of people residing in overcrowded cities, there also exist numerous small towns and rural areas which would welcome a moderate amount of population growth, to achieve certain economies of scale. With appropriate economic development incentives, these areas could enjoy the benefits of an influx of newcomers while taking the pressure off urban areas overstressed by too many people.

Another job involving redistribution ties in with long-range efforts to relocate citizens away from flood and other disaster-prone areas. Depending upon how the global climate-change wildcard unfolds (with subsequent rising sea levels) we would be vise to anticipate these changes. A third incentive behind the need for federal coordination of population redistribution arises from the need to restore certain migration corridors and critical habitat for flora and fauna, not an easy task with 270 million people and only tiny remnants of ancient ecosystems as a starting point for restoration.

b) Immigration. This hot-button issue needs to be relegated to its proper place, as a subsection of overall population pressure. By so doing, the emphasis is taken away from being "anti-immigrant" and converted to the more positive effort of crafting an immigration policy; one that serves the national interest just like the policies of any other Presidential cabinet-level department.

c) Global outreach. One of the reasons for doing NOPC, and for establishing a NPP is to provide a model approach that other nations/ bioregions could emulate. The wisdom gained and expertise developed should be shared, as all nations grapple with how to place their respective populations on the pathway to a more sustainable future. The U.S. Department of Population & Demographics could serve as a clearing house for the entire process, integrating its outreach with appropriate agencies of the United Nations and other organizations, working on behalf of a more sustainable future.

d) Citizenship and assimilation issues are extremely important, especially in a nation as large and diverse as the United States. To ignore this is to invite a Balkanization of the nation, a process some observers feel is already underway. As we celebrate the strength that comes from this diversity, we must also integrate and enhance those elements that provide common bonds; the bonds that hold the nation together and allow it to cope.

It is abundantly clear that we need a National Population Policy. It not only is essential, relative to the other top cabinet positions in the executive branch of government, but it is deserving of special attention because it has been so summarily ignored. How much longer will these blinders obscure our vision and what will be the consequences for refusing to remove them? Or is our ability to exercise a choice in the matter obliterated by the already-attained size and complexity of our nation?
For more information write:
1070 SE Denman Avenue
Corvallis, Oregon 97333


Please send mail to webmaster@mnforsustain.org with questions or comments about this web site. Minnesotans For Sustainability (MFS) is not affiliated with any government body, private, or corporate entity. Copyright 2002, 2003, 2004 Minnesotans For Sustainability