“For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled.”

Richard Feynman


Not All First World Economies Depend On Population Growth


By Sheila Newman

Sheila Newman is writing a thesis in Environmental Sociology, comparing the population policies of Australia and France since 1945 and looking at trajectories to 2050. She welcomes responses to this article.

– Malthusian Policies

Eco-malthusianism is the philosophy of ecological and environmental organizations that apply the Malthusian notion of scarcity not just to food *1 but to natural amenities, such as human living space and wild spaces; biodiversity; natural resources, such as clean water, air, and productive soil. The more ecological and biodiversity oriented among them tend to see solutions as lying in a bioregional approach, where population numbers and economies are adapted to regional biophysical limitations, leaving plenty of room for all native species and some well-managed introduced ones.

Eco-malthusianism is quite vestigial in France, existing only at the level of professional biological and zoological ecologists. The concept of biodiverse ecology has been subsumed to the notion of a clean, economically productive, physical environment. However, the French (and European Union (See Appendix at end of this document) approach to national economics has a Malthusian character in its focus on looking after the national population first and the provision (at least in theory) of shelter, food and education for nationals and then anyone else if possible.*2

Although France has a strong export economy, it has defended wages and conditions, social security and French industries against the erosion of global economic rationalism better than many countries. Being a part of the European Union, which has a similar perspective, has assisted this approach. France’s economic and social reactions to the Oil Shock, especially the closing down of immigration from outside the European Union with André Postel-Vinay’s lifeboat philosophy, exemplifies this approach. André Postel Vinay, Minister responsible for Immigration from May 1974, foresaw that the financial crisis would be long and profound with high unemployment and organizational restructuring. He conceded the harshness of the international situation, but his philosophy was that France could not provide succor to the whole world. He said that three factors made ceasing immigration a preventative necessity: the doubling of third world population by late in the 20th Century; the likelihood of profound and lengthy economic crisis; and the problem of the public housing shortage for both French and Foreigners. *3.

There has been no fundamental change in policy since these statements.  Immigration from within the European Community, which consists of countries with similar econonomic and population pressures as France, is not seen as a process likely to lead to massive demographic or economic impact on France.   It is probably easier to think of immigration from within the European Union as in many senses similar to interstate immigration in the United States or Australia.

France’s position on the population problems of the third world differs from that of the US in that, for instance, the US behaves as if it considers allowing high immigration to be a partial solution to these problems by providing economic asylum to those who manage to travel from the third world.  The position is that high immigration leading to population pressure in the United States is the result of third world population pressure, and that this immigration will reduce if or when third world populations get smaller and/or have better economies.  In the meantime US policy countenances few restraints on immigration.   This seems to be an indication that US policy relies on the economics of demographic transition to solve the problem of third world population growth and assumes the US has enough space and resources to bear the brunt of this decision whilst awaiting population stabilisation or some technical solution to overpopulation. Because France (and the rest of the EU) does not seriously contemplate relieving third world problems by immigration, preferring foreign aid (at least in theory), we could infer that France, a) believes there is a problem of overpopulation in the third world and b) believes that accepting an uncontrolled stream of third world immigrants would lead to a similar situation in France, ergo: France is populous enough. Popular discussion in France sees most potential immigration problems as emanating from social (including racial and ethnic) differences, probably since social values and social welfare are the major indicators of quality of life and standard of living in a country with little wild biodiversity, a landscape domesticated for many centuries, and an almost exclusively anthropocentric culture.  *4

– Immigration From Outside the European Union : EU Policy

The population of Europe, on current trends, would decline by about 30 million between the year 2000 and 2025.*5

Germany, which in the past few years has had the highest*6 non-EU immigration fed population growth in the European Union, plans for 240,000 new immigrants per year from here until 2005, then 200,000 a year until 2025 — 5.2 million in total.

Italy, in company with Japan, has the oldest population in the world, with a median age of 40.2 years. Plans for immigration in Italy are for 320,000 immigrants in the next 25 years.

Spain is set to have the oldest population by 2050 on current trends. Current plans for the future are for 12,000 immigrants per year from 2000 to 2005, and then 6000, 4000, and 2000 and then zero net annually for the next four five year periods.

Finland plans for 4000 immigrants annually between 2000 and 2005, and then zero net immigration from 2025.

In 1998, France’s plans for immigration, as stated to the ONU were for 30,000 net between the year 2000 and the year 2005 and 20,000 in the following five years. This would then be reduced to 5000 and then zero net for the next three five year periods.*7

It should not be forgotten, of course, that intra EU immigration is unlimited.

– Immigration in Europe : Other Policy

The year 2000 saw a strong push from the New York quarters of the United Nations for a high immigration solution to Europe’s aging population. I will not go into the matter again except to say that this has been so far the only substantial push for high immigration to France and it has not come from within France or Europe. Although the principle of open borders is endorsed by many French intellectuals, but by almost no-one else, the idea of immigration on the scale proposed by the UN would strike them as bizarre. Those advocating a US style immigration policy in Europe (and elsewhere) dont seem to understand the energy and logistical problems that Europe has to deal with. This is a major difference between the frontier mentality of the new world and the pragmatic (malthusian) economics and environmentalism*8 contained in the consolidation mentality of the old world.

Here is a table contrasting the numbers suggested by the UN if Europe wishes to maintain current working age population to retired age population ratios and the current EU national policies for immigration.

 Numbers Suggested by United Nations to Retain Age Ratio in Europe Contrasted with Current Immigration Policy in Europe.


































Source: “Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to declining and Ageing Populations”, 6 January, 2000 and Afsané Bassir Pour and Sylvain Cypel, “L’Europe aurait besoin de 159 millions d’immigrés d’ici à 2025, Le Monde, Thursday 6 January, 2000.

Note that there are several differences between France’s conceptual definitions and the UN’s in these calculations. The UN defines the population of working age as between 15 and 64 years, but in France the legal age for leaving school is 16 years and the legal age for retirement is 60 years. The average age of first employment is well above 15 years.

– Immigration in France

As mentioned above, France’s plans for immigration, as stated in the United Nations Report, Perspectives de la population mondiale, 1998 were for 30,000 net between the year 2000 and the year 2005 and 20,000 in the following five years. This would then be reduced to 5000 and then zero net for the next three five year periods.

© Sheila Newman


*1. In fact they may subscribe to the idea that food is a problem of distribution rather than shortage.

*2 Thomas Malthus, The Grounds for an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn, John Murray, London, 1815 and Thomas Malthus, An Enquiry into the Nature and Progress of Rent, John Murray, London, 1815, republished in Pickering Masters: The Works of Thomas Robert Malthus: Essays in Political Economy, William Pickering, London, 1986 Vol 7.  Malthus’ economic writing complemented his demographic theory. In his essay, Grounds for an Opinion on the Policy of Restricting the Importation of Foreign Corn, Malthus made the point strongly that it was only where rent was high, that is where profits were considerable on agricultural product, that agriculture would expand into marginal lands. Where profit was low, the cost of extending agriculture was too high. Furthermore, where profit was low, farmers tended to concentrate production into the most high yielding areas of their properties. Malthus thought that the achievement of this state required some amount of protectionism and the encouragement of national self sufficiency, with government able to oversee the security of the production of staples. These ideas on agriculture can be translated to apply to other forms of financial risk and industrial expansion.

*3 Patrick Weil, La France et ses immigrés, Calmann-Levy, 1991, p.83.

*4 ‘Anthropocentric’ in contrast for instance, to that of indiginous lifestyle aborigines in Australia or Borneo, or Australians, Costa Ricans, North-Americans with cultural values relating strongly to wild biodiversity, wild spaces, pioneer culture etc.

*5 This projection and the following projections for different countries are taken from Afsané Bassir Pour and Sylvain Cypel, “L’Europe aurait besoin de 159 millions d’immigrés d’ici à 2025, Le Monde, Thursday 6 January, 2000.

*6 Note that net immigration changes these numbers in Germany, where population registers are strictly kept and many immigrants are there on a purely temporary worker basis. Many work permits have strictly limited application and do not entitle the holder to accept all offers of employment. “Ordinary” permits to work are increasingly issued on a “prior entitlement basis” for German workers and workers with equivalent status. The numbers were also affected by high rates of asylum seekers among other factors. Tougher legislation introduced in July 1993 dramatically lowered people qualifying for asylum. (Source: SOPEMI Trends in International Migration, Annual Report, 1998.)

*7 ONU, Perspectives de la population mondiale, 1998, cited by Afsané Bassir Pour and Sylvain Cypel, in “L’Europe aurait besoin de 159 millions dimmigrés d’ici à 2025, Le Monde, Thursday 6 January, 2000.

*8 “Pragmatic economics and environmentalism” ; by this I mean a recognition of environmental and economic costs with strategies to avoid further expensive pollution and expansion of infrastructure. There is of course a social component to such costs.


Letter from ECOPOP, the Swiss eco-malthusian group, to the United Nations about UN proposals for high immigration to Europe to combat the aging of the population.

Unterstützungskomitee: Margrit ANNEN-RUF, Luzern; Prof. Dr. H.C. BINSWANGER, St. Gallen; Sonja CRESPO, Zürich; Dr. iur. B. GELZER, Basel; Prof. J. A. HAUSER, Weggis; Prof. O. HEGG, Bern; Dr. med. R. ITIN, Chur; Dr. iur. R. MUNZ, Winterthur; Dir. W. PALMERS, Sursee; Prof. Dr. H. POPP, Bern-Liebefeld; Prof. M. REHBINDER, Zürich; Prof. R. SCHENKEL, Basel; Prof. P. SCHIESS, Basel; Prof. P.A. TSCHUMI, Bern

9th January 2000

Copy for your information

Mr Joseph Chamie

UN Population Division

Dep. Economic and Social Information and Policy Analysis

United Nations

N.Y. 10017

Dear Mr Chamie
An article in the French Newspaper “Le Monde” of January 6th sais, concerning the ageing of populations in Europe: “According to a pre-report of the United Nations there is no other solution to the massive deterioration of the ratio of the inactive to the active population but immigration”. Europe, according to the UN, would need 159 million immigrants from now to the year 2025.

We are shocked about this one-sided view of the situation:

* World population is projected to almost reach 9 billion in 2050. Many scientists warn that from an ecological point of view, the earth cannot support more than 2 to 4 billion people leading a decent life in the long run. It would therefore be highly desirable that at least Europe and the United States started decreasing, all the more since people in the industrialized world have a particularly massive impact on the environment because of their high consumption level.

* Europe’s ecological carrying capacity (Western and Central Europe) is estimated to be about 300 million people with a more modest consumption level than today (against 445 million people today). The region is obviously overpopulated. Massive immigration cannot be a solution to these problems! Ecology doesn’t seem to be present in the mind of the authors of this UN report.

* Why do the UN experts forget, that children are also “inactive” and a cost factor? The total dependency ratio (including children) has not changed and will not change very much in the next 50 years, even if fertility remains very low over a long time period: there will be more old people, but less children to support.

* Do UN experts forget that immigrants also grow old and want to receive pensions? They would have to be supported by still more immigrants (see table below).

* Why do UN experts forget that there remains a large reserve of manpower in Europe: the unemployed and women who would like to enter the labour force.

* Why do UN experts not consider new possibilities to finance old age pensions (earmarked taxes, a shift of the burden from labour to capital, ecological tax reform)?

ECOPOP has calculated how much immigration would be needed to maintain the old-age dependency ratio of today in Switzerland:

Total Population if the actual old-age dependency ratio in Switzerland were to be maintained by immigration
(Fertility 1.5 children per woman)


Total Population in millions

% under 20 years

%20 to 64 years

% 65 years and older





















The result would probably be similar for the whole of Europe. It is absolute nonsense to try to avoid the ageing of the population through immigration.

Instead of giving such wrong signals, the UN should start giving signals saying that from a global and ecological point of view the below replacement fertility in a growing number of countries and the resulting population ageing and decline are highly desirable developments.

If what “Le Monde” writes is true, we urgently request the UN Population Division to thoroughly rethink the pre-report and rewrite it before it is published.

With best regards
Sonja Crespo