February 05, 2013

India 2030

The recent census has shown that India's population grew from 1,030 million to 1,200 million (growth of 16 percent) in the last decade. China's population increased from 1,240 million to 1,340 million (growth of 8 percent) in the same period.

Assuming a growth rate of 15 percent, India's population will be 1,380 million by 2021. China's population meanwhile will reach a figure of somewhere between 1,450 million and 1,500 million.

How can anyone get one's head around these enormous numbers? How many people can anyone connect with at a personal level? How many people can a human brain remember?

I don't know about others but I can speak about myself.

I probably have 200 relatives. Strangely enough, I've very few friends from my school or college days. Probably 20. During those bygone days, there were social networks and the passage of time makes memories fade. I can probably remember about 100 colleagues that I've worked with over the past five years. I am a bit of a news junkie. So, how many authors and historical and current personalities do I remember? I am not sure but it can't possibly be greater than one thousand.

So the total tally comes to around 1,500 at the most. That probably makes sense.

If I were to think of someone spending their entire lives in a village, a large village probably has somewhere around 1,500 to 2,000 people. In a village of course, everyone tends to know everyone else.

It seems clear though that through our evolutionary history, humans would have lived in very small communities. It's rather impressive when you consider that our brains which developed back in those days is capable of developing such new skills.

But that evolutionary heritage also means that we are probably woefully unqualified to make any sense of numbers of humans running into the millions, let alone billions.

So, mostly, how people react to the headline population numbers is that they mostly ignore it and put it out of their mind.

The population dynamics therefore plays out at the level of families and communities. Everyone in my grandparents' generation had about half a dozen kids each and eight kids was a pretty normal figure. Of course, in those days, it was also very normal to have a kid die in young age from some disease or the other. So, the idea behind having a multiplicity of babies was that it was a solution to the problem of depletion of kids by death.

In our generation, the number of kids has come down to one or two mostly. But the people in the reproductive age group are so vast that the number of babies being born every year is still astoundingly large. India is adding roughly an Australia every year to its population. Not good.

As technology continues to empower humans in myriad ways, individual human beings become ever more powerful. And we are building ever more intelligent machines which have taken over various jobs which humans used to handle earlier. This inexorable increase in productivity of individual workers in the workforce inevitably leads to unemployment which can lead to social unrest.

How are all this going to play out for India? The famous demographic dividend that India enjoys could so easily turn into a demographic dynamo.

Having a lot of young people means that there is a lot of creativity out there for sure and a lot of entrepreneurial dynamism. But when youths do not find worthwhile outlets for all their energies, they can so easily turn towards destructive activities.

Then there's this incredible global and aspirational society that we live in puts enormous pressures on everyone. There's so much wealth out there right now and so much that one can acquire if one has the required wealth that youngsters are likely to get caught in a never ending whirlpool of just trying to get richer and richer just for the sake of it without too much thought being given to the purpose of making money.

The positive aspects in this story will be that science will ensure that there'll be no large scale human misery arising from hunger, malnutrition, and disease.

Here's an article about this whole growing population issue and its ramifications.


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