[p2p-research] Peak Population crisis (Kreppa babies in Iceland)
Paul D. Fernhout
pdfernhout at kurtz-fernhout.com
Mon Aug 24 05:45:48 CEST 2009
Just an amusing followup. It looks like the people in Iceland are doing
their part to solve the Peak Population crisis: :-)
The patter of tiny feet is apparently growing louder in Iceland – and it's
all down to the banking meltdown. There's been a 3.5% increase in the birth
rate there this year, giving the country its highest number of deliveries
for at least half a century. "I think many of us have sought solace in love
and sex," writes popular blogger Alda Sigmundsdóttir wistfully.
But having more babies because economic times are tough sounds
counterintuitive – and certainly there's no historical precedent for it.
Throughout the 20th century, birth rates tended to go down, not up, in times
of economic hardship. Fertility rates in the US dropped dramatically in the
1930s, when women went from having an average of three children to an
average of two – and subsequent recessions through the rest of the 20th
century saw a similar pattern.
So what's going on in Iceland? Helga Gottfreösdóttir, professor of
midwifery at the University of Iceland, says the country was already seeing
an increase in births in 2008, before the banking crash. The figure was up
from 2.09 births per woman to 2.14 (that's compared with 1.95 in Britain,
and 2.02 in France). But, given that Iceland is a tiny country that boasts
just 320,000 people, the rise only amounted to a hard figure of 275 actual
She's sceptical about whether Iceland will turn out, in the long term, to
be bucking the international trend. But she does wonder whether one key to
the rise could perhaps be Iceland's generous parental leave. "Here, parents
get nine months of leave when they have a baby," she explains. "Three months
is for the mother, three months is for the father, and three months can be
taken by either the mother or the father." Better yet, if you're an
out-of-work Icelander who's just had a baby, the state will pay you a salary
for up to six months of childcare. Who says life isn't all down to economics?
So, there is a link between social benefits and more kids. :-)
Also, please note, as I have said before, the current global depression is
purely a mental one. There are as many factories as before, as many fishing
boats, as many plants producing solar panels. It is not like their has been
a physical global war. All the talk of a bad economy relates to pushing bits
of paper around, or their digital equivalents:
"This planet has -- or rather had -- a problem, which was this: most of the
people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions
were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned
with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on
the whole it wasn't the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy."
So, ironically, I find myself agreeing with Phil Gramm's comment from July 2008:
"You've heard of mental depression; this is a mental recession," he said,
noting that growth has held up at about 1 percent despite all the publicity
over losing jobs to India, China, illegal immigration, housing and credit
problems and record oil prices. "We may have a recession; we haven't had one
"We have sort of become a nation of whiners," he said. "You just hear
this constant whining, complaining about a loss of competitiveness, America
in decline" despite a major export boom that is the primary reason that
growth continues in the economy, he said.
Gramm, whose extensive ties to Enron proved problematic during the
firm's implosion several years ago, was serving as a lobbyist for the
international banking and subprime mortgage giant UBS until April. As Mother
Jones documented, Gramm played a key role in the subprime meltdown during
his time in the Senate.
The fact is, there is about just as much *physically* and *digitally* to go
around as there was last year -- in fact there is more in many ways, with
more Wikipedia articles, more inventions, more medical breakthroughs, more
capacity to print solar panels, and so on. So, from a physical perspective,
Icelandic couples have every reason to have more kids as much as they had
two years ago.
Except of course, if they see themselves as suddenly debt slaves in chains
suddenly forged from little green pieces of paper. :-( Rather unexpectedly,
given they were listening to the kind of people who traveled in circles near
Phil Gramm or really any other mainstream US politician, who said everything
was fine and dandy, with no need for regulation or oversight of the market.
Such a generous people, Icelanders, both from Smári's example in the Open
Manufacturing area and my wife's friendship with an Icelandic grad student
who moved his family to the USA (and moved back again because of terrible US
schools. :-) Probably that is a stereotype based on a couple of anecdotes,
but I'll let it stand for the moment for rhetorical reasons about to be
This passage from "A People's History of the United States" is about a
previous time something like that happened to an island nation of generous
people (people who had a true physical peer gift economy centuries ago in
the Americas, like Smári works towards bringing back):
The Indians, Columbus reported, "are so naive and so free with their
possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When
you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they
offer to share with anyone...." He concluded his report by asking for a
little help from their Majesties, and in return he would bring them from his
next voyage "as much gold as they need ... and as many slaves as they ask."
He was full of religious talk: "Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives
victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities."
Because of Columbus's exaggerated report and promises, his second
expedition was given seventeen ships and more than twelve hundred men. The
aim was clear: slaves and gold. They went from island to island in the
Caribbean, taking Indians as captives. But as word spread of the Europeans'
intent they found more and more empty villages. On Haiti, they found that
the sailors left behind at Fort Navidad had been killed in a battle with the
Indians, after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking
women and children as slaves for sex and labor.
Now, from his base on Haiti, Columbus sent expedition after
expedition into the interior. They found no gold fields, but had to fill up
the ships returning to Spain with some kind of dividend. In the year 1495,
they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men,
women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then
picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five
hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were
put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although
the slaves were "naked as the day they were born," they showed "no more
embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of
the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."
But too many of the slaves died in captivity. And so Columbus,
desperate to pay back dividends to those who had invested, had to make good
his promise to fill the ships with gold. In the province of Cicao on Haiti,
where he and his men imagined huge gold fields to exist, they ordered all
persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every
three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang
around their necks. Indians found without a copper token had their hands cut
off and bled to death.
The Indians had been given an impossible task. The only gold around
was bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down
with dogs, and were killed.
Trying to put together an army of resistance, the Arawaks faced
Spaniards who had armor, muskets, swords, horses. When the Spaniards took
prisoners they hanged them or burned them to death. Among the Arawaks, mass
suicides began, with cassava poison. Infants were killed to save them from
the Spaniards. In two years, through murder, mutilation, or suicide, half of
the 250,000 Indians on Haiti were dead.
When it became clear that there was no gold left, the Indians were
taken as slave labor on huge estates, known later as encomiendas. They were
worked at a ferocious pace, and died by the thousands. By the year 1515,
there were perhaps fifty thousand Indians left. By 1550, there were five
hundred. A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Arawaks or
their descendants left on the island.
I'm not sure who is playing the role of Columbus in this Icelandic "kreppa",
if anyone is? Let's hope those Icelandic kreppa babies have a better future
than the Arawak ones.
I hope I'm not giving people in the Netherlands or the UK who claim the
Icelandic people owe them lots of gold-equivalent any ideas here about
exchanging copper tokens for fish collecting or something else. :-(
Anyway, more on Iceland:
"Iceland’s economy is forecast to shrink by more than 10 per cent this year
after the collapse last October of its three main commercial banks. The baby
boom has been hailed as a sign of optimism for the future even as economists
warn that the country could face a wave of emigration as debts mount.
Iceland has one of the highest birth rates in the developed world at 14.3
births per 1,000 people, compared with a European Union average of 9.9."
By comparison with recent fertility trends in the US and other
The average American woman has 2.1 children in her lifetime, the most since
the early 1970s, with women of Hispanic origin having the highest rate -
almost three children per woman. America's birthrate has left behind those
of its rich peers, staying above two children per woman since the late
1980s. Rates in Italy, Germany and Japan have hovered around 1.3 over a
decade, while the UK rate has revived somewhat after falling below 1.7
around the turn of the millennium. "If it is a boom, it's a very tiny little
boom," said Brady Hamilton, the report's lead author. "Most noteworthy is
the total fertility rate per 1,000 women. In 2006 it was above replacement,
for 2007 it's even higher."
Without deaths, 2.0 births per couple would be replacement, but with deaths,
it is more 2.1 births or so. Clearly, industrialization as it has been done
to date seems to be a death sentence for a society if such trends were to
More on this theme related to Iceland bucking the trend:
Unfortunately for Iceland, they are also facing an emigration crisis of
people moving other places for economic reasons. And there are other issues too:
"While Iceland’s birth rate has held up so far, other elements of family
life are proving less resilient. Marriages are sharply down as people skip
the expense of tying the knot, with some churches reporting declines of up
to 50 per cent."
So, clearly, the economic crisis is harder on young people getting started
than established couples.
More on economic themes which indirectly led me to learning of this:
"The Specter of Debt Revolt Is Haunting Europe: Why Iceland and Latvia
Won't (and Can't) Pay for the Kleptocrats' Ripoffs"
"Iceland promises to be merely the first sovereign nation to lead the
pendulum swing away from an ostensibly “real economy” ideology of free
markets to an awareness that in practice, this rhetoric turns out to be a
junk economics favorable to banks and global creditors. As far as I am
aware, this agreement is the first since the Young Plan for Germany’s
reparations debt to subordinate international debt obligations to the
capacity-to-pay principle. No doubt the post-Soviet countries are watching,
along with Latin American, African and other sovereign debtors whose growth
has been stunted by the predatory austerity programs that IMF, World Bank
and EU neoliberals imposed in recent decades. The post-Bretton Woods era is
over. We should all celebrate."
So, Iceland may yet save the rest of the world by being a shining example,
in multiple ways: how to produce post-scarcity peers, how to produce a
post-scarcity commons, how to grind up basalt using geothermal power to
make organic fertilizer, and how to produce post-scarcity legal agreements
about private debts being socialized under threat (including accusations of
terrorism) by other countries.
For reference on that last item:
"Thousands of Icelanders are sending a message to Gordon Brown that they are
not terrorists after the UK used terror laws to freeze their assets."
No doubt Smári might have something to say on this. Or maybe he might even
have something to say about the gift of the pitter-patter of little peer
feet, someday, if he wants. :-)
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