[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 
apparent. :-)

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 
industrialized nations:
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. :-)

--Paul Fernhout

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