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What caught my eye this week.

For some people, news that the population time bomb may be spluttering gives hope we can halt – or even reverse – environmental calamity.

For others, it’s the harbinger of a demographic shift that will hole portfolios below the line and lead to a great deflation.

Given the huge numbers involved – billions of lives, trillions of dollars – there’s naturally some debate about exactly when Facebook will have to start reporting shrinking user numbers.

This graph from Bloomberg plots several schools of thought:

(Click to enlarge the population projection!)

I argue quite often with friends – some whom I’d never expect to have such a debate with – about the desirability of a radical reduction in the human population.

I’m all for it. Presuming it happens slowly, and without plague, nuclear bombs, or grey goo.

But many friends are perturbed by the idea.

Some are parents who tell me their kids will pay my pension, and theirs. A handful are religious. But unexpected friends fear it, too. Determinedly childless singletons, and one who otherwise seems a confirmed misanthrope.

Our two million-year-old family tree was populated by those with genes that willed them to spread far and wide (and trimmed the likes of me) so I shouldn’t be surprised.

I suspect it’s a also cultural thing. The very idea is alien.

I have daydreams of half a billion people living in beautiful megalopolises, serviced by robots, surrounded by wilderness, and connected by Hyperloops and electric helicopters.

They see a lack of consumers. And, I suspect – though it’s unspoken – a lack of Europeans.

Bye bye birdies

Whether a plateauing population can save the planet is as debatable as whether capitalism could withstand it.

From the Bloomberg piece:

Let’s assume that their lowest population projection is correct, and global population will peak in 2045. That’s still a quarter-century from now, and population wouldn’t return to current levels until the 2090s — more than enough time for us to drive hundreds of thousands of plant and animal species extinct and perhaps boost global average temperatures enough to bring polar-ice-cap-melting chaos.

The “rapid development” scenario behind that population forecast also requires that poorer countries, well, develop more rapidly, which in the past has meant rising per-person environmental stress.

If India’s population were to stop growing tomorrow but its per-capita carbon emissions kept rising to current U.S. levels (a nearly tenfold increase), that would lead to a 59 percent rise in global carbon emissions, all else being equal.

Before anyone types it, yes I’ve read stuff by Hans Rosling and Bjorn Lomberg. The former is great but very anthrocentric. The latter was weak on biodiversity, as I recall.

Personally, about the only reason I have for not wishing I was 20 years younger – apart from genuine gratitude at the life I’ve had along the way – is the mess we’re making of the planet.

(Oh I know, I know, you wouldn’t change a thing… but think of the compound interest!)

Related reads this week:

  • A good primer for private investors on global warming – DIY Investor
  • The UK just went six days without using coal. Here’s how it did it – WIRED
  • Scientists test radical ways to ‘fix’ the Earth’s climate – BBC

From Monevator

Why I’m saving and investing for the disaster to come – Monevator

From the archive-ator: Getting an income from investment trusts – Monevator

News

Note: Some links are Google search results – in PC/desktop view you can click to read the piece without being a paid subscriber. Try privacy/incognito mode to avoid cookies. Consider subscribing if you read them a lot!1

UK economy rebounded in the first-quarter – BBC

Philip Hammond may be planning the world’s highest minimum wage – Guardian

Ageing population ‘an opportunity not a problem’ say MPs [Search result]FT

London v England: Where does your area fit in the great divide? [Interactive tool]Guardian

UK house prices for April show biggest jump in two years – Guardian

Graph showing market timing returns versus buy and hold.

When does market timing work? – Of Dollars and Data

Products and services

Equity release: How to squeeze money out of your home [Search result]FT

All the big grocers’ online delivery services compared – ThisIsMoney

The best Monzo hacks and hidden features – WIRED

RBS chief admits that free bank accounts won’t be around much longer – AOL

Banking app Yolt pulls in Monzo and Marcus savings – ThisIsMoney

Ratesetter will pay you £100 [and me a cash bonus] if you invest £1,000 for a year – Ratesetter

One in five new Barratt homes to be built in factories – ThisIsMoney

Apple launches Warren Buffett Paper Wizard iPhone game – Mac Rumours

Marmalade Lane, Cambridge: The car-free, triple-glazed, 42-house oasis – Guardian

Comment and opinion

Are index funds really a cause for concern? – The Financial Bodyguard

Rick Ferri on life after Bogle [Podcast]The Evidence-based Investor

Calling the shots – Humble Dollar

Stay rich and maybe get a bit richer without dying: The Permanent Portfolio – Demonitized

Financial superpowers – A Wealth of Common Sense

Coming to a cubicle near you: Human work – Vanguard Blog

Merryn on pension allowances: The truly punitive, and the reasonable [Search result]FT

Should you ever pay off your mortgage? – Engineering Peace of Mind

More: Why we disagree on paying off the mortgage – [Mrs] Young FI Guy

Social Security is an asset, but it’s not a bond – Oblivious Investor

Live a rewarding retirement on auto-pilot – Mutual Fund Observer

Coping with FIRE gone wrong – case studies [Month old, but only just read it!]MarketWatch

Our shared ongoing battle not to buy a Tesla – Mr Money Mustache

What makes a great investor? – Enterprising Investor

Down 30%, is Reckitt Benckiser now good value? [PDF]UK Value Investor

Reminiscences on human nature – Novel Investor

Looking for the next great ROIC machine – Intrinsic Investing

When you can’t wait for tomorrow – Albert Bridge Capital

Brexit

Conditions are ripe for the biggest populist backlash imaginable – Sky

The Brexit Party is a post-politics entity – Politics.co.uk

Gina Miller launches Remain United to coordinate tactical voting in Euro elections – Guardian

Brexit: Not in my name, thanks – Simple Living in Somerset

Kindle book bargains

So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport – £0.99 on Kindle

Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler – £1.99 on Kindle

Zero to One: Notes on Startups by Blake Masters and Peter Thiel – £1.99 on Kindle

The Personal MBA: A World Class Business Education in a Single Volume by Josh Kaufman – £1.99 on Kindle

Off our beat

A one-off injection may dramatically reduce heart attack risk – Guardian

Why you should start binge reading right now – The New York Times

How economic theory can explain the competition between Uber and Lyft – TechCrunch

And finally…

“I’d tell men and women in their mid-twenties not to settle for a job or a profession or even a career. Seek a calling. Even if you don’t know what that means, seek it. If you’re following your calling, the fatigue will be easier to bear, the disappointments will be fuel, the highs will be like nothing you’ve ever felt.”
– Phil Knight, Shoe Dog: A memoir by the creator of Nike

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  1. Note some articles can only be accessed through the search results if you’re using PC/desktop view (from mobile/tablet view they bring up the firewall/subscription page). To circumvent, switch your mobile browser to use the desktop view. On Chrome for Android: press the menu button followed by “Request Desktop Site”.

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