Paul Morland: Demography is Destiny
In conversation with Andrew Keen on the Keen On
The coronavirus pandemic is dramatically disrupting not only our daily lives but society itself. This show features conversations with some of the world’s leading thinkers and writers about the deeper economic, political, and technological consequences of the pandemic. It’s our new daily podcast trying to make longterm sense out of the chaos of today’s global crisis.
On today’s episode, Paul Morland, author of The Human Tide: How Population Shaped the Modern World, discusses whether coronavirus will just be a blip in the history of 21st-century population.
From the episode:
Andrew Keen: Is the coronavirus pandemic a funny trick, or is it just the blip, the footnote to a footnote, in the history of 21st-century population?
Paul Morland: Well, the trouble with the fact that it plays funny tricks is it undermines the argument that demographers know the future. I can give you my best view and then it could all come horribly unraveled or surprise us. My best guess at this stage is that this is a blip. If you look back to the Spanish flu, where perhaps 100 million people died globally, it was nevertheless a period of huge population growth globally, particularly in Europe. Even though you’d have the First World War and you had the Spanish flu, in 1920 the world population and Europe’s population was larger than they had been in 1918. Now, what’s going on today? You have to bear in mind, we’ve got a population 7 billion and rising. So it would take an awful lot of deaths to have a real impact on that.
Nobody thinks it’s going to be remotely like that. Of course, we could all be horribly surprised, but as things stand at the moment, I think the other thing that’s really important to understand in this case is that the deaths are happening among older people, as you’ll see in the life expectancy data. But it’s not going to affect the next generation.
Paul Morland is associate research fellow at Birkbeck, University of London and an authority on demography. A French speaker with dual British and German citizenship, Paul was educated at Oxford University and was awarded his Ph.D from the University of London.