Well, those of us that survive are made richer by the popping clogs of those who succumb that is, that’s the lesson of the dingo culls the Australians have been doing over the decades. The constraint upon the wealth – the size, reproductive success etc – of an animal population is the food supply. Remove some number of the animals, the calories available per survivor rise – the natural capital available to the animals – and those that have survived are richer by being bigger:
Culling makes dingoes grow by 10 per cent, researchers say
Culls by farmers have resulted in less competition for food for the dingoes who survive, allowing them to grow much larger
This is entirely true of humans too. It’s a standard observation that Europeans – those still living – were richer after the Black Death than before. For, again, the constraint was food and the land to grow it upon. The early 1300s saw a population rise and thus the cultivation of ever more marginal land. There’s some discussion about whether this led to a general weakening of the population – the definition of marginal land is less food out for more effort in – which made all susceptible to the Black Death or not but general agreement on the fact that by the 1360s those still alive were richer. Killing off 30% of the population left more good agricultural land – raised the amount per head of population – for those who remained and thus they were richer.
An increase in natural capital per head of population, just as with the dingoes.
It’s possible to observe this and say, as people like the Optimum Population Trust and the like do, that if there were fewer people sharing this limited and finite Earth then those that remained would be richer. Which would be true if natural capital like land were the limiting factor upon our wealth.
As the Reverend Malthus insisted it was and as it was right up to the moment he sat down to write out his proof of it. So, if that still held then we who survive the culling of the coronavirus would, will, be richer. The thing is this Malthusian economy was only right for all of history up until that around 1820 when Malthus did sit down to write.
Today yes of course there are limits to the natural capital that exists out there. But they’re not the binding constraint(s) on how rich we are. By far the largest part of current global capital is human capital. The knowledge both of the civilisation, as in the libraries etc, and in the heads and muscle memories of us all in aggregate. This is vastly, many times, larger than either financial capital or natural. What constrains our wealth is not bare resources themselves, it’s the knowledge of how to add more value to them.
What is it that we lose in a pandemic now? Humans and therefore human capital. Which makes us poorer, not richer.
Of course, there’s nothing new in any of this, it’s Julian Simon’s case in The Ultimate Resource. But then he was right and has been for the period roughly 1820 on as Malthus was for that before that date.
The less population makes us richer crowd really are making the case that the coronavirus makes us richer. As that’s not how it is working out then there’s a problem with their analysis.