Friday, September 5, 2014

Who’s got extra beds?


Millions of people are on the road this year, as refugees or as economic migrants.  In the USA, opponents of immigration reform often ask why they should welcome strangers, and ask me if I would open my own home and my own bedroom to violent rapist strangers?  Leaving aside from the over-heated stereotyping, I’d like to ask a different question.  Who’s got extra beds?


The global population is about 7.2 billion wonderful people.  The land available for living space – that is, “arable land,” excluding Antarctica, Mount Everest, Death Valley, and other rugged and inhospitable environments – is about 20 million square kilometers.  So, globally, population density in arable land is about 360 people per square kilometer.  Hong Kong is denser – over 130,000 per square kilometer.  Who’s got arable land to spare? 


Emphatically, this is NOT a policy recommendation.  It doesn’t make sense to schmear humans over the globe uniformly.  But just to get a sense of what’s fair, let’s ask which nations have population density blow the global average?  Not France: density = 362 pop/km2-arable, just over the global average.  Not Germany: double the world average (700 pop/km2-arable); not the UK: triple the world average (1135).


There are 46 nations with population density below world average.  If we were going to schmear population evenly across the world (arable land), we would have to move about 1.4 billion people from densely populated nations to these 46.  These are the theoretical “empty beds.”  Some are tiny, like Tuvalu; let’s not look there for extra beds.  Which nations would need tens of millions of immigrants in order to provide homes to their fair share of the world’s people – to get their population density up the global average?  (DO NOT ATTEMPT THIS!  This is just a thought experiment, to get a handle on what’s fair!)


The top ten empty-bed nations are: Brazil, Sudan, Niger, Argentina, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Canada, Australia, USA, and Russia.  96% of the empty beds are in these nations; the remaining 4% are scattered among 36 nations including Tuvalu.