Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Statistical People

the people ahead of us at Disneyland, October 8, 2006

The people ahead of us at Disneyland, October 8, 2006

John Scalzi mentioned today the heavily-reported fact that the U.S. population officially just hit 300 million. I wrote such a long comment about this that I've decided to post it here:

When this subject comes up it always reminds me of a population counter display I saw at the 1964 New York World's Fair. Back then the count was a little over 200 million, and for years afterward that was my rule of thumb - 210 million, 214 million, 220 million...after that I lost track. I was fascinated at the time by the ticker (I was seven years old), and wanted to know how they knew that someone had been born, someone had died, someone had immigrated, someone had emigrated. The display covered all four of those factors. I think it was my brother Steve (age 14 at the time) who explained about statistics and estimates and the census.

But ever since then I've never quite believed the official count - in general, perhaps, but not specifically. Having gone door to door as an enumerator for R.L. Polk in 1977, I know that people don't always want to be counted. How do they know exactly how many people are evading the census takers? How do they know the degree of fluctuation in the birth and death rates between actual counts? So okay, yes, MAYBE the 300 millionth current American arrived today by birth, boat, plane or on foot. But more likely it's a statistical convention, and only vaguely correct. In terms of real living breathing people, the milestone may have been reached last week or last mont, or could be yet to come - and we'll never know it.

Is this milestone, such as it is, a good thing or a bad thing? Some of each, I expect. There are economic facters involved, and political ones, and sociological ones, and environmental ones. Economically, the country needs an influx of taxpayers to pay for the social security benefits of aging baby boomers. Legal immigration seems likely to fit the bill there. But sociologically, we are still fighting that same old human tendency to label people outside our own tribe as Them, and view Them with suspicion and disdain. 75 years ago it was the Irish and the Italians and the Poles who got such treatment. Now it's Mexicans and Muslims and people from India and Africa (yes, I know those categories aren't mutually exclusive). It was wrong then. It's wrong now. Being "white" is a social construct rather than a genetic one, anyway. We need to get over all these subdivisions, and deal with people as people.

the people behind us at Disneyland, October 8,2006

The people behind us at Disneyland, October 8, 2006

Environmentally, we probably don't want to overdo things with a new population boom, but we can probably handle things if we do it right, with strict standards to curb pollution and global warming, and efficient use of land for food and well as living space. There are a number of countries with more people per square acre than we have. It's not pleasant (ask my husband, who just suffered through huge Disneyland crowds), but it can be done.

Hmm. Clearly I needed to blog this. And now I have.

I'll have my Round Robin post after midnight tonight.



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1 comment:

ukcoder said...

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Your opinions or feedback are much appreciated