Australia’s obese economy

Ross Gittin’s and Labor’s Andrew Leigh have lamented the dramatic increase in Australia’s environmental footprint:

Dr Andrew Leigh, a federal Labor politician and former economics professor, is just publishing the paper Putting the Australian Economy on the Scales in the Australian Economic Review.

Leigh estimates that the physical weight of the nation’s annual output of goods and services has gone from 55,000 tonnes in 1831, to 6 million tonnes in 1900, 62 million tonnes in 1960, 355 million tonnes in 2000, and 811 million tonnes in 2018.

Of course, our population has grown hugely in that time, but the weight of output per person is also way up… a 47-fold increase…

[Leigh] estimates that a 10 per cent increase in real GDP is associated with a 12 per cent increase in its weight…

Leigh believes all the rich economies have expanding material footprints. The goods they consume may have been getting lighter per piece, but they’ve gone on consuming a lot more of them…

Leigh concludes that, like the paperless office, the weightless economy remains surprisingly elusive. Which doesn’t change the need for us to put the economy on an ecological diet.

While Andrew Leigh makes good points around consumption, we should remember that he is a big proponent of the mass immigration ‘Big Australia’ policy (for example here, here, and here). This policy caused Australia’s population to balloon by 6.5 million people this century (a 36% increase) and has placed increased pressure on the natural environment.

Moreover, before COVID-19 hit, Australia’s population was projected by the ABS to grow by another 17.5 million in the 50 years to 2067, to nearly 43 million people:

This 70% projected increase in Australia’s population, all driven by mass immigration, would dramatically increase Australia’s environmental footprint.

On this point, Andrew Leigh should consider EcoWatch’s latest article calling on environmentalists to confront the population problem:

A growing body of research shows continued human population growth equates to accelerating species extinction.

new study finds increasing encroachment of humans into tropical forests and other pristine habitats threatens to destroy about a quarter of the planet’s remaining wildlife habitat in this century, pushing many more species to the brink. Losing these irreplaceable ecosystems would be devastating. And as our numbers continue to soar, humans are rapidly losing the biodiversity we need for everything from regulating pests to carbon sequestration…

Population growth and consumption are two of the major drivers of species extinction, and they are intertwined. Humans put enormous pressure on the environment through mining, grazing, deforestation and other destructive activities, stoked by the global North’s outsized consumption habits. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet and ever-increasing demand from industrialized countries and emerging economies, we’re creating and accelerating twin crises of species extinction and climate change.

It’s a hard issue to talk about. Despite scientific research recognizing humans’ role in driving environmental harms, the need to slow population growth to address environmental damage has rarely been acknowledged and is sometimes deliberately soft-pedaled, even by environmentalists.

…biodiversity loss cannot be oversimplified as either a population growth or a consumption problem — it’s both.

It is hypocritical for economists like Andrew Leigh to pontificate over Australia’s increasing environmental footprint while at the same time championing one of the key drivers of this increasing footprint – population growth via mass immigration.

Unconventional Economist
Latest posts by Unconventional Economist (see all)

Comments

      • Speaking of obese, the sooner the effete Leigh joins forces with LIz Allen at ANU, the better off Labor will be. At ANU, they rate global social justice way ahead of boring Australian workers.

        Leigh and the other Labor “intellectuals” have swallowed 100% the United Nations fairy story of Net Zero Emissions, as if that would even begin to counter Australia’s over population and its 230-year war on the environment.

  1. master of toilet paper

    the worst thing about our materialism/consumption obsessed economic model besides the environmental aspects is the fact that nobody is smart enough to notice the trade-off it requires in our lives to perpetuate. all of this material production and ownership may seemingly contribute to our quality of life but it necessitates that we all have to work a lot more than we would if it didn’t exist.

    a good example is ppl who buy a new car every 5 years or so — just think of the sheer number of labor hours that creates, from the manufacturers who make the cars, to the dealers who sell them, to the insurers, actuaries and bureaucrats who stamp out the relevant paperwork. how about ppl who update their kitchen every 10 years (5 years???) or so bc its “looking a bit dated” or whatever, even if theres nothing wrong with the kitchen otherwise and its perfectly functional. same deal, a bunch of work required to support economic activity that nobody actually needs.

    imagine the sheer amount of time we could free up in our lives if people just stopped consuming unnecessarily, regardless of how much this would enrage the acolytes of the imaginary satanic god of the neoliberal age, gdp. the big problem is nobody wants to think about this because we’ve all been brainwashed/coerced into believing — or at least claiming to believe — that being productive, busy, whatever isn’t just good, it’s moral — it makes you a MORAL person to work a lot. personally i think most ppl hate their job and are only doing it for the pay cheque but nobody wants to admit it bc its a taboo to do so and bc theyve been brainwashed into thinking its a good deal to to trade away tens of thousands of hours of the only time they have in existence in the universe for granite counter tops and slightly newer models of crossover SUVS.

    • Great post. It used to be productive to work in Australia. The Protestant work ethic would be rewarded and work was its own reward. Now the industries that required study and training are trashed, together with the associated wages. Our children are now wage slaves and serve only the banks. Young aspiring parents spend their lives working instead of having children. The 8 Hour monument outside Trades Hall is a relic of another age. The spivs have taken over with their shallow values. The independence of thought that your post contemplates is nowhere to be seen in the plethora of SUVs jamming Melbourne streets. We are mice in a wheel.

      • kierans777MEMBER

        Fight Club summed it up well IMHO – “we work jobs we hate to buy stuff we don’t need”

        Yet the system incentivises this behaviour because of the need to “grow the economy”.

        To paraphrase the Bible, neoliberalism is the root of all evils.

    • As another poster on here noted the other day:

      “Get up; travel 2 hours to work; get paid; make a debt re-payment on the biggest mortgage that can be justified on said wage; travel 2 hours home; eat; turn on telly “Ooohh look! “The Block!” is on”; sleep and repeat….. What’s the point? (Answer in above comment)

      • boomengineeringMEMBER

        Another good post by Stagmal, but you could ask is the alternative better ?
        Why play tennis, ball goes one way ball goes the other way, then you die and all is forgotten.
        Was it a waste of time for the shark to eat, eat and eat again then also be forgotten after the microbes have eaten its carcass.
        Who’s to say which has more value the materialist life or the slough.

        • Arthur Schopenhauer

          It is possible to be industrious and not materialistic. For example, an exceptional Primary School Teacher that makes a huge difference in children’s lives by being industrious and dedicated, is not overly materially rewarded.

          • boomengineeringMEMBER

            True Arthur What I was saying was to oneself which is of more value. To the unindustrous the other is a waste of energy. Personally I’m in constant conflict with the other half but can see her point if view.

          • Arthur Schopenhauer

            I see what your saying Boomer. It’s hard to live in the spirit of St Francis or the Buddha, when the underlying structure of a society incentivizes the opposite.

          • kierans777MEMBER

            > It’s hard to live in the spirit of St Francis or the Buddha, when the underlying structure of a society incentivizes the opposite.

            Agreed. But we’re engineered to be unhappy, or to be in debt slavery so that we consume and thus “grow the economy”.

          • To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment. – Ralph Waldo Emerson.

        • So far as I can ascertain, materialism is simply an identification with material possessions. Identification itself presents as the main tendency to be moderated (as identity politics so clearly illustrates) as it creates, at the individual level, narcissism and, at the macro level, division.

      • This! House prices and to a somewhat lesser extent rents REQUIRE that one works as much as is humanly possible. After putting a roof on one’s head there’s precious little leftover for pointless consumption.

        Those same high house prices may also act as a contraceptive for today’s youth as who can afford to have any children when they are paying the largest mortgage their income can possibly support?

      • kierans777MEMBER

        Herbert Marcuse from the Frankfurt School wrote a lot on the entertainment culture decades ago and he is still on the money today.

      • Yea imagine if a nice house was $100k not $1m and people were incentivised to put their extra money towards actually bettering the country … innovation, greening, nurturing, etc etc

        Instead we get Groundhog Day ……….. bad enough but to have the Block on endless cycle is an extreme low.

    • If you’re on minimum wage in Australia, you are in the top 5% of the worlds richest, if you’re on the dole, you’re in the top 20%, Twiggy is in the top 1%, if you earn $100k you’re also in the top 1%. Every one of us live far better than Kings and Queens did 200 years ago.

      Could you even tell the difference between them all? All have fresh water, food, clothes, access to the beach, bush and amenity, sanitation, emergency services, security, law and order, free medical, transport, freedom, a safety net welfare program.

      Working hard in Australia is for mugs.

      • It’s called living in a first world civilised country influenced by post war British socialist ideals, Totes. The UK, Canada and NZ all have similar systems.

        You’ll be happy to learn that the above legacy ‘safety nets’ that you want slashed won’t apply when we have another 20 million people on board.

        Why ? For most of these third world immigrants, the concept of ‘awards’, ‘minimum wage’, ‘dole’, ‘PAYE’ and ‘medicare’ are culturally alien.

        Why you’re so against the idea of mass third world immigration is beyond me ? It’ll deliver the radical, right wing, nutjob Australia you crave by 2040.

        • “legacy ‘safety nets’ that you want slashed”

          I don’t want anything slashed.

          “won’t apply when we have another 20 million people on board”

          Which is exactly why I don’t want it.

          You, like many, completely misread me.

          • I don’t want anything slashed.

            Yes, we can tell by the way you keep constantly complaining about, and denigrating, the people using them.

          • No. I oppose them being extended.

            My thing is the environment and working Australians. I have said a safety net is essential and desirable, but should never be a lifestyle. Only a tiny handful of Australians like you think it should be a lifestyle.

            I am pro HIGHER MINIMUM WAGE, working conditions, and security.

            I’ve also said public housing should come with conditions of caring for it, and absolutely shouldn’t be extended. Again, in line with most Australians.

            I keep pointing it out, your way too progressive views have rendered Labor unelectable, and that’s why we have LNP.

            FFS will you read what I’ve said. Please.

            I think like the majority. You think like the people who have wrecked the Labor party.

          • No. I oppose them being extended.

            Social security was worth far more in the past (ie: much more of a “lifestle”) than it is today. People aren’t trying to extend it, they’re trying to return it.

            Hardly anyone chooses a “lifestyle” of crushing poverty if they have better options, and it is a fool’s errand building policy around them rather than the vast majority.

            FFS will you read what I’ve said. Please.

            Everyone reads what you say. But what you say is a fallacy-laden, inconsistent, completely self-centred, barely coherent and hilariously partisan mess.

          • lol Smith. I see it with my own eyes.

            You’re so ignorant in your Canberra academic leftard bubble.

            “building policy around them rather than the vast majority”

            I’m telling you Australia isn’t accepting lifestyle dole. Do what you want with the information.

    • From my observation most Aussies still have free will, they’re free to leave Australia , they’re free to stay.
      They’re free to live somewhere “back of Bourke” or they’re free to live in the most expensive suburbs in our biggest cities.
      So much freedom, yet we complain, best of all, at it’s core, our complaint is that we must pay for that which we choose.
      We can choose to run our own small country store in say Forbes or we can choose to work at Wollies and live in some decrepit apartment (the best we can afford with our wages) Its a choice, its your choice. Each and every one of us chooses and weighs our options.
      So what’s the core difference between these choices?
      Asks any country born Aussie and you’ll hear something along the lines of “year in year out the city folk gets richer and the country folk get poorer”
      This is the disparity that deprives all Australian’s of choices.
      Its this taxing of the country folk to pay for the high life ion the city that has shaped every Aussie policy for at least the last 75 (if not the last 100) years.
      This tax is insidious, it is normally invisible, yet present in 100 different forms.
      it is a tax on country life when:
      – some city dweller decides that large SUV’s must pay high registration fees and high petrol taxes.
      – we are required to have absurd insurance levies that cover largely non existent risks
      The list goes on and on but it is a list that only us country folk understand however year in year out our towns slowly empty while our cities are brim full. At some point you’d think the pendulum would shift back towards the country life style, but you’d be wrong.
      Maybe it is high time that we properly understood this lack of choice.

      • Great.

        Now if only there was a party that actually spoke up for the regions.

        No, no, I don’t mean large capital and land barons and mining *in* the regions, I mean joe public who lives *in* the regions, often providing food and fibre for the city folks.

        No? No party? Crickets?

      • I think most understand it, and it’s ridiculously unfair but with immigration to fund, it’s only going to get worse.

        Why does the bush continue voting Nationals?

      • IMO any person living in the country who votes for the National Party deserves far worse than what you describe. Country people are their own worst enemy.

    • Shades of MessinaMEMBER

      Really ?. Myself and most of my mates are quite vocal in private about the fact we hate our jobs and the people we work for/with.

      A lady I know did an alumni profile for her old university – her public profile is a shining star in the corporate world to which new graduates should aspire.

      Privately she laments not just marrying a wealthy banker, thereby avoiding all the bullish!t getting to and retaining her position and spending more time with the kids.

  2. “Leigh estimates that the physical weight of the nation’s annual output of goods and services has gone from 55,000 tonnes in 1831, to 6 million tonnes in 1900, 62 million tonnes in 1960, 355 million tonnes in 2000, and 811 million tonnes in 2018……Of course, our population has grown hugely in that time, but the weight of output per person is also way up… a 47-fold increase”

    So a 47 fold per person increase compared to a 1475 (adjusted for the per person increase of 47 fold increase in PP is 313 fold…weird given population has increased 500 fold) attributed to immigration?

    Why doesn’t he make comparisons of the 47 to 313?

    Our consumption is insane, but other than a cursory mention, “Of course, our population has grown hugely in that time” Labor only want to talk about the individuals consumption.

    Isn’t greater consumption, i.e. growth, what Labor want? That and a sustainable environment, lol.

    Labor need to be ridiculed over their population polices. They’re beyond absurd, and this ridiculous BS from Andrew Leigh highlights Labor are never going to be an alternative government in the interests of Australia.

    Choose one. Growth, or the environment.

    • Arthur Schopenhauer

      Leigh’s productive output as tonnage is a reflection of the limited thought about economics in our mining culture.

      Iron ore: $216.88 AUD per metric tonne
      iPhone 12 Max: $8,121,480 AUD per metric tonne

      Which makes a high end industrial output 37,446 times more valuable per gram than a tonne of iron ore.

      • Tonnage is a ridiculous concept to start with.

        Surely this bloke has better things to do, like you know, saving the environment and entire working class from LNP and other elites.

        Oh that’s right, $9m Labor MPs are elites too.

        I just despise everything about modern Labor. They are good for nothing, and just in the way of solutions.

        • Arthur Schopenhauer

          Tonnage is how strip miners think. Coal, Iron Ore or Timber. Strip mining is tonnage first, everything else does not even come close to second.

          We turn high quality old growth hardwood into wood chips, rather than furniture or flooring.

          It’s a reflection of someone like Leigh’s imagination and political limits.

          My contempt is evenly spread between both major parties.

          • “My contempt is evenly spread between both major parties”

            Same, but I see little to gain in ridiculing LNP who win because they’re the least bad.

            Some Australians want to vote LNP. Most Australians DON’T want to vote Labor.

            By far, Labor is Australia’s biggest political problem.

          • “Tonnage is how strip miners”

            Makes sense and highlights how utterly fked we are when resources stop being bought at such high volume…..and we’ve doubled population.

            Given America’s economy, id guess their tonnage is smaller (if any key politician over there had nothing better to do to work it out), despite being higher consumers.

    • Stewie GriffinMEMBER

      Andrew Leigh went to ANU i.e. the ANU Mafia that dominate both the Big Australian and the MultiCult propaganda camps. Check out the biggest proponents in these fields, they’ve nearly always done a degree or two from there. ANU is about as close to Australia’s premier cultural marxist institute as you can get. Consequently, despite his atheism his intellectual training, conditioning and values belong to our new elites cultural pool.

      • Arthur Schopenhauer

        I haven’t found anyone from the ANU or Melbourne Uni economics department even vaguely Marxist. Neo-liberal ideologues yes, Marxist no.

        (The cultures of different departments are very distinct.)

        • Stewie GriffinMEMBER

          Neoliberals are just cultural marxists with economic degrees instead of sociology degrees.

          Neoliberals advocates treating the economy separately and in isolation from the society it is meant to serve. It reduces the only measurable value by which we can assess economic decisions, which are really societal decisions, to pure economic gain or loss.

          IMHO it is a form of cultural cancer in that it places no economic value on the culture or society that the economy is meant to serve, and aids in the obliteration of cohesive societies and the sort of social services that allow real culture to flourish.

          Scissors have two blades.

          • The Traveling Wilbur

            Neoliberalism perspective: X is good/right/worthy/continuable if X may be used to derive profit, or to allow other good/right/worthy/continuable existing entities to increase or extend period of profiting. Profits for whom being a separate and relative question under neoliberalism.

            Cultural leftie perspective: X is good/right/worthy/continuable if X may be used to benefit a marginalised group; especially good if it makes the proponent feel like they are sacrificing something personally if X is implemented. Good for whom being a separate question that is hardly ever considered and never answered correctly.

            Separate point: I reckon Marxists do always answer ‘for whom’ correctly. Cultural marxists? Don’t know. What’s a cultural marxist that’s not a Marxist?

        • I haven’t found anyone from the ANU or Melbourne Uni economics department even vaguely Marxist.

          That’s because he said Cultural Marxist. Nothing to do with Marxism (other than taking advantage of all that reds-under-the-bed paranoia), everything to do with teh j00s.

  3. reusachtigeMEMBER

    I thought you were going to talk about the economy around obese people, which would have been far more interesting.

  4. Leigh would no doubt be nodding vigorously while reading the Vox article linked (“I’m an environmental journalist, but I never write about overpopulation. Here’s why.”).

    We can’t be trusted with a discussion on population. Big risk that someone will say something ray-shist. So we will ignore it completely and that’s totally ok.

  5. Stewie GriffinMEMBER

    How to combat Australia’s environmental foot print while increasing population?

    Easy – just lower living standards.

    Done!

    • I was going to mention your economic units, and it occurred to me, i guess quite obviously, that if Australians all consumed double its not the same as doubling population.

      Why? The important money items like houses, cars, etc.

      I just didn’t know it was possible for me to hate Labor even more.

      • Stewie GriffinMEMBER

        Labour are just a bunch of marionets whose strings are tugged by their social conditioning.
        LNP are just a bunch of marionets whose strings are tugged by their greed.
        Australia’s real enemies are those who pull the strings.
        Donations – just follow the money.

        • I don’t think it’s possible to change that without wiping out one of the parties.

          I might be single minded, but I cannot get passed, Labor having to go, for any needed change to occur.

          • $2 max donations by anyone, including companies. None other.

            The ATO can apply that deduction to your and a company’s tax return every year and then send that money to a pool which divvies up the money – don’t ask me according to what, I don’t deign to bother myself with those details! Someone smarter than me can figure that out,

            Just a public funding model, but you everyone gets the donation.

            Lest I be accused of being unfair, everyone pays it, pensioners, NewStarters, everyone over 18.

          • If Labor go and are then replaced by some “progressive” party with no institutional link to organised labour (like the Democrats in the US) that would be even worse.
            For my mind they need to do 2 things:
            1. Apologise for Keating legacy. Expel Keating from party and purge Keatingites
            2. Impose a conscious boycott on all identity politics/cultural issues.

          • $2 max donations by anyone, including companies. None other.

            The ATO can apply that deduction to your and a company’s tax return every year and then send that money to a pool which divvies up the money – don’t ask me according to what, I don’t deign to bother myself with those details! Someone smarter than me can figure that out,

            Just a public funding model, but you everyone gets the donation.

            I would argue that swings too far the other way.

            The main problem with political donations is not that they exist, per se, it is that if uncapped they give disproportional voice to a tiny (TINY) minority of people and, even worse, non-people.

            However, campaigning and getting elected isn’t cheap.

            IMHO donations need to be a) restricted to registered voters and b) limited in a way to strike a balance between being large enough to realistically help finance a campaign but small enough such that particularly wealthy individuals do not have disproportionate influence. I reckon that’s probably around a couple of $thousand per year.

  6. It’s a disgrace how many dual cabs and SUVs are on the road in this country.

    Big, energy inefficient Mcmansions wedged into tiny blocks.

  7. kierans777MEMBER

    The Kaya Identity needs to be waved under every ALP MPs nose.

    This arbitrary distinction between “consumption” and “population” is beyond stupid. We need to reduce consumption and population and have better energy efficiency.

    • The distinction is important because nothing can be done about climate change via population in a useful timeframe.

      Addressing consumption and efficiency is the only way to maybe – possibly – save us in the necessary timeframe.

      • That is true, but continued high population growth will wipe out the benefit of anything else that we do, since the advantage of smaller footprints will be cancelled out by more and more feet. This will also affect the willingness of people to make sacrifices to fight climate change and other environmental problems, when they just see it as making room for more migrants (since our own fertility rate is below replacement level) with no measurable improvement to the environment.

        • kierans777MEMBER

          Well said. I despair at well meaning people in the energy sector who refuse to acknowledge that every meaningful gain with energy efficiency is wiped out though increased population growth.

          • What are you suggesting be done to have a meaningful impact on population growth ? Even the most optimistic projections on population have it at 8-9 billion by the end of the century. You think you can somehow knock a couple of billion or a few decades off that ?

            Nothing can be done about climate change via population in a meaningful timeframe, and in the realistic timeframe, it’s a “problem” that will fix itself (for better or worse) anyway.

          • kierans777MEMBER

            > Nothing can be done about climate change via population in a meaningful timeframe

            I’m not suggesting it’s an “either or”. I’m saying that we need to reduce all inputs to the Kaya Identity function in order to see meaningful change in environmental outcomes. We need to reduce population growth, AND consumption, AND improve energy efficiency. It’s been the sole focus on one of these outcomes at the expense of the others (as per my previous comment that people in the energy sector focus solely on energy efficiency/decarbonisation efforts while all their gains are wiped out by population and consumption growth) that’s wrong. These issues are intertwined and need to be acted upon in a concerted effort.

            In the Australian context that means we need to reduce immigration as that’s the sole driver of population growth. This in turn will reduce infrastructure requirements which is partly contributing to developers destroying everything to put up ticky tacky boxes/apartments to house the burgeoning population.

          • The first question that needs to be addressed is: how are you going to ethically influence population growth ?

            I’m not suggesting it’s an “either or”.

            I am also not suggesting it’s an either/or.

            I am pointing out that any change via population will take centuries (it will probably take at least a couple of hundred years for population to peak and return to current levels, under the bold assumption nothing catastrophic happens), whereas we need serious change on a timescale of decades.

            Or to put it in terms of your Kaya Identity function, population growth may as well be treated as a constant.

            Therefore it makes little sense to expend much effort on population, especially since it is a *MASSIVE* sink of political capital and will, and attracts bad actors like flies to sh!t.

            In the Australian context that means we need to reduce immigration as that’s the sole driver of population growth.

            In the Australian context, the only thing we can do that might have an impact on climate change is to stop exporting coal. Everything else we contribute is a rounding error.

            This in turn will reduce infrastructure requirements which is partly contributing to developers destroying everything to put up ticky tacky boxes/apartments to house the burgeoning population.

            Land clearing for agriculture, resource extraction and the hell of it, utterly dwarfs land clearing for residential purposes. Again, it’s a case of where the effort is best spent.

      • What absolute garbage. This is the reason Australia is rejecting leftist parties. They are just full of sht.