Numbers – 3

Joel Cohen’s book How Many People Can The Earth Support should be required reading for Indian policy makers. Here is more from the introduction:

The unprecedented growth in human numbers and in human power to alter the Earth requires, and will require, unprecedented human agility in adapting to environmental, economic and social problems, sometimes all at once. The Earth’s human population has entered and rapidly moves deeper into a poorly charted zone where limits on human population size or well-being have been anticipated and may be encountered. Slower population growth, along with many other improvements in human institutions and behaviors, would make it easier for people to retain control of their fate and to turn their attention from the numbers to the qualities of humankind.

These themes have consequences for action. Stopping a heavy truck and turning a large ocean liner both take time. Stopping population growth in noncoercive ways takes decades under the best of circumstances. Ordinary people … still have time to end population growth voluntarily and gradually by means that they find acceptable. Doing so will require the support of the best available leadership and institutions of politics, economics and technology to avoid physical, chemical and biological constraints beyond human control. Migration can ameliorate or exacerbate local problems, but at the global level, if birth rates do not fall, death rates must rise.

India’s population problem is a sort of tragedy of the commons and there is little chance that ‘ordinary people will voluntarily and gradually’ solve this problem. The incentives simply don’t exist, even if the knowledge and the understanding existed about the social disaster of excessive population, for individuals to act for the social good.

The solution to India’s population problem has to “make sense” to those who produce the children. That is, they have to have an incentive to produce the socially optimal number of children. I have worked out a simple mechanism that would solve this problem. Details at — when else — 11.

HMS Titanic — 3

Those in charge of the Titanic disregarded the warnings. And those who were not in charge were blissfully unaware of the fact that those in charge were not fully competent.

The Titanic had sealed its own fate by the cavalier disregard to those ice warnings by their Marconi operators. Particularly the last two, from the Maseba at 7.30pm and the Californian after 11pm. Had they paid attention to them they would have seen they were heading straight into an icefield. Source

The passengers trusted that the captain was competent. The importance of that simple concept called trust can never be underestimated. Without trust, we would accomplish very little. We have to trust that those who are supposed to know, do know; that those who are supposed to do, are capable, etc. We trust that the pilot knows how to handle the craft, and the surgeon the scalpel. We trust that the policy makers know what they are doing.

We only learn of a betrayal of that trust only when it is too late. Whether it is a ship, or a ship of state, some worry whether those whom we trust are worthy of that trust.


The Titanic was doomed due to a number of factors which were linked into a chain. If any of the links were not forged, it would have avoided that fate. The first link of that chain was the structural link. It was designed such that if a few of its forward water-tight compartments were to get flooded, it would sink.


There must have been some design considerations which dictated why the bulkheads did not go all the way to the ceiling. I am only noting the structural feature which made the Titanic vulnerable to negligent behavior. Perhaps if the Titanic was designed differently, it could have survived the negligent behavior of its crew.

The lesson to me is that the ship had a structural failure that was exposed due to the incompetence of its captain.

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