Shifting population scary prospect

The immigration issue is complex, much more complex than simply calculating how many people have visas, those that do not, and those that want to travel over borders worldwide. 

No, what is complicating the whole issue is that at the turn of the 19th to 20th century, 65 percent of the working population of America — yes, even during that industrial boom — was involved in agriculture and fishing. Farms, farm suppliers, produce shippers, cattlemen, fishermen, all the way to milk deliverymen and women — 65percent of the working population earned their living and worked in the food business. That is not counting bars, eateries, cafeterias, delis and the like.

So, if you worked in the food supply business, then as now, you lived outside of the cities. As agriculture and cattle ranching and fisheries all have become massive in size, requiring less people to maintain that productivity — and as delivery systems have become massive in size (40 percent of all food takes the train — most a mile or longer in length traveling from California to New York) — the whole business of food has downsized labor needs in favor of new technology. 

Yes, there are exceptions, especially on a seasonal basis — bringing migrant workers in from Mexico, Haiti and other lands — but these people are not part of the census of residents.

And here’s the thing: This is happening all around the world as we all shift to a more technologically dependent way of life. The benefits of the new digital world for people’s lives are enormous, but winner-takes-all dynamics in the digital economy creates a widening of income inequalities. 


The poor get poorer and move to cities to eke out a living where the land (they don’t own and the mechanization of farms) offers none. A great migration of humanity into cities is under way — with millions drawn from rural communities to urban areas for the promise of a better or any life. The calculation is that two-thirds of the world’s population is expected to live in urban areas by 2050. Yes,  two thirds; two out of every three people will live in or very near cities.

And the land they leave behind? Agri-business is gobbling up acres across the planet. However, already city governments have begun to realize that forests and land are a critical part of the solution to the unprecedented demand for water and energy that these cities will face. Cities like New Delhi and even Madrid have said they will begin to buy and claim rural land left behind, land they need to maintain sustainable water collection, land they need for infrastructure expansion (sewage and power).

And the numbers of the increase of city dwellers is staggering. By 2050, another 2,500 million people will move from the country to the city. Want to know what that rapid influx looks like? Have a look at Rio, Mexico City or Nairobi — all with depressing slums without water or electricity. 

OK, most of the influx will be in just a few countries, namely India, China and Nigeria. At the UN, it is projected that India will have added 416 million urban dwellers, China 255 million and Nigeria 189 million.  

By 2028, the Indian capital, New Delhi, is projected to become the most populous city on the planet. Currently, Tokyo is the world’s largest, with an agglomeration of 37 million inhabitants, followed by New Delhi (29 million) and Shanghai (26 million). Mexico City and São Paulo come next, each with around 22 million inhabitants.

So, as you watch for the shift, remember that Mark Twain had it right all along ... land is the only thing they’re not making any more of. Land is the indispensable commodity.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.