Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics: 8 Billion People?
The road to hell is paved with good intentions and overly-specific numbers.
By now, you’ve probably heard the news: Planet Earth is officially home to more than eight billion humans now. Specifically, the United Nations announced that the world population reached that eight billion on November 15, 2022. Hooray! Certainly this is cause for celebration as it indicates that we’re such a wildly successful species.
Stop for a second, though, and think about that date. In the report, the UN noted that the population is “projected” to have become 8 billion on that date. After all, no one is flying around like Santa Claus to tabulate every single birth and death, so there’s a bit of extrapolation to be done. But this is normal and legitimate, and it’s built on healthy data, right?
At that question, the various census takers of the world would be making side-eyes at each other. What the UN presented is essentially a tower of extrapolations — or maybe a pile, depending on your point of view. It’s guesswork built on top of guesswork, all down to the local neighborhood level of every country on earth.
If you just said something like “Uh-oh” in your head, then you’re getting the picture. But I need to get more specific. The key question is this: Just how sure can we be that we’re close to the right number of people on Earth? An additional valuable question is: Why is this announcement so important to the United Nations?
Counting people is not as easy as one might initially guess. Not all censuses are made the same, and even those in allegedly well-organized countries have plenty of flaws. How do I know that? Get comfy with some tea or a nice pint of whiskey — it’s story time.
A View Inside the Census
I had the character-building (read: shitty) experience of working in the 2010 US Census in Austin, Texas. I was out of work and needed some money, so I signed up to take a test for the job. The test was shockingly easy, though some people still failed. Those of us that passed were awarded desk jockey jobs scanning census forms into a government database. It was remarkably dull, with lousy hours and mediocre pay, and was full of weirdos. I got to see all sorts of people’s personal information. Standard government stuff so far.
Those who were paying attention in the office, however, could easily spot things that were far from standard. First of all, managers and higher-ups were essentially on permanent benders of energy drinks, adderall, ritalin, and anything else that would keep them awake. That’s because they earned significant overtime pay for hours past their shift — with no limits. It was standard for managers to be on shifts north of 24 hours, with some even going up to 40 hours. That’s right: The people in charge of managing our local Census bureau were routinely working 24+ hours at a time for overtime pay.
This practice wasn’t hidden, and was even celebrated. Managers kept track of how long their longest shift was on a whiteboard in the office as a competition. I get why they did it: When you’re in your 20’s during an economic downturn and you can make $40+ per hour with no cap on hours, you take advantage of the windfall.
But there were obvious downsides to this mania. Stacks and stacks of papers piled up with poor organization, workers had little oversight, and the place was generally a mess. I could’ve tossed piles of dozens or hundreds of Census forms in the trash and no one would have noticed. I didn’t, of course, if you’re in law enforcement and reading this.
Second, there were people who were specifically tasked to deal with “difficult” Census responders. Plenty of people were neither keen to respond to the Census form mailed out nor to allow unexpected visitors from the government on their property.
At this point, let me stop and explain what the US census actually requires: It needs to know how many people are in a dwelling. This information is for government budgeting and representation purposes. Any extra information collected by the Census, like race, religion, disability, or your favorite flavor of ice cream is bonus material for Uncle Sam. Census sheets are mailed out to every residence, and people can either mail them back or hand them to Census workers who come door to door to ask people for their forms.
But those “difficult” people didn’t care what the Census Bureau needed. They did not want to tell a government man anything, except where exactly he should shove his damn Census. If a Census worker knocked on their door, they’d walk out in their underpants with a shotgun and tell them to promptly exit the premises. In the local dialect, that sounds like “Get the fuck off my property.” God bless Texas.
So, the Census picked people with above-average people skills to go deal with these ornery customers and let them know that they just needed the most basic of information and they’d be on their way. These people had to be calm under fire, quite literally, as many of them had guns pointed at them. I later worked with one of these guys at another job and he had a lot of fun stories like this. He was a big fat guy with a sense of humor so I guess he wasn’t threatening.
I didn’t stay with the Census long, since I found a different job that paid better and didn’t require me to be up at 5 in the damn morning even on a Sunday. I stayed plenty long, however, to realize that, far from being a high-brow and well-greased operation, the US Census was a sloppy, drunken clusterfuck. That it got done at all seemed like a miracle.
And that was in the thoroughly developed and generally well-organized city of Austin.
So, while I reckon we came kind of close to hitting the mark for accuracy in counting people, I can guarantee you there’s a significant margin of error. So whenever I see exact figures for any population in the world, my bullshit alarm goes off.
If They Get to Extrapolate, So Can I
Guess how many people are in the photo above. Winner gets a prize!
Most people don’t think about how a census operates. I certainly didn’t before I worked in one. What I just described to you is how the US Census operated. It was held together with duct tape, prayers, caffeine, and amphetamines — even with the full weight and budget of the Federal government behind it.
So, what happens when a Census is run in a country that’s not as well organized as the United States? How do you count people crowded into dense urban slums in developing countries?
Let’s take Indonesia, for example. There are more than 18,000 islands in Indonesia spread out over an area wider than the USA. The island of Java alone (officially) has 148,756,685 people, with (officially) 10,562,088 crammed into Jakarta. Counting the population of Java alone would be a monumental task. Then consider every other island and community the country has to consider, including floating villages, semi-nomadic fishing communities, and even jungle tribesmen on New Guinea. How in the world could they stand to get even close to an accurate population count?
Of course, they couldn’t. But the fact that they’re still willing to give exact numbers rather than estimates tells you they sure want their statistics to look official.
I’m not trying to pick on Indonesia here — it’s just a convenient example. You could equally ask how Bangladesh, or Nigeria, or Brazil, or India, or Egypt, or even Russia manages to count all its people. I’m not at all arguing that they could be miscounting their populations out of malice — simply that it’s really, really hard to conduct a proper census anywhere, let alone places with ultra-dense urban populations or sprawling expanses of sparsely populated wilderness.
And then there’s China, a country well known for dodgy statistics. Li Keqiang, a high-end Chinese apparatchik, even said that the country’s GDP figures were man-made. So how can we trust their population numbers?
Many are indeed questioning them. Peter Zeihan, for example, argues that China has overrepresented their population by more than 100 million people(!). Whether or not he’s right is beside the point. What is the point is that any statistic that comes out of China should have a big red asterisk next to it. So should the official statistics coming out of most countries on the planet.
So before we move ahead, let’s make sure we’re clear on a few things:
Running a census is a complicated, messy affair
Census figures are wrong even in developed countries
Population counts in developing countries are far more wrong
Official population statistics are still very specific without accounting for a margin of error
Why does this matter? And how does this tie back to the UN’s extrapolation that there are 8 billion people on Earth as of November 15, 2022? Here you’ll find the crux of the issue.
The Appearance of Legitimacy
Since its inception in 1945, the United Nations has always lacked substance. Even the most generous view of the organization would note that, despite its good intentions, it’s largely a toothless bureaucracy. The failure of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty is a perfect example of how toothless it is. In that treaty, the United States, Soviet Union, France, the UK, and China were the only countries in the world to fully admit and accept developing nuclear weapons. The goal of the treaty was to make sure no other countries gained access to nuclear weapons to reduce the risk of us blowing ourselves up.
And how did that go? Well, poorly. India, Pakistan, and North Korea all have nuclear weapons. So does Israel, but unofficially — it’s the worst kept secret in the world. And what has the United Nations done about it?
Absolutely fuck all. Because they can’t. There’s the “toothless” for you. Dave Chappelle nailed it in a 2004 skit:
A less generous view of the United Nations could point out just how undemocratic the organization is, as well as how corrupt it is. There are some interesting examples in the latter assertion. My personal favorite is that the United Nations task force in Cambodia had to constantly remind their envoys not to park the UN-designated trucks directly outside brothels because it was a bad look, and to take alternate forms of transportation if they were going to a brothel. People in Phnom Penh still laugh at that story. But it’s not always so funny, as there are consistent, widespread reports of sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers.
For the fact that the UN is undemocratic, though, first consider: The current paradigm for what makes any government legitimate is that it’s democratic. That’s why even the most undemocratic regimes reference representative structures in their names. North Korea? The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Cambodia under Pol Pot? Democratic Kampuchea. Uganda under Idi Amin? The Republic of Uganda. China? The People’s Republic of China. You probably get the picture. Even the nastiest of the nasty regimes make an effort to say they’re representing their people.
But no one in the general public gets a say of how its country is represented in the UN. This is perhaps the whole point of transnational governments — they bypass all the messy democracy that can throw a monkey wrench in long-laid plans. And while there are sort of democratic processes within the organization, it’s far beyond the reach of any country’s citizens. The same can be said of the European Union. Transnational organizations are by their nature anti-democratic.
So, if you’re running one of these organizations, you’re aware you need to appear as legitimate as possible to ensure you ensure:
You keep your job and
Anyone at all listens to you.
Now, starting small is a well-established persuasive technique, and it applies to legitimacy as well. In persuasion, this is called the Ben Franklin effect: Ask someone for a small favor first to get them used to the idea, and then you can ask for a big favor later. By doing the small favor, you construct the concept that you like the person you’ve helped, and will thus help them more in the future.
The same goes for legitimacy. If you can trust a person or organization on small things, you’re more likely to trust them on larger things.
And so, seemingly simple concepts like population statistics become crucial for an organization like the UN to establish itself as a credible bearer of truth.
If you trust them on minor details, you’ll be far more likely to trust them when they champion their 17 Sustainable Development Goals, which you have absolutely no democratic say in, and which they will push with or without your consent. And sure, these goals sound nice on paper — but so did Democratic Kampuchea unless you know what really went on there.
Recall that this is the same United Nations whose World Health Organization made an absolute mess out of its Covid-19 response, including recommending against refusing flights out of Wuhan, China, as well as waiting until Mid-March of 2020 to declare the outbreak a pandemic. Yet they insist you respect their authoritah, damn it.
Over the past few years, we’ve been asked to surrender more and more of our personal and national sovereignty to transnational organizations with an exceptionally poor track record of just about everything. Their legitimacy is built on things as simple as keeping a tally of the human race, and pegging a specific date to it to sound like they really know what they’re doing.
Well, they don’t. They’re lying. There’s no way the collective censuses of the world’s ~200 countries are accurate, especially when compiled. But they’ve not mentioned that — in fact they don’t mention anything about accuracy, a margin of error, or even cite their statistics at all. Instead, they go straight from the specific number and date to conclusions regarding their Sustainable Development Goals. Perhaps there’s an agenda at play here, no?
So, the next time you see very specific figures coming out of any large organization, I want your bullshit alarm to go off. That goes doubly true for specific figures coming from any governmental or transnational organization. There’s no way they’re able to get so specific, and the fact they don’t tell you they’re estimating shows you that they need you to trust them. A lack of transparency should always be a red flag, and the official figure of 8 billion people on November 15, 2022 has more red flags than a Soviet parade. Do not trust them.
Furthermore, I consider that Ghislaine Maxwell’s client list must be released.