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Can We Populate Our Way Out Of Recession?

I’ve been searching Twitter for “population” and “economics” this month and came across this article on The contention: Low population growth is responsible for the current recession. Here’s a snippet:

“With the decline in births, there are fewer young people that productively enter the working world,”  Tedeschi explained. At the same time, he said, “there are many more elderly people that leave the system of production and become a cost for the collective,” increasing social welfare costs that a shrinking proportion of taxable young workers will have to sustain.

There’s actually a smidgen of truth to that. In a nation where the population is growing, the young outnumber the old. Where there are “pay as you go” retirement programs like Social Security in the U.S., this places an increasing burden on the working class to support the elderly.

But to say that the current global recession is due to slow population growth disingenuous. China is still doing quite well, even though its population growth has also slowed. The US continues to have relatively rapid population growth, but it’s in a recession just like places where population is stagnating, like Western Europe and Japan. The places world where population is growing fastest are typically highly impoverished.

See this map of Gross Domestic Product per capita:

You can click the image to see a larger version on Wikipedia. Other than the US, the purple regions, representing the wealthiest countries, are all stagnating in population. Places like Nigeria and Venezuela, which are experiencing rapid population growth, are not doing well at all economically, while countries like Italy and Japan, with very slowly-growing populations, are among the wealthiest. The US population, as I’ve mentioned before, is only increasing as a result of immigration.

The article goes on:

Because human beings are also creative producers, the excess of what they produce becomes the basis for trade in the economy, and the creation of wealth, said Sirico. Contrary to population controllers obsessed with overpopulation, he noted, it is incredibly population dense cities like Tokyo and Hong Kong that are incredibly rich, while sparsely populated areas of the globe such as Angola are comparatively very poor.

While it may be true in the particular cases Sirico selects, I’d submit that this is largely coincidence (or selective amnesia). Densely populated places like Bangladesh and Ethiopia have tremendous poverty, and sparsely populated countries like Norway and Australia are very wealthy.

Worse, explosive population growth has the potential to bring with it two different disaster scenarios. If that growth is accompanied by economic expansion, then we could have a global climate catastrophe. If population growth is limited to impoverished regions, then we’ll begin to see even more sickness, hunger, and, and depravation in those regions, which may lead to civil strife and war.

But controlling population can bring other problems. We’ll discuss some of them in other posts.

*This blog post was originally published at The Daily Monthly*

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