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Economist on Population Decline – Not Always a Bad Thing

| Wednesday January 11th, 2006 | 4 Comments

CLD099.gifOne of the great, fundamental problems with coupling economic and environmental progress is the “growth” problem. It has long been assumed that “growth is good” and that without “growth” some sort of universal decline results. This is especially problematic with regards to population. On the one hand, we’ve all been told a hundred times of the perils of unchecked human population growth and the resource depleation, crowding, poverty and conflict it might lead to. On the other hand, we brag of the population growth of such-and-such a city, while states like North Dakota give away free land to stop population decline for fear of economic collapse. It has long been assumed that population growth goes hand in hand with economic progress. Not only that, but it is also assumed to be inevitable.
Is it possible to have sustained economic prosperity without population growth? If not, then I don’t think there is any point in trying to hold back population. But I don’t see any reason why it has to be that way. The Economist agrees. This article from the latest issue wisely points out that although a shrinking population may indeed lower GDP, what really matters is GDP per person. This is my favorite kind of article.
Despite this kind of thinking, governments from Japan to Italy are panicking about declining populations. Some of this is because population slowdown results in a more aged population, but again, the Economist points out that miild adjustments in corporate structure can account for this problem. So what’s the big deal? It seems that over and over again, the result of massive prosperity, coupled with the liberation of women, results in lower birth rates, and the slowing, and sometimes the reversal of population growth. The causes of this are undoubtedly good, so why resist them? More to share among fewer people can’t be bad.


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  • BenE

    Amen,

    Although I am not an economist, the “growth per capita” argument has always seemed obvious to me. I repeat it in every GDP discussion and it usually end up being ignored. Maybe it’s because it isn’t a mainstream view? I don’t know. It seems to me that real GDP _per capita_ is a much better measure of economic well being, and it might well be easier to sustain with a _smaller_ population since the fixed amount of GDP potential generated by natural resources could be shared between less individuals. The fact that each person would have a greater amount of natural resources to work with would probably lead to economic prosperity. (Not to mention the obvious environmental benefits of not having to over exploit nature to get a respectable share of wealth per person)

    I hope I’m not just repeating things from the article because I couldn’t read it, but god I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks that way.

    Population decline is _the solution_ to A LOT of environmental AND economic problems.

    Who was it that said relentless growth was the strategy of cancer?

  • Rome

    Nature rewards numbers NOT quality….the fruit of civiliztion ALWAYS falls at the farthest branch of the tree of barbarism (wellspring of growth)….all of history is replet with declinig populations…size…etc.
    It is BOTH a sign of exhaustion and lack of confidence in the future.

  • David Wiesen

    To what extent did growth result in the failute of central planning? Would global population decline cause the failure of free enterprise. See my article in “What Matters” an MIT on line opinion piece.

  • David Wiesen

    To what extent did growth result in the failute of central planning? Would global population decline cause the failure of free enterprise. See my article in “What Matters” an MIT on line opinion piece.