The Right Coast

May 07, 2004
The Population Bust
By Mike Rappaport

According to Andrew David Chamberlain at The Idea Shop:
    Remember when overpopulation was making headlines? So much for that. The new demographic crisis du jour is underpopulation caused by falling birthrates worldwide. In the last 30 years, birthrates have plummeted in rich countries, and poor countries are beginning to follow suit. So what? Well, there?s a growing consensus that falling birthrates are a social problem with bad economic consequences. A new article from Phillip Longman in the current issue of Foreign Affairs is representative.

    In it, Longman argues rising average ages means fewer young productive workers and more dependent elders, and this threatens to bankrupt pay-as-you-go social insurance programs. Declining population also means lower total GDP growth potential, and lower total tax revenue. Population aging may also slow technological innovation and entrepreneurship, which tend to flourish among the youth. And so on.
Sort of reminds me of the switch from the concern about global cooling to global warming. In the 1970s, the problem was global cooling; now it is global warming. Of course, the constant in both cases, from environmentalists, is that market restraining regulation is the solution. In the area of population, things are more complicated. Influencing population is harder to do without intrusive controls that most people reject. In the end, though, if underpopulation is the problem, it should be sobering for all those who have predicted doomsday scenarios from continual population growth.