Be Fruitful and Multiply
It’s fair enough to say a population problem exists and I agree that it does. The unfortunate part is that some people think we have too many people, while I think the issue is we have too few.
Those people familiar with The Mary Tyler Moore Show will recognize the name Ted Baxter, he planned to have six children and hoped that one of them would solve the population problem one day. He was an awful anchorman, but what a natural economist. Of course it makes perfect sense, people solve problems and the more people there are the more problems get solved. There are lots of great historical examples of this, the best one being the aftermath of the Black Death that would, on occasion, sweep through Europe and kill somewhere between 25% and 75% of the populace. Every time this happened economic activity would plummet, trade would cease, and advancement would grind to a halt in almost every area. Once The Death abated population would explode and discoveries and innovations would as well. Less people didn’t improve things although there were more resources per capita available.
Furthermore there are solid reasons why you have more than your grandparents and your grand children will likewise have more than you. Every generation is able to build off of the previous ones innovations. There is another large piece to this puzzle, population size is directly related to market size. An article from the American Economic Review, that I currently can’t find, argued that the industrial revolution had to wait until markets were sufficiently large to make large scale innovation sufficiently rewarding to entrepreneurs. Makes a lot of sense really, when insufficiently rewarded for their performance, people will perform insufficiently.
Demographic Transition is a model that describes various stages societies or nations go through on the way to development. It’s not a perfect model, but if you take a hard look, you’ll see it makes a great deal of sense. Given that, also makes sense that if your goal is to lower birthrates, the best way to do so is to promote development and free trade, eg. open underdeveloped areas to larger markets and investment (free trade). Many impoverished countries suffer from too many condoms and not enough condom factories (more properly governments and political strife that tend to make the area not exactly investment friendly for the Trojan Man to set up shop). Development and industry is the way out of poverty, not a terrible scourge forced upon poor countries by the rich ones. More on sweatshops for the poor here, no need for me to beat a horse if someone else has already beaten on it.
One thing is pretty clear, the Catholic Church, for whatever faults it may have, is not responsible for world poverty and poverty isn’t a side effect of high birth rates. Condoms aren’t really the problem here either, when birth rates went through the floor in the much of the west we neither had widely available contraceptives nor effective ones. Yet, in the 19th century the birthrate dropped as the west moved from underdeveloped to developed (in the modern day sense). Today in some developed countries the birthrate is actually lower that the death rate (Germany for one). If there ever was a population problem, that’s the one we need to work on. (and there are schemes afoot in the form of tax credits for couples that produce children in some of these shrinking nations.)
For the first 99,800 years or so of human history, most people in the world lived at the subsistence level. Perhaps the modern US equivalent of $600-$800 dollars a year. Yet in the late 1800’s people started getting richer, and richer, and richer still, at least in the west. Income growth per capita was suddenly around .75% a year! Holy smokes! By 1960 it was 1.6% and since than a balmy 2.3% or so on average. Assuming this continues, and even the most conservative estimates predict it to be so, if you make 50,000 dollars a year now, your children occupying the same rung on the economic ladder in 25 years would make around $89,000 a year. Their children, $158,000 and so forth. Not inflation ravaged cash, but in today’s dollars. It’s very likely that income growth will be higher, quite something to imagine.
If you want to merely control the population, stop treating terminal illness. Let the AIDS infected die of their ailment. Stop supplying condoms. Institute one child or no child policies. While every Tom, Dick and Harry seems to think the problem is too many people and therefore the third world needs condoms, medical care and education, the real problem is too little innovation and too little development. Keeping industry out and hoping that jobs and a lift out of poverty can be attained merely by making food drops and wishing it so, will never work. You can’t solve the problem of too many people by making people live longer (and since it isn’t a problem…). Once again, if the incentives are wrong, you won’t get the desired result and I’m assuming the desired result is lifting people out of poverty regardless of the number of children.
To finish this rant off, I’ll recap.
1. Birth rates don’t matter, they are not the problem.
2. Since “too many people” is not a symptom of the economic disease plaguing part of the world, we don’t need to treat it.
3. Sweat shops are fine, unless you think those people with few skills would rather have no job at all.
4. Access to larger markets is really something that can help the poor and the innovators and geniuses inevitably among them.
5. Contraceptives didn’t have anything to do with leveling off the Wests population growth, development helped our populations find their proper place. Whats right for developed America is not right for undeveloped Africa.
6. Capitalism, contrary to the popular, but unsubstantiated beliefs of unwashed persons hold signs in various places, reduces poverty. Socialism reduces prosperity. Insufficient reward = Insufficient innovation
7. Most of all, remember, people solve problems and more people solve more problems.
8. Michael Hawkins, I think you will find this link to be informative.