Tag: population

Market Solutions for Population Problems

The Wall Street Journal put out an article with some excellent visual representations of the world’s changing demographics. (Please remember that you can also explore population growth, fertility rates, and the changing age make-up of the population using HumanProgress.org’s interactive maps and charts).

The WSJ notes,

In 1798 Thomas Malthus, a British essayist, argued that humanity would reproduce faster than food production could rise, leading to destitution and starvation. He was wrong. The Western world’s population grew rapidly over the 19th and 20th centuries, with a dip in 1918-19 because of World War I and the Spanish flu pandemic. But rising agricultural productivity proved more than capable of feeding the extra mouths.

Humanity found ways to produce more food per unit of land through innovations like synthetic fertilizers and increasingly advanced genetic modification techniques. As production increased, prices fell, calorie consumption increased, and undernourishment fell even as the world’s population grew.

Malthus’ mistake was to ignore human beings’ ability to innovate their way out of problems. But, as Julian Simon found in The Ultimate Resource, people are excellent problem-solvers. A challenge (feeding a growing population), led to technological innovation (the Green Revolution and GMOs) and that led to a solution (higher agricultural productivity and falling food prices).

As Human Progress advisory board member Matt Ridley notes in The Rational Optimist and The Evolution of Everything, technological innovation depends on the exchange of ideas. The more people there are (and the freer and more timely their exchange of ideas), the better.

The WSJ article recognizes problems associated with declining working-age populations—especially when it comes to unsustainable social security commitments those countries have made to their elderly. The WSJ also notes that government programs to incentivize having more children do not seem to work very well, and are not a viable solution.

One of the ways in which nations could increase their growth rates is to attract immigrants from other countries where their talents may be wasted. To learn more about the economics of immigration and the contentious issues surrounding the debate, including the effects of immigration on the native-born population’s wages and culture, consider registering for Cato’s forum in January on the subject.

Capitalism Defused the Population Bomb

Journalists know that alarmism attracts readers. Just yesterday, an article in the British newspaper The Independent titled, “Have we reached ‘peak food’? Shortages loom as global production rates slow” claimed humanity will soon face mass starvation. Just as Paul Ehrlich’s 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb  predicted that millions would die due to food shortages in the 1970s and 1980s, the article from yesterday tried to capture readers’ interest through unfounded fear. Let’s take a look at the actual state of global food production.

The alarmists cite statistics showing that while we continue to produce more and more food every year, the rate of acceleration is slowing down slightly. The article then presumes that if the rate of food production growth slows, then widespread starvation is inevitable. This is misleading. Let us take a look at the global trend in net food production, per person, measured in 2004-2006 international dollars. Here you can see that even taking population growth into account, food production per person is actually increasing:

China Now World’s 2nd Largest Economy: Ho Hum

China is now officially the world’s second largest economy, overtaking Japan in the quarter that ended in June and likely for all of 2010. While the story has been widely reported (more than 1,500 articles on Google News this morning), it is less significant than it first appears.

The news will probably ruffle the feathers of the China hawks, who will see in it a threat to America’s influence in the world, but China’s rise to no. 2 is really another sign of the world returning to normal.

China is home, after all, to one-fifth of mankind. Its population of 1,330 million is more than 10 times that of Japan (127 million) and more than four times that of the United States (310 million), according to the CIA Factbook. So even though China’s gross domestic product is now larger than Japan’s, its GDP per capita is still only one tenth that of its east Asian neighbor.

If China sticks to its path of market liberalization, it’s close to inevitable that its GDP economy will eventually surpass that of the United States in overall size. That news event is likely to grab headlines in 15 to 20 years based on current rates of growth. Even then, China’s per capita GDP will only be a quarter of what we enjoy in the United States.

China’s rank as no. 1 will be nothing new in history. According to the late British economic historian Angus Maddison, China’s economy had been the largest in the world for most of the past two millennia. In his magisterial 2001 book The World Economy: A Millennial Perspective, Maddison estimated that as recently as 1820 China’s GDP was 30 percent larger than the economies of Western Europe and the United States combined (p. 117).

After centuries of war, civil strife, and self-imposed isolation, China is only now rightfully reclaiming its rank as one of the world’s largest economies. That development is nothing to be feared.

Wednesday Links

  • Federal judge dismisses charges against Blackwater guards over the killing of 17 in Baghdad. David Isenberg: “The fact that the Blackwater contractors are not getting a trial will only serve to further increase suspicion of and hostility towards security contractors. It is going to be even more difficult for them to gain the trust of local populations or government officials in the countries they work in.”
  • New report shows state and local government workers have higher average compensation levels than private workers.
  • Podcast: “Televising and Subsidizing the Big Game” featuring Neal McCluskey. “Everybody should watch the National College Football Championship because whether you’re interested or not, you are paying for it,” he says.

The Improving State of New York City, circa 1800-2007

Two figures that say it all.

200910_blog_goklany1Death Rates (deaths per 1,000 population), New York City, c. 1800-2007. Source: NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Summary of Vital Statistics (2008). H/T to William Briggs for making me aware of this figure.

200910_blog_goklany2Infant Mortality Rate (deaths per 1,000 live births), New York City, 1898-2007. In 1898 IMR was estimated to be 140.9 Because of incomplete reporting of early neonatal deaths, this is almost certainly an underestimate. In 2007 IMR was 5.4 deaths per 1,000 live births. Source: NYC Department of Health & Mental Hygiene. Summary of Vital Statistics (2008)