True or False: Population Growth is Necessary for a Healthy Economy

Let’s answer the title question this way: If population growth is necessary for a prosperous economy, we will one day prosper ourselves into oblivion. If we must grow in order to prosper, we will either have keep populating until we all stand shoulder-to-shoulder, or decide to regress back to a less-wealthy state.

          As to whether we need population growth, let’s consider the broader picture. Automation is eliminating the need for workers. Technology improves worker productivity. We live in a society in which production is becoming more efficient. Costco, Amazon, Lowe’s, and the like are turning warehouses into stores. So while corporate profits and stock markets hit new highs, engineers are forced to drive school buses and work at Wal-Mart at the same time the Federal Reserve Bank buttresses a lagging economy. It sounds like an economy run by the Mad Hatter.

          All of these apparently contradictory indicators lead us to believe that we don’t have enough jobs to keep a growing population employed. Sooner or later, it seems, those corporate profits will sink away as we have an ever-growing segment of people struggling to pay their bills.

          But, hey, we’re not economists. In lieu of that status let’s look at a study from Population Connection (PC) that aims to refute the allegations of those it describes as “questionable characters” who are trying to “guilt American women into having more children.”

Population Connection logo          The organization asserts that while Americans will have to make some adjustments as baby boomers age, we can definitely have a healthy economy without increasing our population.  “Economic growth does not depend on population growth.”

          According to Population Connection President John Seager, researchers he describes as independent interviewed scores of economists and academics in related fields. The researchers concluded that economic growth is not dependent upon population growth. Considering the world’s limited resources it is a bad idea to rely on a growing workforce to compensate for an aging population. “Increasing productivity, boosting female participation in the labor force, and providing incentives for older workers to stay on the job longer if they want to, can offset the effects of an older population.

          “U.S. productivity can increase with a smaller workforce, but not unless we invest in education and address age discrimination.”

          Among the insights provided by the academics are:

  • Gross Domestic Product measures monetary value. It does not include leisure, volunteering, family time, and other productive activities.
  • Natural resources are limited. Humans are consuming renewable natural resources faster than the earth can replace them,
  • There is a culture in society of “education-work-retire,” which needs to be re-imagined. We need to adopt the concept of continuously educating ourselves, making us more adaptable.
  • Older workers should be open to—and should be accepted as—being able to do work that typically had not been thought of as suitable after “typical” retirement age.

          Seager makes the case that, “Unfortunately, in today’s media environment, panicking over ‘birth dearths’ and other ‘baby busts’ always seems to get more airtime. The message ‘We’re gonna (sic) be just fine,’ isn’t sexy so it doesn’t sell.”

          With so many environmental, quality-of-life, civil strife, and threatened species problems to be concerned with, all of which are exacerbated by mushrooming human population, “It’s nice to have at least one thing—too few babies—that we don’t have to worry about,” explains Seager.

          You can read the entire report upon which Seager bases his case right here.

          Our book makes the case that there are enough of us. The truth be told, there are more than Enough of Us.  And with fewer of us, our economy and planet can thrive. Hence, the answer to our question is a resounding, “False.”




  1. Childfree Woman says:

    Second try at leaving a post here. Hate the way WordPress just erases one’s comment and claims one’s email was wrong.

    “Questionable characters” is a lovely & kind way to refer to the malevolent or idiotic people who urge overpopulation!

    I remember Horton & Leslie’s 5th edition SOCIAL PROBLEMS textbook mentioning what a “concrete jungle” the 21st century was to be. It is and I wish now as I did then that there had been some way to avoid the 21st century without dying young.

    Thanks for your post. It is nice to have updated info handy for lobbing back as needed. For some reason ZPG’s new name POPULATION CONNECTION never stays in my head.

  2. Well, on ageism…

    You and PC are so right. In Silicon Valley, where I live, ageism is still rampant. I don’t have any figures on this situation, and I’m sure it exists elsewhere, but high-tech companies are really anxious to shed and not hire older people. To some extent, they crave the young because they are cheaper to hire–especially true of large corporations. I think making our employment laws stricter would definitely help.

    I looked recently at the long layoff list from a major high-tech company and discovered something interesting. The EEOC requires them to make available the ages and titles of people they lay off. Guess what the most dangerous age turned out to be? 39. That’s because the law considers ageism to apply to anyone 40 and over. But the law needs to change so that the policies match up with the age distribution in the general public and to encourage the hiring of older people.

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