Is World Population Under Control?

 

The main topics discussed on this blog are the major fiscal and economic issues facing the U.S. My approach is to be calm, factual, rational and objective but I do have a very definite point of view.  I am an optimist.  I think that life is getting better slowly but surely both in the U.S. and around the world, see here and here.
The key to this progress is economic growth.  Faster growth means more progress.  But there are limits as to how fast the economy can grow.  In particular there are environmental limits as I have discussed in my last two posts, here and here.
Global warming is definitely a huge threat to human progress.
But severe overpopulation is not likely based on two reliable sources which I am using.  One is the latest UN Report, “World Population Prospects, 2017”.  The other is the 2010 book by Matt Ridley, “The Rational Optimist”.
Consider:

  • World population in 2017 is 7.6 billion. 10 years ago it was growing by 1.24% per year, today it is growing by 1.10% per year, i.e. growth is slowing down.

  • There is a 27% chance that world population will stabilize and begin to fall before the end of this century (see graph). Mr. Ridley’s prediction that population will peak at 9.2 billion in about 2075 and then begin to fall is consistent with the lower level of the UN graph.
  • The UN’s median projection is that the global fertility level will decline from 2.5 births per woman in 2010-2015 to 2.2 births per woman in 2045-2050 and then to 2.0 births per woman in 2095-2100. Since replacement level is 2.1 births per woman, no later than 2100 the die will be cast for world population to peak in the early 22nd century and then begin to decline.
  • Already 83 countries in 2010-2015 had below replacement level fertility. After 2050 Africa will be the only region still experiencing substantial population growth.

Conclusion. Sometime between about 2075 and the early 2100s, world population will peak and then begin to decline. The sooner this happens, the less misery there will be for humanity.  Nevertheless, the catastrophe of never ending population growth is very unlikely to occur.

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The Problem of Soaring World Population

 

As I remind readers from time to time, this blog is focused on the fiscal and economic problems of the U.S. Our biggest fiscal problem is not having enough tax revenue to pay our bills.  Our biggest economic problem is a stagnant economy which leaves too many people unemployed or underemployed.
My last three post have been on the subject of climate change. This is a worldwide problem which has a huge effect on the U.S.  There’s going to be a cost in cutting way back on carbon emissions.  But there will soon be a much greater cost if we don’t cut back and therefore suffer the growing adverse environmental effects.
Now there is another looming problem.  The journal Science has just published the article “World population stabilization unlikely this century,” reporting that world population, now 7.2 billion, is likely to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 and 10.9 billion by 2100.  Much of the increase will take place in Africa due to higher fertility rates because of a recent slowdown in the pace of fertility decline.
CaptureThe implications of a growing world population are huge:

  • First of all, it will add even more stress to an environment which is already being increasingly stressed by global warming.
  • Secondly, it will aggravate a slowdown in middle-income wage growth throughout the developed world. This is very evident in the above chart. What is happening is that the force of globalization is shifting lower skilled work to lower paid workers in the developing world. A larger population in the developing world will simply exacerbate this trend.

The noted economist, Tyler Cowen, has a different perspective on this problem, “A Strategy for Rich Countries: Absorb More Immigrants,” in today’s New York Times.  But Mr. Cowen’s approach is untenable for the long run.  The idea that you can offset an increase in the elderly population with an even bigger increase in the younger population will lead to an ever-growing overall population.
What then is the answer to over-population?  It is either more birth control or less sex.  Take your pick!