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Aug 05, 2008


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Can neo-Malthusians fit declining population into their model? Ben Wattenberg describes the likely coming world population decline as a Copernican revolution in demography. Real demographers have, no doubt, been absorbing these new projections. The economists and "futurists" that you cite here, though, are at one remove from demography as a field, and seem to take their Malthus straight, with no reference to subsequent developments.

Michael W. Kruse

I think the potential (and likely) move toward depopulation is one of the innovations and adaptations that neo-Malthusians tend to ignore. Depopulation has enormous consequences for how we see issues like economic growth, CO2 production, public policy on pensions and health care, etc.

The population explosion has been a temporary consequence of the dramatic reduction in death rates achieved through the agricultural and industrial revolutions of the past four centuries or so (ala Demographic Transition Model). But People are reflective beings.

Malthus correctly saw historical patterns of economic growth leading to even faster population growth that would ultimately lead to collapse. What he was not able to envision was an economic system that could expand productivity so fast that it could out pace the initial population explosion until such time as people could reflect on their lives and their world, and then adapt accordingly. One of the near universal responses to economic growth has been reduced fertility rates, even to the point of population decline. Negative replacement rates will likely spark cultural efforts to achieve growth back toward stabilization rates.

The basic point is that people reflect and adapt. My beef with neo-Malthusians is their tendency to think statically instead of dynamically with regard to human behavior.

BTW, your series of posts on Wattenburg inspired me to finally purchase a copy. Thanks for the inspiration. :)

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