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Thomas You may have heard economics

J/r r,7 called "the dismal science."

. The field was pinned with this

Population label many years ago be-

Growth cause of a theory proposed by Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834), an English minister and early economic thinker. In a famous book called An Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of Society, Malthus offered what may be history's most chilling forecast. Malthus argued that an ever increasing population would continually strain society's ability to provide for itself. As a result, mankind was doomed to forever live in poverty.

Malthus's logic was very simple. He began by noting that "food is necessary to the existence of man" and that "the passion between the sexes is necessary and will remain nearly in its present state." He concluded that "the power of population is infinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man." According to Malthus, the only check on population growth was "misery and vice." Attempts by charities or governments to alleviate poverty were counterproductive, he argued, because they merely allowed the poor to have more children, placing even greater strains on society's productive capabilities.

Fortunately, Malthus's dire forecast was far off the mark. Although the world population has increased about sixfold over the past two centuries, living standards around

Thomas Malthus

the world are on average much higher. As a result of economic growth, chronic hunger and malnutrition are less common now than they were in Malthus's day. Famines occur from time to time, but they are more often the result of an unequal income distribution or political instability than an inadequate production of food.

Where did Malthus go wrong? He failed to appreciate that growth in mankind's ingenuity would exceed growth in population. New ideas about how to produce and even the kinds of goods to produce have led to greater prosperity than Malthus—or anyone else of his era—ever imagined. Pesticides, fertilizers, mechanized farm equipment, and new crop varieties have allowed each farmer to feed ever greater numbers of people. The wealth-enhancing effects of technological progress have exceeded whatever wealth-diminishing effects might be attributed to population growth.

Indeed, some economists now go so far as to suggest that population growth may even have helped mankind achieve higher standards of living. If there are more people, then there are more scientists, inventors, and engineers to contribute to technological progress, which benefits everyone. Perhaps world population growth, rather than being a source of economic deprivation as Malthus predicted, has actually been an engine of technological progress and economic prosperity.

This problem is most apparent in the case of human capital. Countries with high population growth have large numbers of school-age children. This places a larger burden on the educational system. It is not surprising, therefore, that educational attainment tends to be low in countries with high population growth.

The differences in population growth around the world are large. In developed countries, such as the United States and western Europe, the population has risen about 1 percent per year in recent decades, and it is expected to rise even more slowly in the future. By contrast, in many poor African countries, population growth is about 3 percent per year. At this rate, the population doubles every 23 years.

Reducing the rate of population growth is widely thought to be one way less developed countries can try to raise their standards of living. In some countries, this goal is accomplished directly with laws regulating the number of children families may have. China, for instance, allows only one child per family; couples who violate this rule are subject to substantial fines. In countries with greater freedom, the goal of reduced population growth is accomplished less directly by increasing awareness of birth control techniques.

The final way in which a country can influence population growth is to apply one of the Ten Principles of Economics: People respond to incentives. Bearing a child, like any decision, has an opportunity cost. When the opportunity cost rises, people will choose to have smaller families. In particular, women with the opportunity to receive good education and desirable employment tend to want fewer children than those with fewer opportunities outside the home. Hence, policies that foster equal treatment of women are one way for less developed economies to reduce the rate of population growth.

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