On population and productivity

The Folks Who Told You the Economy Is Just Fine are Worried that the World Will Get Less Crowded

The last time I went to the beach it was very crowded. The Washington Post wants us to be concerned that it might be less crowded in 20 or 30 years. The problem is falling birth rates and declining populations.

That’s right the same people who told us a few months ago that the economy was just fine are now telling us that we should be worried about a planet with fewer people consuming less resources. Yes, this is yet another piece in the Post’s jihad against Social Security and Medicare.

A smaller population should make us richer, other things equal, since there will be less demand for beach space and other natural resources. The declining rate of workers to retirees can easily be met by productivity growth (a concept with which Post writers seem unfamiliar) and by losing a few jobs on the midnight shift at 7-11s.

The column warns us that China may grow old before its grows rich. At its recent growth rates, output per worker in China will be almost 6 times higher in twenty years as it is today. Suppose its ratio of retirees to workers doubles over this period. Then means that supporting retirees at current living standards would impose a burden on workers that is one-third as large (relative to their income) as the burden imposed at present. That should make everyone really scared.

—Dean Baker

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