Josh Loeffler '03
ENVS 002

Last Updated 4/01/03

The Benefits of a Shrinking World Population

Scientist Julian Simon asserted in 1992 that population growth, perceived by many to be a growing crisis, was in fact a huge boon to society. Simon countered the common argument that overpopulation would result in miserable, deteriorating living conditions by postulating that "population growth, economic grow, and a resource-rich world coupled with modern technology will produce greater prosperity and better health for increasing numbers of people" (Southwick, p. 160). Given the fact that more people today are living and misery and poverty than ever, Simon's picturesque world has gone largely unsupported (Southwick, p. 161). Recent news that the population boom is currently on hold then, should come as great news to the greater portion of individuals in the world. Rather than 12 to 14 billion world inhabitants in the mid-twenty first century, recent figures project a decline from roughly nine billion people in 2050. The shrinking of the world population will almost undoubtedly create drastic economic and political changes (Wattenberg, p.1). These predicted changes, though, seem minor in comparison to the poor environmental state that most agreed would be reached if the population boom continued in the same manner. It seems as though the shrinking of the world population will allow for the existence of fewer billions of people with more abundant resources and a better quality environment rather than the existence of "10 to 15 billion people living in poverty and malnourishment" (Southwick, p. 161).

For the past five years the United Nations has witnessed a trend in fertility rates that will alter the face of the globe. Rather than a fertility rate of 2.1, which was the assumed world fertility rate for many years, the world fertility rate is now calculated to equal roughly 1.85 (Wattenberg, p. 1). Whereas this decrease may seem very small, the implications of the decrease are rather large. The fertility rate of 2.1 allowed for overall replacement, in which parents were replaced in death by the existence of their children. The lower rate of 1.85 does not allow for replacement, and results in a shrinking world population. The repercussions of this shrinking population will be seen especially in most industrialized countries, most specifically in Europe. The rate of fertility today in Europe is estimated to be 1.4. This is only eclipsed by Japan, in which the fertility rate is 1.3. These extremely small fertility rates are juxtaposed with the relatively high fertility rates in developing countries. These "less developed countries" have been tabulated by the United Nations as having a fertility rate of 2.9 (Wattenberg, p. 1).

The higher fertility rates in the less developed countries indicate that, over time, these countries will gain a demographic divident (Wattenberg, p. 1). In essence, the production and per capita income levels in these countries will increase relative to those in more developed countries. Also, these developing countries will gain power relative to the already more developed nations. Although there is not a direct one to one corrollation between population and power, the greater a country's population, the greater power it generally has. We could see a drastic shift in power towards the nations that are currently developing (Wattenberg, p. 2).

The shift of power could result in drastic repercussions, especially toward the United States, and may be cause for a change in foreign policy. Specifically, the United States would want to improve relations with those developing countries that have a negative opinion of the nation, or more aggressively try to spread ideas about Western culture and politics. Such moves would allow the United States to have more favorable relations with powerful, developing countries in the future (Wattenberg, p. 2).

While there are many questions surrounding power dynamics with the change in population demographics, the problems that could arise seem minor in comparison to problems that could come about if the population boom continued. If more developed countries, such as those in Europe and Japan were to continue the population boom, the current power dynamics would be upheld, but the environmental problems accompanying overpopulation would also ensue. There are several different possibilities presented regarding the environmental repercussions of population expansion. The dismal theorem, presented by Malthus hypothesizes that as the population increases, price of living will also increase. This increase in price of living relative to wages would result in the gradual demise of the lower class. Classes would slowly lower to the subsistence level, and then lower than the subsistence level. Eventually, the poor would die off, and the excess deaths in the poorer classes would counter the excess births in the upper classes. In this manner, equilibrium would be reached, albeit in a relatively awful manner. This is only a slightly better outcome than the utterly dismal theorem, which incorporates charity as a means to help the poorer classes but eventually brings all levels to that of the poorer classes, and population is only stabilized when people become to poor, hungry, and tired to reproduce (Dolan).

As can be seen, the continued explosion of the population has created for a theoretically, and relatively realistic demise for much of the population. Therefore, while the power shift that accompanies the shrinking population problem may be a nuisance, it is just that; a nuisance when compared to the dismal outcome of the human race if population were to continue at the once feared rate.