January 10, 2010


Populate and prosper (Julie Novak, 12/23/09, The Australian)

What has tended to be overlooked is a balanced discussion incorporating the benefits of a larger population.

At the outset, having more people means that economic activity is greater than would otherwise be the case.

Markets expand as more producers and consumers find plentiful opportunities to trade with each other for mutual benefit.

Increasing production of goods and services to cater for the needs of growing numbers of people leads to an overall improvement in living standards.

The idea that having a larger population base can grow an economy is recognised by federal and state treasuries under their population, participation and productivity, or "triple P" growth frameworks.

Yet, this argument has come under challenge during the past two decades in the form of a growing and more headstrong environmental movement. According to this view, how could we possibly sustain demographic expansion on the hottest, driest continent on earth? For many environmentalists, the arguments for a larger population come across as nothing more than some sort of pro-growth corporate conspiracy.

Convinced that a growing humanity is laying waste to the environment, some groups have gone so far as to suggest Australia should seek to reduce its human population, presumably to make way for other species.

The problem with these arguments is that they miss perhaps the most profound reason of all for having more Australians.

Julian Simon, who famously won a wager on resource prices against environmental doomsayer Paul Ehrlich, dismissed the radical green idea that people are little more than parasites destroying the planet.

Simon once wrote that "human beings are not just more mouths to feed, but are productive and inventive minds that help find creative solutions to man's problems, thus leaving us better off over the long run."

If any one trait characterises humankind it is its irrepressible drive to tackle all manner of problems by discovering innovative solutions. More people increase the probability of resolving problems more quickly, leaving a larger base of economic riches behind for our children and their children.

The ultimate renewable resource on this planet is you, me and every other person alive today and to be born tomorrow.

Having more creative human minds is unambiguously of net benefit for our country, and indeed the entire world.

Simon goes one step further to suggest that the underlying basis for all wealth, including our natural resource endowments, is our minds. After all, if some bright spark hadn't discovered that oil, coal or uranium could be used to unlock physical energy we might still be looking upon these materials as having no use at all.

It is because we have people with ingenious minds that we can also work towards solutions to promote ecological sustainability where appropriate.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 10, 2010 1:55 PM
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