Virtual Voices

The sky is falling

Economy

Do you think that the world has too many people? Do you believe that human beings are overusing our planet's resources? Do you want to solve the perceived overpopulation and environmental crises? You could join the Zero Population Growth initiative. Or you could do better. You could do what God told Adam and Eve to do, i.e., "be fruitful and multiply." This surprising conclusion comes from economist Steven Landsburg. You think that it makes no sense? Yes, it is counter-intuitive, but when you master the economic way of thinking you realize that intuition and common sense are overrated.

Your problem is that you only see people as mouths to feed. Economists see them as creators of wealth. You see people as voracious consumers of the existing scarce resources. Economists see them as tireless discoverers of new resources. You see each new birth as a tragedy because it decreases the family's per capita income and adds to the earth's environmental problems. Economists see it as a blessing-not only does the baby bring joy to people around it, this new human being also brings special gifts and new potential to solve all kinds of problems.

There is an extensive body of empirical research that confirms the economic and social benefits of population growth. Economist Michael Kremer's explanation is simple: Twice as many people mean twice as many geniuses. Just like bigger high schools tend to have better football teams, larger populations are more likely to develop better technologies. In addition, Landsburg points out that the number of new ideas grows faster than population because geniuses benefit from the proximity to other geniuses-they cooperate and inspire each other. There are increasing returns to accumulation of human capital. Also, larger populations mean larger markets for inventions, which in turn give larger incentives to invent.

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Do you have friends who constantly worry like Chicken Little that the sky will fall? Professional alarmists like Al Gore have made good money out of it. What they all fail to appreciate is that more people means not only more prosperity but, as Landsburg reminds us, more potential friends, more acts of kindness, and better chance of finding love. So whether you fear global warming, or the rising price of gasoline, or the boogeyman in your closet, if you want to leave a better world behind you-have more children and encourage others to do the same.

Alex Tokarev
Alex Tokarev

Alex is the chair of the Department of Business at Morthland College in West Frankfort, Ill., and teaches at Northwood University in Midland, Mich. The native of communist Bulgaria fanatically supports the Bulgarian soccer team, Levski.

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