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Home Publications Blogs Beat the Press The NYT Discovers That Excessive Population Growth Can Be a Problem

The NYT Discovers That Excessive Population Growth Can Be a Problem

Sunday, 22 August 2010 07:14

Last week, the NYT highlighted the fact that China's GDP had surpassed Japan's to become the world second largest economy, an event that had happened many years ago using more realistic measures of purchasing power parity. Today the NYT tells readers that India's population growth: "threatens to turn its demography from a prized asset into a crippling burden." 

Actually, India's population has long been a crippling burden on the country. All its natural resources are severely taxed. The country has almost 4 times the population of the United States with considerably less land. Large portions of the population do not have access to clean water. Continued rapid population growth will make the situation worse, but the size of its population is already a serious problem.

The article includes the bizarre statement:

"With almost 1.2 billion people, India is disproportionately young; roughly half the population is younger than 25. This “demographic dividend” is one reason some economists predict that India could surpass China in economic growth rates within five years. India will have a young, vast work force while a rapidly aging China will face the burden of supporting an older population."

It would have been interesting to see the names of the economists to whom the article refers. Economists usually concern themselves with per capita GDP growth. The fact that a country enjoys more rapid overall growth because it has a growing population, while another country may have a stagnant or even declining population, would not be seen by most economists as a virtue. This is especially the case since the more rapid population growth will be associated with environmental degradation.

The reference to China facing a "burden" of supporting a growing population of retirees is also bizarre. First, what matters is the change in the ratio of dependents, both young and old, to workers. With children comprising a smaller share of China's population, this ratio will not be increasing very rapidly.

Furthermore, if China's rapid growth continues, there is no reason that both workers and retirees cannot enjoy substantial improvements in living standards through time. An increase in the ratio of retirees to workers of 0.5 percent a year would be very rapid. China's economy has been growing at a 10 percent annual rate. Even if this rate were cut in half to 5.0 percent, only a tenth of its growth would be absorbed by the need to support a higher ratio of retirees to workers. The notion that this is a serious burden on a rapidly growing country is silly. 


Comments (4)Add Comment
written by Andrew Solarski, August 22, 2010 9:10
How does one contact Dr. Baker? I wanted to point you to a NPR report for your possible commentary.


Freddie & Fannie "just continued to make the same kind of loans and indeed made more aggressive loans during that period of 2005, 2006, 2007,". Of course they don't make loans at all.

Also later "Fannie and Freddie, along with the Federal Housing Administration, are responsible for some 95 percent of the mortgages in the country today". True now of course but due to the banks bailout that took and continue to take all the failing toxic assets off their books at taxpayer expense.

And who is the Cambridge Winter Center that made these statements? I can't find out anything about their funding.
Our Loopy Political Climate
written by libhomo, August 22, 2010 12:37
Due to pressure from the Roman Catholic Church and the militant, Protestant fundamentalists, even discussing overpopulation has been a third rail in news reporting the past couple of decades.
written by Mike, August 22, 2010 4:19
I'd expect this to look like a really bad column in 20+ years. There is a big difference in the "dependency" of children and the "dependency" of old people. Children are an investment; taking care of the aged is an expense.

India aside, the vast, vast majority of the world faces a severe demographic crisis with Japan being the most obvious example along with several Eastern European countries like Lativa or Bulgaria.
Japan has long benefitted from the low birthrate.
written by Nerrie, August 22, 2010 5:23
Less population growth means less money has to be diverted into roads and malls and houses and electrical projects for the expanding population. More can be invested in new and better technology and better education. Japan has chosen the better path.

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About Beat the Press

Dean Baker is co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, D.C. He is the author of several books, his latest being The End of Loser Liberalism: Making Markets Progressive. Read more about Dean.