Sachs - G lobal P opulation D ynamics i T HOUGH H E T W...

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Global Population Dynamics i THOUGH THE WORLD'S POPULATION GROWTH RATE has declined, any ( I- complacency about global population growth would be misplaced. The global $ t. population continues to increase by large numbers and in the regions least t k able to ensure the health, stability, and prosperity of the population. . Nonetheless, most mainstream economics now gives a pretty big yawn about , the issue. Here is how The Economist magazine, theworld's authoritative eco- 1, I nomics weekly, recently dismissed concerns about population growth: : : There doesn't seem to be much danger of a Malthusian catastrophe. Mankind appropriates about a quarter of what is known as the net primary production of the Earth (this is the plant tissue created by photosynthe- : sis)-a lot, but hardly near the point of exhaustion. . . . Raw materials , have become more abundant, not scarcer. Certainly, the impact that peo- ple have on the climate is a problem; but the solution lies in consuming less fossil fuel, not in manipulating population levels. Yet we need to worry about population growth and take global public ac- tions to address it. Here's what I shall argue: The world's population growth remains far too rapid. Resource scarcity is very real, especially regarding the impact of rising populations on the Earth's ecosystems and biodiversity. The rapid growth of populations in the poorest countries hinders eco- nomic d&elopment, condemns children in poor countries to contin- ued poverty, and threatens global political stability.
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160 1 C O M M O N W E A L T H Public policies can play an important and salutary role in assisting poor households in achieving a voluntary reduction of fertility rates. Fortunately, if today's high-fertility countries, especially in Africa, can follow the success- ful lessons of countries that have reduced population growth in the recent past, and if they are helped with increased assistance in that effort by inter- national agencies, these countries can achieve a rapid and voluntary reduc- tion in fertility, much to the benefit of economic development, the next generation, and global security. The world should embrace a set of policies to help stabilize the global population, through voluntary choices, at a pop- ulation of roughly eight billion people, rather than the current trajectory, which is likely to take us to nine billion or more by 2050. This may seem like a modest difference, but the consequences would be large, especially since the population control would come mainly in the world's poorest places. T H E D E B A T E O V E R P O P U L A T I O N Economists tend to be divided into three camps: population optimists, who say that today's population growth is good for development or is at least neu- tral; population pessimists, who say that population growth has already gone too far to avoid disaster; and those (including myself) who believe in the im- portance of spurring the demographic transition to lower fertility rates in the poorest countries.
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