Magazine article Science News

A Moderate of Population Excess

Magazine article Science News

A Moderate of Population Excess

Article excerpt

A moderate view of population excess

Ever since Malthus, economists have been unable to look at populations without multiplying in their heads. But the matk keeps giving different answers. Recently, "market theorists" have challenged the pessimism of ecologically oriented projections of world polulation growth, arguing that the demands of growing populations can bring advances that counter the tendency toward depletion of resources (SN: 10/17/81, p. 245). Into the midst of the debate, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) last week released a report that takes the middle ground.

The NAS committee looked at the effect of population growth on the economies of developing countries, focusing on such issues as resource degradation and exhaustion, distribution of capital, positive effects of technological innovation and economies of scale, and quality-of-life indicators such as levels of schooling and health. In most of these arenas in such countries, the report concludes, slower population growth would improve well-being. But the authors take a moderate view of the hazards of growth, giving much greater weight than earlier studies to the adaptability of institutions and individuals.

"The rate of population growth is an important variable, but there are many other variables that can have a greater effect on people's welfare," says D. Gale Johnson of the University of Chicago, a member of the NAS working group on population and economic development. For instance, urban bias in developing countries can leave rural areas without roads or access to goods; or a decision to tax crops destined for export can dissuade farmers from planting -- and "people can change that," Johnson told SCIENCE NEWS. …

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