World Population Trends and Their Impact on Economic Development

By Dominick Salvatore | Go to book overview

1
Population Trends and Economic Development: Introduction

DOMINICK SALVATORE

The United Nations' 1987 State of the World Population Report opens by stating:

In 1987, world population will pass five billion. It is growing at a rate of approximately a billion every 12 years . . . every year by over 80 million. Ninety percent of this growth is in developing countries. How did such rapid growth become possible? Is reaching five billion a triumph for humanity or a threat to its future? 1

It concludes by stating:

Beyond five billion, the path is dictated neither by chance nor by rigid fate. One path leads toward a balance between nature and human beings which will build a future to safeguard succeeding generations. The other will lead to difficulties which might degenerate into disaster if fertility decline is too long postponed. 2

From the time of Thomas Malthus to right after World War II, the generally accepted view was that rapid population growth hindered economic development. This belief, however, was based more on impressionistic evidence than on careful empirical research. During most of the postwar period, it was thought to be more or less self-evident that unchecked population growth in the face of limited natural resources would soon lead to diminishing returns and declining, or at least stagnant, standards of living in most developing countries. Improved technology would slow down the harmful effects on economic development resulting from rapid population growth, but it would be unable to reverse the process because a great deal of the new technology being developed is very capital intensive, and most developing countries are capital poor. While many researchers and international institutions would not entirely reject this assessment of the problem today, they are questioning these beliefs and subjecting them to rigorous empirical tests. Ideas and beliefs that seemed only too evident a few decades

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