I Miss Julian Simon

by Don Boudreaux on May 5, 2011

in Myths and Fallacies, Population, Standard of Living

Here’s a letter to the New York Times:

In today’s “Room for Debate” you ask “Can the Planet Support 10 Billion People?”  The consensus of the panel you assembled to discuss this question is ‘No the planet cannot, at least not without major changes in the way we live.’  Given this consensus, I gather that the point of your photo of a crowded thoroughfare in Lagos – a photo captioned “Lagos, Nigeria, is one of the most densely populated cities in the world” – is to depict the sort of misery (and downright ugliness of our planet) that awaits us if we don’t rein in population growth pronto.

Lagos is indeed densely populated, with about 20,170 persons per square mile.  And Nigeria is indeed poor, with a per-capita annual income of about $2,800.  (I can find no statistic on the annual per-capita income of residents of Lagos.  So let’s assume, generously, that annual per-capita income in Lagos is $5,600, or double what it is for Nigeria as a whole.)

Contrary to the wisdom of crowds, however, population density isn’t destiny.

Monaco, with a per-capita annual income of about $33,100 (more than six times that of Lagos), has a population density of 43,830 – more than double that of Lagos.  Or consider Macau, with its per-capita annual income of $33,000: Macau’s population density is the highest of any country in the world at 48,000 person per square mile; it is 138 percent more densely populated than is Lagos.  Yet Macau’s per-capita annual income, like that of Monaco, is almost six times higher than that of Lagos.

Popular discourse is overcrowded with factually and theoretically impoverished claims about the relationship between population and standards of living.

Sincerely,

Donald J. Boudreaux

Or is the problem that the sages at the NYT foresee one of dark and swarthy peoples especially being, well, you know, too numerous?  (HT Mary Anastasia O’Grady)

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