Malthusian inversion: Slowing population growth could mean cheaper food and a cleaner environment

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I’ve noticed several articles in the past few weeks talking about slowing or even falling population growth …. The richer we get, it seems the fewer babies we want or need.

[Editor’s note: Jayson Lusk is an agricultural economist at Purdue University.]

We’ve all probably been adequately exposed to the concerns and problems associated with over-population from the writings of Malthus to Ehrlich’s Population Bomb. Less well appreciated are the benefits and costs associated with a falling population.


A smaller population would no doubt produce some benefits. Probably the most obvious benefit is that a smaller population would lessen human’s demands on our environment and natural resources.

Related article:  Viewpoint: Fact-checking anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva's 'Poison-Free, Fossil-Free' food lecture

Among the adverse consequences, however, of falling population is likely to be downward pressure on farm incomes. The Malthusian concern implied a large population that was incapable of sufficiently feeding itself. For humanity writ large, this outcome would have been a tragedy …. Innovation and productivity growth, fortunately, prevented the hunger problems that would have accompanied a rising population.

[F]lat or declining population, along with innovation, have the potential to have positive environmental outcomes, and it will important to think about appropriate farm policy in light of these trends.

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