Benjamin Studebaker

Yet Another Attempt to Make the World a Better Place by Writing Things

Tag: Population

Resisting Stagnation and the New Dark Age

There’s a lot of talk lately by Summers, Krugman, and others that we may be in a period of secular stagnation, in which the rate at which the economy grows in the wealthiest countries falls substantially and permanently. Observing this, some are quick to point to demography as the cause. If populations are not growing as swiftly as they once did, it would indeed make sense that growth rates would fall. Under this thinking, slower growth isn’t a problem, because per capita growth is theoretically still strong–the economy is growing slower in aggregate, but it’s growing at the same speed relative to the size of the population. The trouble is that on further investigation, the demographic explanation does not sufficiently account for what’s going on. Not only are growth rates slowing, but per capita growth rates are slowing, and have been slowing for a while, beginning far before the recent economic crisis. This throws Kurzweil’s theory of accelerating returns into doubt, and undermines the central precept underlying our capitalist society–that the labors of this generation today are meant to make the next generation’s lives go better. If stagnation is the way of the future, it’s a much more serious problem than we presently recognize, one that ultimately threatens not merely our dreams of better lives for ourselves, but the very stability of our civilization.

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Thank a Local Immigrant for Your Public Services

Regular readers may recall that I wrote about Japan’s poor birth rate earlier in the week. I engaged in a conversation with a friend of mine about the subject (here’s his view on Japan) during which I observed that Germany’s birth rate is actually slightly worse than Japan’s, yet there’s we’re all writing about Japanese birth rates rather than the German ones. I wondered why that is, and he pointed to the immigration figures–Germany gets many more move-ins than Japan does, so the birth rate crisis in Germany has not translated into a population crisis on the same scale. This has made me want to investigate to what extent the EU and US have mitigated the effects of a birth rate slowdown with immigrants, so that’s what I’m on about today.

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Dying Civilizations: The Threat Posed by Plummeting Birth Rates

Today I ran across a piece in The Guardian about Japan’s demographic crisis. The piece, entitled “Why Have Young People in Japan Stopped Having Sex?” explores an interesting phenomenon unique to modern developed states–the tendency for birth rates to collapse as a civilization reaches higher levels of economic output. This is not a Children of Men scenario–affluent peoples are not becoming biologically infertile. Instead, we see a decreased desire on the part of citizens to have children or even to get involved in romantic relationships of any kind. What’s driving falling birth rates, and to how are they a problem? That’s my subject today.

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How Food Subsidies Make You Poorer and Kill African Babies

Recently in the United States, congress has been fighting with the president about food subsidies.  The bill for renewing food subsidies also renews the food stamp program, which helps very poor individuals purchase food. Congressional republicans are seeking to make cuts to the food stamp program, denying food stamps to those who are not in part-time employment or in job training. They seek to pass a version of the farm bill that permits state governments to deny food stamps to the unemployed. The president threatens to veto the farm bill if it includes language of this kind, preventing a renewal of the subsidies. There has been no resolution to the dispute as of yet.  Today I wish to argue that congressional republicans are attempting to kill the wrong part of the farm bill–they should be targeting the farm subsidies rather than food stamps for the unemployed.

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Population Pays

Remember that immigration reform bill that’s attempting to crawl through the congressional minefield? Back in January, I was critical of the bill, because it seems to presume that reducing immigration numbers is still a desirable goal. I argued that the bill over-emphasized border security at the expense of encouraging immigration, and that increasing immigration was fundamentally advantageous to economic growth, that immigrants contribute more to the economy than they consume in public services. At the time, my view was predominately theoretical. Now, however, we have empirical data. The non-partisan and generally trustworthy Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a report in which it predicts that immigration reform would shrink the deficit by $197 billion.

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