Economics Deconstructed- 2nd Place
By Garvit Gupta, Ashoka University.
Increasing population has always been a hotly debated topic in the public domain.
Is a burgeoning population a boon or a bane? That depends on what a country’s past demographic indicators and policies were. However, as a future economist, do you believe that population control should be promoted or not? Or would a balancing act be the best way out? Make your case using related economic principles and
The Problem Statement refers to an ever-present problem of Population growth that has developed since the Industrial Age. For the sake of clarity, Population Control will primarily refer to the forced imposition of limits on children borne1 and sterilisation of the citizens, and, as a secondary, it will refer to awareness programs that passively discourage reproduction. But, before we move on to this essay's prescriptive and policy-based aspects, I think it is essential for us to place the issue of Population Growth in a more nuanced context. The increasing population of the human species on this planet is said to have directly contributed linked to two of the key issues that humanity faces – Scarcity and Climate Change. While there exist other emergent and related problems, the essay will primarily deal with these two issues to describe the problem of population growth properly.
First, the increase in population is said to be one of the greatest causes of scarcity (lack of goods and services). Prima Facie, this argument appears logically sound. But, this proposition ignores the complex socio-economic and geo-political factors that have led to the aforementioned scarcity. The increasing wealth/income inequality, exploitation of the Global South, privatization2 of the means of production, etc., are arguably greater factors when it comes to scarcity. These factors have historically proven to be detrimental to the purchasing power of the common man and the overproduction of profitable goods over productive/important goods, thus, skewing the demand and supply curves to produce scarcity in the economy.
Second, the increase in population is said to have led to or hastened the process of Climate Change. Once again, these arguments do make sense. But, they, too, individualise what a systemic problem is. Excess Demand leads to high production, and vice versa, which leads to increased waste and emission production, thus, leading to climate change. But is this necessarily a Population problem? Is it the increasing population that is leading to a considerable increase in demand, or is it excess consumption by the population that is contributing to this? While appearing to be similar, these are two very different situations. One describes the increase in population directly causing the increase in demand. The other describes and includes factors other than population growth responsible for the increase in demand.
Building upon previous arguments and observations, the Supply side of the economy is controlled by a few strong players who prioritise profit-driven production over demand/welfare-based production. A culture of consumption (representing the demand side) is established by the material base (the base of profit-driven production) on which society exists, which complement each other. These two act together to propel the economy to levels of overconsumption and overproduction. This overproduction is necessary to sustain the profit-driven industries which are running out of avenues of profit after each business cycle and commodity frenzy ends.
Even then, a low population could hypothetically decrease the negative impact of overproduction and overconsumption. This could be considered correct in the rational and “pure” science of economics. But, looking at the stark reality that exists today, this can be debunked.3 The gross inequalities have skewed the demand of the world to be dominated by a few wealthy people in the world. Applying the Pareto principle4, we can ascertain that the problems of overconsumption and the subsequent overproduction can not be blamed equitably on the entire population. This problem is one that belongs to a class of people with the economic and political means to propel demand and escape public accountability for the same.
Now that the issue at hand has been placed in some context, it makes it easier for us to solve it. As shown in the previous arguments, Population Growth is a problem that has been widely overstated in popular discourse. Nevertheless, The effects that are allegedly caused by Population Growth are very much real and damaging to the economy. But, to solve this by curtailing the social and political autonomy of people to reproduce is a decision that would be unfair. A fair reform must target the real agents of harm to the economy, and an economist would strive to deal with the systemic issues that lead to the effects of Overpopulation instead of undertaking a program of political repression. Note that the aforementioned agents of harm may also possess the economic and political privilege to escape the policies of Population Control. These reforms can also be targeted against a certain social class as a means of oppression and ethnic cleansing. The economist approach to this issue would be three-pronged -
1. Focusing on awareness programs and contraception distribution schemes to curtail unnecessary reproduction. This will not violate the rights of the individual while creating a labour force that is aware of the societal consequences of its actions.
2. Decentralise economic organisations and wealth, and ensure that the decision-making power does not rest in the hands of a few in an economy to curtail overproduction or profit-driven incentives. One such way would be to advocate for fair competition laws, labour safety & upliftment policies, anti-monopoly legal action, etc.
3. Impose a progressive taxation scheme; This will help deal with inequalities present in the economy while curtailing unnecessary expenditure by the higher economic classes and contribute to decreasing scarcity and climate change. Moreover, Tax rebates and social schemes can also parallelly run to further economically uplift the people.
As a closing argument, the world is going through dramatic political and social changes that may heavily impact labour productivity and political safety. In such times, robust youth and the labour force will ensure that the interests of the people and the nation are safeguarded. Policies that weaken this base of power may lead to unforeseen negative consequences. A rational analysis of the economy and society yields a clear denial of the “supposed” gravity of the issue of population growth and supports external systemic reforms instead.
1. 12:30 am, Andrew Mullen +. FOLLOW Published: “What Was China’s One-Child Policy and Why Was It so Controversial?” South China Morning Post, 1 June 2021, https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3135510/chinas-one-child-policy-what-was-it-and-what-impact-did-it. Accessed 23 Oct. 2022.
2. “The Inequality of Overconsumption: The Ecological Footprint of the Richest.” Why Green Economy?, 24 Nov. 2015, http://whygreeneconomy.org/inequality-of-overconsumption/. Accessed 23 Oct. 2022.
4. “Pareto Principle - an Overview.” ScienceDirect Topics, http://sciencedirect.com/topics/computer-science/pareto-principle. Accessed 23 Oct. 2022.