The Economics Focus in this week’s Economist makes some excellent points. Most importantly, it demonstrates the degree to which looking at national rates of GDP growth independently from national rates of population growth produces a misleading impression of what is really happening.
America and Australia usually have the kind of economies that people understand to be growing rapidly – a fact often attributed to their dynamism, lack of enthusiasm for income redistribution, etc. By contrast, Germany and Japan tend to be lamented as low-growth laggards. If you consider the changes in GDP per capita, Japan grew more quickly than either Australia or the United States between 2002 and 2007. Because of relatively high rates of population growth, the American economy needs to ‘run just to stand still.’ The problem is even more acute in places with still higher rates of population growth.
Arguably, this offers one more reason to cheer falling populations as a sign of national maturity. While an aging population does put strain on pay-as-you-go pension and health care systems, that is a one-time cost of adjustment. Once it has been borne, a diminishing population means fewer resource constraints, a higher level of physical and financial capital per person, and a increased factor price for labour, yielding improved economic returns for workers.
For both environmental and economic reasons, we may thus have good reason to hope for fewer members in each subsequent generation.