On Economic Growth and Lower Birth Rates

Dana R. Hermanson

KENNESAW, Ga. (Oct 5, 2015) — In his Sept. 24 op-ed “How the Birth Dearth Saps Economic Growth,” Ruchir Sharma laments what he calls a “plummet” and “collapse” in the rate of global population growth from 2% in the decades after World War II to 1% at present.

A population growing at 2% annually doubles in size every 35 years. If the global population of about six billion in 2000 were to grow at a continuous 2% rate throughout the 21st century, by 2100 there would be more than 40 billion people on Earth. By 2200 there would be more than 320 billion. It quickly reaches absurd proportions. Does Mr. Sharma seriously believe that science and technology can work miracles with the planet’s hard-pressed resources and environment to sustain numbers like these? It’s very clear that today’s levels of population and consumption are not sustainable.

The U.S. population is growing by almost 1% annually, mostly because of the highest sustained immigration rates in our history. From 322 million in 2015, demographers project the U.S. population to hit 400 million sometime after 2050 and more than 500 million by 2100. Our resources, environment and quality of life would all take a huge hit if we allow this to occur.

Sooner or later economists, politicians and the business community will have to accept the radical proposition that we live on a three-dimensional, round, finite planet Earth.

Leon Kolankiewicz
Californians for Population Stabilization
Santa Barbara, Calif.

According to some technology gurus, we are at the threshold of the next wave of labor-saving technologies in the rich OECD countries that will impact the vast service sector where 80% of the labor force is employed. For example, we are already observing self-checkout at supermarkets, self-check-in and checkout at hotels, self-ordering and bill settlement at restaurants, self-administered health diagnostic tests and so on. Jerry Kaplan, the author of “Humans Need Not Apply,” argues that almost half of U.S. jobs are at risk over the coming years. If true, why would the rich OECD countries need such large infusions of unskilled labor, who would probably be joined by a multiple of relatives once family reunification policies are implemented?

We should be careful to distinguish between Europe’s humanitarian response to the continuing tragedy in the Middle East and North Africa, and its alleged need for workers.

Prof. Ira Sohn
Montclair State University
Montclair, N.J.

Mr. Sharma predicts that there will be a “new war for talent” to boost economic activity, but he fails to stress that aging populations will also escalate this war for talent. Aging populations, coupled with generous pay-as-you-go public retirement and health-care programs, aren’t financially sustainable. Because cutting benefits is politically difficult, expect developed countries to turn to immigrants to help finance public-pension and health-care liabilities. Attitudes toward immigrants will change quickly with benefits at stake.

Prof. Robert Krol
California State University, Northridge
Northridge, Calif.

What Mr. Sharma fails to grasp is the long-term relationship between quality of life and birthrate, family size and total population. Most developed-nation couples understand the cost of families and, as Mr. Sharma notes, are delaying having children and choosing smaller families. While this may impact global economic growth in the short term, the real focus should be on how the world’s economy can function with a low- or no-growth population.

Pete Rochester
Merritt Island, Fla.

In the U.S., the labor-force participation rate is abysmal, with tens of millions of working-age adults sitting on the sidelines. Thus, the short-term problem in the U.S. isn’t chiefly too few workers, but rather the job-crushing regulations and antibusiness policies pursued in recent years. Ultimately, we need a much friendlier environment for business, as well as a strong influx of talent from the sidelines and around the world.

Prof. Dana R. Hermanson
Kennesaw State University
Kennesaw, Ga.

-The Wall Street Journal