Population, technology and growth

I have been spending a fair amount of time thinking about the costs and benefits of population changes and Tyler Cowen’s examination into the effect of population on technology is an interesting one. I like his immediate focus on the impact on growth rather than technology and ideas  just for their own sake (largely useless in the grand scheme of things).

One variable that seems oddly left out is the effect of availability and efficient allocation of capital. The data and theory behind investment and growth are pretty solid. And what kinds of things make investment and efficient allocation of capital possible? Population is largely a prerequisite, since it allows for specialization of labor and increases efficiency to the point where we can stop chasing animals around all day and instead plant crops (that was the first step). But it’s not sufficient. We also need a sufficiently liberal governing body to protect the physical and intellectual interests of the people without excessive interference into the allocation of capital. This seems to explain relatively cleanly why some states experience more growth than others.

5 thoughts on “Population, technology and growth

  1. “To couple the concept of freedom to breed with the belief that everyone born has an equal right to the commons is to lock the world into a tragic course of action.” – Garrett Hardin

    A growing population. A finite resource. The necessity of government regulation. We might label this as The Technocrat’s Tragedy of The Commons. (http://dieoff.org/page95.htm) Replace “the commons” with “capital” and Garrett Hardin’s decades old paper becomes a timeless read. (“Conscience Is Self-Eliminating” might have new meaning)

    1. #1) Hardin’s book, despite its reverence in academia, is a pulpit form which he advocated forcible population control through global sterility and infanticide programs.

      #2) Current projections show world population peaking and declining due to the effect of wealth and education on birth rates. So, population growth isn’t necessarily unbounded except by “carrying capacity.”

      #3) And in the end, this is all just stage 1. The point is that if we are talking about something like the preservation of our species, we just need to keep civilization functioning and advancing long enough to colonize other planets and solar systems.

  2. The more populous periods of human history–most obviously the last few centuries–clearly produced more scientific, technological, and cultural innovations than earlier, less populous periods. That explains it all. Nice review. Thanks for linking the other article. Learned a lot from there.

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