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Population growth doesn’t drive economic growth

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Posted: Friday, April 19, 2013 11:33 am

Earlier this week, the Senate introduced its long-promised immigration bill. As expected, the legislation set off the first of what will be multiple rounds of bitter debate as to whether the bill is good for America.

I’ll leave aside the legislation’s particulars to focus instead on what may be its worst long-term effect — more people will migrate to an already overcrowded America. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, S. 744, will increase legal immigration, in theory supported by most Americans, by more than 50 percent to about 1.5 million annually.

Each year for at least a decade, 1.5 million new legal immigrants will arrive — 15 million during 10 years. Eventually, the new immigrants can petition for their family to join them, which means still more people. The combination of immigration and natural population increases creates unsustainable growth.

The “growth is good” philosophy is the leading culprit. The Chamber of Commerce, the agriculture industry and Silicon Valley want more workers — cheap, pliant ones, preferably. Religious leaders hope for fuller pews; politicians, more voters. Major corporations supported the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act for the same reason they back it today: a lust for a large pool of low-wage labor.

Unlike many wealthy nations whose populations will stabilize or decrease in coming decades, the United States, the world’s third most populous country, is expected to grow to 420.3 million by 2060, from 315.7 million people today. Our fertility rate, 1.9 births per woman and slightly below the 2.1 replacement rate, has dipped since the Great Recession. Nevertheless it remains one of the highest among wealthy, industrial countries and ties or exceeds fertility rates in middle-income nations. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, America’s population will rise into the foreseeable future.

Numerous theories that the nation is experiencing fertility and an aging crisis that creates the need for more births and more immigration don’t withstand scrutiny. The last so-called birthing crisis in the late 1960s and early 1970s doomed the once-popular Zero Population Growth movement. Since then, support for a stable American population has faded to the point where debate about population levels is a politically incorrect taboo.

Many conservatives and liberals incorrectly think that population growth drives economic growth. In his book, “The State and the Stork: The Population Debate and Policy Making in U.S. History,” Kansas State University associate history professor Derek S. Hoff wrote that until new laissez-faire economics became the vogue in the 1970s and 1980s, most economists agreed that what mattered was not population size but a nation’s human capital, as well as its savings, investment and consumption practices.

Indeed, some economists argued that a smaller but more productive population would enhance growth and lead to a more just society, something missing in America’s two-tiered economic culture.

Why elites fear declining population is a mystery. Prosperity and low population are linked worldwide.

According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Denmark has the world’s happiest citizens and most tightly knit families. The OECD attributes the Danes’ high lifestyle satisfaction to the Danish government’s focus on improving the middle class. On the other hand, nations like Egypt and Pakistan, with high birthrates, are locked in poverty and, consequently, ongoing civil strife.

Demography isn’t the only variable in America’s future. Politics and public policy will play a vital role. Societies that depend on importing more poor to enter at the wage scale’s bottom to increase the standard of living for those at the top are unjust. America’s goal should be to create a prosperous nation with fair wealth distribution and zero population growth.

Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. He lives in Pittsburgh, one of few major American cities with stable population.

Contact Joe at guzzjoe@yahoo.com.

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  • robert maurer posted at 8:00 am on Sun, Apr 21, 2013.

    mason day Posts: 483

    Of course! and then many move back home after graduation oblivious to what they were voting for.[beam]

  • John Lucas posted at 3:28 pm on Sat, Apr 20, 2013.

    John Lucas Posts: 2730

    So true. That i why college graduates overwhelmingly vote Democratic. [smile]

  • John Lucas posted at 2:28 pm on Sat, Apr 20, 2013.

    John Lucas Posts: 2730


  • Eric Barrow posted at 11:19 am on Sat, Apr 20, 2013.

    Eric Barrow Posts: 1601

    And a bitter end may be what you get. Seems like many of the old conservatives are a pretty angry.
    Happy content strong families, Healthcare for all, low unemployment. clean land and water, you would pass on that to ensure that nobody gets more than they deserve. This is why conservatism must be defeated not the people mind you just the ideology.

  • robert maurer posted at 5:25 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    mason day Posts: 483

    I should be happier with a higher tax rate? I should pay more for those who refuse to work?I would be legally incapable and entitled to benefits, but my past accomplishments and self esteem dictate to me that that is all wrong. We should be all we can be without depending on government to survive. I should help those who are on 3rd generation welfare? prepostreous! I'll fight for myself and others like me to the bitter end,thank you very much.

  • robert maurer posted at 4:25 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    mason day Posts: 483

    Joanne; we have shared our insults toward one-another and I

  • Eric Barrow posted at 4:24 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    Eric Barrow Posts: 1601

    Sorry Bob I guess I wasn't clear the unemployment rate is 4.6% near full employment what I was trying to say is that when you have to go on unemployment you receive more benefits than in any other country. Of course this is possible due to the high tax rate. The people of Denmark have decided to pay a high tax rate and receive generous benefits in health care and other social services. It was Joe who said they were the happiest people on Earth, can't argue with success, and I think they prefer schnapps. Cheers

  • robert maurer posted at 4:13 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    mason day Posts: 483

    Nothing better than an education. who is a socialist? THE UNEDUCATED who can't tell one from the other, or ...

  • Joanne Bobin posted at 3:56 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    Joanne Bobin Posts: 4488

    "Fair wealth distribution?"

    Joe Guzzardi is a socialist?

    As far as Pittsburgh goes, Joe Guzzardi doesn't live in Pittsburgh proper - he lives in a suburb of Pittsburgh - something he mentioned in one of his early columns after his move.

    No doubt Pittsburgh has a stable population. It is a very large college town that counts Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh as its major schools. Rents are high in Pittsburgh due to the demand for housing close to the universities, which would definitely account for population stabilization.

    And as a former center of industry, I doubt very much that there is much in the way of employment in Pittsburgh except in the service industries.

  • robert maurer posted at 3:49 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    mason day Posts: 483

    ...And why are you a liberal?The highest unemployment rate? A double the tax burden of US? Don't make me choke on my bacardi 151!

  • Eric Barrow posted at 1:20 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    Eric Barrow Posts: 1601

    One more factoid will I was checking I see that California, the state Joe needed to flee due to its population explosion, has 40 less people per square mile than Pennsylvania the state he fled to. Maybe it wasn't the amount of people but rather the type of people that bothered Joe.

  • Eric Barrow posted at 1:07 pm on Fri, Apr 19, 2013.

    Eric Barrow Posts: 1601

    Denmark has the worlds highest minimum wage, a progressive policy towards environmental conservation, the highest unemployment insurance payout per capita, an overall tax burden double that of the US and universal health care. They are kind of what liberals are pushing this country towards. I can see why they would have some of the happiest citizens in the world and form tight knit families. Probably a direct consequence of actually taking care of people and the world they live in.

    As far as population density the US Census reports less than 90 people per sq. mile while Denmark has 330 people per sq. mile. Pittsburgh Joe's home state has a population density of 283 per sq. mile. So why is he so grumpy?


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