Sunday, May 18, 2008

Go Forth and Multiply Guilt Free

While I'd say this is a message for my sister Beata (and brother in law), I think my parents' friends are more interested in her procreation than my parents are. There's also a return to Malthusian rumblings with the recent rise in commodity prices as a result of demand from China and India and concerns about the environmental impact as a result.

As the the middle child of 3, I'm not sure my parents really worried too much given my father was the eldest son of 7 kids. It's interesting to watch the transition though - back then as it is in China today, kids were a net economic benefit - today most kids are net financial expenses (with the exceptions including myself given that I have graced my parents with my brilliance and endless hours of entertainment though this obviously is not so much the case with my brother and sister). One of my key employees in China at age 26 sends most of his paycheck home to his parents despite the fact they really don't need it.

I've also heard people I know talk about their concern about the increasing wealth of the poor elsewhere in the world. There's something almost racist in this world view and while it's consistent with my suspicion that environmentalism taken to its logical conclusions would have most of us poor or dead, humanitarians need not fear. Greg Mankiw points to a review by the NYT on Jeffrey Sachs' new book:

Sachs argues that it’s both economically rational — and crucial for a future of sustainable growth — for people to reproduce at a rate close to 2.1 children per family. In his acknowledgments, Sachs thanks his three children.
Even more interestingly, he points to a previous argument (Fortune) he has made as he was about to have his third kid:

Those who fear overpopulation share a simple insight: People use resources. They eat food, drive cars, and take up space. Because resources are scarce, the only way to improve living standards, Malthusians argue, is to limit the number of people with whom we have to share these resources.

The rebuttal to this argument is equally simple: People create resources. They bring into the world their time, effort, and ingenuity. Before deciding whether world population growth is a curse or a blessing, we have to ask ourselves whether an extra person added to the planet uses more or less resources than he or she creates.

Of course, interestingly, it is a wonder that those who worry most about overpopulation often also don't really think it applies to themselves and their families.

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