ideal population goals

I think we get so hung up on the obvious population related issues such as aging population problems or thinking in terms of human capital that the general scope of the issue gets lost. Yes, if we are talking about a nation that capitalizes on human labor then having more people = healthier economy. If you are looking at a more developed economy based in technology and highly educated/ skilled labor, then perhaps quantity is not so much the issue (quality is)… but there is still the problem of having the imbalance of the ratio of retired people to freshly minted skilled workforce to support it.

So, the being said, technology and robotics are gradually taking the place of many of the labor intesive jobs. Being that techology is spreading… won’t countries that used to capitalize on all the general laborers suffer as jobs are replaced by machines and they are now simply an overpopulated nation? This is going on the assumption that in more technology/ high skill driven economies, less population is better than more as then quality can be a priority (households with 2 children have a better chance of raising highly educated/ or high skilled adults rather than a household 8 children)

Also, with advances in medicine and life quality for aging inviduals, isn’t time we suck it up and retire later?

goals for the future?.. low popultion growth… higher quality human capital… less difference in labor force of develping and develped economies… retire later in life

hey, I’m not an economist … go ahead an rip this up. I just think it is topic with interesting scope.

How much do you weigh again?


My exact thoughts on population growth:


mad stream of consciousness.

I say the most important metric is maximizing human capital/per person. Difference between an army of conscripts vs an army of highly trained, motivated soldiers…

Underemployment is real.

I think the greatest change we will see in underemployment (and increases in GDP) is when people in developing nations learn more online technical skills. I’m talking about any sort of human capital that can be employed online. We are in the knowledge age.

my BMI is healthy


So yes, a maximization of human capital/person is a perfect way to view the big picture. However, I think of what sort of jobs are already automated… cashiers, factory assembly lines, even personel who do people’s taxes are being replaced by turbo tax. … soon taxi drivers/ uber replaced with self driving cars, and I can imagine other labor intensive work such as construction or custodial work could be done in part with robotics.

This argument is not new. Some say increases in technology will create jobs that we cannot even imagine yet. But I think there will simply be less jobs, a higher need for skill and education, and a smaller population who are all wealthier. There will be less consumers in this scenario, but given greater wealth/ person, individual consumers will simply consume more keeping the economy running despite less people. That is the equilibrium I imagine the future could produce. I just wonder if greater discretionary consumption/ individual could make up for the decrease in aggregate consumption of staples.

OK, so you’re chunky.


I think automation is a form of higher human capital/person. When self-driving cars come about, you will need less people to run a taxi service, so the owner in that franchise has significantly higher productivity.But while that translates into less taxi drivers, more jobs elsewhere are created. Do people have the skills to fill them? Idk.

I guess you’re hinting at massive income disparities between people who have the skills and those who don’t. Probably true.

another strong argument for enforced hacksaw as a method of population control.

The OP raises some interesting concepts that I have thought about myself for a long time. If you think about it, in the entire history of economic thought in the intra-war years (WWI through WWII), the overarching ideas about economics have largely centered on the concept of scarce resource allocation within the context of an expanding population (as the poster child for this relationship, think the Cobb-Douglas production function). I believe this shift in thinking occurred when both birth rates went up and life expectancy started to meaningfully increase around this time in developed nations. Economists, who had largely been concerned with maximizing output with a decidedly more static view on human capital, had to really consider the more dynamic aspect of producing more goods and services for more people, when those people were becoming more and more numerous at a historically unprecedented clip.

As the developed countries become more developed, they get wealthier, and more wealth means fewer average children per couple (if they choose to have kids at all). So we all know that increased GDP/capita means a lower birth rate. Empirically, we can see with limited data of countries that have converged to high-income nations over the last 20-30 years that the data indicate this tendency is not localized to the countries that are highly developed now, and that as more and more nations become wealthy, average birth rates will fall.

So if population slows and robotics takes an evermore important role in the production of physical goods (including the extraction of input materials used to create the finished goods), I have been thinking that economics in general, maybe in the next 75-100 years, will need to focus more on the non-human aspects of increasing production. In other words, how do you think about economic growth and goals if human population is holding steady or even shrinking at some point?

We are so focused on economic growth from one year to the next – what are the benchmarks when we could potentially have an expectation of zero or even negative GDP growth? Of course, if the realistic humanoids enter the picture, we could still have GDP growth with shrinking human population…but there are still limits on what gets created due to these robots needing instruction from live human minds. And if the humanoids are embedded with bona fide AI that matches that of a human so that humans don’t even have to plan any more, then God help us all because that is a scary world.

My comments, of course, are based on the notion that we are limited to this rock we live on, and are not colonizing moons and planets in 75-100 years – and even then, I just don’t have enough data to know how these astronaut pioneers will engage in procreation up there and to estimate the human birth rates on far away worlds centuries from now.

KMeriwether, and Destroyer, good thoughts.

It’s an important topic, but the answer is humans haven’t thought it thru. “Optimal population” has not been calculated by competent analysts working together with other thinkers to form a long-term plan (I’ve always wanted to work on it, but nobody is hiring). There are no birth laws (except in CN) to manage to that optimal number. And nobody has thought about better metrics than “GDP growth is everything man”.

So, no plan it all, stumbling forward in the dark. Classic homo sapien move! yes

Not true. Most developed countries provide higher levels of benefits to families, incentives which exist to increase birth rates. Some provide straight up cash per child.

Soylent Green - Now becoming a true story.

I’m glad to see that Destoyer points out that if a decrease in population is the ideal, it will occur as a natural adaptation rather than something that must be forced on people “for their own good”. P__lanning for a shrinking population only inadvertantly sets us up in a classic comic book villain story line. (yes CvM, Soylent Green! We’ll feed it to ACE. Wasn’t he asking for a meal replacement substance?)

This is a derivation of malthusianism. Very interesting topic, I think the ‘dismal science’ touches on this topic too.

Great post on a topic I’ve thought a lot about. You can look at the population issue from several perspectives: the ecological, the economic, and the political. Ultimately, these three are all tied together, but they tend to operate on different time frames so there are probably a lot of lead and lag effects.

The ecological question is basically population and carrying capacity. In the 1970s, population was considered a major ecological threat to the planet but in later years was de-emphasized in order to avoid the conclusion that madatory population restrictions would be required. That was probably a good thing in terms of forcing environmentalists to look at other issues like technology and distribution and efficiency, but it is true that - to the extent that the population is lower - the stresses on the environment tend to be less extreme at whatever technolgoical and efficiency level you are at. Juilan Simon argued that larger populations lead to more creativity and therefore increase the chance that we can techologically solve problems. This is somewhat plausible but probably overstated, because 1) larger populations cannot change the basic laws of nature, 2) if you don’t have the right systems for identifying and empowering creativity, all you have is more consumers, and 3) the maximum intelligence of the top quartile of your population does not vary linearly with population size, and is most likely a concave function (i.e. diminishing returns to scale).

On the political side of things, greater population tends to make a country more important and more powerful, insofar as it can martial more resources for its economy and its military. Larger populations are often more difficult to govern, particularly if there is greater diversity in norms and expectations within them.

But this forum probably focuses more on the economic side of things, and the OP talked about automation and robotics. We often think of a large population in terms of a large labor force and the amount of production that the labor force can provide – this is partly because such a force contributes to a country’s military capacity to execute war and diplomacy backed by the threat of war – and with automation this would seem to reduce the importance of population at least on the production side (you still might need to populate a military force, even if you were highly economically productive).

But part of the advantage of a large population is that each unit of population is also a consumer. If you had enormous production but no one to sell that production to, how would the economy function? One possibility is “well, everyone would have more, because there are fewer people to divide all this productivity among.” But once that initial division took place, the advantages of economy of scale would not turn into profits (or concentrated profits) to the same extent.

This is one reason why the impoverishment of the middle class is a bad thing here in the US. It’s not just a sense that the principle of “all men [and women] are created equal” is a patent lie in the real world and therefore not a sufficient rationale for why the average citizen should be law-abiding, there’s also the issue that if there’s a ton of production by robots owned by wealthy people, there will be almost no one else around to buy that production (basic necessities like food and shelter, excepted, though the incentives to keep quality high will drop). There are some countervailing economic forces (quality will go up because of competition among oligarchs, but the historical record is that oligarchs spend more time cooperating with each other to keep prices high rather than undercutting each other to push each other out of business).

The 0.1% today spend a lot of time complaining about all the hacksaw members of the population who want to leech off of them, but if you could push a button and have the 99.9% (or 99%) disappear painlessly into the void and have factories run by robots instead, what would that world actually look like, economically? It’s hard to say exactly, but the first point is that to the extent that it works at all, it would work because there is a redistribution of resources and an increase in median buying power.

I had an argument with an economics colleague of mine about a decade ago about how every time I shop at Wal*Mart, I feel like I’m stabbing the American worker in the back. My colleague said “Don’t worry, the displaced worker will find jobs elsewhere.” I said “I understand that that’s the theory, but I don’t see it happening. The skill sets that need to be required to adapt to upcoming industries aren’t skill sets that can be learned in a few months, they take years to develop, and by the time you’ve developed them, it’s not unlikely that those industries are in decline.”

It’s by no means certain that large numbers of unemployed or underemployed people will automatically be re-employed in some other part of the economy, particularly in an age of roboticization, and even if they are re-employed, it will very likely be at a reduced real wage owing to the fact that they need to be retrained and therefore are less experienced in their new trade than they were in their old trade. Or they move to unskilled labor, which is the most vulnerable sector of the labor force.

I’ve been spending more time trying to think about what happens if the 99% just vanish into thin air and the economy only consists of the 1% buying, selling, and investing with each other. What does that look like? And then compare that to what the economy looks like if the 1% vanishes into thin air and the 99% buy sell and invest with each other.

^ good points. I would say that the contributing factors also include philosophy (in addition to ecology, politics, economics).

I think this thought experiment would lead you astray because it is tainted with the current socioeconomic environment we currently have. You can’t with good consciousness ever win the argument where the 99% just disappears. Immediately you think of all of the diversity and undeveloped talent that you have just thrown out. You also think of the unfair advantage some in the 1% have and they certainly do not represent the best sample of mankind.

We don’t yet live in a world where a low population would be the ideal. To take the characteristics of the labor vs skilled weathly that exist now and extrapolate that to an extreme scenario would be incorrect.

In the future, given that smaller population and robotic labor create the high wealth/ individual situation, mankind would have the luxury of developing each person to realize talents and uniqueness. (this is FAR from the case in the current world or any high population scenario) I think when the wealth would find itself …gradually and as a natural course over decades… spread among less, but more developed individuals, there is going to be a raise in leasure and a shift in consuption. There will be less consumption of staples and other physical goods (due to less people)… but there would be a higher consumption of education, experience and culture (or maybe just monster truck rallies… no judgment) . I would also argue that there could be a renaissance of the craftsman. With everything produced to perfection with machines, there will be a raising affinity for those items made by hand. There would be adequate wealth to pay for that kind of time consuming artisan labor. The craftsman could be a highy paid worker (think high end fine artist) as well as create another avenue of consumption for the high wealth humans of the future. Plus, old people can do that instead of retire. The future… squeeze every ounce of uniquness, talent and utility out of EVERY individual… until they die!