Implicit Malthusianism

In: Uncategorized

30 Aug 2009

This blog has long recognised the increasingly explicit character of Malthusianism. In recent years it has become routine to blame overpopulation for many of the world’s problems. But there is a wider implicit Malthusianism that also needs to be tackled also.

This implicit Malthusianism is apparent in a comment in this week’s Economist and related briefing on Africa’s “demographic dividend”. The argument is that Africa is belatedly undergoing a demographic transition in which birth rates are finally falling. Therefore Africa is likely to get a one off boost with many people of working age and relatively few young people or elderly people. The main thrust of the Economist’s argument is that Africa should not waste this opportunity given by the demographic dividend. (The Economist also references a 2007 Harvard paper on the subject).

The problem with this outlook as its presents Africa’s problems are largely to do with population. But it is not overpopulation that has kept Africa poor. Key factors include the weakness of the global economy, western intervention and, most important at present, the narrowness of imagination in relation to development.

Not that the Economist’s readership is above explicit Malthusianism. An online debate in the magazine currently has about 80% voting for the motion that the world would be better off with fewer people.

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