No, Virginia, the problem is population growth, not population decline

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By Ric Oberlink

Ric Oberlink is the Executive Director of CAPS

January 3, 2019
Here we go again. Yet another pundit weighs in that the problem is not population growth, but population decline, or, at least, the potential of population decline sometime in the future. Catherine Rampell in the Washington Post warns about “The demographic time bomb that could hit America.” [source]

She makes the common economic fallacy that economic growth requires population growth; ergo America needs more babies and more immigration. While a larger population does produce a larger GDP, it does not increase per capita GDP, a sign of real economic growth.
Rampell sounds the alarm that the U.S. could become like “Japan, whose unfolding demographic crisis provides some lessons for where America might be headed.” In fact, the U.S. has the opposite problem—the population is projected to increase by 100 million in 50 years, almost entirely due to immigration. [source]
This population growth not only damages the environment and strains the infrastructure, but also necessitates economic outlays to address these problems. According to the Pew Research Center, “Future immigrants and their descendants… are projected to account for 88 percent of the U.S. population increase,” between now and 2065.

Panic over Japan’s declining population is common fodder for scare stories, but bears little merit. Japan has the world’s longest life expectancy, one of the lowest crime rates, and some of the highest test scores for students. I spent nine weeks in Japan and enjoyed the people and culture immensely, and I think Americans could learn a great deal from the Japanese about efficiency and living a less resource-intensive lifestyle. However, not for a single nanosecond did I think this very crowded nation would be better off if only it had more people.
Just as nations adjusted when they had growing populations, they can adjust if they have declining populations. America’s future will be brighter with less population growth, not more.

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