Atanu Dey On India's Development

Numbers – 3

Joel Cohen’s book How Many People Can The Earth Support should be required reading for Indian policy makers. Here is more from the introduction:

The unprecedented growth in human numbers and in human power to alter the Earth requires, and will require, unprecedented human agility in adapting to environmental, economic and social problems, sometimes all at once. The Earth’s human population has entered and rapidly moves deeper into a poorly charted zone where limits on human population size or well-being have been anticipated and may be encountered. Slower population growth, along with many other improvements in human institutions and behaviors, would make it easier for people to retain control of their fate and to turn their attention from the numbers to the qualities of humankind.

These themes have consequences for action. Stopping a heavy truck and turning a large ocean liner both take time. Stopping population growth in noncoercive ways takes decades under the best of circumstances. Ordinary people … still have time to end population growth voluntarily and gradually by means that they find acceptable. Doing so will require the support of the best available leadership and institutions of politics, economics and technology to avoid physical, chemical and biological constraints beyond human control. Migration can ameliorate or exacerbate local problems, but at the global level, if birth rates do not fall, death rates must rise.

India’s population problem is a sort of tragedy of the commons and there is little chance that ‘ordinary people will voluntarily and gradually’ solve this problem. The incentives simply don’t exist, even if the knowledge and the understanding existed about the social disaster of excessive population, for individuals to act for the social good.

The solution to India’s population problem has to “make sense” to those who produce the children. That is, they have to have an incentive to produce the socially optimal number of children. I have worked out a simple mechanism that would solve this problem. Details at — when else — 11.

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