If you thought the developing world was breeding like rabbits to overpopulate the planet, you’re wrong, says Bjørn Lomborg. In actual fact, the population growth rate is falling globally and is expected to plateau some time this century.
Mr Lomborg should know. He’s an adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, pretty adept at the better-world thesis and he’s got the facts too, as the editor of the weighty but uplifting book of How Much have Global Problems Cost the World?
He handsomely admits that “according to United Nations estimates, there will be 2.4 billion more mouths to feed worldwide by mid-century”, but adds that should not distract us from the serious problem of “large pockets of demographic decline.”
The share of elderly people is rising in developed countries and their birth rates are too low to maintain the size of the total population. So a declining number of working-age people will be forced to support an increasing number of retired people.
In developing countries, however, too many young people will not have the chance of high-quality, full-time employment.
These “contrasting trends”, as Professor Lomborg calls them, offer an opportunity. Global demographic rebalancing could theoretically occur, to mutual benefit. “By easing restrictions on migration, developed countries could bolster their dwindling workforces with young people from developing countries.”
This would cover the problems of each half of the world. The taxes paid by migrant workers from the developing world would help developed countries fund services for the elderly. The developing world would benefit from the savings sent home by their workers.
Professor Lomborg claims that “a modest 3% increase in the developed-country workforce would provide a larger economic boost than removing all remaining trade barriers. Moreover, every dollar invested in this initiative would produce nearly $50 in returns, making it an exceptionally effective use of limited resources.”
He cites the source of “these impressive figures” as a comprehensive analysis conducted by a team of top economists tasked by his think tank, the Copenhagen Consensus Center.
But after all that good news, Professor Lomborg moves on to one enormous demographic challenge. It exists. And it’s in sub-saharan Africa.
We’ll discuss that tomorrow.