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Paul Krugman Stuck Thinking Inside the Box

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This column originally ran in the New York Times in May under the headline, Demography and the Bicycle Effect. Truthout republished the piece last week under the headline, Why Economists Worry About Population Growth.

I’m very glad to see New York Times columnist and Princeton economics professor Paul Krugman take up this topic. It seems like economists are blissfully unaware the world is overpopulated at 7.2 billion. Instead, as nation by nation begins to experience slowing population growth and eventually even population decline, economists are fixated on the prospect of having fewer consumers and workers and therefore a smaller economy.

“Japan's shrinking working-age population appears to be an important source of the country's problems, and the slowing population growth in Europe and the United States are important indicators that we may be entering a similar regime.”

Of course we’re not all economists. A realist might welcome the end of population growth:

“I get questions from people who ask why I don't regard slowing population growth as a good thing. After all, it means less pressure on resources, less environmental damage, and so on.”

Yep. THAT is the 64 million dollar question. Why do SOME economists (probably even MOST) worry less about sustainable population levels and more about GDP?

“What's important to realize is that slower population growth indeed could, and should, be a good thing - but that what passes for sound economic policy is all too likely to turn this potentially good development into a major problem. Why? Because under the current rules of the game, there's a strong "bicycle" aspect to our economies: unless they're moving forward sufficiently rapidly, they tend to fall over.”

You know what, Paul? We get that. But what good is an upright bicycle if it’s used to pedal into a fire (where it will ultimately fall over for good)?

Read the piece to see Krugman’s entire explanation, but here’s a taste:

“This is basically a technical problem, and in a better world we would simply deal with that problem while enjoying the benefits of a less crowded planet.”

But apparently Krugman would rather avoid an economic “slump” than leave an intact planet for his children, because, for the life of him, he cannot imagine a world that works without perpetually growing GDP. Paul Krugman is stuck thinking inside the box, and in this case that is going to prove lethal. Glad to see his explanation, but this thinking and writing is definitely Wall of Shame material. 

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  • Brian Hayes
    Brian Hayes Friday, 13 June 2014

    So much toothless gumming.
    Perhaps to make a deadline, Krugman sometimes has nothing to say.
    The future isn't opinion making. It's investments.
    Raw cash, stretched risk, new effort.
    Let's investigate startups and sheds and plant.

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Guest Wednesday, 10 February 2016

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