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Mindanao State University

General Santos City


Graduate School

“Is Population growth a stimulus to economic development?”

A Paper submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements of the course:

SDS 294-Population, Consumption, and Consumerism

Submitted to:

Dr. Nolimar Jacinto Reyes

Submitted by:

Michael T. Ang

March 9, 2019
Is Population growth a stimulus to economic development?

The debate on the effects of population growth to economic development has

always been a favorite topic among economists since the time when economist cum

demographer Thomas Malthus developed his famous Malthusian Theory in the mid-18th

century that states that population growth is exponential while food supply growth is

arithmetic (Coale, A. J., & Hoover, E. M. 2015). In effect, Malthus is stating that population

will grow faster than food resources and it will reach a point when food production will

not be able to cope with the rapid population growth.

The Malthusian theory was developed at a time when dependence on food was

purely based on basic agricultural production. Food security is understood to be highly

dependent on agriculture.

Looking at the relationship between population growth and economic development

is similar to looking at the age-old question of asking whether which comes first, chicken

or egg? It is difficult to identify which comes first or which affects whom? To have a better

understanding of this, we need to go back to the beginning of economic development.

The rapid boom in population during the 1960’s, triggers a lot of interest in studying

the effects of rapid population growth both for the developed and the developing countries.

Planning during this era focused on finding solutions to mitigate the impacts of population

growth on resources (both food and non-food). Many policies on controlling rapid
population growth were introduced during this period to mitigate this impending crisis.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous American architect and urban planner, even proposed the

Broadacre city that attempts to introduced self-sustenance thru the introduction of

vegetable gardens in every backyard. This strategy failed because of scarcity of land

resources.

It is also during this period when global population grew rapidly. This phenomenon

put a lot of stress on underdeveloped countries which can not cope with the rapid

population growth. The late US President Harry Truman in his inaugural speech then,

prioritized programs that would help the underdeveloped countries through economic

development. Thus, came the popularity of economic development as a solution to ease the

misery and discomfort of people living in poverty. It started as a form of government

intervention thru massive spending (Keynesian Economics) to boost a lagging economy,

with the aim of improving the economy and in the process, help improve the quality of life

of its people.

If we are to consider this piece of history, then it can be said that economic

development came about because of the rapid population growth. Therefore, it can be said

that population growth triggers the need for economic development. Economic

development then was initially anthropogenic or people centered rather than as a form of

system controls.
Economic development became the tool to boost activity and to provide more job

opportunities for the people and ensure food security in order to uplift the quality of their

life.

Population growth can be considered as the stimulus that initiate economic

development. Economic development programs were usually introduced in areas where

there is high population growth. Many government interventions were introduced to help

ease the social issues such as poverty, malnutrition, health, and education. Economic

development pave the way to make these services accessible to people in need. These

strategies includes improvement of connectivity thru construction of urban infrastructure

such as farm to market roads, connecting bridges, provision of power and water supply,

etc., to improve the viability of communities for economic investments.

However, as economic development eventually improves the quality of life of the

people (basically the per capita income), the health situation of the people also improves,

reducing mortality and morbidity rates, thereby extending their lifespan. This further raise

the growth rate of population. Added to this is the introduction of new technology that

provides for better food production and health services which tend to further inspire a

higher birth rate.The classical economic theory of population growth (Malthus) held that

any rise in incomes tended to increase birth rates and decreases death rates.

With this development, there is now a reversal of roles as economic development

becomes a factor that cause population growth to further increase. When population is
allowed to grow without control, then there is a possibility that the relationship cycle of

population growth and economic development will go back to the very basic reason why

economic development was introduced. This is, will the current economic development

strategies be able to cope up with the current global population rate of 1.1 percent (United

Nations 2018)? With the current global population of nearing 7.615 Billion (United

Nations 2018) and a possible doubling in the year 2050, will economic development be

able to sustain the needs of this massive population number?

Constantin Doxiades the Greek Philosopher predicted that there will come a time

when human settlements will become one planetwide city called the “ecumenopolis” where

the earth resources would already be at is maximum carrying capacity. By that time, it

would have reached its tipping point and no amount of economic development would be

able to provide a solution to this.

In conclusion, economic development may have been triggered by rapid population growth

in order to mitigate all the possible negative impacts that high population rate may bring

about, but it also became to solution to further reduce mortality and morbidity rate and

inspire more births because of better per capita income.

It is therefore important that economic development should also dwell on population

control to ensure that the carrying capacity of the earth would not be saturated as predicted

by Doxiades.