The Power of Population for Economies

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Source: Live Mint

Relevance: Population control has been debated much. However, there are other aspects that require attention.

Synopsis: Governments, globally, are focussing on population control policies. However, political failure is doing more harm compared to population increase.


Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus wrote in his Essay on Population—“The power of population is indefinitely greater than the power in the Earth to produce subsistence for man.” Since then, this theory has influenced plenty of scientists.

There are pessimists (usually biologists) and optimists (usually economists). Pessimists believe that the human population is increasing so rapidly that we will end in catastrophe. Whereas, optimists believe that humanity is capable of solving its population problems.

The debate on the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) is also one of the aspects of this debate. Recently, Uttar Pradesh also proposed a draft Population (Control, Stabilisation, and Welfare) Bill aimed at controlling TFR by introducing penalties for couples who have more than two children.

However, the effectiveness of these TFR related measures is still not clear.

TFR and Malthus prediction 

At present, the TFR rate is decreasing very rapidly. Very soon, TFR figures the world over will be the lowest in history. China’s TFR (about 1.69) is well below the replacement level, and that of India was 2.22 in 2018. Even UP’s TFR was 2.7 in 2016.

However, since 1968, the Earth has added over 4 billion more people. This huge increase will have implications for the earth and humanity itself. But these implications will not include the disaster as predicted by Malthus.

This disaster will arrive as a result of, as Mann described: “the human race’s perennial inability to run its political affairs wisely.”

Example of sub-Saharan Africa

It is a general belief that overpopulation has caused terrible damage to the land in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the findings of Michael Mortimore of Cambridge University are in contrast to this belief.

For generations, Nigerian farmers would simply move on when resources were exhausted. But with population pressure, the land grew ever more expensive. This forced farmers to take better care of what they owned because moving on was no longer viable.

This resulted in a record increase in grain production levels. The country’s steadily increasing population had actually increased the productivity of its land.

Thus instead of population increase, the failure of the political system i.e. government has increased their suffering.

  • Civil strife: Governments have failed to stop civil strife in the regions, instead they are participating in it.
  • Land use reforms: Governments have failed to reform land-use rules to address the issue of overuse of common property.


The example of sub-Saharan Africa fits well to India as well. Instead of increasing population, it is political violence and an inefficient justice system that requires attention.

Terms to knowTFR 

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