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Tyler Cowen

What Does the World Need? More Humans

Global depopulation is the looming existential threat that no one is talking about.

A vision of the future?

A vision of the future?

Photographer: David Ramos/Getty Images Europe

How worried should we be about global depopulation? Some East Asian countries have fertility rates near or even below 1.0, while much of the core population of Europe is shrinking. In the U.S., fertility rates have fallen below replacement rates, hitting a historic low of 1.7 in 2019, and will likely fall even further in 2020 in part due to Covid. Many of the world’s poorer countries are seeing their birth rates plunge at unprecedented rates. By the year 2100, according to one projection, world population growth will be practically zero.

If you think the world is overpopulated and has serious environmental problems, you might welcome this news. But as my colleague Robin Hanson has pointed out, dwindling populations create their own inexorable logic. If the Japanese population shrinks by half, to 65 million or so, what’s to stop it from declining to 30 million? Or 20 million?