U.S. Population Growth at 9% – Economists Need An Ego Check

Despite the slowest decade of population growth since the Great Depression, the USA remains the world’s fastest-growing industrialized nation and the globe’s third-most populous country at a time when some are actually shrinking.

The United States reached 308.7 million in 2010, up 9.7% since 2000 — a slight slowdown that many experts say was caused by the recession and less immigration.

Even so, U.S. growth is the envy of most developed nations.

USA Today are you kidding me? Sometimes being the odd duck out is great but in this case I’m calling B.S.

Before I get to that it’s interesting to note that we are now up 309 million people, that’s a lot. It represents a burgeoning population way beyond what Yvon Chouinard calls ideal cities. These are places where the population is 250,000 to 350,000, “large enough to have all the culture and amenities of a city and still be governable – like Santa Barbara, Auckland, and Florence”.

I’m tempted to agree with him since I grew up in a place of that size. Sometimes the discussion needs to go beyond monetary policy and focus on quality of life. Taking into account food supply, health factors, and environmental concerns.

It’s an interesting line of thinking but let’s get back to the so-called ‘envy’.

It stands to point out that economic theory on GDP growth is grossly over represented in our cultural consciousness. Just look at our latest recession and tell me where all our economists were on that one. They are notorious for promoting ideologies in the face of massive bubbles and even letting themselves become the politicians, city planners, and business people who know everything. It used to be that economists would caveat and asterisk everything they say, now they will read your palm and tell you how to run your household.

I see the same happening in this article from the USA Today. The topic is population growth and how that affects social services. Somehow they are arguing that our growth is the key to fixing our insolvent social services programs like social security and medicare. Like piling on taxpayers will magically cure decades old problems. Even more vexing they claim other countries are envious of us.

Tell that to my grandpa who lives on social services. There is no envy lost on him. The truth is that our society is maturing (albeit very slowly) into the right mixture of government vs personal. All the Tea Party and Libertarians exist for a reason and I think it is because our government programs are off balance. We don’t need the government telling us how to get married or who to love, but we do need the government keeping prisoners and the insane of the street.

When it comes to the elderly I think we have it all wrong. Pushing them out of our society and into ‘homes’ does a double damage to our society. It costs us money and it hurts our communities. If there is one thing our ailing communities need it is more elderly roaming the blocks, raising children, and talking to neighbors. There is so much that they bring to families and neighborhoods it is hard to undervalue, but with our current social services we lock them away like prisoners.

The goods news is that all those ‘envious’ countries in the article will soon be dealing with this “problem of the elderly”. I bet many will miss the boat and make poor choices (like California letting out prisoners) rather than the right ones (like developing cultural programs to promote elderly care).

In the end, we may find that population growth isn’t at all related to social services. That it is a community topic and should be discussed by family leaders, church leaders, and other local members. At the very least I would hope we can keep the economists performing economic judgments and not letting them determine society’s ills through GDP forecasts.

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