Economics is competing with Thomas Malthus as the seventh billion inhabitant of the world arrives. Global population has grown from 2.5bn to 7bn just in my lifetime, so there is plenty to alarm doomsayers. But this landmark arrives at a very different cultural moment to the six billionth baby, twelve years ago.
Population patterns stack up very differently in an increasingly urbanised world of cities with apartment buildings and tightly-packed homes. Although it brings social dislocation and often poverty, the great movement of surplus labour from an inefficient, over-crowded agricultural sector to metropolitan areas makes the former more efficient, and the latter an ever-growing market not just for farmers but for a range of goods and services as the new urbanites step onto the consumer escalator.
The world today is an over-burdened place, but not because there is no room for our seventh billion neighbour. The problem is less about how many of us there are, and more about how we choose to live. Malthus might feel he has not lost the argument yet. Continue reading »