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COMMENTARY: POPULATION GROWTH

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Population Growth

2008

The population of the United States is growing at a rate of 0.883 percent per year, slower than Afghanistan's rate of growth, which is 2.626 percent per year. United States growth is an increase of 2.68 million citizens in one year – enough people to create almost 27 new cities each with a population of 100,000.

The increase in population has changed lives here in the United States. A few people have been fleeing big cities to quieter rural towns. Californians have been fleeing to Washington state and Oregon and to a quiet town in Montana: Livingston.

Scott McMillion writes that "Ranchers have grown scarce. Land speculators haven't. And there are lots of unfamiliar faces." He speaks of his town having been "close knit." He adds, "Since then, our town has been discovered by urban refugees, writers and artists, even a few celebrities." He complains:

When friends visit from out of town, they often marvel at how many people I wave to or greet. "Do you know everybody?" they ask. No, I usually think. It seems like I don't know anybody at all anymore.

Some people have benefited from population growth. Back in the days when industrialists were using a lot of unskilled labor, a great supply of labor allowed them to pay workers less. This moved the industrialists to lure labor from abroad – an increase in the labor pool, upsetting workers already in the United States, who would have benefited from higher wages.

People hoping to make a lot of money from real estate speculation have also enjoyed population growth. In the areas where they own property, population increases have sent prices of homes upward, and the new generation of local people looking for their first home are forced to pay a higher price for their home.  

I remember Orange County in southern California in the early 1940s. It was rural, with a lot of orange orchards, quiet and with friendly people. My mother, born in 1907, grew up there. While a young women working as a bookkeeper she could easily have bought a little land by the ocean – land that now only the most wealthy of people can buy.

It is argued that population growth since 1800 has contributed to economic progress. But this is not much of an argument for population growth. In the year 1800 the world had about 1 billion people. In 2008 we have 6.7 billion. The year 1800 had people of genius working on matters scientific and mechanical, and it had a lot of industrious people. We have no reason to believe that If the world's population had held steady at 1 billion there would not have been a good amount of scientific work accomplished. All those industrious people would have continued to advancing their communities economically and inventing new machines.

A stable world population in 1800 would have kept the demand for cotton at a reduced level, and plantation owners would have had less incentive to buy more slaves.  

The world had urban centers in the 1800s that today have almost disappeared in urban sprawl. Look at Mexico City or Lagos. Take the morning commute in Tokyo for a look at urban sprawl and strangers packed together. And we have bumper to bumper traffic on freeways – not as pleasant as riding on or behind a horse on a country lane. We aren't going back to the horse and buggy, but do our roads have to be as congested with auto traffic as Los Angeles and Orange counties, California?

More people create more demand on resources, and more demand means higher prices for energy. This applies even to water. In California, population growth has fueled conflicts over access to water. So too in Nevada, where ranchers are in conflict with the city of great population growth, Las Vegas.

Gradual growth can be insidious. People barely notice and adjust to slow development. If someone had just awakened from a sleep that began in 1800 they would be shocked and probably sickened by what they would find. 

Copyright © 2005-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.