Monday, September 28, 2009

Say It Enough, and It Becomes Truth

I write "The authors of studies like these have exaggerated the benefits of population control, because they ignore some of the significant economic benefits of large populations."

Within hours it is claimed that I wrote "we shouldn't improve education and access to contraception in developing nations"!

Shortly thereafter, it is repeated that I said that "we shouldn't improve education and access to contraception in developing nations."

Obviously, it is too risky to rebut me directly -- ie, take the position that it is OK to ignore some of the significant economic benefits of large populations. But why not just ignore my point rather than fabricating something to discredit?

While reasonable people can debate whether the effects of population on innovation are small (or even in the other direction) when compared with costs of population, don't the innovation effects have to be considered before coming to a conclusion? Where is the body of research that did this work? If it exists, why is it conspicuously absent from discussions by population control advocates?

Apparently there are some really smart people out there who can secretly consider an effect like this, come to an accurate and private conclusion, and then brand as foolish anyone who publicly considers the effect (even without coming to a conclusion as to what is the net of all relevant effects).

It looks like Professor Michael Kremer (a well-deserving winner of the "genius award") missed the secret meeting too

"high population spurs technical change ... [historically] societies with larger initial populations have had faster technological change ...."

Michael Kremer (1993), "Population Growth and Technological Change: One Million B.C. to 1990," Quarterly Journal of Economics 108:3 (August), pp. 681-716.

In case you're wondering, the populations considered by Professor Kremer were actually LESS educated than the populations that some want to control today.

[Those coming here from Professor DeLong's blog may be wondering why he recommended Professor Kremer's paper to them a few months ago, yet now he vilifies someone for stating a weaker version of the same point, citing Professor Kremer's paper and others in that literature.

The same visitors are probably also puzzled by the fact that Professor DeLong himself wrote a paper that heavily relied on Kremer's (1993) work, yet did not even hint at how (supposedy) terribly evil is its main conclusion that "high population spurs technical change."]

5 comments:

Adam Gurri said...

At least you live in the era of the internet, where you can expose such naked demagoguery easily.

This is yet another reason why I don't read Brad Delong.

Sergei said...

Why oh why can't we have a better press corps....

Alberto said...

These people are sick in the head... they're uncontrollably enraged b/c their president's poll ratings are plummeting, their "stimulus" is looking more and more like the garbage it was predicted to be, cap and trade is stuck, and their gov't run health care dream is fading.

Pathetic! The good thing is that the overwhelming majority of people see through this garbage, and it only serves to discredit them even more.

Neil' said...

OK, so you didn't directly advocate making it hard for women to get birth control. But when other people said they should be educated, have access to birth control, you said that wouldn't have the best results - not the same as "stop them", but then it isn't clear what your point is. Just giving them reasons to voluntarily not limit their families? Maybe you should been more clear on what you meant. But people exaggerating something you say, doesn't validate your point either. You didn't really show either that there would be a proportional increase in bright people - considering all the variables that go into intelligence, or that having more would compensate for the resource stresses, extra work done making infrastructure for more development, etc. Plenty of good rebuttals were quite easily available through the Internet, far outweighing any demagoguery. It comes from rational thinking, not Obama's falling poll numbers.

On top of all the usual, valid complaints about continued population growth (resource pressures, etc.), there is this: One major flaw in the whole idea that more people = more geniuses etc, is the implied genetic determinism. After all, there is no point in saying that twice the population “will produce” twice the geniuses, unless you think those geniuses are born to have a specific high IQ!

The truth is almost surely more complicated: people can become smart through an environment that “draws out” their capacities. That’s true even if many special people are born smart, like Karl Gauss. But Einstein was not smart as a boy! Brilliant, Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman had an IQ tested at 125, too low for Mensa! (And he told them that.)

Population has an optimal value, just like the Laffer curve for taxation. Our population is pressing past the curve, like a tax rate of 60%. As other commenters rightly noted: with a smaller population and less growth, we can better educate our children and *develop* more brilliant people, to solve the problems we still have (but at least, not as bad as the problems of a world with even more people!)

Alberto said...

Neil, let's not be ridiculous here.

His point isn't that women shouldn't have access to contraception or education. His point (which is very obvious to those without a political agenda) is that the benefits of population control (whatever they may be) come at a cost of lower technological progress.

That's it, there's nothing more to read into it.