Working Papers

The Making of Dick Smith’s Population Puzzle

In February this year, I was contacted by Dick Smith’s researcher Sarah Gilbert to provide some background for his anti-population growth documentary, Dick Smith’s Population Puzzle. She mentioned a column by Paul Sheehan, which had quoted me making the point that faster population growth required faster economic growth to maintain living standards. No doubt they saw this as a bad thing, but must have finally twigged that I thought it wasn’t, because I heard no more from them, even though Dick and the production crew were on campus a few weeks later and could have easily dropped in to see me. They did interview my UTS colleague Jock Collins, but they obviously didn’t like what he had to say either, because it was not included in the final cut.

Dick later wrote to me taking exception to an op-ed I had written for The Australian, in which I called some of his arguments absurd. I took the opportunity to try and steer Dick in the right direction by referring him to some books by Julian Simon, but he gave no indication he ever bothered to read them.

The documentary screened on the ABC last night. Dick gave significant air time to only one pro-growth advocate, Bernard Salt, but could not help impugning his expertise and motivation. There may be plenty of things wrong with Bernard Salt, but being a historian and working with KPMG are not among them. If Salt is as unqualified as Dick would have us believe, why include him in the documentary? Because Dick has a completely closed-mind on the issue and is uninterested in giving the other side of the argument a fair go.

posted on 13 August 2010 by skirchner in Economics, Population & Migration

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A question:  My ideal economic system would be one that grows though innovation and technology alone.  An economy where resource consumption stabilises (land, water etc) and environmental degradation reverses (reduced carbon emissions, end to overfishing, regeneration of tropical forests).

If such an economic system were feasible, would you see this as a desirable goal?

I know you’re not into goals and plans, but if there’s one thing we agree on its that the goal of any economic system should be to improve its citizens standard of living.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/16  at  11:06 AM

“My ideal economic system would be one that grows though innovation and technology.”

Decompose the last century or so of growth in places like the US and Australia and it is mostly due to productivity, ie getting more output from given inputs, but there is always room for improvement.

Posted by skirchner  on  08/17  at  09:32 AM

Most of the growth may have come from productivity, but US energy consumption grew exponentially from 1875-1975:

Chart:// US Energy Consumption by Source

Its leveled off a tad since then, but its still growing.

I dare say Chinese energy consumption is growing at a similar rate, if not faster, than the US in the 20th Century.

Can we / should we reduce the rate of growth to productivity improvements alone?  It may mean delaying when the Chinese achieve Western standard of living, but those living standards may be more sustainable in the longer term.

Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  08/17  at  12:49 PM

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