Nothing annoys me more than when people such as Dick Smith (who have made a fortune and live extremely comfortable lives) argue that economic development should be stopped. The same special pleading is heard from the inner-Sydney elites, comfortable in their Balmain apartments, who despise those living in the western suburbs seeking a better life. They wish to protect their fortunes while denying the opportunity of a better life to others.
Smith’s latest op ed in the Australian (subscription required) reeks of this hypocrisy. He is on a crusade for zero population growth (or rather negative population growth) in Australia.
Apart from Antarctica, Greenland and Mongolia, would Smith care to nominate a country with fewer people per square kilometre than Australia? We have a population density of around 3 persons / km2. Even the 40,000 people who live in Iceland have to cope with a greater population density than Australia.
For countries with a population of 10 million or more, Australia is by far the least densely populated in the world.
While there are many arid areas in Australia – which is also true of many other countries – the suggestion that it cannot support a higher population with high living standards is absurd.
If Australia had the same population density as:
- Canada, we would have a population of 26,888,000
- Sweden, we would have a population of 161,328,000
- USA, we would have a population of 238,151,000
- Italy, we would have a population of 1,536,460,000
- UK, we would have a population of 1,805,340,500
Smith’s proposition is not only absurd, but unethical and evil. His special pleading should be ignored and ridiculed. With sensible planning and other regulatory, IR and social security policies, Australia could support a significantly higher population while enjoying higher living standards. We are likely to be well short of the optimal population (which itself would vary by factors such as technology, labour market regulations and so forth).
If Smith believes that Australia’s population is presently too large, would he care to nominate the optimal population? 1? 1,000? 1,000,000?
As for the world populati0n – which is not addressed in Smith’s column but seems the focus of his website – would he care to consider that lower population growth rates are strongly associated with higher living standards? The world’s population is projected to peak in around 2050, and then decline over time. If the governments of the world implemented sensible policies – property rights, rule of law, prosecution of corruption, flexible labour markets, sound macroeconomic fundamentals and free markets – the decline would be inexorable. This doesn’t require a decision of government, merely good government allowing individuals to live free lives and trade amongst each other knowing their property rights will be respected.
But Smith implies that governments should be active in reducing population. Such, perhaps, as China’s one child policy; eugenics and genocide.
This is why I have used the word ‘evil’ deliberately. This is a strong ethical issue and Smith’s advocacy has crossed that line. While I don’t believe Smith is personally evil, his policies would, in my opinion, promote evil.