Will the population bomb prevent the great stagnation?

If only Paul Ehrlich had been right! Population explosion would have meant an explosion in people who could invent new technologies and populate in much larger markets to provide an incentive to invent new products.

Among Paul Ehrlich’s many analytical errors, he did not take into account that more people meant more inventors and more untapped markets.

Jones argued that in the very long run the only way to have further innovation is to have more people. If there are more people undertaking R&D and more people to populate the markets for those inventions, there will be further growth because the decreasing returns to knowledge creation will be overcome by having more R&D workers.

Jones attributes much of the growth in the 20th century to one-off effects that cannot be repeated such as putting more people into higher education:

… growth in educational attainment, developed-economy R&D intensity, and population are all likely to be slower in the future than in the past. These factors point to slower growth in US living standards.

Second, a counterbalancing factor is the rise of China, India, and other emerging economies, which likely implies rapid growth in world researchers for at least the next several decades.

Third, and more speculatively, the shape of the idea production function introduces a fundamental uncertainty into the future of growth. For example, the possibility that artificial intelligence will allow machines to replace workers to some extent could lead to higher growth in the future.

A larger population increases the rate of technological progress by increasing the number of geniuses and other creative people.The doomsday prophecies about the population bomb never took that into account. That is why they are wrong.

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