Does the World Face an Underpopulation Problem?

“There are not enough people.  I can’t emphasize this enough … And I think one of the biggest risks to civilization is the low birth rate and the rapidly declining birth rate,” argued the Tesla CEO Elon Musk last year.  He has returned to the subject of “population collapse” on several subsequent occasions.  Contrast Musk’s position with that of the Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told her Instagram viewers that “It is basically a scientific consensus that the lives of our children are going to be very difficult, and it does lead young people to have a legitimate question: is it OK to still have children?”

Humans impact the world in both good and bad ways.  In a new book, Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet, my co-author and I have revisited a subject that’s intimately connected to population growth: resource scarcity.  This debate goes back to the 5th century BC, with both Confucians and the Greeks agreeing that population growth needed to be controlled lest excessive fecundity overwhelmed the food supply and famine ensued.  The English prelate, Thomas Malthus, resurrected the idea in his influential Essay on the Principle of

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