America, the Underpopulated?

(Comstock)

A recent editorial in The New York Sun argues that all this political bickering about immigration among Republican candidates misses an important truth: America is actually underpopulated. From the article:

[N]ot a single Republican candidate has spoken up for the idea that America is an underpopulated country. In terms of population density, it is, at 83 persons a square mile, an impoverished country, barely a quarter of the rich density of China, which is running way behind India. America just has enormous room for population growth.

And a desperate need.

What do you think, readers?  Is America under-populated? Would Montana and Wyoming, for example, benefit from a few more people?

(HT: Paul Kedrosky)


Joshua Northey

It depends on what exactly your teleology is.

Are you interested in average standard of living? Gross standard of living? Ability to win wars? Ability to dictate global political policy? Ability to not radically change the earth ecologically?

You will get very different answers for population targets depends on your weighting of various possible goals.

We certainly could cram a lot more people into the US, I am not sure we could do so at the current standard of living growth curve for very long though.

Personally I think a lot of our global problems would go away if we kept the population at 100 million, but I am looking at things on century based scales where avoiding nuclear war, not destroying the earths ecology, and managing our resources are important problems.

100 million is still enough to have a robust and diverse global society, and many resource/scarcity issues would evaporate.

If at some later date we decide we need numbers (from exo-colonization, increase scientific difficulty, hostile alien species, or whatever), we could balloon the population back up to whatever level we wanted extremely quickly.

With modern medicine you could probably get to 25 billion people from 100 million in less than 100 years if shaped policy around it. Just move from 2.2 children to 9.

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Matthew

I would say so. Specially because it is a consumer driven economy. This is the model that gave the United States it´s successful, or not so successful now, economy and prosperity. In fact that is a phenomenon that happens also in other developed countries, that achieve a level of maturity in which people stop having so many children, the workforce and consumer market starts to diminish and programmes of immigration// offshore recruiting start to show up.
In a nutshell, yes, if there´s space for growth, the United States should embrace it (economically speaking, not enviromentaly)

Lee

Maybe some of the other countries should take a leaf from Americas book then. What exactly does under-populated mean? Does it mean they have the capacity to feed, fuel and house more people? If so - for how long?
I am all for reducing populations world-wide. But as a father I understand they desire to bear offspring. but I would not recommend any more than 2 children to any family - as that is juts expanding! and very difficult to provide for.

Marcus K.

Overpopulation in any given region is a matter of perspective. I think comparing population density in the US to India or China is like comparing apples and oranges given differences in the respective cultures. Just because the US has a lower population density than India or China does not mean that the US is necessarily underpopulated. There is something to be said for having some "living space".

Ames

What about natural resources? China has to import chopsticks, as they have no wood. More doesn't necessarily mean better.

Eric

As soon as we have so much food in the world that we don't know what to do with it, THEN we can talk about underpopulation. If anybody is starving anywhere, we are populated beyond our means. Just because China and India have ridiculous population density doesn't mean it's the right thing to do.

Enter your name...

We will never bother to produce dramatically more food than we can use. It's wasteful from both the ecological and economic perspectives.

We are currently perfectly capable of feeding a larger population than we currently have, using the current mix of foods that we currently are producing. Nobody is currently hungry for lack of production: we deliberately destroy or refuse to harvest many millions of dollars of food every season. All of our food insecurity and hunger is about distribution failures: only people (or countries) with money get to have what they want.

If we decided to curtail meat consumption, then we could feed far more people than we currently need to.

Euan

Depends where immigration is directed. More people in NY or LA would be silly, but if certain states could have immigration allowances...

BobK

There's an element of truth in Agent Smith's words to Morpheus from the movie The Matrix.

"Agent Smith: I'd like to share a revelation that I’ve had during my time here. It came to me when I tried to classify your species, and I realised that humans are not actually mammals. Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment; but you humans do not. Instead you multiply, and multiply, until every resource is consumed. The only way for you to survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern... a virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer on this planet, you are a plague, and we... are the cure."

Mike Lemmer

At that point, you can tell the Matrix doesn't simulate rural areas, or else Agent Smith would've known about deer population booms followed by mass starving. Or stray organisms being transported to a new environment and absolutely wrecking it. There is no instinctive natural equilibrium, there is just a point where resources are spread out so much there's more deaths than births. And humans are -extremely- good at finding new resources.

Megan

Oh, totally. Let's start filling up the Grand Canyon with people. Heck, it would be totally practical and affordable to put up developments on the Rocky Mountains and all across Nevada so we can be more like China. 'Cause we have the natural resources to do this, right????

Shafique Jamal

New immigrants would be unlikely to go to areas of low population density such as Montana and Wyoming, and more likely to go to places like New York city and Boston. This is not an argument for or against, but just something that should be take into account in the discussion of immigration policy. I would be interested to hear whether it would be good for the country to encourage moving to areas of low population density, and how these incentives might be structures.

Eric

Yes, the US is underpopulated relative to most of the world. We have so many resources that we are able to have this luxury and not even think about all the wide open spaces. This has resulted in huge metropolitan areas with low density (the only true exception is NYC). People in the US generally want a single family home with a half-acre yard rather than living in buildings. There is a reason most mass transit systems are a waste in this country. This is not good from an efficiency or an environmental point of view since the average commute in the US keeps growing, spending more gasoline, wasting tire rubber and brakes, motor oil, etc. and less quality time pursuing one's interests or exercise or spending time with family. In order to have the white-picket-fence American dream, we prefer to spend 2-3 hours per day stuck in traffic.

With higher population density, the US would have even more space for farmland, harvesting natural resources such as oil/gas/coal, and for renewable energy projects as well. A balanced approach to sustainability even with much higher population.

Reasonable population growth does in fact enable higher economic growth as more goods and services are required to serve the population. Export-driven economies are fantastic, but there is nothing like having strong local demand as well, especially from a small & medium business perspective.

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Colin

I don't think anyone has made the argument that we should have fewer immigrants because the country is overpopulated.

keith

If you're talking immigration,who are the kinds of people who'd be happier in Wyoming than the hellhole they came from? Maybe in generations you'd have a resurgence. Look at the climate forecasts, where will be nice 50 years from now? Is nationalism really that important?

Gary Hughes

That assumes that China and indias concentration of citizens is acceptable.

I like austrailia's immigration model.....you want to live here, you better have some income producing work lined ip. It's not the amount but the quality of the immigration that concerns me here ib the US.

Duncan

In the UK we have this conversation a lot.
The trouble is people want to live where there are jobs which is where people already live.
This gives the UK a relatively low population density as a whole but in the South East and London individually a greater density than any European country and most of the world.

The US could take a extra million immigrants, if they were willing to live in the Arizona desert or the Alaskan tundra, but not if they wanted to live in New York city.

In the last UK general election the Liberal Democrats came up with the idea that when granting work permits for immigrants the permits would be geographically locked so they could only go to work in the lower density areas, but it was ridiculed for being unworkable.

Q

Others make valid points about whether it's a good thing to aspire to the population density of India, but I suspect that immigration from countries with high birth rates to countries with lower birth rates would lead to a reduction in the global population growth rate as immigrant populations tend to adopt the culture of their new countries over time.

Also, high population growth in any country, whether due to births or immigration, doesn't necessarily lead to a more uniform distribution of population. There are plenty of places in China that are relatively empty, for the same reasons that Wyoming and Montana are. China just has more really big cities that are closer together, which is likely what will happen in the U.S. as the population grows.

Chris Rose

As a limey - I think you lot have nothing to worry about. The current population of England is 50 million, but by 2056 the figure will be 68 million, meaning an average of 1,349 people will live in every square mile. At the moment England’s population density is 1,010 people per square mile. *3 per square mile - its why I love coming to the US - so much space !!