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Counterpoint: Economist takes on NYTimes ‘Malthusian’ tendencies

Lotsa Nigerians

Lotsa Nigerians

Last week, the United Nations’ predicted which countries can expect to see the biggest increases in urban populations – China, India, Indonesia, Nigeria and … the United States.

I’m still waiting for someone to provide a more detailed analysis of what this all means, since the US is included in a list of other “emerging” countries that many see as having problems with managing population growth.

But until that happens, let’s consider the New York Times’ close look at population growth in Nigeria, which is already the world’s 6th most populous nation with something like 167 million people.

As the Times’ Elizabeth Rosenthal writes in her report Nigeria tested by rapid rise in population:

In a quarter-century, at the rate Nigeria is growing, 300 million people — a population about as big as that of the present-day United States — will live in a country the size of Arizona and New Mexico. In this commercial hub, where the area’s population has by some estimates nearly doubled over 15 years to 21 million, living standards for many are falling.

The gist of the Times’ story is that it is population growth which is causing hardship for so many Nigerians.

Chris Blattman, an aid expert and Yale economist, thinks this is just hogwash. He criticizes the newspaper for reverting to the archaic theories of population doom along the lines of 18th century Rev. Thomas Malthus in his rejoinder to the Times’ story dubbed Mr. Malthus goes to Nigeria:

Ever year or so the Times likes to run a Chicken Little story, warning us of the impending demographic and youth time bomb. I’m willing to bet the tradition goes back several decades. The bomb, oddly enough, is still ticking. What about Asia and Latin America, where previous demographic crises have been predicted?

The point many like Blattman, and Michael Clemens at the Center for Global Development, want to make is that population growth, per se, is not the problem. Lack of economic growth is the problem. And, as Blattman notes implicitly, as communities prosper their birth rates decline.


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Tom Paulson

Tom Paulson is founder and lead journalist at Humanosphere. Prior to operating this online news site, he reported on science,  medicine, health policy, aid and development for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Contact him at tom[at] or follow him on Twitter @tompaulson.