Is it better to have more or less population in your country and the world? I ask the question in a short article in the Spring issue of Regulation. I review a few economic and philosophical arguments on both sides of the debate.

On the one hand, we have known a certain type of currently recycled environmental argument:

In his 1968 book The Population Bomb, Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich warned that an exploding world population was hitting resource constraints and that, within a decade, food and water scarcity would result in a billion or more people starving to death. Governments, he opined, should work toward an optimal world population of 1.5 billion. … In 1965, the New Republic announced that the “world population has passed food supply,” and that world hunger would be “the single most important fact in the final third of the 20th Century.”

On the other hand, I dismiss is the utilitarian claim that a larger population is better because it means more “utility” (in the economic sense). One of my replies is follows the very interesting article of The Economist on “population ethics”:

A non‐​existent individual cannot be included in any utility calculus because there is no “he” (or “she”) to include.

Even if no utility calculus at all is possible, however, political economy suggests a moral presumption that a larger population is beneficial to most individuals:

It is a good guess that the more numerous is mankind, the larger the opportunities for beneficial exchange, which includes all sorts of voluntary relations between individuals.

At any rate, there is no reason to believe that this topic should be a political matter:

There is no reason to believe that the size of mankind should be the province of collective choices—which are, in practice, government choices. … Like in so many other areas, economics (albeit with some minimal value judgements of the sort “live and let live”) suggests that a superior alternative is usually available: individual choices in a general context of liberty. Let each potential parent decide, or agree on, what will be the number of his or her own children. These individual choices should determine the number of humans, instead of a certain group of individuals “collectively” deciding how many children families should have.