Miracle or Malthus?
The Economist December 17th, 2011 Lucca Zachmann Development economics, Fall 2012
Sciences Po, Paris, France
Summary Africa’s demographic structure is globally unique: Fertility rates are generally considerably above replacement level, mortality rates are among the highest in the world and the continent tops the list of new HIV infections. Unlike any other continent Africa’s population structure does not develop as it would according to the classic demographic transition of more advanced developing countries. This calls for a big question mark regarding Africa’s future; will the continent face a Malthusian disaster or can it still achieve a demographic dividend? The face of a Malthusian disaster According to the British economist Thomas Robert Malthus, who published the hypothesis in his famous book An Essay on the Principal of Population (1798), the population is growing at an exponential rate where as the food production is only raising at a linear rate, food supply and demand are developing apart. African countries which present the world’s highest fertility rates are therefore likely to enter in this trap as predicted by Thomas Malthus and risk to fall deeper into poverty and pauperisation due to the finiteness of natural resources. On the other hand it can be argued, like Ester Boserup did in her notable book The Conditions of Agricultural Growth (1965), that population growth leads to innovation in agricultural techniques due to an increasing talent pool and therefore to economic growth. Apart from Boserup’s different view on the topic there are other arguments why Thomas Malthus’ hypothesis does not reflect reality. Firstly, the theory does not take into account that people choose to have fewer children when the demographic situation is getting worse, and ignores therefore the so-called feedback effect. Secondly, food production technologies develop with time which may lead to a different form of the food production rate than...
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