Is Overpopulation the Cause of Poverty?
There are many people who argue that the biggest problem in South Asia is overpopulation. This assertion has been repeated so often over the years that it has almost become common wisdom. Its adherents include a lot of well-educated individuals and one often hears the argument from government officials as an explanation for the inability to reduce poverty. There are a number of problems with this simple proposition. First of all, population is not a very useful measure by itself simply because it fails to account for the size of the land in which the population resides. Some countries like Russia have a very large area while others like Singapore have a very small one. Therefore the appropriate indicator to use in order to make valid comparisons is population density (i.e., population per unit of land area).
Using this indicator one would find, for example, that Belgium has a very high population density, Pakistan is in the middle, and Somalia ranks very low. Of these countries, Belgium is not the one with the most difficulties. Nor does Somalia have the fewest. Just looking at population or population density tells us very little about a society’s problems. Within individual countries we can find similar situations. Take Pakistan, for example. Balochistan has the lowest population density amongst the provinces. But Balochistan is by no means better off than the other provinces because of its low population and population density. This raises an interesting issue for those who subscribe to the overpopulation hypothesis. Would Balochistan, with all its natural resources and its small population, be much better off if it were a sovereign country by itself? I am sure the believers of the hypothesis would quickly find many arguments to refute the implication of their own assertion. The question would force them to abandon the simple answer and start thinking of the many other factors that actually influence economic and...
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