Growing up in India in the 1980s, India’s population “problem” was never too far away from the public arena.
Textbooks, newspapers and the chatterati constantly pointed out that
a) India was overpopulated and
b) this overpopulation was a significant reason for our economic backwardness.
Gary Becker dispels this guff
…particularly in modern knowledge-based economies, on balance population growth helps rather than hurts income growth and general welfare.
Neo-Malthusians who fear larger populations typically stress the effects on pollution and on the demand for non-renewable resources, like oil and natural gas. Clearly, the demand for fossil fuels and other non–enewable resources grows with population as well as with economic development. However, during the past 150 years, the real price of fossil fuels like coal and oil fell rather than increased as world population exploded, and more and more economies prospered. (emphasis mine)
As India dramatically has demonstrated, the main obstacle to economic progress is not population growth, but bad economic policies. Once India began to get its economic house in order- this started with the reforms of the early 1990′s- India’s economy took off while its population was growing rapidly and birth rates were high.
In an era when human capital is the primary source of wealth, India’s large population is a huge, untapped asset. Especially so given that 50% of India’s population is under 25. All we need is halfway decent primary education and health. That’s what the Indian government should be focusing on, not falthoo stuff like this.
Update: A tidbit from Marginal Revolution.