Posted on January 13, 2011

The Changing Face of 2050

Martin Hutchinson, The Bear’s Lair, December 27, 2010

The Census Bureau issued the first results of the 2010 Census this week, showing that the U.S. growth in population in 2000-2010 was only 9.7%, the lowest decennial growth since the 1930s and the second lowest on record. {snip} However it has much more important effects on what kind of United States we will see in 2050, because the change in “slope” of the population curve makes a big difference to the outcome when extrapolated 40 years.

There is a “consensus” view of the United States in 2050, based partly on multi-culturalist wishful thinking and partly on extrapolation of the 13% population growth of the 1990s. The Census Bureau in 2009 estimated 2050 population at 439 million, but to the conventional thinkers that has always seemed too conservative–after all, if 1990-2000’s population growth rate had been repeated over the succeeding five decades, the population in 2050 would have been 523 million. {snip}

The new census result blows such predictions out of the water. Admittedly, if population increase were 9.7% per decade over each of the next four decades 2050’s population would be 447 million, somewhat above the Census Bureau’s 2009 projection. However the second derivative of population needs to be considered as well as the first. The slowing of growth in the 2000s should continue at least well into the 2010s, making future growth rates much lower than projected. Since the 1980s’ population growth was only 9.8%, barely higher than this decade’s, and the trend had been steadily declining since the 1950s, it now appears that the 1990s growth of 13.2% was the anomaly, with the decade’s population artificially boosted perhaps by the tech bubble and certainly by the succession of illegal immigrant amnesties passed after 1986.

If the second derivative of population, roughly constant from 1960 to 1990 as the decadal population growth rate declined from 13.3% in the 1960s to 11.5% in the 1970s to 9.8% in the 1980s, had stayed that way, then the trajectory of population would have led to 8.1% growth in the 1990s, 6.3% growth in the 2000s and a population of 285.8 million today–22.9 million below today’s actual population. We can imagine the difference to be made up mostly of today’s illegal immigrants, generally estimated at 12 million, plus the additional children born to the unexpectedly large immigrant population. In other words, the rapid population growth of 1990-2005 appears to have been a blip.

We can then project forward from 2010’s actual number an “inherent” population growth, assuming a constant second derivative (minus the 1990-2005 blip) and tight immigration law enforcement, and get a U.S. population in 2050 of a mere 333 million, with a slight decline in the 2040-2050 period. That intuitively seems far too low, but with immigration law enforcement likely to tighten at least in the short term, a 2050 population of below 400 million certainly now looks plausible, with the demographic split only moderately changed from today’s.

Ignoring the social effects of changing demographics, the economic effect of a lower population growth rate is very considerable, and mostly positive. First, with only 90 million new inhabitants in the next 40 years compared with the previous estimate of 130 million plus, only two-thirds of the projected expenditure on schools, roads, housing, government offices and other infrastructure will be needed, saving perhaps $500 billion per annum (including housing and schools) in scarce capital resources that can be devoted to more economically productive capital investment in the nation’s businesses.

Second, with 10% fewer people around in 2050, the endowment of land and capital will be 10% greater per capita. {snip} A slower rate of population growth in 2010-2050 implies a generally richer 2050, with higher per capita income growth and better opportunities at the bottom of the earnings pyramid, both unalloyed blessings.

Slower population growth will also affect education. With overall population perhaps 10% lower than projected, and annual growth maybe a third lower than projected, the resources of the education system will be ample for the needs of the new generation. {snip}

Needless to say, the lower projected population growth does not offer unalloyed benefit. In particular it will make the financial position of the Social Security and Medicare programs more difficult. {snip}

Two factors will alleviate this problem. First, with a wealthier population containing fewer poor people, the Medicaid program of medical care for the indigent will be correspondingly less troubled, while the subsidy necessary to Social Security and Medicare will be less pronounced. Second the reduced need for infrastructure spending will itself free up additional funding for these programs. However the most urgent policy need for the programs, made more necessary by the new demographic reality, is to continue the gradual raising of the retirement age beyond its current goal of 67 in 2026. {snip}

Finally, the new demographic projections have important implications in the area of foreign policy. {snip}


With the malign 1990s vision of rapid population growth, combined with the unpleasant reality of anemic economic performance as seen in the 2000s, the United States would by 2050 become a teeming melting-pot, with widespread poverty, high taxes to fund frantic infrastructure spending and the overcrowded poly-ethnic young unwillingly paying the welfare costs of the impoverished old. In the new version, with population growth finally under control, the United States of 2050 will be much richer, more harmonious and indeed happier–not a melting pot but a country club.