America hit a milestone this week: 300 million residents. So many of the discussions about this growth make the assumption that a rapidly growing population is necessarily a bad thing. Regional discussions of growth tend to focus on increasing congestion, crowding and other problems.
There is another side of this debate. Granted, more people means more stress on existing infrastructure. But more people also means more energy, more growth, more economic vitality. Writing in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal, author Joel Kotkin argues that America ought not dwell too much on the 300 million figure, given that our country is likely to have 400 million people by midcentury.
For starters, those nations with aging, stable populations tend to be the ones most mired in the economic morass, and they tend to be facing the most significant entitlement crisis — too few workers paying for too many retirees. Europe, for instance, is stunningly nonentrepreneurial — a reflection of its stifling welfare state and slow population growth.
More people are not just strains on public services. They bring ideas and hard work, which is the essence of a booming economy. The key is building the infrastructure needed to meet the needs of the growth.
That’s the problem America has been facing — an unwillingness to maintain and improve its network of highways and other infrastructure. Instead, the country’s leaders, especially at the local level, are embracing policies that will make it more difficult to meet the needs of new citizens.
“Despite the desires of some new urbanists and ‘smart growth’ activists to cram people into dense cities and regions, the America of 2050 — contrary to the contention of some demographers — also will likely be far more dispersed,” Kotkin wrote. “A combination of new telecommunications technologies and rising land prices will accelerate the shift of population beyond the current suburban fringes and into the countryside.”
Unfortunately, growing land-use controls will continue to make housing less affordable, will continue to impose costs on starting new businesses, will continue to impede our country’s ability to deal with the growth. This nation’s vitality is due largely to its relatively free economic and political system.
More people need not be feared. The current path of excessive regulation should be.