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Optimal Population and Exhaustible Resource Constraints

Research, Environment1 min read

Authors: Nicholas Lawson, Dean Spears

Published in: Journal of population economics

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Abstract:

A large literature considers the optimal size and growth rate of the human population, trading o the utility value of additional people with the costs of a larger population. In this literature, an important parameter is the social weight placed on population size; a standard result is that a planner with a larger weight on population chooses larger population levels and growth rates.

We demonstrate that this result is conditionally overturned when an exhaustible resource constraint is introduced: if the discount rate is small enough, the optimal population today decreases with the welfare weight on population size. That is, a more total-utilitarian social planner could prefer a smaller population today than a more average-utilitarian social planner. We also present a numerical illustration applied to the case of climate change, where we show that under plausible real-world parameter values, our result matters for the direction and magnitude of optimal population policy.

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