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Optimal population and exhaustible resource constraints

Nicholas Lawson () and Dean Spears ()
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Nicholas Lawson: Université du Québec à Montréal
Dean Spears: University of Texas at Austin

Journal of Population Economics, 2018, vol. 31, issue 1, No 10, 295-335

Abstract: Abstract A large literature considers the optimal size and growth rate of the human population, trading off 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.

Keywords: Optimal population; Climate change; Social choice and welfare; Exhaustible resources; Population ethics and policy; Utilitarianism (search for similar items in EconPapers)
JEL-codes: J10 J19 I31 (search for similar items in EconPapers)
Date: 2018
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