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Improved Reporting on Population Decline

I was prepared to slap this story onto the Wall of Shame when I saw the headline. After all, it’s just another worry piece about a “birth dearth” in a nation that actually doesn’t know how lucky it is.

Japan, Short on Babies, Reaches a Worrisome Milestone

Or is it? Instead, I want to compliment the reporter, Jonathan Soble, at the New York Times. This story is a step in the right direction – toward truly objective, accurate reporting on shrinking populations.

There is still room for improvement. And, yes, it sadly still reveals some destructive, pro-growth attitudes, but here those attitudes are being OBSERVED and REPORTED by the journalist, not DEMONSTRATED by him. For example:

“…the prevailing view of Japan’s demographic future is grim.”

It’s fair, and accurate, to report that many have this view. The key is for the reporter not to share this view, or at the very least to keep that view from coloring the reporting. Soble actually does a better than average job of telling readers about the advantages for Japan of a population contracting toward a sustainable level.

“For some, the latest numbers offer advantages. Unemployment was 2.8 percent in April, the lowest in decades, and construction in Japan’s famously crowded cities has slowed.”

This is a good start, but I have yet to see a mainstream report on population decline that offers any news or perspective about how population contraction is fantastic news on a crowded planet (read up on overshoot here). I want to encourage journalists like Soble to venture further in exploring the very good news represented by a declining population. Apparently, so would Dean Baker of the Center for Economic and Policy Research. He wrote this articulate response:

Japan’s Dismal Future: Less Crowded Subways and Declining Rents

I recommend you share this with your friends who don’t share your apprehension about overshoot.

“This doesn’t sound like too bad of a story to people familiar with economics. Thus far the labor shortage has not been serious enough to cause wages to rise in Japan. If it eventually does get more severe and wages do rise then it just would mean that some of the least productive jobs would go unfilled. For example, perhaps Tokyo would no longer pay workers to shove people into overcrowded subway cars.”

Baker stops short of addressing real sustainability issues. In fact, he seems to subscribe to the outdated view that GDP growth is a smart goal (at least he limits this to per-capita GDP). Still, he offers some useful facts. Read his very brief critique of the birth-dearth worries for more ammunition to use in coffee-shop debates with friends clinging to the archaic notion that we haven’t yet surpassed rational limits to growth.

Thanks to growthbuster Sam Hopkins for turning us on to the New York Times story, and to Safa Motesharrei for bringing Dean Baker’s commentary to our attention.

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Dave Gardner

Producer of the documentary, GrowthBusters: Hooked on Growth. Dave writes and speaks regularly on the subject of growth addiction, including the pro-growth media bias that perpetuates prosperity-from-growth mythology.

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