US population growth – is it a bad situation?

Newsweek reports this week about how the US population is going to reach 300 million any day now. At the same time, the article compels the reader to wonder about the negative ramifications of such an “explosive” rate of population growth. “Is this a sign of impending calamity”, the article asks.

The article made me really think. What is it about developed countries that makes them so less economically elastic to population growth? Why are baby boomers suddenly becoming a concern here in the US, even though immigration has always helped bring the young to this country? Already, the US economy is reeling under the effects of unemployment, excessive military diversion of funds meant for education, excessive dependance on foreign energy reserves, and the such. All in all, I believe the problem lies in the fact that these developed countries usually have very few natural resources, but are the biggest consumers.

Now, compare the US to India. Population has already crossed a billion, making it home to about 18 percent of the world’s population in 2.5 percent of the world’s total land mass. India’s population density exceeds that of any other nation of similar size! Yet, because of its natural wealth, India is still prospering and looking forward to becoming a truly developed nation very soon.

Now, the main point of my post is not to highlight the differences in the American way of life/consumerism to that of India in order to explain why population growth is such a terrible thing in developed countries. Rather, the grim “calamity” possiblity made me wonder about cultural differences between the western world and my country. Is it really hard for less than half a million people to co-exist peacefully on land the size of America?

I think the best description of such a “peaceful” existence in India of a billion people is described in the novel “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. A gay French character named Didier says about India, “This is India. Everyone who comes here falls in love – most of us fall in love many times over. And the Indians, they love most of all”. He continues, “This is how they manage to live together, a billion of them, in reasonable peace. They are not perfect, of course. They know how to fight and lie and cheat each other, and all the things that all of us do. But more than any other people in the world, the Indians know how to love one another.” Dider then says, “India is about six times the size of France. But it has almost twenty times the population. Twenty times! Believe me, if there were a billion Frenchmen living in such a crowded space, there would be rivers of blood. Rivers of blood! And, as everyone knows, we French are the most civilised people in Europe. Indeed, in the whole world. No, no, without love, India would be impossible.”

Isn’t that true? Now, I would like to quote two paragraphs from the novel.

Now, long years and many journeys after that first ride on a crowded rural train, I know that the scrambled fighting and courteous deference were both expressions of the one philosophy: the doctrine of necessity. The amount of force and violence necessary to board the train, for example, was no less and no more than the amount of politeness and consideration necessary to ensure that the cramped journey was as pleasant as possible afterwards. What is necessary? That was the unspoken but implied and unavoidable question everywhere in India. When I understood that, a great many of the characteristically perplexing aspects of public life became comprehensible: from the toleration of beggars on the streets, to the concatenate complexity of the bureaucracies; and from the gorgeous, unashamed escapism of Bollywood movies, to the accomodation of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Tibet, Iran, Afghanistan, Africa, and Bangladesh, in a country that was already too crowded with sorrows and needs of its own.

The real hypocrisy, I came to realise, was in the eyes and minds and criticisms of those who came from lands of plenty, where no-one had to fight for a seat on a train. Even on that first train ride, I knew in my heart that Didier had been right when he’d compared India and its billion souls to France. I had an intuition, echoing his thought, that if there were a billion Frenchmen or Australians or Americans living in such a small space, the fighting to board the train would be much more, and the courtesy afterwards much less.

What’s needed is love among people to drive the nation to prosperity. And, it’s not just about space. Look what’s happening in the Middle East. Compare that to India – people of all faiths and religions trying to get by with as few self-generated problems as possible. Sure, there are disputes, poverty, needs, excesses, corruption, but the nation is still sovereign. There is no “calamity”.

What remains to be seen is how the developed countries learn their lesson in love from a country like India.

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