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Opus Dei Special Report

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More population, more wealth, expansion of resources, a cleaner environment: that sums up the entire economic history of humanity. For more than two million years, until the eighteenth century, the growth of population was slow. Neither health nor the mortality rate improved noticeably and there was only a slight growth in natural resources. And besides that, the growth in wealth was only for a few people.

Since 1750 or 1800 population has grown rapidly due to a spectacular reduction in the mortality rate, a rapid growth of resources, an expansive increment in wealth and a much cleaner environment in the wealthy areas of the world.

The planet is not in 'crisis'

If we base our conclusions on the facts proven by science, the current pessimism about the "crisis" of our planet is false. Even ecologists now recognize that, in recent decades, the quality of water and air in the wealthy countries, such as the United States or Spain, has improved. Every agricultural economist knows that the population of the world has eaten better and better since the Second World War. Every economist who is an expert in natural resources knows that the availability of resources has grown¾ a fact that is reflected in a drop in prices with respect to previous decades and centuries. And every demographer knows that the mortality rates have declined throughout the world and that life expectancy has almost tripled in the wealthy nations in recent centuries and has nearly doubled in the poorer countries in the last five decades.

In the short run, all resources are limited. An example of that is the amount of attention that I can now get from you. But in the long run, the situation is different. From the beginning of the modern era, the standard of living has grown at the same time as the size of the world’s population has grown. There is no convincing economic reason why this tendency toward a better life should not continue indefinitely.

The basic idea is that growth in population creates a demand that provokes an increase in prices. The increase in prices creates opportunities that attract businesses and scientists to be able to satisfy the demand and thus increase their income. Most of them fail and they personally absorb the costs. But after a while, some are successful and find solutions. At the end you have a situation better than if there had not been a problem of scarcity. All this is to say that there are going to be problems, naturally. But it does not mean that we should create more problems than already exist.

Nations must guarantee personal freedom

There is another crucial element in the economy of resources and population: the point at which the political, economic and social system guarantees personal freedom in the face of government coercion. Qualified workers require an appropriate social and economic framework that favors hard work and the assumption of risks, a framework that permits talent to be used. The key element of this framework is economic freedom and the respect for property and market laws that are just and sensible¾ that strengthen the equality of everyone.

The world’s problem is not an excess of population, but a lack of political and economic freedom. The evidence for this is found in an extraordinary experiment that began in the 1940s in three pairs of countries with the same culture and history and the same standard of living at the moment that they separated: West Germany and East Germany, North Korea and South Korea, Taiwan and China. In all three cases, the communist country, the country of central planning, started with a smaller population, if measured by density per square mile. The communist and non-communist countries also started with the same birthrates.

People are the ultimate resource

The market-based economies developed much faster than the economies based on central planning. The economic-political system was clearly the dominant force in the results of the three comparisons. This powerful version of economic development gives the lie to theories that population growth is the key to explain the speed of economic development of countries.

The population growth causes problems. But people solve problems. The principal fuel for the acceleration of progress is our "stock" of knowledge; and the brakes are: a lack of imagination and erroneous social regulations of activities.

People are the ultimate resource, especially qualified and hopeful young people who work with freedom. Young people who use their energies and imagination perhaps for their own benefit, but who inevitably benefit all the rest of us as well.

 

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