The great population conundrum

Unless we keep our insatiable wants under check, this paradox will haunt us

Updated - May 13, 2016 09:00 am IST

Published - January 12, 2014 03:18 am IST

Patiala: A man carries children on his bike on the eve of  World Population Day at a village near Sirhind Road in Patiala on Wednesday. PTI Photo(PTI7_10_2013_000151A)

Patiala: A man carries children on his bike on the eve of World Population Day at a village near Sirhind Road in Patiala on Wednesday. PTI Photo(PTI7_10_2013_000151A)

In recent years, a paradox has been noticed all around us. While people generally condemn population growth, they also seem to welcome it. Like all paradoxes, it does contain two seemingly absurd statements which cannot be easily reconciled, although the first half of the conundrum is simple to appreciate.

In almost every field of activity, ever-increasing population creates its own problems. To travel on business or pleasure, you need to book train or air tickets quite in advance. Even within your own city, commuting to work takes its toll. Along busy streets traffic moves at a snail’s pace, and when eventually you do reach your destination, finding a parking place is equally difficult. If you try to avoid travelling and get things done on the phone, you are invariably greeted with the recorded message: “All lines on this route are busy, please try after some time.”

Quite often, a businessman has to wait for months before he can get an electrical connection for his factory. If you are seeking employment, the situation in the job market is no different.

Then again, whether you are a busy housewife or a working woman, you have to bear with long queues for your children’s school admissions. You know, all this is because of the increasing population, and you start hating it.

Why would anybody then welcome the increasing population? To answer this question one has to make a closer inspection. In economics, a ‘consumer’ is a person who is the final user of products or services generated within a system. Naturally, if the total number of consumers greatly exceeds the quantity of goods and services produced, waiting lists are unavoidable. So, while as consumers we condemn the increasing population, it would be interesting to see the situation from the point of view of the producer. In the economic sense, a ‘producer’ is a person or an organisation producing goods or services for sale, thereby creating economic value. Obviously, producers would always be interested in selling more and more of their goods and services in the market.

Schools and colleges, for example, want more and more admission-seekers; shopping malls long for bigger and bigger crowds; builders would like to sell an ever-increasing number of houses and apartments; newspapers need more readers and TV channels and movie producers want more viewers. Organisers of sports events look for more and more spectators. Airlines are interested in flying more people across the world. The list is unending.

Experience, however, tells us that there is a limit to the number of goods or services to be sold to the same customer. So the only viable promise seems to come from newer and newer consumers becoming available. That is one reason why manufacturers the world over are vying with one another to get a strong foothold in the Indian consumer market, and why ‘Destination India’ clearly seems to be their one-point programme. No wonder, then, that producers in the globalised economy actually welcome an ever-increasing population.

Consumers & producers

Of course, in real life our society is not strictly divided between some people as just ‘consumers’ and others as only ‘producers’. All through their lives the same people are both consumers and producers. In their role as consumers they condemn the ever-increasing population, and when acting as producers or in some way being involved as producers, they welcome it. This is the most intriguing paradox of our time.

And although deep within us we do know that the ever-increasing population is unsustainable, as long as we do not consciously and willingly keep our insatiable wants within reasonable limits, this paradox will continue to haunt us.

(The author is an entrepreneur who is also involved in the work of an NGO active in the fields of education and development).

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