Size Does Matter: The Case for American Population Explosion

In his new book One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger, Vox co-founder Matthew Yglesias identifies one of the few areas left where there is broad bipartisan agreement: China is challenging the U.S.’s place in the world and “America should aspire to be the greatest nation on Earth.” His solution, however, is not so conventional.

Whereas most politicians and academics have thought of our ongoing Cold War 2.0 with China as an issue that should be resolved through foreign policy, Yglesias suggests focusing on the domestic aspects may be more important. Particularly, a domestic policy somewhat hinging on momentum. If we’re not innovating and growing, we’re losing.

It’s a classic debate: does size matter? Yglesias says, “yes.” If America wants to compete with China in the decades to come, we need innovation, intelligence, and sheer mass.

A larger population would have some benefits. Historic data reveals immigration yields greater productivity both in the populations that migrated and the domestic populations. More people will likely spark more creative policies to support growth that would improve our housing, transportation, education and welfare systems.

How do we do it? Yglesias argues, “it would just require more immigrants and more programs to support people who want to have additional children.” Basically, the antithesis of China’s “one child policy.”

Family size is a tricky political and personal issue. Yglesias centers his argument around theĀ gap between the number of children that women in America say they want to have (average 2.7) and the number of children they will likely have (1.8). There are certainly many reasons for this gap, many of which federal policy should stay far away from, but there is one we can address: cost. By pursuing policies like public support for day care, after school and summer programs, and universal financial benefits for parents, we may make it possible and more likely for the population to grow.

Where will the one billion Americans live? Yglesias points to population densities. Where there are roughly 93 people in the US per square mile, more densely populated European countries have nearly 1000 people per square mile. Even if the U.S. tripled its population, it would still have less than half as dense as Germany. We would need to seriously adjust the way we think about housing and land use policy, but it’s possible.

The downsides are not surprising: increased traffic, higher housing costs, higher levels of pollution, and less open land. And can we really beat China at their own game?

It’s an interesting read and a well-structured, logical book. Regardless of how you feel about a 3x increase in population density in America, Yglesias’ arguments for better supporting families through financial and social mechanisms are really compelling. If nothing else, it’s a welcome reminder to prepare for a brighter future and maintain hope in global power of the United States.

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