It seems that even economists aren’t all that enamored with some of the consequences of growth. In this linked editorial, Diana Furchtgott-Roth, former Labor Department chief economist, bemoans traffic congestion and suggests that new GPS technology be employed to tax drivers for miles driven and routes taken in an effort to cut down traffic in congested areas.
A couple of observations are in order. First of all, the surest method to prevent traffic congestion from becoming worse is to stop putting more drivers on the road. That means a plan to stabilize the population. It’ll stabilize eventually anyway, either through a lower birth rate or a higher death rate, so why not do it now before congestion becomes worse? Building more roads and more lanes won’t help. Take it from someone who pre-dates the interstate highway system, more roads and lanes only enable more population growth and they fill with more traffic volume faster than they can be built. Stabilizing the population is the only sure way to stop the congestion problem from getting worse.
Secondly, while schemes like that proposed by Ms. Furchtgott-Roth will certainly be necessary if the population isn’t stabilized, it will ultimately lead to a decline in per capita consumption of vehicles, accompanied by a decline in per capita consumption of everything associated with operating and maintaining those vehicles. That means a decline in per capita employment in those industries. You may be inclined to think that those displaced workers will simply find employment in other industries. Think again. As a society becomes more and more densely populated, the per capita consumption of virtually everything, with the exception of food and clothing, declines as well. The end result is rising unemployment and poverty.
We would be better served if economists spent time stuck in traffic pondering the ultimate consequences of their pro-growth agenda instead of looking no further than the bumper in front of them to imagine technological band-aids to keep their theories patched together.