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On your point, though, I agree entirely that that is a nasty combination. However, I don't generally think that, generally speaking, a "surplus" of population can be blamed for poor economic conditions, but rather political issues and the local, national, and regional level.
Given the presence of local politically-based blockages to economic development (parasitic elites sucking dry anything and everything that produces revenue), population growth does make existing problems worse. But I don't think it can be blamed for the existence of those problems. It should be remembered that every country that underwent an industrial revolution did so during a population explosion. Those were special times and special circumstances, obviously - and it is those times and circumstances, not population growth or the lack thereof - that is the important thing to look at.
On another front, environmental stability, absolute population numbers are far more important, I think. However, that is a different issue from the one under discussion here.
The idea of population "surplus" is always with respect to what standard of living, what technological requirements of resources supporting that standard of living, and what resources available.
So, for instance, at current standards of living and technological requirements, Europe is overpopulated and Africa is not - Europe is living beyond its own biocapacity, and Africa is living within its own biocapacity. Reverse the standards of living but not the technology and Africa would be overpopulated while Europe would not be.
And if a country were to maintain an "overpopulated" population at a stable level while technological efficiency improves, it would become less and less "overpopulated" over time.
That is the serious consideration of population levels - what population levels can be sustainably support with the resources and technology at hand.
Singapore would of course be a Red Herring in this discussion - the hinterland of the City of Singapore is not the Island of Singapore, but rather the entire western portion of ASEAN. And ASEAN itself would, indeed, be an appropriate scale for considering the question of what population would be sustainable.
At the same time, for the question of what economic growth rates can be attained, rather than what populations can be sustainably maintained, the critical issue has been population growth rates. And that is, of course, not new - that has been the focus of the serious discussion on that issue since the 1970's at least.
I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
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