DP35 The Ethical Foundations of Population Policies

Author(s): Partha Dasgupta
Publication Date: November 1984
Keyword(s): Population, Resources, Social Discount Rates, Welfare
JEL(s): 024, 025, 123
Programme Areas: Applied Macroeconomics
Link to this Page: cepr.org/active/publications/discussion_papers/dp.php?dpno=35

This essay attempts to use the pure theory of welfare economics to address the ethical issues that underlie the choice of future population size. The essay begins with a summary of welfare economic theory as it pertains to situations where population size is not subject to choice, and notes that a symmetry (or anonymity) axiom on social welfare functions has almost invariably been invoked in the theory. It then summarizes optimum population theory and emphasizes that the existing theory extends the symmetry axiom to include the well-being of potential persons. It is argued that in an Actual Problem the symmetry axiom is questionable when future population is subject to choice. The essay concludes with an analysis of the implications of a denial of the symmetry axiom.