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Hands, mouths and minds: Three perspectives on population growth and living standards

Sustainability Citizenship Economics Population Immigrants Australia

This paper explores the questions behind and arguments for and against of Australian population growth.

The long-run relationship between population growth and living standards has been a source of controversy among Australian economists, no less than for the general public. There is little argument that population growth and immigration have contributed to ‘extensive’ economic growth, that is, growth in the size of the Australian economy. There is much less agreement on the crucial question of whether population growth and immigration have also made a positive contribution to ‘intensive’ growth, that is, growth in real national income per capita, a widely used proxy for living standards. Historically, the ‘populate or perish’ imperative was the main source of popular and political support for population growth and immigration. Population growth was supported for reasons that were as much strategic as economic. The focus of policy was on economic development and extensive growth rather than intensive growth, although improving average living standards has always been a concern for public policy.

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