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Normative population theory


Utilitarian and contractarian solutions to the problem of optimal population are examined and shown to have unacceptable implications. As argued by Parfit, for instance, utilitarianism may imply large numbers of people at a very low standard of living. An analogy is drawn between optimal population for a society and the optimal structure of an individual life. The ideal life need not maximize cardinal utility, because an individual may prefer a shorter life with less, more intense utility to a very long life with higher total utility (“Methuselah's Paradox”). The optimal population is what an individual would prefer if he had to sequentially live out each life in his choice.

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The author wishes to thank John Broome, Amihai Glazer, Jack High, Joseph Kalt, Randy Kroszner, Thomas Schelling and an editor of this journal for useful comments. The usual disclaimer applies.

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Cowen, T. Normative population theory. Soc Choice Welfare 6, 33–43 (1989). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF00433361

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  • Economic Theory
  • Normative Population
  • Optimal Structure
  • Short Life
  • Individual Life