What is the surest sign that men are preserving themselves and prospering? It is their number and their population.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, quoted by Frédéric Bastiat
Complete Works, Volume 1, page 316 (in French)
The three chapters The Tax System and the Vineyards, On the Wine-Growing Question and About the Distribution of Land Tax within the Département of the Landes are looking in almost hundred pages at tax issues in the département of the Landes in the first half of the XIXth century. Some aspects are technical while others more about the tax doctrine. Quite a few criticisms and analyses focus on the base of some taxes at the time. In this sense, they are obsolete. However, the reasoning of Frédéric Bastiat is always of high quality and some fiscal aspects are still valid today.
Today’s quote is of a broader scope and focuses on population. Citing Rousseau is a way to assert that even when in deep disagreement, there exist universal points on which a common ground can be found. Besides, I believe this reflection is of particular interest nowadays when it is fashionable to advocate “de-growth”. Rousseau and Bastiat agree that a growing population is a symptom of (and only possible thanks to) economic growth. The global population growth from one to eight billion individuals over the last two centuries was possible only thanks to economic growth, without which the means of subsistence would have been insufficient.
What most economists believe is that the inverse relation is also true and that a reduction of production would necessarily lead to a reduction of population (which is what Frédéric Bastiat observes at a small scale in various towns and villages of the département of the Landes in the first half of the XIXth century), in opposition to those who think that we “only” need to distribute wealth better (which is systematically a failure when we look at policies against poverty in Western countries), independently from the issues that it creates towards the freedom of individuals.
If economic de-growth leads to a reduction in population, I dare say that those who advocate this are ethically challenged, or even have disgusting ethics (depending on how fast the reduction of population is acceptable to them).