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Sustainable Society:  A society that balances the environment, other life forms, and human interactions over an indefinite time period.

 

 

 

 

 


 

Population And The American Future

The Report Of The Commission On Population Growth And The American Future

John D. Rockefeller 3rd, Chairman
March 27, 1972

Chapter 6:  Government


Public Service Costs
State and Local Resources and Requirements
Democratic Representation and Participation
    Figure 6.1  Changes in Congressional Representation by States: 1960 to 1970
Administration of Justice
National Security
The Effects of Government Programs on Population Distribution
Fragmentation of Metropolitan Government
Government Planning
Conclusion


Can government adapt to the new realities and fragility of our existence as the pace of our lives accelerates, the world grows more crowded, technology multiplies life’s complexities, and the environment is increasingly threatened?* Whether the economy thrives and environmental crises are avoided depend very much on government playing an active role —preparing for population change in advance of crises, and establishing and implementing appropriate policies. In fact, most of the recommendations we shall present imply government action.

We have examined the effect of different rates of population growth on the demand for key governmental services in the years ahead. The results of this research are presented below.

Beyond the question of costs, any concern with the effects of population on government requires us to raise broad questions of the relations between government and the size, characteristics, and distribution of the population it serves. These questions range from the essential characteristics of democratic government —citizen participation and representation, justice, and national security— to the adequacy and efficiency of ordinary, taken-for-granted service functions of government at all levels.

Government represents not only a universally and vitally important segment of our national life that is affected by population change; it also constitutes the channel through which a national concern with population must act to affect the causes and cope with the consequences of population growth and change. Can local, state, and federal governments cope adequately with the problems associated with population change through their traditional structure, means of financing, and allocation of responsibilities and jurisdictions? The fundamental questions we have raised transcend political party distinctions; they are concerned directly with people, how they live, and how they are governed.

Our examination of these questions gives us no cause for complacency or satisfaction. We are troubled by our assessment of the readiness and capability of government to deal with problems associated with population growth and change, as well as by the impacts of growth and change on our basic governmental institutions. The choices that face us are not easy ones, nor do we view population stabilization as any final solution to the problems raised.
 

Public Service Costs

 Regardless of how our population grows in the coming decades, we are going to spend more on public services, simply because of rising demands for new types of services and improved quality of existing services. Even if population were to remain at its current level, we would have to spend more just to satisfy present demands for better housing, education, transportation, health services, environmental improvements, and the elimination of hunger and poverty. Conversely, even if no new services or improvements in quality were demanded, costs would rise because, even at the slow growth rate, we will have a larger population requiring public services.

Different population growth rates will lead to different levels of demand for government services. The Commission has examined in detail three sectors in which government activities play a significant role —education, health, and welfare. Our studies were based on a comparison of the differences in expenditures required by different levels of demand resulting from population growth under the 2- and 3-child averages between now and the year 2000.1

Our projections of government expenditures for education in the year 2000 assume that a larger percentage of people will be enrolled, and allow for improvements in the quality of education. These quality improvements include more variety in teaching methods and greater use of paraprofessionals, technical equipment, and materials. In 1970, about 7.5 percent of GNP —some $74 billion— was spent on education. Our projections suggest that, in the year 2000, the faster-growing population would spend 13 percent of its GNP, or $400 billion, on education, compared to an expenditure level of 9.7 percent of GNP, or $276 billion, with slower population growth.

Another way of expressing the impact of the 2-versus the 3-child projections is in terms of the tradeoffs between the quality of education and the number of people to be educated. Assume that we will spend 10 percent of our GNP on education in the year 2000. What type of education would this buy under the two population projections? With the larger population, this expenditure would provide seven percent of the students with our assumed higher quality education, and 93 percent would receive education comparable to quality today. With the same proportion of the GNP spent on education under the 2-child projection, all students could receive a higher quality education.

While the effect of population on educational services is large, this is not the case for expenditures in the health and welfare fields. In the health field, we looked at the demand for physician visits, dental visits, and hospital beds. We found that, for a given quality of health care, the more rapidly growing population would spend $20 billion more over the next three decades than would the slower growing population. This averages out to a difference in annual expenditure of less than $1 billion.

We examined the demand for welfare services using both today’s definition of poverty and a definition that would increase at the same rate as per capita income. The evidence suggests that annual welfare expenditures, using either definition of poverty, would probably be slightly smaller under the 2-child population projection than under the 3-child projection; the difference would be no more than $2 billion and probably less. Relative to GNP in the year 2000, this amount would be insignificant.

Despite higher average incomes, a slower rate of population growth will not eliminate poverty. As we have pointed out, if poverty is to be eliminated by the year 2000, economic growth must be accompanied by policies that redistribute income.

There are additional sectors of the economy, such as housing, transportation, and energy production, in which government is involved heavily. While the Commission studied in detail only the government involvement in education, health, and welfare, a general conclusion that can be drawn is that the country will have to spend more in absolute terms to provide public services for a population growing at the 3-child rate than at the 2-child rate. Also, slower growth would produce a higher income per capita. Under our present tax systems, this would mean that per capita government revenues would be greater.

However, these benefits of slower growth will not automatically guarantee a higher quality of life. This will be achieved only if we deliberately choose to take advantage of the opportunities that slower growth presents. The wise use of these opportunities depends on public and private decisions yet to be made.
 

State and Local Resources and Requirements

As we have seen, with slower national population growth, the provision of public services would be less of a burden on the nation. What would that mean for the state and local levels of government? The day-to-day services of state and local governments —in such fields as education, welfare, health services, police and fire protection, highways, transportation facilities, sanitation, and waste disposal— are intimately tied to the number of persons they serve and to the demographic characteristics of that population. Changes in population can have a substantial impact on requirements for public services as well as on the availability of resources to meet them.

Even if national population stabilized, there would still be changes in population size and composition in states and localities as a result of variations in natural increase and migration within the United States and from abroad.

Because the more affluent states attract migrants, characteristically in the economically productive age groups, the strains on state government from growth through migration can be accommodated relatively easily. Natural increase, however, creates demands for services without providing the necessary economic resources for meeting them. In addition, some of the highest rates of natural increase are found in the poorest states. Thus, differences in the way in which state populations grow — whether primarily by migration or primarily by natural increase— may be as important as growth itself in affecting a state’s ability to meet increased demands for public services. Federal policies which would have the effect of lowering the birthrate and national programs which would assume a larger share of financial support for public welfare, education, and health could help reduce some of the inequities among states.2

Among local jurisdictions, population change shows even wider variety than among states. Some rural communities, exhibiting a high rate of natural increase and a net population loss because of high outmigration, have heavy public burdens due to relatively large numbers of children and the elderly to serve. While metropolitan suburbs draw generally more affluent residents, the central cities attract poor rural migrants and recent foreign arrivals.3 The unequal effect on demand for local government services is illustrated in Louisville, Kentucky, where the central city encompasses less than half the population of the metropolitan area, but has more than 90 percent of the area’s public assistance recipients.

While local governments adjust their expenditure and employment levels to population changes, it is not easy. They struggle to eliminate the time lags between population change and the recognition of that change by appropriate agencies, the perception of its meaning for service demands, and the provision of services. We have also found that public demand for improvement in the scope, intensity, and quality of government services has caused sharp nationwide expansions in the level of activity of local government, at a rate far exceeding the growth in national population.4

These matters are cause for concern, and we are by no means satisfied that the attempts of local government to adjust service levels to population changes and respond to public demand are adequate to meet the needs of the future. The findings of the Commission’s national public opinion survey add to this concern. Only 10 percent of the general public rated the performance of local government “excellent,” 43 percent thought its performance “good,” 31 percent “fair,” and 12 percent “poor.” Nor are we satisfied that present services and the taxes supporting them are sufficient and equitably distributed.5

There are sharp disparities among communities’ resources and revenue-raising efforts. These stem largely from the combination of an excessive reliance on the property tax and a fragmented structure of governments in metropolitan areas. The restriction of local government jurisdictions to political boundaries that cut across settlement patterns leaves many local units with more than their fair share of service demands and others with a free ticket to avoid some of local governments’ most difficult tasks.6

The imbalance between resources and demands for services is especially acute in the contrast between suburban communities and the central cities of our large metropolitan areas. Because of the lower incomes of central city residents, their lower tax capacity, and greater demand for higher cost services, a greater tax effort is required of central city residents who, at the same time, often receive a poorer quality of service than their more affluent suburban neighbors. Older, built-up suburbs close to the central city and receiving its overflow of high cost residents are also at a disadvantage with a very limited tax capacity.

We are not satisfied that levels of basic public services should be dependent on the resources yielded by the local property tax —high in rich communities, low in needy communities— and feel that greater flexibility and imagination are needed to find other revenue sources.

In addition to the mismatch between resources and need, the ability of local governments to continue to cope is clearly threatened. Taxpayer revolts, the drive for federal revenue sharing, the fiscal anguish of cities —all testify to the precariousness of the process of providing public services at a satisfactory level of quantity and quality.

It is not enough to consider only whether local governments can adjust service levels to future population changes. Ways must be found for local governments to narrow the gap between their needs and their resources and for the tax burden to rest more heavily on those best able to pay. A geographical broadening of the local tax base, at least within metropolitan areas, could both encompass the effects of population change and help narrow the fiscal disparities, if revenues were raised on the basis of fiscal capacity and distributed on the basis of expenditure needs. The responsibility of state and federal governments to help bear part of the burden needs to be expanded.
 

Democratic Representation and Participation

Our political institutions were designed originally to govern a much smaller society, organized and oriented differently from what we have today. These institutions have changed as the society has changed. They have demonstrated remarkable flexibility and adaptability, but they also have shown some serious inadequacies. Are they capable of accommodating still more population growth in the future?

The answer to this question depends in part on maintaining and improving citizen participation and representation.7 Political activity and interest among urban people is as high as, if not higher than, that of rural people, according to the Commission’s public opinion survey and other evidence. Still, the development of metropolitan political forms to deal with population change must include efforts to increase citizen representation and participation and the responsiveness of a larger bureaucracy.

Representation at the national level is diluted by population growth. The constituency of an individual congressman has grown enormously since the size of the House of Representatives was fixed at 435 members in 1910. Then, each congressman represented 211,000 citizens, on the average. In 1970, a congressional constituency averaged 470,000 citizens. By the year 2000, each congressman in a 435-seat House will represent 623,000 persons under the 2-child growth rate, or 741,000 persons in the 3-child case.

The size of the constituency is clearly not the sole factor determining excellence in government. Perhaps it may not even be very important, compared with the quality of the representatives, the size and professionalism of their staffs, the size of the governing body itself, and other factors. But, it cannot be denied that the individual constituent’s voice will be diminished under such circumstances. And, no increase of Congress’s ability to communicate with constituents by mass media can disguise or make up for that diminution.

Population growth at the national level is just one demographic element to be considered in the adaptation of our political system to the needs of the 21st century. Population redistribution, as well as population growth, will affect the congressional profile. Representation will follow the people to metropolitan areas, away from the rural areas —to growing states like California and other coastal regions, away from the midcontinent. For example, if California continues to grow as it has in the past, its share of the seats in the House of Representatives would increase from 10 percent of the total to 14 percent by the year 2000. Thus, California would have over one-fifth of the 270 electoral votes required to elect the President.

Figure 6.1  Changes in Congressional Representation by States: 1960 to 1970

Source: U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census of Population and Housing: 1970, United States Summary.

 
While the strains on the political system related to large constituencies may be alleviated somewhat by population stabilization, increased metropolitan concentration and interregional migration will continue to alter the makeup of the Congress and shift its orientation. The Commission is concerned about the uncertainties implied by these findings and believes they deserve further attention.
 

Administration of Justice

The administration of justice stands as a fundamental role of government in our society. The fact that this system today is under pressure is too obvious to require demonstration. Congested court dockets, long waiting periods before trial in criminal and civil cases, the torment of the correctional system —all bear evidence to the troubles. No matter what the circumstances may be in the year 2000, the gravity of the current situation requires an immediate and aggressive effort to improve the present system of justice.

The Supreme Court of the United States is the final arbiter at the apex of the judicial system. In the nature of things, we can have only one of these. In 1824, when our population was 11 million, Daniel Webster could argue an important case before the Supreme Court for several days. Today, oral arguments are usually limited to one hour or less, and the Court hears only a very small percentage of the several thousand cases that arise through the expanded lower court system and the increasingly popular appeals procedures. The same type of pressure extends to the single supreme court in many states.

Population growth is one of many contributing factors to the pressures on our system of justice. The evolution of metropolitan communities and the accompanying modern life styles are also related.8 In urban areas, there is an increase in litigation and other legal actions, perhaps due to increasing numbers of impersonal contacts and frustrations. However, court congestion and legal delays reflect not only population change, but also, and perhaps more importantly, broadened concepts of the kinds of injustices amenable to adjudication and extension of the concepts of due process.

Improvement of our present system for administering justice must have a high priority on the nation’s agenda. Population stabilization cannot accomplish that improvement. It can, as an alternative to continued population growth, reduce one of the pressures on the performance of this critical government function.
 

National Security

In considering the impact of population growth on the capacity of the United States to provide for its national security, the Commission consulted numerous experts within the military establishment and the academic community. They all believed that population stabilization would pose no threat to the country’s security.

When the nation was young and her independence not very secure, her defense depended upon the number of people bearing arms. Then, experience clearly showed the wisdom of a larger population. More people meant greater military strength and greater national security. Today, our national security is increasingly dependent upon the skillful and intelligent practice of international relations, and our military strength is less dependent upon men and rifles. Recent technology, including nuclear weaponry, has reduced the significance of massive armies. Minor military conflicts in the future are likely to be small, localized, and dependent on conventional weapons and limited manpower. If there are any major wars in the future, the probability is that they would involve nuclear weapons long before troop activity on the scale of World War II was reached.

Because of the expected nature of future military conflicts, experts suggest that a peacetime active duty force of two to three million would be sufficient to ensure national security.9 The three million people required by the military would be less than six percent of the male population 18 to 45 years old, even if the country’s population growth followed the 2-child projection between now and the year 2000. An even smaller percentage of the population would be required if we had a volunteer army, because there would presumably be less turnover, greater skills, and more F efficiency. For comparison, we should note that, since 1955, the Armed Services’ demand for the nation’s manpower resources has averaged nine to 10 percent of the male population 18 to 45 years old. Clearly, the future population would be more than adequate to supply the military with manpower. Thus, we can discern no threat to the nation’s security from lesser future growth of total population.

If there is a change in population that would be important to national security, it would relate to the health, education, and productivity of people, not to the size of the population. The increasingly complex technology of war, and the growing reliance of the military on machines rather than on men, mean that military manpower must be better educated and skilled than in the past. Beyond this, we must consider what proportion of people are active in the social, political, and economic life of the nation. At present, this portion of the population in the United States does not include all adults —in particular, those who are poor, discriminated against, unemployed, unproductive, and counterproductive. The conversion of this fraction into a part of the fully active population would be significant for national security.10
 

The Effects of Government Programs on Population Distribution

Policies and programs designed to influence the migration and distribution of the population are not unknown in this country.” The Ordinance of 1785, opened up the Ohio territories, and the Homestead Law of 1862 were part of a national policy to settle the western frontier. The Resettlement Administration during the Depression was an attempt to slow migration trends from farm areas.

At present, the United States has no explicit overall population distribution policy, nor does it have any programs whose primary intent is to influence major migration trends. However, many public programs, such as economic development of rural and depressed areas, urban renewal of central cities, and open space acquisition, have the modification of settlement trends as a secondary intent. Such programs have bad relatively greater impact within metropolitan areas than between regions. Their indifferent success in affecting broad geographic distribution has been attributed to the fact that they were neither designed, administered, nor funded to counteract effectively the strong economic forces of the private sector which induce population distribution trends.

There is a virtually endless list of programs which have unintended consequences for the territorial arrangement of the population. The federal highway program, national parks system, minimum wage laws, import quota system, housing programs, and many others, all have distributional effects which are diverse and often conflicting.

Programs that have a particularly clear impact, stimulating the growth of many areas by attracting migration, are the Defense Department’s procurement and research and development programs, which account for about 10 percent of total federal expenditures. The rapid growth of Texas and southern California reveals the significance of such programs. Other programs give rise to outmigration. For example, recent agricultural policies providing incentives to restrict acreage and increase productivity, may have been partly responsible for heavy migration off the farm.

Perhaps unintended demographic consequences are unavoidable if policy goals other than population distribution have priority. Nevertheless, unintended consequences should at least be anticipated. Although the territorial impact of some government programs is known, there is much to be learned. If the demographic side effects of policies were better understood, then the desirability of their consequences could be evaluated in the policy-making process and plans made to alleviate undesirable aspects.

This society has yet to adopt policies to plan for and influence the distribution of a significant proportion of the population according to any scheme that departs substantially from current trends. Although a majority of the public thinks the government should do something about national distribution patterns, there is little active public interest in or support for the formation of a national distribution policy. And, it may be difficult to persuade elected officials in districts or states that would lose population relative to other areas, that the national interest demands a planned reduction in the population of their constituency —and a consequent reduction in the number of representatives, political influence, and federal funds tied to population size criteria.
 

Fragmentation of Metropolitan Government

One of the major difficulties in guiding and accommodating population growth is the fragmentation of government in metropolitan areas. Population movements are often unaffected by political boundaries and population-related problems extend across jurisdictions.

Local general-purpose governments —counties and municipalities— were created originally to serve all the people living in their territory. Special governments, such as sanitation districts, conservation districts, and port and transit authorities, were developed to perform limited specific services for special constituencies. As metropolitan growth fills in the countryside adjoining larger cities, not only do these local governments find themselves elbow to elbow, but they also become overlaid with a patchwork quilt of special governments with independent policy-making and revenue-raising powers. Missing is the effective force seeking comprehensive solutions to comprehensive problems from a metropolitan-wide perspective. This territorial and functional fragmentation of governmental responsibility could become an even more serious problem in the year 2000.

In 1967, there were about 16,000 nonschool local governments in metropolitan areas. If recent trends continue, by the year 2000 there are likely to be over 32,000 such governmental units in metropolitan areas.12 The proliferation of specialized districts will account for half the increase. As metropolitan problems such as air pollution, inadequate housing, crime, and insufficient sewage treatment facilities spread across more and more political boundaries, it becomes increasingly urgent that cooperative metropolitan efforts replace jurisdictional jealousies and narrowly defined self-interests. Although this need for cooperation is gradually becoming recognized, the federal government should increase its efforts to help bring about public understanding of the issue and assist local governments in making the necessary adjustments.
 

Government Planning

The success of government in guiding and accommodating future population change hinges on its ability to plan effectively and comprehensively.13 This means planning for land use, environmental quality, and the necessary public services. For example, a plan for a sewer line which will encourage residential construction should also be accompanied by plans for adequate sewage treatment, financing a new school, recreational and other community facilities. These plans should be coordinated with development in the neighboring communities.

The federal government has encouraged the development of a technical planning capacity at the local level, but the structure of local government often militates against its effective use. The fragmentation of metropolitan areas into many municipalities, each with power to zone its own land, and each relying on its property tax base for general revenues, effectively prevents the organization or coordination of local zoning changes to implement a strategy for population distribution or development on a metropolitan-wide basis.

Lawrence Christmas, Assistant Director of the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission, told us that,

The primary forces now shaping the [metropolitan] population distribution pattern are comprised of individual decisions by hundreds of suburban governmental units, individual decisions by private developers, and individual decisions by a few large, single-purpose regional and state agencies in Washington.14

Tom Bradley, a councilman in Los Angeles, testified that, “...cities have failed miserably to plan for orderly growth. . . the cities failed because into the planning vacuum which they left by their inaction, stepped the land developer, FHA, and the highway engineer.”15

Although the analytical techniques and creative capacities for planning are available in many metropolitan areas today, the absence of adequate mechanisms for coordinating the planning efforts of individual political units means that the resources are rarely used. When they are used, it is to deal with short-term problems imposed by current pressures of population growth.
 

Conclusion

In this chapter, we have argued that slowing down the rate of population growth would ease the problems facing government in the years ahead: Potential demands for many governmental services would be smaller with lower population growth rates; and potential resources to finance governmental activities would be larger as a corollary of higher per capita income.

However, it would be a serious error to read these conclusions as comforting and reassuring. Under the most optimistic assumptions, at least 50 million more people will be added to our population before the end of the century. This growth will add to the demands on governmental services and to the complexity of achieving a participatory political process responsive to contemporary conditions.

More important, these added demands and complexities will fall on governmental structures and processes already heavily burdened —many of us would say overburdened— by the problems facing the nation. In a time of headlong technological change, economic growth, and continuously rising population, the ability of Americans to deal with environmental pollution, public safety, economic opportunity, racial and ethnic discrimination, and many other urgent issues, is far from assured. Different members of this Commission would assess the present inadequacies of federal, state, and local government in the United States with varying degrees of alarm, but we all agree that fundamental improvements are urgently needed in the effectiveness, speed, and equity with which our various governments deal with vital issues. These issues must be addressed directly, regardless of population change.

Rather than finding reassurance, therefore, in the prospects that lower population growth will ease future governmental problems, we emphasize our concern because even more burdens are going to be added to governments now functioning inadequately.

Two aspects of the matter are of special concern. The first is that the great bulk of the people who will be added to our population over the next few decades will live in metropolitan areas. Coupled with continuing migration from rural to urban areas, this means that the weight of population growth will fall unevenly on governmental units. This will require the greatest response from federal, state, and local governments in dealing with metropolitan problems.

But it is precisely in this field —establishing effective and democratic governmental systems in metropolitan areas— that our existing governments have been most deficient. Archaic governmental boundaries, incongruity between the location of many problems and the location of the financial resources to deal with them, and inequities in the distribution of public services, tax burdens, and the judicial system have been cited as problems. Also the need to accommodate both civil service protection and responsiveness to neighborhood and community demands and an ability to make and execute plans on a metropolitan scale —all these and many other difficulties of metropolitan government are with us now and will be exacerbated by the population growth to come.

The second aspect of government problems of special concern to this Commission is the substantial number of persons in our country who feel that government is not responsive to what they see as the real needs of modern society. Time and again in our public hearings, we were told that groups which feel deprived and discriminated against by current government policies will be skeptical and resistant to new governmental programs such as those needed in the population field. These groups, which feel they are not allowed to participate fairly in governmental processes, will be hard to persuade that the government speaks for them in proposing policies concerning population matters.

These views —which are felt strongly by ethnic and racial minorities but are by no means limited to those groups— were pressed forcefully and persuasively before the Commission not only in public hearings but also by other witnesses, members of the staff, and Commissioners. The Commission believes the conclusion is inescapable: The effectiveness of government in meeting urgent national needs, and in bringing a broader range of our citizens into political participation, will have much to do with the success of the policies and programs we recommend in connection with population.

Population problems cannot be dealt with in isolation. Their solution depends upon understanding and voluntary actions by many of our people, and neither will be forthcoming in adequate degree from those who believe that government does not speak for them and does not respond to their needs.

* A separate statement by Commissioner James S. Rummonds appears on page 168.

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