Posts tagged with: Demography

overpopulationThe Nordic philosopher and priest Anders Chydenius (1729-1803) — the “Adam Smith of the North” — once asked:

Would the Great Master, who adorns the valley with flowers and covers the cliff itself with grass and mosses, exhibit such a great mistake in man, his masterpiece, that man should not be able to enrich the globe with as many inhabitants as it can support? That would be a mean thought even in a Pagan, but blasphemy in a Christian, when reading the Almighty’s precept: ‘Be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth.’

Unfortunately, this mean and blasphemous thought was soon popularized as an obvious and incontrovertible fact by Chydenius’ contemporary, the Reverend Thomas Robert Malthus. In An Essay on the Principle of Population Malthus argued that excesses in population are held within resource limits by two types of checks: positive checks (hunger, disease, war) raised the death rate while preventative checks (abortion, birth control, postponement of marriage) lowered the birth rate.

I and Jordan Ballor have already commented on Ender’s Game this week (here and here), but the story is literally packed with insightful themes, many of which touch upon issues relevant to Acton’s core principles. Another such issue is that of the problems with Neo-Malthusianism, the belief that overpopulation poses such a serious threat to civilization and the environment that population control measures become ethical imperatives.

Such a perspective tends to rely on one or both of the following fallacies: a zero-sum conception of economics ignorant of the last 200 years of sustained economic growth, which have allowed humankind to escape the Mathusian trap; or a belief that people are the problem when it comes to poverty.

In Ender’s Game, the story begins (more obviously in the book) with the fact that Ender Wiggen (Asa Butterfield) is a “Third,” a third-born child in a time when the international government of Earth had adopted a two-child policy. His parents had received special permission to have a Third because their first two children, Peter (Jimmy Pinchak) and Valentine (Abigail Breslin), had shown so much promise. Unfortunately, Peter had proven too aggressive and Valentine too compassionate. The government hoped that Ender would be a happy middle. (more…)

“Our world is overpopulated.” If you repeat something often enough, it becomes “truth”. In 1968, Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb, warning that we’d all soon be fighting over food, space, and power as the earth sagged under the weight of all those darned people.last book

He was wrong, of course, and not just wrong: spectacularly wrong. It didn’t keep him from being a celebrity or from his ridiculous notion from being believed. But he was still wrong.

In What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster, author Jonathan V. Last attempts to point out the fallacies of Ehrlich and his ilk. Last is clear: our world is not overpopulated; we are vastly under-populated, and it’s a problem. He goes so far as to say that America has a self-imposed “One-Child Policy” that is leading us to demographic disaster.

Last is chiefly concerned with the problems under-population will cause America, but he uses several other countries to illustrate where we are headed. There are a lot of numbers in this book: financial figures about the costs of raising children, population numbers, fertility rates, the changing age of marriage. The conclusion doesn’t get lost in all the numbers: we don’t have the ability – population-wise – to take care of ourselves. That is, with programs like Social Security and Medicaid requiring a vast army of workers to keep them propped up and paying out, we can’t keep up. And if there aren’t enough workers to pay into these systems, there certainly aren’t enough people to take care of Grandma and Grandpa as they age and need more and more care. (more…)

“The power of population,” wrote the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798, “is indefinitely greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” In other words, unless population growth is checked by moral restraint (refraining from having babies) or disaster (disease, famine, war) widespread poverty and degradation inevitably result. Or so thought Malthus and many other intellectuals of his era.

Unfortunately, methods of population control range from the unpleasant (disease, famine, war) to the downright horrifying (abstinence).