by Eleanor Frances
Imminent! Rescheduled population explosion set for this Wednesday! Overpopulation doomsayers have become cliché, with the theory so fully assimilated in our culture that many people adhere to the politics of scarcity without questioning the assumptions and arguments on which it is based. Subscribing to this population myth makes people zealous for a Big Brother-esque society, to enact a zero population sum game, and puts an end to love and being open to future generations.
Assuming that population growth was more rapid than the food supply, a British man named Thomas Malthus first theorized a collapse from overpopulation so that he predicted the end of humanity by 1890. His solution was to kill poor “unfit” people. Reviving the fear in the twentieth century, Stanford’s Paul Ehrlich predicted population collapse by the mid-1970s. Paul Ehrlich’s generation promoted a break from traditional assumptions about family life and considered contraception the way to liberate women.
Even in the 60s and 70s, there were those who did not follow lockstep the overpopulation mantra. In fact, there is a cool You Tube video showing the Beatles rock star of John Lennon questioning the validity of overpopulation theories. He and his wife Yoko suggest that there is a snobbery in assuming those currently alive have preferential status. Western people, who are often better off than people living elsewhere, presume to tell Third World parents to refuse kids. Maybe they want more than two kids, but we are telling them what’s good for them. Balance, by which John Lennon appears to mean distribution, is what he proposes instead of population control:
When populations increase, there are more producers, so prosperity follows. As David Osterfield explains in “Overpopulation: The Perennial Myth: The Prospect of the Malthusian Nightmare is Growing Steadily More Remote,” the period of population growth has been accompanied by positive developments such as increased food production. The population growth is expected to level off. Moreover, many countries are already witnessing a “demographic winter.” In fact, the birth rate has slowed so that it is below two children per woman and thus not at replacement level. There are many countries now trying to encourage population growth, even adding a baby bonus incentive at tax time. It is becoming clear that supplying birth control and contraceptives does not end poverty and actually deepen it.
Those who study demographics have discredited overpopulation theory. According to Joseph D’Agostino in a review of Steven W. Mosher’s Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, “Cracks in the facade of the overpopulation myth have been growing in the past few years as liberal experts and a few mainstream journalists have recognized the dangers of plunging birthrates and the harm done to millions of forcibly sterilized Third World women.” Even though demographic experts recognize the world has survived several population growth spurts, the scientific-sounding theory repeatedly resurfaces as scaremongering that unquestioningly repeats the bogus scarcity formula.
The population myth assumes there is not enough space for the growing number of people. Land scarcity is taken for granted, and crowding in cities leads to the conclusion we are overpopulated. However, this is not true. It has been pointed out, for instance, that everyone currently living on earth could reside in the state of Texas (“Over-population Myths“). So, the idea that there is insufficient land is mistaken. The overpopulation refrain sounds an awful lot like Scrooge’s demand to “decrease the surplus population” and gets repeated with dire urgency as people today popularly assume we live in a shrinking space.
Food scarcity is likewise erroneous. We currently have the capability to grow a large amount of food (“Overpopulation: The Perennial Myth“). In fact, in America, farmers are paid not to grow food because growing too much food causes problems of surplus. Scientists are also developing biotechnology and other ways to feed increasing numbers of people. Instead, the actual problem is more often one of distribution. With poor infrastructure in many countries, getting food to those in need is the real problem. Many times, conflict and war prevent poor people from getting food. Unquestioning acceptance of overpopulation theory leads people to condemn other cultures for their welcoming of life. As a result, they miss the fact that real help could be given in improving methods of distributing resources or offering wartime assistance. In a series of videos, the Population Research Institute has fully debunked the embarrassing assumptions that produced the overpopulation theory.
The difficult problems humanity faces mean that people should not rush to the hasty generalizations about poor (often black) people but try to offer real solutions. The commonplace idea that the world is overpopulated leads people to falsely conclude that people cause poverty. Economists know this to be wrong headed. This overpopulation myth needs to be questioned because eugenics is the usual answer to the overpopulation scare, and it’s been going on for decades. Ask yourself why food aid is made contingent on instituting contraceptive programs. Why would anyone want to imply we have too many humans? What products are produced and sold in the name of this dire prediction? In other words, what companies make money off of population control devices? Think about it– don’t just go along with the overpopulation band wagon.