Planet Goldberg on April 23,
and American Partisan on April 24, 2000.
Thirty years ago, on April 22, 1970, millions of Americans participated in the first Earth Day. Perhaps this was not coincidental, but this date also marked the one hundredth anniversary of Lenin's birth. I have heard it remarked that one difference between radical environmentalists and followers of Lenin is that Leninists at least pretend to like people.
Although the gloom and doom predictions of the first Earth Day have not come true, there is still widespread lingering unease about these predictions. Among these is, to quote the title of a famous book on the subject, the "population bomb." If population trends continued unabated, it was feared, population growth would far outstrip whatever increases in food supplies we might make. This would result in massive worldwide starvation.
Not only has this not happened, it seems highly improbable that it will happen. The specter of runaway population growth is a common excuse for state intrusion into the economy. Free market advocates have been very persuasive in making the correlation between socialism and poverty. Now they need to make the case for the correlation between socialism and overpopulation. A cursory review of statistics from various nations substantiates this.
Communist China is the most commonly cited example of an overpopulated nation. With 1.25 billion mouths to feed, China would seem to have quite a crisis on its hands. Indeed, it is fashionable to dismiss Beijing's gruesome one-child- per-family and forced abortion policies as necessary evils in combating population growth. After all, the average mainlander has an income of $860 per year. I mean, like, they have to "do something", don't they? Let's look at how China compares with its Oriental neighbors.
Japan has 869 people per square mile and a per capita GDP of $38,160; South Korea has 1223 people per square mile and a per capita GDP of $10,550; Hong Kong has over 16,000 people per square mile and a per capita GDP of $25,200. Not only do these countries have negligible natural resources, they have far greater population densities than Red China's 338 people per square mile. The difference is that Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong took the "capitalist road" thus giving their people an economic reason to go out and earn enough money to feed themselves and their families. Red China does not suffer from overpopulation. It suffers from communism. (1)
This phenomenon is not unique to the Far East. Russia is the most sparsely populated and resource-rich country in Europe, yet decades of communism left it far poorer than its neighbors to the west. Europe is far more densely populated and limited in its natural resources than Africa. Yet Africa is plagued by famine and poverty while Europe is home to many of the world's most affluent nations. (While it is fashionable to deride many European nations as socialist "pink paradises", there is still enough respect in these countries for property rights and profit motives that they are able to prosper economically.)
Indeed, there are sparsely populated countries which are affluent (Canada, Australia) and densely populated countries that are poor (India, Vietnam). The common denominator, though, is which economic system a nation embraces. Capitalist and "mixed" economies will be wealthier. Heavily socialist and communist countries will be poorer. Nations of the latter ilk will more likely also be the held up as examples of the need for population "control."
The second issue here is overall world population growth. I recently ran across a study by an extreme right-wing organization headquartered in a cave in northern Idaho, known as the United Nations. (2) One of the main concerns of those who clamor for population control is that the intervals between each world population increase of one billion people have been shrinking with each interval. While this may have been true in the past, it will unlikely hold true for the future. Consider the following:
|Billion||Year||Years Between Billions|
Another 1998 U.N. study dealt with total fertility rate (TFR), or the number of children born per woman. It takes an average of 2.1 children per woman to replace a population over time. Currently, the TFR stands at 1.6 in developed nations and 3.1 in less developed nations. (The TFR in less developed nations is down from 4.7 in 1986.) (3)
What will leftists will be caterwauling about when world population is declining? They will no doubt find some reason for crisis-mongering. In 1970, the great fear was that air pollution would lead to widespread global cooling. Today, the algoristas are foretelling all kinds of gloom and doom if we (meaning the government) do not take dire measures to stop global warming.
Although we may debate the cause, world population growth is slowing everywhere. Trends do not last forever. World population growth is no exception. This "bomb" is defusing itself very nicely. It is just one more problem that does not need any statist "solutions."
(1) For more information go to:http://www.prb.org/pubs/wpds99/wpds99_4.htm#asia
(2) United Nations Population Division, World Population Prospects: The 1998 Revision. © Global Statistics, 2000. (http://www.stats.demon.nl Click on "world", "historic", and "table 3".)
Freely Speaking: Speeches and Essays by Doug Newman
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