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Population Growth and its Enemies

28 June 2000

Volume 2, Number 13

Dear Friend and Colleague:

Many of the people behind the call for population control behave as though the world is their private country club. “No Children or Poor People Allowed,” reads the sign they have posted at the gate. They are not aware of how much poorer they themselves would be if this rule were enforced with any rigor.

Steven W. Mosher


Population Growth and its Enemies

The benefits of population growth, despite the short-term costs associated with additional children, are substantial over the long haul. This is why population and per capita income have expanded together over the centuries. As Julian Simon, the great economist, once remarked, “Human beings create more than they destroy.”

How this works is not difficult to understand. Population growth, by increasing the demand for raw materials and finished products, creates scarcities and drives up prices. These price rises lead people to seek new sources or substitutes for raw materials, and cheaper ways of manufacturing goods. The end result of this creative process — if it is not stultified by interference from corrupt or communistic regimes—is that the price of both raw materials and finished products falls, leaving humanity better off at greater numbers than it was at fewer. In truth, we discover more natural resources each year than we use.

The view that the world is overpopulated and thus running out of resources is scientifically unsound and hopelessly out of step with reality. Yet the media continue to publish stories on the threat of rising human numbers and the impending scarcities and pollution that will supposedly result.

“How many people does it take to change the world,” The Christian Science Monitor nervously asked on June 22. “With six billion people and counting, Planet Earth is at a crossroads on coming to terms with population growth.” This was more than mere headline hype. Despite quoting several demographers to the effect that depopulation is the real problem, the author, Larent Belsie, strains to reach the conclusion that the world is overpopulated, or soon will be. She states, without offering any evidence whatsoever, that if Africans don’t complete their demographic transition soon (to low birth rates and death rates), they will overwhelm not only their own resources, but those of the whole world. The world’s most underpopulated (except for Australia) yet resource-rich continent overwhelmed by population growth? In how many generations?

The Washington Post (June 20) was recently guilty of publishing similar hyperbole. Former Senator (and population control advocate) Alan Simpson and former Colorado Governor Richard (“old folks have a duty to die”) Lamb argue that it is not God’s will that we double the size of America’s population. (“571 Million Americans,” June 20)

But it is a mistake to confuse a Census Bureau pronouncement that there may be 571 million Americans by the year 2100 with a serious population projection. It is not even a prediction, but rather a kind of what-if fantasy. No one can know with any precision how many Americans will be alive a century from now. That number depends upon the fertility and emigration decisions of generations as yet unborn, both in this country and in others, such as Mexico.

The Census Bureau’s figures are contradicted by those of the United Nations Population Division (UNPD), which predicts that U.S. population will peak in 2050 at approximately 350 million, falling thereafter. And this is the UNPD’s median variant projection, which has historically overshot the mark. The low variant projection, historically more accurate, has U.S. population peaking at 302 million in the year 2040.

But even these numbers conjure up images of overcrowding that are not real. At the present time, with a population of 270 million people, the U.S. has a population density of 78 people per square mile. If we reach 302 million, we will have a population density of 86 people per square mile, 8 more than we do now. Even a population of 571 million would result in a population density of only 165 people per square mile, less than one-third of the current population density of the United Kingdom (645 people per square mile).

But of course our long-term problem is not too many people, but too few people, both around the world and here at home. Given the looming crisis of depopulation, governments in the developed countries would be well-advised to encourage large families and welcome immigrants. 

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