From The Interim archives
From October 2010: “Borlaug proved Malthus wrong”
In 1968, Paul Ehrlich said in his best-selling apocalyptic book The Population Bomb that the world was headed toward a Malthusian hell in which mass starvation would wipe out large swaths of people, most notably in Africa and Asia, making specific note that Pakistan and India would suffer collapse within the decade. Indeed, he called it a “fantasy” that India would ever be able to feed itself. By 1968, Pakistan had already achieved self-sufficiency in food production (rice and wheat) and India did the same two years later. India increased wheat production by about one-third over five years (seconding schools and theatres to store excess grain) and tripled it again over the next three decades. By 2008, it was a net food exporter, despite having 1.17 billion mouths to feed. Malthus’s disciple Ehrlich was proven spectacularly wrong – and yet four decades later, his doomsday predictions still have influence.
– Paul Tuns
From July 2008: “Why concern about over-population is wrong”
Angus Maddison, a professor emeritus of economic growth and development at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands, has studied and written about the history of economic growth. In Contours of the World Economy, 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History, Maddison noted how population growth follows the same trend as economic growth. He found that in the first millennium after Christ, the world’s population increased by less than one-tenth of one per cent and the global economy grew about one-sixth of that. Over the next 500 years, population grew 0.1 per cent and the economy grew 0.15 per cent. Likewise, between 1500 and 1820, the population grew 0.27 per cent while the global economy grew 0.32 per cent.
The Industrial Revolution was just underway when Malthus began writing his Essay on Population, so he would not have noticed that the economy was finally going to grow much faster than the population was.
From 1820-1870, the economy grew at twice the rate the population did (0.94 per cent compared to 0.4 per cent), mostly fueled by the use of new technologies (coal-powered factories and steam engines) in Europe.
Over the next four decades, the spread got even larger (2.12 per cent economic growth versus 0.80 per cent increase in the population). The trend continues through to the present day.
As Tim Harford notes in The Logic of Life, “Economists are typically wrong about the future, but few have ever been as spectacularly, famously, and lucklessly wrong as Thomas Malthus.”
– Paul Tuns
August 1994 “The evolution of population control”
To get people to co-operate in reducing their own fertility, the anti-natalists created a “Population Crisis.” The theory of overpopulation – the old Malthusian idea – has been peddled by the media and some university departments, but it does not stand up under scrutiny by experts: statisticians, agriculturists, geologists, etc.In 1965, Pope Paul VI addressed the UN at its headquarters in New York, and his speech made it clear that the loss of respect for human life in the UN’s agenda was already a matter of deep concern. He pleaded: “You must strive to multiply bread so that it suffices for the tables of mankind, and not rather favour an artificial control of birth, which would be irrational, in order to diminish the number of guests at the banquet.”
Pope Paul VI was loudly applauded, especially by the delegates from Latin America and Africa who were being pressured into accepting contraceptives. But, despite this appeal, the next year (1966) the UN General Assembly, by a unanimous vote, passed a resolution (Population Growth and Economic Development) which called for special aid and for governments who were willing to “deal with their population problems.”
The UN’s agenda for controlling the size of the world’s population did not go unchallenged. As early as 1952, at the first UN Population Congress, Alfred Savyr of France stated bluntly that the UN should be encouraging development in Third World countries, not spending money on birth control. (He also warned that birth control in Europe would turn it into an enormous old-people’s home.)
– Winifride Prestwich
From March 1989, “The over-population hoax”
Twenty years ago, Paul Ehrlich wrote a book entitled The Population Bomb in which he declared that the world was running out of resources and that it would soon face disaster. One by one, his claims and predictions have been upset. Where he predicted shortages, vast surpluses have occurred – as in food production, minerals, and many other commodities. On the cover of his paperback Population Bomb he said that in the time it took to read the statement three or four people would have died of starvation somewhere in the world. Three or four people in three or four seconds? The statements was absurd; a writer in Triumph magazine did the necessary calculations, and showed that mortality rates could not possibly support it. “In the 1970s,” Ehrlich also wrote, “the world will undergo famines – hundreds of millions of people will starve to death.” They didn’t. There are many inaccurate forecasters on this earth, but Ehrlich must certainly belong with the worst of them.Problems of pollution and problems of population can be separated; money, technology, and above all the will to manage resources properly will effect the necessary improvements in the environment, whereas foams, spermicides, and condoms will not. In fact, Julian Simon argued in The Ultimate Resource (1981), that the more people a region has, the greater likelihood there is of in producing more food and more energy, possessing a desirable social and economic structure, and having an efficient transportation system. The solution to pollution is to stop polluting, not to coax or prevent people from having children.
— David Dooley