The above-linked editorial appeared on Reuters yesterday. It’s one of the most twisted-logic-defenses of population growth that I’ve seen yet. The author, Edward Hadas, begins with a denial that Malthus correctly predicted some of the effects we’re witnessing today:
The early 19thcentury British thinker decided (without providing any reasons) that people would always have more children than the physical world could possibly support. Population growth would always be restrained by death from want. At the time he wrote, the world’s population was about 1 billion. By the 1960s, the population had increased to about 3 billion people, and Malthus’s gloom was often cited. Some ecologists then claimed that the combination of industrial production and overpopulation would inevitably lead to environmental catastrophes – and many deaths from want.
And yet up to now, Malthus has been wrong
Is this guy really denying that there have been no environmental catastrophes? A few quickly come to mind: climate change, the BP oil spill disaster in the gulf, the Exxon Valdez oil spill disaster in Prince William Sound, nuclear disasters in Chernobyl and Fukushima. The list goes on and on. And there have been no “deaths from want?” Is this guy completely blind to the fate of people in the undeveloped world, which represents a large percentage of the world’s population?
But then, after mocking Malthus for being wrong up to this point (in his eyes), he then seems to admit that Malthus may yet be proven to be right:
Still, it cannot be proven that Malthus was wrong, that the world will never run out of stuff or that humanity’s resourcefulness will always rise to environmental, economic and social challenges.
But then, once again, Hadas hears the siren call of the “don’t worry, be happy” economists, more concerned with the problems associated with an aging and declining population.
… while grim environmental forecasts are still easy to find, demographers these days talk more about the stresses that come with ageing and declining populations.
… the practical challenges can be met easily.
Instead of worrying, economists should take the latest demographic milestone as an opportunity to stop thinking like Malthus …
Of course, it’d be easier to stop worrying if it weren’t for all the data that screams warnings at us about overpopulation. What to do about that? “Don’t worry, be happy!” Ignore it! Hadas then singles out one of the biggest red flags of all, the one I’ve featured in this blog many times – GDP per capita.
A good starting point would be to stop relying on GDP per capita when comparing the wealth of nations. In this calculation of average income, population is the denominator. If that increases, the per capita GDP will fall, unless the numerator – production – increases commensurately. In effect, this measure makes each new person an economic drag.
Yes, if GDP holds constant as the population continues to grow, then everyone is getting poorer and population growth becomes a drag. It’s an inescapable fact. Hadas seems to have a hard time dealing with facts, especially (I suspect) if those facts cry out for an economic change that might threaten the growth prospects for his stock portfolio. So, at this point, Hadas simply chooses to ignore the facts and gets all sappy on us:
A new person is indeed a consumer who will need to work to avoid being a net drain on the world’s resources. But he or she is also a wonder worth celebrating. Parents know it, and economists should recognize that reproduction is a sort of production – brought forth through maternal labor and parental care. Economic activity should aim at the promotion of life, not merely at the production of stuff.
What?!?!? If economists theories are failing us economically, then economists should ignore the data and focus instead on “the promotion of life?” If we’re driving toward a cliff, we should just close our eyes and put the pedal to the metal?!?!?
This conclusion caps off one of the stupidest, most illogical defenses of overpopulation that I’ve seen yet. There are three kinds of people in this world: (a) those who continue to believe as they do because they’ve never pondered the facts, (b) those who have taken the time to ponder reality and change their opinion accordingly, and (c) those who ponder the facts and reality but then continue to promote what they now know to be lies, to the detriment of humanity, just because it suits their purpose. I suspect that that last group of people will be judged harshly in the end.