You Know the Population Bomb Is A Dud When…

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….the online self-consciously leftwing environmentalist magazine Grist publishes an article entitled, "Going Down: Is having too few people the new 'population problem'?" On the other hand, why worry about "underpopulation"? Let people have as many children as they want without government help or hindrance.

Finally, it's past time to toss neo-Malthusian claptrap like Jared Diamond's Collapse into the trash bin.

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  1. [off topic]
    HEY REASON STAFF!
    Where is our daily reminder to vote for Hit and Run? Only one day left.

  2. Because if Anglo Western people don’t start breeding, Muslims will vastly outnumber us and we may as well all start wearing burqas.

  3. “I have not met anyone,” Diamond writes, “who seriously argues that the world could support 12 times its current impact, although an increase of that factor would result from all Third World inhabitants adopting first world living standards.”

    This is a remark much like many I’ve seen by environmentalists over the last five or so years. It always vaguely worries me, because I don’t know what the “solution” in their minds is.

  4. I think population should be drastically reduced, but that’s purely for personal reasons and assuming they use my list to determine which members of the population get reduced.

  5. Eric-The solution is for us all to start rubbing our forheads in the dirt and living like 3rd worlders.
    My objection to increased population is purely aesthetic.

  6. Damaged Justice,

    Because if Anglo Western people don’t start breeding, Muslims will vastly outnumber us and we may as well all start wearing burqas.

    Or maybe in America, we will all be outnumbered by Mexicans, blacks, Jews, and Asians. Then what will us Anglo-Westerners do?

    Or maybe the American Indians said the same thing about us Anglo-Westerners a couple hundred years back.

    Way to spread the love there buddy.

  7. I took a class when I was in college that was largely centered around Erlich’s, “The Population Bomb,” and other leftist enviro-nut works. I was the only person in a class of about 15 who didn’t buy the whole thesis that the world was coming to an end because of overpopulation. I wish there were SOME way to go back to 1984 (when I took the class) and show them this magazine article. It’s hard to imagine the cognitive dissonance that would ensue among the class and professor if I could do that. 🙂

  8. Notice in the article, one of their arguments against population decline is, “But who will save Social Security?” Now THERE’s a convincing argument! Have children so you can prop up a Ponzi scheme. Notice these people never equate having children with creating future DRAINS on Social Security.

  9. Underpopulation?

    Yeah,
    I’ve been worried that I might only get to spend 1 hour a day stuck in traffic if the population of Denver keeps falling.

  10. I wish there were SOME way to go back to 1984…

    Hell, even then Ehrlich’s book had long been discredited, for anyone who would listen.

    I’m just wondering how long it’s going to take Ehrlich to write a book about how WE’RE ALL DOOMED due to “underpopulation”? If/when he does, I promise two things: 1) It will completely contradict his previous book and 2) He will make no effort to explain, or even acknowledge said contradictions…

  11. The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

    *looks around* (realizes the sky isn’t falling).

    The sky is rising! The sky is rising!

  12. Jim,
    And 3) nobody in the press will ask him to explain the contradictions either.

  13. We’ve got a few hundred years of every nation on Earth enjoying European-sized negative population growth before we’ll have anything approaching an “underpopulation problem”. And dismissing overpopulation completely, simply because of an extreme fringe claiming we’re all doomed, is akin to dismissing claims of government corruption because of paranoid schizophrenics claiming the CIA implanted mind control devices in their fillings. Humans are animals, Earth is an environment, and “normally” animals, left unchecked by predators or environmental factors such as disease or disaster, will expand to the limits of their environment and then crash, oftentimes HARD, as there aren’t enough resources for every individual. We may be a LONG way from any sort of crash, but wouldn’t it be nice to try and prevent a problem before we have to solve it for once?

  14. We may be a LONG way from any sort of crash, but wouldn’t it be nice to try and prevent a problem before we have to solve it for once?

    Not if it means passing legislation discriminating against vast segments of humanity.

    The unconceived are people too.

  15. Jim,
    And 3) nobody in the press will ask him to explain the contradictions either.

    Correct, Todd. And…

    4) Every major university will make it required reading…

  16. This is a bit off topic, but did anyone actually read either Jared Diamond’s book or Ron’s review of it? You know…the texts that started this thread?
    Ron:
    If anything, Diamond only errs in not being Malthusian enough in the arguments he puts forth in Collapse and not the other way around. Collapse is not as good as Guns, Germs, and Steel because it is far too Youngesque (as in Cathy) in it’s mealymouthed centrism.
    News flash: Haiti is ecologically dead for the time being. Institutions will not save it in the short term. Poor example.
    Colorado, like Montana, which Diamond cites as a textbook example collapsed state, does not exist in a vaccuum. He condemns it, in part, because only federal subsidies keep it afloat. Another poor example.
    I don’t know what you are getting at with your substandard review, but I suggest that you get your shorts in a wad about someone more ideologically blinded than Jared Diamond. He, for my money, makes more sense than just about anyone who dabbles in the realm of comparative cultural geography.
    You might want to reread the book. It’s loaded with emphases on institutions and countless tales of technological and cultural differences, usually the stuff of libertarian wet dreams. What a disappointment this lame review was…this coming from someone who actually owns one of your books.

  17. Oh yeah. Liberation Biology is far more likely to eventually line my trash bin than anything Diamond ever wrote.

  18. I dunno. All I know is what I read on the internet, and my current opinion, subject to revision tomorrow, is that blond-haired, fair-skinned Earthlings are not (now) blowing things up and killing other humans for religious and Wagnerian reasons. They did that stuff last century. So I would like to see more of the people who got over that stuff last century and less of the people who are just discovering it this century. Is this so wrong? Maybe both factions can get drunk, have lots of tax-paying kids, and I can make it safely to my grave in a little brown-skinned, swarthy, obedient and peaceful world. A guy can dream, can’t he?

  19. I’ve never read Grist before but I recall it advertising itself as a satire mag. on Counterpunch — did they just put one over on Hit and Run?

  20. Ian:
    Humans are different from animals in two respects. First, they can increase the amount of food available by farming. We are far from running out of farmland. In fact, plenty of farms are reverting back to forests in the Northeast, because we just don?t need them. Second, the typical human puts more thought into his procreative choices than the typical rabbit. If a family has the resources and wants to spend it on procreation, more power to them. If not, they can use birth control. When resources are strained, prices will go up, and people will either figure out a way to use resources more efficiently or choose to have fewer kids. Either way, we don?t need any population control program. You?re using an overly simplistic model that assumes every family must have the same number of kids and that people will follow blind impulse until you ?enlighten? them with your belief system.

    PS. I think something is wrong with the grist.com server.

  21. “But let’s put the champagne and condoms on ice for a moment.”

    Above is typical of the article: So many mixed metaphors and “on the other hands,” Harry Truman would have cold-cocked this flitty columnist.

    What I’m looking for is a bonus on my government disability income, for me having sex.
    I mean, let’s get that old population bomb causing shock and awe once more.

    “Ask not what I can do for myself by myself; ask what my prostate can do for my country.”

  22. “If anything, Diamond only errs in not being Malthusian enough in the arguments he puts forth in Collapse and not the other way around. Collapse is not as good as Guns, Germs, and Steel because it is far too Youngesque (as in Cathy) in it’s mealymouthed centrism.”

    i read collapse when it came out, and the only time i was truly horrified – i mean, diamond misrepresents the mayan situation, but he’s writing a kind of slow motion polemic and such niceties are the first to be ground – was when he defended china’s population control measures at the end of the book.

    i thought the malthusian criticisms of collapse were overplayed until i got to the end; then i thought they were somewhat underplayed, or at least played incorrectly.

    if this be centrism, then i can only shrug.

  23. jtuf:

    Thanks for assuming I want some sort of population control “program”. Big assumption there. You say I want everyone to have the same number of kids and that they should follow my belief system. Where’d I make any mention of ANY numbers of children? And I’m pretty sure most folks digging for tubers in a ditch somewhere in the third world wouldn’t mind the luxury of saying, “Y’know, I don’t know that I want kids.” instead of “Boy, I wonder if I have enough kids to support me in my old age.” Hell, population is growing so much because they’re still thinking, “Only three kids? Better have a few more to ensure that one or two survive to adulthood.” Stone-Age thinking in a Space-Age world. You make such a big deal over how we’re a thinking species; I’d like to see folks do some actual thinking! I want education and quality of life improvement, not mandatory sterilization and birth quotas.

    Presenting a “boom then crash” population cycle may be overly simplistic, but it’s still true that there is finite space and finite resources in the world. Just once I’d love to see my species think ahead far enough that we’re not left scrambling because we’ve used up all of resource A and haven’t figured out how to use resource B for the same thing.

  24. ACK! It’s common courtesy to give a heads up when linking to PDFs…

    Anon

  25. David M,

    I took a class when I was in college that was largely centered around Erlich’s, “The Population Bomb,” and other leftist enviro-nut works.

    I had a high school class (!) based on Barry Commoner’s _The Poverty of Power_. Similar drivel. I too have thought it’d be nice to make all my classmates read today’s headlines.

    But they’d never get the point. They’d just nod gravely and go off on how much worse off we really are today…..

    Ian, dear child, someone has to try and help you.

    Presenting a “boom then crash” population cycle may be overly simplistic,

    Right! You got it! A+.

    but it’s still true that there is finite space and finite resources in the world

    Ohhh darn! F-.

    What, precisely, is a “resource”? Please think, as you are so intent on advocating.

    Do you know what “crude oil” is? A black, tar-like crap that you can find in the ground. What exactly is it “worth”?

    Zero, until somebody does one whole hell of a lot of “thinking” — which you catagorically accuse “your species” of not doing (hum, and it just may be that you’re right).

    After much, much thinking, over many centuries, people have figured out how to do lots of really neat, really good things with crude oil. But to a caveman, crude oil pits are only a trap to be avoided.

    Resources are not nearly so finite as you imply. They are a byproduct of humans thinking. And if the fact that we cannot “think it all through once and for all” is what you’re railing against here, then you’ve grossly misunderstood how the universe works.

    Perhaps biology would help you see the point. Come up with antibiotics that work well, for a time, and what you can end up with later is more resistant microbes that your antibiotics no longer work against. Guess what? Time to go back to the drawing board and do that “thinking” thing all over again.

    There is, and never will be, an end to the need for humans to think. There will never be one fixed “set” of ever-unchanging resources.

    There will never be one final Utopia. Politically or technologically or any other way.

    On contrare, I contend that people do think quite a lot. They may not always think well, but they think well often enough. The rising standard of living, and population (which we are feeding with far greater ease than ever in history), is proof positive that people do think.

    I suggest you read a book on the history of technology. It might amaze you, just how clever people have been and how much “thinking” they’ve done over the past 5000 years of recorded history.

    Look at it this way. Suppose humans figured out how to live “harmoniously” on earth (whatever the hell that means, but I suggest you not think too hard about that question).

    In the future, the sun will burn out. At that time, humans better have thought up a whole lotta lotta high tech ways to save their asses, or it’s going to be Game Over.

  26. Ian:

    You?re right, you didn?t mention any number of kids. My bad. I?ve seen so many people advocate population control that I?m starting to lump their arguments. I?ll be more careful in the future.

    There were some times humans switched from resource A to resource B before resource A ran out, such as the switch from whale oil to kerosene or the switch from kerosene to petroleum. There are a limited number of resources, but if the efficiency increases quickly enough, you never run out. Think of Zeno?s Paradox. An arrow has to get from point A to point B. It travels half the remaining distance each second. Even though the distance from point A to point B is finite, the arrow never reaches point B. If each generation uses half the amount of resources the previous generation used, we will never run out of resources. The price increases that come with scarcity usually motivate people to become more efficient, which eliminates the scarcity. Of course, this system isn?t perfect, but philanthropy can fill in the gaps. If you can name a specific resource that is running out, we can volunteer our time and start thinking of a solutions.

    I?ll agree, the need to have descendants who can support them does cause many people to have more kids. I?m in no place to say that they are making a bad choice, because I?ve never experienced life in a developing country and know very little about how to survive or flourish in one. I?ve read that some Pacific Islanders with no or very few children adopt unrelated children, because the extra hands make their farms viable and result in better survival for all on that farm. Perhaps, if we eliminated farm subsidies in the developed world to help get the developing would pass the subsidence farming and labor intensive farming rungs on the economic latter, residents in those countries would start choosing smaller families.

    PS. I still can?t get to the grist link. Are you guys having the same trouble?

  27. “…won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 book Guns, Germs, and Steel…”

    One of the worst books I ever read; PC fiction disguised as serious conjecture.

  28. Meh. It was a pretty good read, though full of a few major holes that he lamely tried to fill (like why was it not the Chinese or Islam who “had all the stuff”, according to his New Guinean friend Yali). But the PBS special based on the book – that was crap. Only 1/10 the intellectual integrity the book, and basically just tried too hard to emphasize the unwritten subtitle: “White people are just lucky”

    Back on topic. These population Fudsters seem all about control. “Must have more babies” to:
    – outpopulate the opposition
    – feed our military machine
    – prop up our failing welfare state

  29. Is there any resource we have run out of completely? Humanity has been mining gold, copper, and iron for thousands of years and I don’t think we are running out.

    The earth and its resources are finite, but human ingenuity is infinite.

  30. budgie: You don’t explain why my comparison between Haiti and Puerto Rico is not more apt than Diamond’s Haiti and Dominican Republic comparison. Consider that in 1900 Haiti’s population was 1.2 million on 10,000 square miles while in 1900 Puerto’s population was 1 million on 3,500 square miles. As I pointed out in my review, in 1900 only 1% of Puerto Rico was covered with forests, but today 32% is. Today only 1% of Haiti is forested. What’s the difference? Population? Certainly not, Puerto is more densely populated today than Haiti. It’s institutions, not the simplistic Malthusiansism to which Diamond is prone.

    Regarding Colorado vs. the Maya–actually if you check it out you will find that Colorado produces far more food than its people can eat (fortunately for those who live in New York and Los Angeles). Modern agriculture (and the institutions of property rights and rule of law) is the reason–not a population/food equation.

  31. Second, the typical human puts more thought into his procreative choices than the typical rabbit. If a family has the resources and wants to spend it on procreation, more power to them. If not, they can use birth control. When resources are strained, prices will go up, and people will either figure out a way to use resources more efficiently or choose to have fewer kids.

    The problem in this discussion is that one side is only seeing the problem, while the other side is only seeing the solution. Even if a problem has a solution, it’s still worth discussing so that we … well, I guess we don’t forget the solution.

    If my house is threatened by termites, it’s a problem. If an exterminator takes care of the termites, great — problem solved. But it was still a problem.

    Moving from resource to resource is a solution to a problem, not a rebuttal of the problem’s very existence.

    Consider this — as sparsely populated as the West currently is, states are fighting over Colorado River water. Is there a solution? I think so — put a bunch of cool-headed people in a room, and they’ll probably figure it out. But it’s still a problem.

    That may be the biggest flaw of libertarianism — the assumption that if I don’t have to worry about a problem, no one has to worry about it.

  32. Of course, like other flaws, there’s a solution.

  33. I’m surprised the facts of the anti-population boom are finally being publicized more.

    Two (maybe even three) years ago, Discover magazine reported that the population in developing countries was increasing much less than scientists had expected.

    The Economist has several times published stories showing how socialized European countries are caught in a catch-22: people are having fewer children, in part because they put so much of their resources back into society; yet the socialized system that discourages extra children needs extra children to keep itself going.

    I’ve been harping on the population bust for a long time now. Even had knock-down drag outs with a friend who, though very smart, was poisoned by that unreadable book, “Ishmael”.

    So David McElroy, I am having the same, “See, I told you so!” moment that you are having.

    Oh, and Guns, Germs & Steel is one of the best-researched, well-argued books ever written.

    1. Oh, and Guns, Germs & Steel is one of the best-researched, well-argued books ever written.

      Bullshit. It’s filled with such asinine and unsupported urban myths as “television is making Western children dumber.” It’s been a long time since I read the book, but such stupid statements aren’t lonely.

      Diamond’s very premise is stupendously flawed with his use of such undefined clap-trap as “Eurasia” and then completely ignores the huge distances and massive geographical boundaries separating China from Western Europe.

      Further, he clearly knows fuck all about zoology or animal husbandry. The domestic cow didn’t start out domestic, generations of selective breeding made it that way. Had the Native Americans done the same with the bison it too would have been domesticated.

      His arguments are lazy and ignorant and only appear “well-argued” to people who don’t know their asses from holes in the ground.

      Yes, I know this is over 7 years after the fact and the original poster will likely never read it (much less respond), but Guns, Germs, and Steel is a giant pile of lazy horseshit that must be repudiated at every corner.

  34. That may be the biggest flaw of libertarianism — the assumption that if I don’t have to worry about a problem, no one has to worry about it.

    I think a better statement of the position — not an assumption, but rather a conclusion — is

    If I don’t have to worry about a problem, other people who actually have an interest in the problem or its solution will worry about it.

    What is the solution to your statement of the “flaw”? That if I don’t have to worry about a problem, everybody should have to worry about it, and therefore it is best solved in the public domain by government edict?

  35. 4) Every major university will make it required reading…

    i wouldn’t be so sure. it was well communicated in my university geography education that environmental determinism of the malthusian variety is no longer considered the accepted model of societal development.

  36. Oh, and Guns, Germs & Steel is one of the best-researched, well-argued books ever written.

    I thought he tried very hard to give that impression, but that he was really working backward from the premise that “white people are just lucky” (and probably inferior). I don’t watch PBS, so can’t compare the two versions.

  37. That if I don’t have to worry about a problem, everybody should have to worry about it, and therefore it is best solved in the public domain by government edict?

    Or perhaps the biggest flaw of libertarianism is the assumption that those who raise even the slightest alarm about a potential problem are automatically running to the government for help.

    Granted, a lot of people do indeed look to the government first. I knew a mid-sized paper’s editorial editor who had the same workday every day: “Something is wrong. Government must fix it. Let’s go to lunch.” Having the government step in is the simplest solution, and it’s a rare case in which the simplest solution often is NOT the best.

    So in case it’s not completely clear — no, I don’t think that any problem scoffed at by a good libertarian must be picked up by a government agency at taxpayer expense.

    These days, in fact, that’s hardly true at all. A lot of environmental progress is being made by *business*, and generally for sound economic reasons. NGOs are doing a fair amount of good work, also.

    The population problems at the root of this discussion essentially solved themselves, like so:

    A. Alarm sounds: “If we keep up reproducing at this rate, we’ll overwhelm the planet’s resources.”

    B. We stop reproducing at that rate for a variety of reasons, not including a government decree (except in China, but that’s another issue).

    That doesn’t mean the alarm sounded in point A was incorrect.

    Libertarians accomplish little by denying the existence of any and all environmental issues. Better to examine their merits individually and then look for solutions that don’t involve an inefficient government spendfest, yes? To do otherwise is to take yourself out of the discussion because your head’s in the sand.

    Perhaps THAT is the fatal flaw of libertarianism.

  38. Obviously, the solution to under-population is: more immigration! Whoops, wrong thread…

    😉

  39. Or perhaps the fatal flaw of libertarianism is that libertarians don’t adequately explain how there’s already a process for solving problems. As the joke goes, “the market will take care of it”, and essentially, that’s true, as long as we let it. Of course it doesn’t happen automatically, specific people step in and work on these problems, which is how they get solved. Specific people who have the expertise and know what they’re doing. But I don’t see too much point in my getting worked up about every alleged problem that comes along, because there’s just not enough time in the day to do that and take care of my own life, too.

  40. Michael nails it.

    Sure, there’s no point in taking the weight of the world on your shoulders — I actually shudder at the thought of a couple million people watching cable news each night under the mistaken notion that being terrified of terrorism or the bird flu somehow makes them better citizens. Just as long as we don’t deny that any potential problem, even if sensationalized by alarmists or the 24/7 media, has some legitimacy.

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