Why Has the Overpopulation Myth Remained So Persistent When It's So Easily Disproven?

In the scope of modern history, population control as a means to reduce scarcity of resources is anything but a new idea, despite what socialists like Bernie Sanders would have you believe.

Bernie Sanders recently proposed that America should finance abortions in developing countries in order to save the planet from the coming scarcity of global resources that will occur as a result of overpopulation and “climate change.”  Another way for this to be understood, as it certainly would have been had a Republican uttered this policy prescription, is that the best way to save the planet is to keep poor people from being born, because they might sap vital resources that could be better used by the rest of us.  

Again, that’s not a new idea.  Prior to Ebenezer Scrooge’s revelation toward charity in A Christmas Carol (1843), Charles Dickens, who was a progressive champion of the poor in his time, purposefully portrays his miserly protagonist as refusing to contribute alms for the poor, declaring that the poor should die off, and thus “decrease the surplus population.”

As Dickens knew, this “surplus population” argument wasn’t a novel notion, even then.  Noted British thinker Thomas Malthus, in 1798, argued that food production was increasing incrementally, while population was expanding exponentially.  Therefore, “[a]ll the children born, beyond what would be required to keep the population to this [sustainable] level,” he writes, “must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the death of grown persons.”  This “sustainable level” that he must have imagined at that time has been proven wildly incorrect, to say the least.  More on this in a moment.

But even he recognized that “endeavoring to impede” the “operations of nature in producing this mortality” among children was “foolish.”  Malthus continues by saying that the British should, if they “dread the too frequent visitation” of famine, “sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use.”  In other words, it would be an “unnatural” solution to kill the babies of the poor, but allowing “nature” to kill the poor was logical.  “Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits… we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague.” [emphasis added]

To stave off what time has proven to be the phantom threat of “overpopulation,” Thomas Malthus and other intellectuals of his time actually entertained a return of the plague as a positive good for the collective.

Is that evil?  Perhaps.  But maybe we have more reason to forgive his policy prescription than to forgive those that have followed, given his ignorance. 

You see, Malthus could never have imagined the “dizzying capacity for innovation” that human beings have shown in modern times, as Art Caden observes at Forbes.  There were fewer than a billion people on the planet in 1800.  The Earth is now nearing 8 billion people, and that population is far better fed today than they were in 1800.  That population growth, the likes of which Malthus would have believed unimaginable, has been met, and even exceeded, by food production -- to the extent that our government now subsidizes American farmers, to the tune of billions each year, in order to incentivize them to not grow excess food on their lands.  These efforts exist as a measure to keep prices at “profitable” levels for farmers, in our government’s vainglorious efforts to fix prices in a free market. 

But government price-fixing aside, shouldn’t it be easy to conclude that any assertion that an increasing population invariably leads to famine is extremely illogical, or at the very least, quite simply an incorrect hypothesis?

The idea that increased population leads to scarcity of resources is seductive, however, and has remained incredibly persistent, despite all the evidence that has proven it false over the years. 

Margaret Sanger, you might remember, argued much the same as Malthus, but her argument tended to center around birth control (i.e., contraceptives) being made readily available, particularly for the genetically and economically “inferior” classes.  Yet, even in 1928, when the world’s population reached two billion people, it was already known that humans’ well-being was measurably far better than it was in 1800 -- despite having more than twice the population the world had when Malthus was arguing for population control as a means to conserve resources. 

It should be noted that even she viewed abortion as a last resort in this endeavor.  Sanger only sought, as she explains in her autobiography, to explain to others that “abortion was the wrong way,” and that “contraception was the safer, better way.”  “[N]o matter how early [an abortion] was performed,” she writes, “it was taking a life.”  Even Margaret Sanger could not fully agree to the notion that the aim of population control efforts should be primarily achieved by robbing a conceived child of its life while in the womb.   

Now, fast forward to 2009.  In that year, Nancy Pelosi argued for a very similar prescription for the poor, only with a reversal of ideas about which among the poor should be targeted for destruction.  Federal spending on “family planning,” she argued then, would “save the government money” in reducing state costs by preventing the children of the poor from reaching this Earth.  The poor had already been crowded into narrow streets and unsanitary government housing through Democrat policies.  But the unborn cannot vote, so the new ambition became the “unnatural” killing of the poor’s children in the womb.  As anyone with an ounce of integrity who was following the debate at that time knows, Pelosi was talking about killing the children of the poor via federally funded abortion.  Democrats like Bart Stupak knew that, and, as I wrote in 2009, it was Pelosi’s “final solution,” of sorts, to America’s problem with poverty.   

So, here’s the question.  If the largely ignorant Thomas Malthus and Margaret Sanger had ideas which could easily be seen as villainous today, how is it that the exact same ideas, with perhaps some even more nefarious intentions against the youngest and most innocent among us, are now seen as bold heroism when Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, and their Party continue to invoke killing children in the womb in order to “decrease the surplus population” that are poised to ravage, by their very existence, those finite resources meant for the rest of us?

Such ideas were seductive in 1798, in 1928, and in 2009, for the same reason that they are seductive in 2019, when Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is able to stand on a stage, with millions of adoring acolytes cheering him on, arguing for radical population control to save the Earth from the horrific scarcity of resources that may result from overpopulation and “climate change.” 

These ideas are still seductive among the populace, somehow, despite all of the mumbo-jumbo about the threat of “overpopulation” having been thoroughly disproven by history.  And that is because people refuse to recognize the miracle of free markets and humans’ capacity for ingenuity and innovation, while clinging to the basest of human inclinations -- that is, to imagine that if others are using available resources, then there may not be enough resources to provide for me

The history of the world since the Industrial Revolution has proven this hypothesis demonstrably false, however natural it may feel among humans’ evolutionarily acquired impulses.  As the Earth’s population has climbed, so, too, has the general well-being of the Earth’s population.  Where Malthus feared that the commodity of “food” was increasing “incrementally” in 1798 while the population was growing “exponentially,” a result nearer to the opposite has been realized.  And population increase, far from growing “exponentially,” is unquestionably slowing down, when that growth is considered in proportion to the existing population.

None of these conclusions are the slightest bit arguable.  And yet, despite what we’ve seen with our own eyes, we remain in constant fear that a scarcity of resources due to population growth, and now “climate change,” is the appropriate rationale for the subsidized killing of children in the womb -- so as to not have them reach the Earth to use our scarce and vital resources in the future.  That seems to be the most popular means of curbing the “surplus population” these days.

Far from having evolved, the argument for population control has morally descended into something more depraved than anything the “population control” advocates of the past might have advocated in their ignorance.

We have no excuses for it today.  With the benefit of hindsight, we should know that an increased population does not spell doom, or the presaging of some future disaster where we will experience a calamitous shortage of resources.  History, in fact, suggests the exact opposite.

And a global holocaust, subsidized by America, of poor children in the womb to stave off this phantom calamity for the living, or for the benefit of those “wanted” children whose mothers might “choose” not to kill them before birth, is the furthest thing imaginable from wisdom earned from experience or history.  Rather, it is nothing short of ignorance and evil.

Graphic credit: Pixabay

In the scope of modern history, population control as a means to reduce scarcity of resources is anything but a new idea, despite what socialists like Bernie Sanders would have you believe.

Bernie Sanders recently proposed that America should finance abortions in developing countries in order to save the planet from the coming scarcity of global resources that will occur as a result of overpopulation and “climate change.”  Another way for this to be understood, as it certainly would have been had a Republican uttered this policy prescription, is that the best way to save the planet is to keep poor people from being born, because they might sap vital resources that could be better used by the rest of us.  

Again, that’s not a new idea.  Prior to Ebenezer Scrooge’s revelation toward charity in A Christmas Carol (1843), Charles Dickens, who was a progressive champion of the poor in his time, purposefully portrays his miserly protagonist as refusing to contribute alms for the poor, declaring that the poor should die off, and thus “decrease the surplus population.”

As Dickens knew, this “surplus population” argument wasn’t a novel notion, even then.  Noted British thinker Thomas Malthus, in 1798, argued that food production was increasing incrementally, while population was expanding exponentially.  Therefore, “[a]ll the children born, beyond what would be required to keep the population to this [sustainable] level,” he writes, “must necessarily perish, unless room be made for them by the death of grown persons.”  This “sustainable level” that he must have imagined at that time has been proven wildly incorrect, to say the least.  More on this in a moment.

But even he recognized that “endeavoring to impede” the “operations of nature in producing this mortality” among children was “foolish.”  Malthus continues by saying that the British should, if they “dread the too frequent visitation” of famine, “sedulously encourage the other forms of destruction, which we compel nature to use.”  In other words, it would be an “unnatural” solution to kill the babies of the poor, but allowing “nature” to kill the poor was logical.  “Instead of recommending cleanliness to the poor, we should encourage contrary habits… we should make the streets narrower, crowd more people into the houses, and court the return of the plague.” [emphasis added]

To stave off what time has proven to be the phantom threat of “overpopulation,” Thomas Malthus and other intellectuals of his time actually entertained a return of the plague as a positive good for the collective.

Is that evil?  Perhaps.  But maybe we have more reason to forgive his policy prescription than to forgive those that have followed, given his ignorance. 

You see, Malthus could never have imagined the “dizzying capacity for innovation” that human beings have shown in modern times, as Art Caden observes at Forbes.  There were fewer than a billion people on the planet in 1800.  The Earth is now nearing 8 billion people, and that population is far better fed today than they were in 1800.  That population growth, the likes of which Malthus would have believed unimaginable, has been met, and even exceeded, by food production -- to the extent that our government now subsidizes American farmers, to the tune of billions each year, in order to incentivize them to not grow excess food on their lands.  These efforts exist as a measure to keep prices at “profitable” levels for farmers, in our government’s vainglorious efforts to fix prices in a free market. 

But government price-fixing aside, shouldn’t it be easy to conclude that any assertion that an increasing population invariably leads to famine is extremely illogical, or at the very least, quite simply an incorrect hypothesis?

The idea that increased population leads to scarcity of resources is seductive, however, and has remained incredibly persistent, despite all the evidence that has proven it false over the years. 

Margaret Sanger, you might remember, argued much the same as Malthus, but her argument tended to center around birth control (i.e., contraceptives) being made readily available, particularly for the genetically and economically “inferior” classes.  Yet, even in 1928, when the world’s population reached two billion people, it was already known that humans’ well-being was measurably far better than it was in 1800 -- despite having more than twice the population the world had when Malthus was arguing for population control as a means to conserve resources. 

It should be noted that even she viewed abortion as a last resort in this endeavor.  Sanger only sought, as she explains in her autobiography, to explain to others that “abortion was the wrong way,” and that “contraception was the safer, better way.”  “[N]o matter how early [an abortion] was performed,” she writes, “it was taking a life.”  Even Margaret Sanger could not fully agree to the notion that the aim of population control efforts should be primarily achieved by robbing a conceived child of its life while in the womb.   

Now, fast forward to 2009.  In that year, Nancy Pelosi argued for a very similar prescription for the poor, only with a reversal of ideas about which among the poor should be targeted for destruction.  Federal spending on “family planning,” she argued then, would “save the government money” in reducing state costs by preventing the children of the poor from reaching this Earth.  The poor had already been crowded into narrow streets and unsanitary government housing through Democrat policies.  But the unborn cannot vote, so the new ambition became the “unnatural” killing of the poor’s children in the womb.  As anyone with an ounce of integrity who was following the debate at that time knows, Pelosi was talking about killing the children of the poor via federally funded abortion.  Democrats like Bart Stupak knew that, and, as I wrote in 2009, it was Pelosi’s “final solution,” of sorts, to America’s problem with poverty.   

So, here’s the question.  If the largely ignorant Thomas Malthus and Margaret Sanger had ideas which could easily be seen as villainous today, how is it that the exact same ideas, with perhaps some even more nefarious intentions against the youngest and most innocent among us, are now seen as bold heroism when Nancy Pelosi, Bernie Sanders, and their Party continue to invoke killing children in the womb in order to “decrease the surplus population” that are poised to ravage, by their very existence, those finite resources meant for the rest of us?

Such ideas were seductive in 1798, in 1928, and in 2009, for the same reason that they are seductive in 2019, when Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders is able to stand on a stage, with millions of adoring acolytes cheering him on, arguing for radical population control to save the Earth from the horrific scarcity of resources that may result from overpopulation and “climate change.” 

These ideas are still seductive among the populace, somehow, despite all of the mumbo-jumbo about the threat of “overpopulation” having been thoroughly disproven by history.  And that is because people refuse to recognize the miracle of free markets and humans’ capacity for ingenuity and innovation, while clinging to the basest of human inclinations -- that is, to imagine that if others are using available resources, then there may not be enough resources to provide for me

The history of the world since the Industrial Revolution has proven this hypothesis demonstrably false, however natural it may feel among humans’ evolutionarily acquired impulses.  As the Earth’s population has climbed, so, too, has the general well-being of the Earth’s population.  Where Malthus feared that the commodity of “food” was increasing “incrementally” in 1798 while the population was growing “exponentially,” a result nearer to the opposite has been realized.  And population increase, far from growing “exponentially,” is unquestionably slowing down, when that growth is considered in proportion to the existing population.

None of these conclusions are the slightest bit arguable.  And yet, despite what we’ve seen with our own eyes, we remain in constant fear that a scarcity of resources due to population growth, and now “climate change,” is the appropriate rationale for the subsidized killing of children in the womb -- so as to not have them reach the Earth to use our scarce and vital resources in the future.  That seems to be the most popular means of curbing the “surplus population” these days.

Far from having evolved, the argument for population control has morally descended into something more depraved than anything the “population control” advocates of the past might have advocated in their ignorance.

We have no excuses for it today.  With the benefit of hindsight, we should know that an increased population does not spell doom, or the presaging of some future disaster where we will experience a calamitous shortage of resources.  History, in fact, suggests the exact opposite.

And a global holocaust, subsidized by America, of poor children in the womb to stave off this phantom calamity for the living, or for the benefit of those “wanted” children whose mothers might “choose” not to kill them before birth, is the furthest thing imaginable from wisdom earned from experience or history.  Rather, it is nothing short of ignorance and evil.

Graphic credit: Pixabay