The Cure for "Overpopulation"
by Ari Armstrong, November 17, 1999
In a November 14 letter to The Rocky Mountain News, Gary Johnson of Colorado Springs writes,
High crime, air pollution, depletion of the earth's resources and a lower quality of life are just a few of the many things that are a direct result of overpopulation... I ask, what are the advantages of high population? The answer to that is easy: none... I have lived in Colorado all my life and have seen it gradually being trashed. I say we need to do something about the population problem before it's too late.
Perhaps Mr. Johnson would like to reduce the population beginning with himself?
Many of Johnson's points are simply false. High crime is the result of inept government police enforcement, victim disarmament laws, and laws which perpetuate poverty in the inner cities, such as minimum wage laws, licensing laws, welfare laws, and the like. There's not even a strong correlation between population density and crime, much less a causal connection.
Which precisely of the earth's resources are being depleted? Environmentalist scare mongers have been claiming doomsday is just around the corner, for the last several decades. They are always wrong. Indeed, Julian Simon has handily defeated such arguments in his classic The Ultimate Resource.
As anyone who has taken economics 101 can explain, as one resource becomes more costly to utilize, technology strives to make other resources more available. The November 4 News covers a story about advances in solar cell technology, for example. The story reports, "Golden's National Renewable Energy Laboratory and Sylmar, Calif.-based Spectrolab have created a superefficient solar electric cell that could cut the cost of solar electricity in half." And what is the basic material of solar cells? Sand! No, we need not worry that our resources may become depleted. As George Reisman puts it in Capitalism,
The potential for economic progress is in no way limited by any fundamental lack of natural resources... [T]he fact is that the world is made out of natural resources -- out of solidly packed natural resources, extending from the upper limits of the atmosphere to its very center, four thousand miles down... [There is not] a single element that does not exist in the earth in millions of times larger quantities than has ever been mined. (63)
Johnson claims that greater population has lowered the quality of life and that no advantages come from larger population. Apparently Johnson is utterly ignorant of the advantages that flow from the division of labor. The more people there are, the more specialized each person can become in the career he or she prefers and is most gifted at. Which industries would Johnson prefer to see closed down due to lack of population?
In addition, the greater the population, the greater are the chances of geniuses arising in the various fields. Eventually, innovators will find ways to capture more of the sun's energy, more of the wind's energy, more energy in ways than are currently undreamed. Which of these innovators would Johnson prefer to eliminate in order to reduce the population?
When Johnson says "we need to do something about the population problem," who exactly is "we" and what precisely is "something?" Perhaps Johnson means agents of the U.S. government should impose laws limiting family size and mandating abortions, as China does.
But of course the U.S. population is declining anyway. True, Colorado is growing rather quickly because of the influx of immigrants from other states. It seems the attitude of many is, "Let's cut off the flow of immigration into this state -- just after I move here!" Again, if Johnson wants to reduce the population of Colorado, he has a very simple and direct means at his disposal to help accomplish that goal. If he wants to live in a less populated area, he could easily move to one.
Plus, has Johnson ever actually driven or hiked across this vast state of ours? As much as the population has increased here, the vast majority of Colorado remains open wilderness.
The very term "overpopulation" is a fiction. There is simply no such thing as "too many people." Any statement to the contrary is simply an arbitrary assertion bound by subjective preferences.
True, in many areas of the world many people suffer to a greater or lesser extent. But this suffering is not caused by the numbers of people, but rather by the socio-economic conditions in which they live which prevent the accumulation of capital and the creation of wealth. The severity of the problems resulting from Statism vary from mass famine in parts of Africa where two-bit tyrants murder and destroy at will, to the traffic problem in Denver that results from the inability of the government-controlled system of roads to keep up with demand. But to blame such problems on population is to scape-goat the masses and put even more power in the hands of those who created the problems in the first place.
Some of the more demented environmentalists predict with glee that some plague or catastrophe will kill off some huge portion of the human race, thus eliminating the alleged problem of "overpopulation." Most who speak of "overpopulation," however, merely issue blind assertions that "we should do something" about it, while evading the fact that such a statement in practice implies that some human beings should prevent other human beings from existing or living in certain places.
The real problem is not the abundance of people per se, but rather the number of people who would use the power of the State to control (or eliminate) the lives of others.