The People vs. Overpopulation

On April 22, I wrote an article called The Core Problem Is Overpopulation, which drew an angry response. Some readers felt I was elitist to point out that all global population growth in the next 40 years will come from developing countries and to write “Expect more fences” at the end. I responded to those criticisms in a follow-up article the next day, Is It Elitist To Mention Overpopulation?

The response to my second article was broad based, and overwhelmingly in my defense.

Sheldon wrote, “I agree 100% with your views.” Lee wrote, “You simply stated facts, and your facts are correct.” Harry said he was “glad to see someone finally having the guts to mention overpopulation as the underlying cause for many of the world’s issues.”

Mr. Shipley pointed out that I had just relayed facts about developing world population growth, and added:

Question is: Who solves the problem? Developed nations because we are squeezed by the growing Third World countries, or the Third World countries themselves so that their development is more rational?

The people offended by your article are probably the same idiots who think taxing my IRA capital gains for support of illegal immigrants in the USA is a good idea. It seems that government and taxes are the new charity organizations of the 21st century. I gather we can legislate morality through taxation and other laws limiting where and what I can speak, own, do, etc. Would giving all of our wealth to Third World countries solve their problems? I think not. What happened to teaching a man to fish instead of giving him a fish?

Jonathan wrote:

You pointed out that developing societies aren’t helping their situation with rampant population growth, and immediately you came under fire for actually giving other humans, rich or poor, credit for having the basic sense not to engage in incontinent breeding should they choose. Either they are stupid, or they are responsible for their choices. Can’t have it both ways.

Just as Americans have gotten the lousy government they deserve (even demand), downtrodden peoples the world over have their situations in part because they will not mobilize to have better situations. When they do (I seem to remember a Berlin Wall falling, and Robben Island becoming a museum, and Turkey deciding to be a secular republic, and Argentina growing up from fascism), situations do improve.

It’s okay to accuse our fellow Americans of inaction, and to ridicule them for allowing the current state of U.S. affairs. But gods help us if we give the poor and wretched enough credit to suggest that if they limited their family sizes, or had done so before, they wouldn’t be starving. Or that if they hate their crummy leaders, they should surround the capital, overwhelm the local police and burn the damned thing with the crooks in it.

That would be ascribing personal responsibility to everyone for his or her choices of how frequently to copulate, or what government to tolerate. And as we see, only developing countries’ residents can be held responsible for anything.

By the way, smug ‘Wall Street types’ [as one angry reader called me] represent the best hope for developing countries. A glance at population growth figures for Germany and Austria in particular, and other advanced societies as well, will show that they have reached static or negative population growth. Evidence shows that this Demographic Transition, as it’s called, is strongly correlated with prosperity. Simply put, make poor countries more affluent and they don’t make as many kids. We do not know why, but it’s hard to argue with the population growth stats. Only draconian measures like China’s can allow a society to take a shortcut, and few societies have China’s pervasive level of effective authoritarianism.

If making them richer would help, then how will poor countries gain in wealth? It won’t hurt to have emerging market mutual fund managers, flush with new capital to invest, seeking opportunities and buying stocks and bonds. If you build an investible society, so to speak, the money will come. Only last year did T. Rowe Price start the first major, credible fund investing partly in Africa (TRAMX). I jumped in, not because I’m a social responsibility advocate but because I want to make money. I see Africa as the next/last big cheap labor source for Asia and the world. I wanted in.

And there will be more. Emerging market funds are out there, seeking returns, shopping for good investments. I would argue that if Shi’ite leftists really want to help the world’s poor, they stop giving money to snotty aid agencies that race through AIDS-plagued African countries in white Land Rovers without giving half a damn for the wastage, and start investing so that locals in those countries can build real economies with real laws that go beyond “bribe my brother Mpongo and he’ll take care of everything.”

Charles had a humorous suggestion, but one that I violate daily:

Got an idea that could help deal with overpopulation: no more booze! Why are we using corn to make whiskey, barley to make beer, grapes to make wine, and rice to make sake? Everyone talks about the world being addicted to oil. What about their addiction to booze? Let’s kick the oil and booze habits, and make this world a much better place! Tell them, until the world is fed, no more booze. Let’s see how fast the world gets fed.

Expect starving people on my watch.

Sorry, but to me a day without hooch is like a summer without sunshine, so don’t count on me in this scheme. There are three tools I consider essential to investing: a good calculator, a good internet connection, and a collection of shot glasses with full bottles to match.

An old friend of our family’s in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado was asked if he preferred hiking drunk or sober.

He turned to his wife and asked, “Sober?”

“It means when you haven’t been drinking,” she explained.

“Oh, hell, I’m the wrong guy to ask about that.”

Those are my people. Whenever I’m staring at a pile of grain, a pile of yeast, and a pitcher of water, and trying to decide what to do with them, I end up distilling whiskey every time.

But I digress.

Maria Fotopoulos from Californians for Population Stabilization at wrote, “Overpopulation is absolutely at the root of problems, and we have to start talking about it again.” She referred me to her own April 16 article about something missing in Earth Day activities, from which I took this excerpt:

The late Senator Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day, knew that population was a significant element of environmentalism. “The bigger the population gets, the more serious the problems become…. We have to address the population issue…. It can be done.”

Unfortunately, we have become increasingly reticent to discuss overpopulation and its concomitant environmental impacts, let alone actually address it. The 1970s when the population-environment linkage was always acknowledged and widely discussed are a distant memory. We now live in a time where for eight years the leader of the free world has failed to show any true top-down leadership by repeatedly denying funding for the United Nations Population Fund.

And within our country for the last 25 years, we have allowed a flood of immigrants to settle here essentially unchecked. Again to Gaylord Nelson, who also said, “In this country, it’s phony to say ‘I’m for the environment but not for limiting immigration.'”

Here in California, the population increased nearly 50 percent just from 1970 to 1990. Virtually all of the additional 500,000 people we’ve been adding annually in recent years is attributable to immigrants and births to immigrants. According to the California Department of Finance, the state’s population may hit 60 million by 2050.

The impact of this population tsunami is felt everyday in congested roadways, overcrowded schools, poor air quality, stressed biodiversity and diminished quality of life. So it’s difficult to imagine a California that would be better with a population twice the size of the current one.

We, as Californians — as Americans — must decide if we will choose to determine the direction of our country for those who will inherit it. In fact we need to decide if we have a moral responsibility to do so. Or, will we just let the future unfold with no regard to what will be wrought through overpopulation?

That’s something to think about this Earth Day.

This discussion is timely. On Tuesday, USA Today reported that the U.S. population could reach 1 billion by 2100:

“What do we do now to start preparing for that?” asks Arthur Nelson, co-director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, whose analysis projects that the USA will hit the 1 billion mark sometime between 2100 and 2120. “It’s a realistic long-term challenge.”

The nation currently has almost 304 million people and is the world’s third most populous, behind China (1.3 billion) and India (1.1 billion). China passed the 1 billion mark in the early 1980s.

Nelson’s projection assumes that current fertility rates remain constant but that longevity and immigration will continue to rise.

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