Malthusians breed like rabbits

The lesson of the scandal at the East Anglia Climatic Research Unit is that doomsday can be good to some people.  If you own the franchise, you set the terms for Judgment Day:  you can demand money, respect, and obedience, for starters.  Best of all, you get to tell people how disgusting their behavior has been, and how they’d better clean up their act, if they want to avoid the fiery pit.

Since medieval times, doomsday has been wielded as a weapon of persuasion and control.  At the present moment, the global warmers have unquestionably pushed their particular version to the heights of celebrity – but another group has a more durable track record, and may still be here long after the CRU climatologists and their brethren have been booed off the stage.

These are the overpopulation worriers – or Malthusians, as Brendan O’Neill, in this hilarious article for spiked, calls them.  The thing about Malthusians is, they keep reproducing.  O’Neill cites prophets of overpopulation disaster going back to 200 AD, and they turn up again and again, all the way to that embodiment of the wacky Seventies, Paul Ehrlich (“hundreds of millions will starve to death”).

Another thing about the Malthusians is that they are always wrong.  Not just sometimes – always.

The extent of their wrongness cannot be overstated. They have continually claimed that too many people will lead to increased hunger and destitution, yet the precise opposite has happened: world population has risen exponentially over the past 40 years and in the same period a great many people’s living standards and life expectancies have improved enormously. Even in the Third World there has been improvement – not nearly enough, of course, but improvement nonetheless. The lesson of history seems to be that more and more people are a good thing; more and more minds to think and hands to create have made new cities, more resources, more things, and seem to have given rise to healthier and wealthier societies.

Yet despite this evidence, the population scaremongers always draw exactly the opposite conclusion. Never has there been a political movement that has got things so spectacularly wrong time and time again yet which keeps on rearing its ugly head and saying: ‘This time it’s definitely going to happen! This time overpopulation is definitely going to cause social and political breakdown!’

O’Neill lists the reasons for such unconquerable wrongness.  Malthusians, he writes, always underestimate society’s ability to adapt.  They misunderstand the marketplace, and believe that resources are “fixed, finite things.”  He goes on:

And the third and main mistake Malthusians always make is to underestimate the genius of mankind. Population scaremongering springs from a fundamentally warped view of human beings as simply consumers, simply the users of resources, simply the destroyers of things, as a kind of ‘plague’ on poor Mother Nature, when in fact human beings are first and foremost producers, the discoverers and creators of resources, the makers of things and the makers of history. Malthusians insultingly refer to newborn babies as ‘another mouth to feed’, when in the real world another human being is another mind that can think, another pair of hands that can work, and another person who has needs and desires that ought to be met.

We don’t merely use up finite resources; we create infinite ideas and possibilities. The 6.7billion people on Earth have not raped and destroyed this planet, we have humanised it.

Behind the Malthusian doomsday O’Neill discerns a “deeply held misanthropy” veiled by scientific talk.  This, I believe, is true of today’s global warming advocates, and of all the voices of doom I have heard in my lifetime.  It isn’t that they are wrong:  it’s that they think something is horribly wrong with us.  Factual correctness is besides the point.  Controlling us and fixing us is the goal.  That, not scientific accuracy, is what they expect  the doomsday franchise to deliver.

Go read it all.  It’s funny because it’s true.


4 Responses to Malthusians breed like rabbits

  1. Brutus says:

    There is so much misunderstanding in O’Neill’s diatribe that I don’t even know where to begin. My response would be longer than either your summary or his article. You apparently find him funny because he’s so accurate; I find him risible because he’s so inaccurate.

    I’ll allow myself just one relatively modest rejoinder. O’Neill writes as though we have suffered no famine, pestilence, or wars and genocides owing to overpopulation and resource scarcity. The historical record in fact demonstrates round after round of just those things, and yet we keep compounding our error with increasing grandiosity, expanding the population bubble larger following every correction. The archeological record demonstrates the collapse of 23 major human civilizations, just as the geological record reveals five major extinction events. We can’t escape these cycles because they are, respectively, part of our nature and beyond our control.

    The latest bubble is the result of a confluence of numerous of factors, the most significant being the recent availability of cheap energy in the form of fossil fuels. To support our current population, we are in effect eating our oil. Once it’s exhausted, there is no ready alternative, nor can we simply rely on a technological breakthrough to deliver one.

    O’Neill’s final remarks, which you quote above, namely, that we’re humanizing the planet, is merely the irrationally exuberant flip side of the misanthropy of which he and you complain. It boggles me that you two can’t see the danger of monoculture — a humanized world rather than a natural one.

    • Well, now we really do disagree, Brutus. Regarding famine: I can’t think of one that was due to “overpopulation,” unless one engages in tautology and defines the latter as “too many mouths to feed in any given circumstance.” The key decider in a famine is the responsiveness of the government. Supposedly the worst was in China during the Great Leap Forward, when the country had far fewer people than now. In India, the last famine happened at the end of the British raj, when the population also was far smaller.

      According to Amartya Sen, in Development as Freedom, there has never been a famine in a modern democratic government, no matter how thick people were on the ground. I can’t wholly vouch for his research, but I think as a general proposition this is true.

  2. Brutus says:

    We’re free to disagree, of course. But you really want to chalk up famine as primarily a result of government failure? I thought your liberal views would avoid the panacea of government aid, even in a crisis.

    A little poking around revealed several causes of famine: natural disasters such as floods, drought, volcanic eruptions, and earthquakes; overpopulated areas unable to support their populations; poor health facilities; ecological disaster; insufficient foreign aid; and poor management of resources by government. So some are acts of god, some are tautological, some are ecological or health related, and some are failures of leadership. A combination of causes isn’t precluded. Several have occurred in the modern era (including two major ones in 1991), showing that we’re hardly immune to famine despite globalization.

    That’s still only a modest part of my problem with O’Neill.

    • You must be a Brit, Brutus – I haven’t been called a liberal since my college days. And that was a geological era ago. Here is closer to the truth:

      Anyway, famines can begin from many causes, but in the modern world, according to Sen, they have only taken hold as a result of government indifference or breakdown. The only one I remember from the Nineties was Somalia – enough said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: