I found this article in a text book I own titled “TAKING SIDES: Clashing views on Controversial Environmental Issues (Tenth Edition”), which is curriculum at the University of South Florida. The article itself was written in 1999, the textbook in 2003. I added the helpful links in.
By Stephen Moore. Mr. Moore is a director at the Cato Institute and a contributing editor of National Review.
At a Washington reception, the conversation turned to the merits of small families. One woman volunteered that she had just read Bill McKibben‘s environmental tome, Maybe One, on the benefits of single-child families.
She claimed to have found it “ethically compelling.” I chimed in: “Even one child may put too much stress on our fragile ecosystem. McKibben says ‘maybe one.’ I say, why not none?” The response was solemn nods of agreement, and even some guilt-ridden whispers between husbands and wives.
McKibben’s acclaimed book is a tribute to the theories of British economist Thomas Malthus. Exactly 200 years ago, Malthus-the original dismal scientist-wrote that “the power of population is . . . greater than the power in the earth to produce subsistence for man.” McKibben’s application of this idea was to rush out and have a vasectomy. He urges his fellow greens to do the same-to make single-child families the “cultural norm” in America.
Now, with the United Nations proclaiming that this month we will surpass the demographic milestone of 6 billion people, the environmental movement and the media can be expected to ask: Do we really need so many people? A recent AP headline lamented: “Century’s growth leaves Earth crowded-and noisy.” Seemingly, Malthus has never had so many apostles.
In a rational world, Malthusianism would not be in a state of intellectual revival, but thorough disrepute. After all, virtually every objective trend is running in precisely the opposite direction of what the widely acclaimed Malthusians of the 1960s-from Lester Brown to Paul Ehrlich to the Club of Rome-predicted. Birth rates around the world are lower today than at any time in recorded history. Global per capita food production is much higher than ever before. The “energy crisis” is now such a distant memory that oil is virtually the cheapest liquid on earth. These facts, collectively, have wrecked the credibility of the population-bomb propagandists.
Yet the population-control movement is gaining steam. It has won the hearts and wallets of some of the most influential leaders inside and outside government today. Malthusianism has evolved into a multi-billion-dollar industry and a political juggernaut.
Today, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (AID), the State Department, and the World Bank, the federal government pumps some 350 million tax dollars a year into population-containment activities. The Clinton administration would be spending at least twice that amount if not for the efforts of two Republican congressmen, Chris Smith of New Jersey and Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, who have managed to cut off funding for the most coercive birth-reduction initiatives.
Defenders of the U.N. Population Fund (UNFPA) and other such agencies insist that these programs “protect women’s reproductive freedom,” “promote the health of mothers,” and “reduce infant mortality.” Opponents of international “family planning,” particularly Catholic organizations, are tarred as anti-abortion fanatics who want to deprive poor women of safe and cheap contraception. A 1998 newspaper ad by Planned Parenthood, entitled “The Right Wing Coup in Family Planning,” urged continued USAID funding by proclaiming: “The very survival of women and children is at stake in this battle.” Such rhetoric is truly Orwellian, given that the entire objective of government-sponsored birth-control programs has been to invade couples’ “reproductive rights” in order to limit family size. The crusaders have believed, from the very outset, that coercion is necessary in order to restrain fertility and avert global eco-collapse.
The consequences of this crusade are morally atrocious. Consider the one-child policy in China. Some 10 million to 20 million Chinese girls are demographically “missing” today because of “sex-selective abortion of female fetuses, female infant mortality (through infanticide or abandonment), and
selective neglect of girls ages 1 to 4,” according to a 1996 U.S. Census Bureau report. Girls account for over 90 percent of the inmates of Chinese orphanages-where children are left to die from neglect.
Last year, Congress heard testimony from Gao Xiao Duan, a former Chinese administrator of the one-couple, one-child policy. Gao testified that if a woman in rural China is discovered to be pregnant without a state-issued “birth-allowed certificate,” she typically must undergo an abortion-no matter how many months pregnant she is. Gao recalled, “Once I found a woman who was nine months’ pregnant but did not have a birth-allowed certificate.
According to the policy, she was forced to undergo an abortion surgery. In the operating room, I saw how the aborted child’s lips were sucking, how its limbs were stretching. A physician injected poison into its skull, and the child died and was thrown into the trash can.”
The pro-choice movement is notably silent about this invasion of women’s “reproductive rights.” In 1989, Molly Yard, of the National Organization for Women, actually praised China’s program as “among the most intelligent in the world.” Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich, the godfather of today’s neo-Malthusian movement, once trumpeted China’s population control as “remarkably vigorous and effective.” He has congratulated Chinese rulers for their “grand experiment in the management of population.”
Last summer, Lisa McRee of Good Morning America started an interview with Bill McKibben by asking, in all seriousness, “Is China’s one-child policy a good idea for every country?” She might as well have asked whether every country should have gulags.
Gregg Easterbrook, writing in the Nov. 23, 1998 New Republic, correctly lambasted China for its “horrifying record on forced abortion and sterilization.” But even the usually sensible Easterbrook offered up a limp apology for the one-child policy, writing that “China, which is almost out of arable land, had little choice but to attempt some degree of fertility constraint.” Hong Kong has virtually no arable land, and 75 times the population density of mainland China, but has one of the best-fed populations in the world.
These coercive practices are spreading to other countries. Brian Clowes writes in the Yale Journal of Ethics that coercion has been used to promote family planning in at least 35 developing countries. Peru has started to use sterilization as a means of family planning, and doctors have to meet sterilization quotas or risk losing their jobs. The same is true in Mexico.
In disease-ridden African countries such as Nigeria and Kenya, hospitals often lack even the most rudimentary medical care, but are stocked to the rafters with boxes of contraceptives stamped “UNFPA” and “USAID.” UNFPA boasts that, thanks to its shipments, more than 80 percent of the women in Haiti have access to contraceptives; this is apparently a higher priority than providing access to clean water, which is still unavailable to more than half of the Haitian population.
Population-control groups like Zero Population Growth and International Planned Parenthood have teamed up with pro-choice women in Congress-led by Carolyn Maloney of New York, Cynthia McKinney of Georgia, and Connie Morella of Maryland-to try to secure $60 million in U.S. funding for UNFPA over the next two years. Maloney pledges, “I’m going to do whatever it takes to restore funding for [UNFPA]” this year.
Support for this initiative is based on two misconceptions. The first is the excessively optimistic view that (in the words of a Chicago Tribune report) “one child zealotry in China is fading.” The Population Research Institute’s Steve Mosher, an authority on Chinese population activities, retorts, “This fantasy that things are getting better in China has been the constant refrain of the one-child apologists for at least the past twenty years.” In fact, after UNFPA announced in 1997 that it was going back into China, state councillor Peng Peiyun defiantly announced, “China will not slacken our family-planning policy in the next century.”
The second myth is that UNFPA has always been part of the solution, and has tried to end China’s one-child policy. We are told that it is pushing Beijing toward more “female friendly” family planning. This, too, is false.
UNFPA has actually given an award to China for its effectiveness in population-control activities-activities far from female-friendly. Worse, UNFPA’s executive director, Nafis Sadik, is, like her predecessors, a longtime apologist for the China program and even denies that it is coercive. She is on record as saying-falsely-that “the implementation of the policy is purely voluntary. There is no such thing as a license to have a birth.”
Despite UNFPA’s track record, don’t be surprised if Congress winds up re-funding it. The past 20 years may have demonstrated the intellectual bankruptcy of the population controllers, but their coffers have never been more flush.
American billionaires, past and present, have devoted large parts of their fortunes to population control. The modern-day population-control movement dates to 1952, when John D. Rockefeller returned from a trip to Asia convinced that the teeming masses he saw there were the single greatest threat to the earth’s survival. He proceeded to divert hundreds of millions of dollars from his foundation to the goal of population stabilization. He was followed by David Packard (co-founder of Hewlett-Packard), who created a $9 billion foundation whose top priority was reducing world population.
Today, these foundations are joined by organizations ranging from Zero Population Growth (ZPG) to Negative Population Growth (which advocates an optimal U.S. population size of 150 million-120 million fewer than now) to Planned Parenthood to the Sierra Club. The combined budget of these groups approaches $1 billion.
These organizations tend to be extremist. Take ZPG. Its board of directors passed a resolution declaring that “parenthood is not an inherent right but a privilege” granted by the state, and that “every American family has a right to no more than two children.”
“Population growth is analogous to a plague of locusts,” says Ted Turner, a major source of population-movement funding. “What we have on this earth today is a plague of people. Nature did not intend for there to be as many people as there are.” Turner has also penned “The Ted Commandments,” which include “a promise to have no more than two children or no more than my nation suggests.” He recently reconsidered his manifesto, and now believes that the voluntary limit should be even lower-just one child. In Turner’s utopia, there are no brothers, sisters, aunts, or uncles.
Turner’s $1 billion donation to the U.N. is a pittance compared with the fortunes that Warren Buffett (net worth $36 billion) and Bill Gates (net worth roughly $100 billion) may bestow on the cause of population control.
Buffett has announced repeatedly that he views overpopulation as one of the greatest crises in the world today. Earlier this year, Gates and his wife contributed an estimated $7 billion to their foundation, of which the funding of population programs is one of five major initiatives.
This is a massive misallocation of funds, for the simple reason that the overpopulation crisis is a hoax. It is true that world population has tripled over the last century. But the explanation is both simple and benign: First, life expectancy-possibly the best overall numerical measure of human well-being-has almost doubled in the last 100 years, and the years we are tacking on to life are both more active and more productive. Second, people are wealthier-they can afford better health care, better diets, and a cleaner environment. As a result, infant-mortality rates have declined nearly tenfold in this century. As the late Julian Simon often explained, population growth is a sign of mankind’s greatest triumph-our gains against death.
We are told that this good news is really bad news, because human numbers are soon going to bump up against the planet’s “carrying capacity.”
Pessimists worry that man is procreating as uncontrollably as John B.
Calhoun’s famous Norwegian rats, which multiply until they die off from lack of sustenance. Bill McKibben warns that “we are adding another New York City every month, a Mexico every year, and almost another India every decade.”
But a closer look shows that these fears are unfounded. Fact: If every one of the 6 billion of us resided in Texas, there would be room enough for every family of four to have a house and one-eighth of an acre of land-the rest of the globe would be vacant. (True, if population growth continued, some of these people would eventually spill over into Oklahoma.) In short, the population bomb has been defused. The birth rate in developing countries has plummeted from just over 6 children per couple in 1950 to just over 3 today. The major explanation for smaller family sizes, even in China, has been economic growth. The Reaganites were right on the mark when, in 1984, they proclaimed this truth to a distraught U.N. delegation in Mexico City. (The policy they enunciated has been memorably expressed in the phrase “capitalism is by far the best contraceptive.”) The fertility rate in the developed world has fallen from 3.3 per couple in 1950 to 1.6 today. These low fertility rates presage declining populations.
If, for example, Japan’s birth rate is not raised at some point, in 500 years there will be only about 15 Japanese left on the planet.
Other Malthusian worries are similarly wrongheaded. Global food prices have fallen by half since 1950, even as world population has doubled. The dean of agricultural economists, D. Gale Johnson of the University of Chicago, has documented “a dramatic decline in famines” in the last 50 years. Fewer than half as many people die of famine each year now than did a century ago-despite a near-quadrupling of the population. Enough food is now grown in the world to provide every resident of the planet with almost four pounds of food a day. In each of the past three years, global food production has reached new heights.
Overeating is fast becoming the globe’s primary dietary malady. “It’s amazing to say, but our problem is becoming overnutrition,” Ho Zhiqiuan, a Chinese nutrition expert, recently told National Geographic. “Today in China obesity is becoming common.”
Millions are still hungry, and famines continue to occur-but these are the result of government policies or political malice, not inadequate global food production. As the International Red Cross has reported, “the loss of access to food resources [during famines] is generally the result of intentional acts” by governments.
Even if the apocalyptic types are correct and population grows to 12 billion in the 21st century, so what? Assuming that human progress and scientific advancement continue as they have, and assuming that the global march toward capitalism is not reversed, those 12 billion people will undoubtedly be richer, healthier, and better fed than the 6 billion of us alive today. After all, we 6 billion are much richer, healthier, and better fed than the 1 billion who lived in 1800 or the 2 billion alive in 1920.
The greatest threat to the planet is not too many people, but too much statism. The Communists, after all, were the greatest polluters in history.
Economist Mikhail Bernstam has discovered that market-based economies are about two to three times more energy-efficient than Communist, socialist, Maoist, or “Third Way” economies. Capitalist South Korea has three times the population density of socialist North Korea, but South Koreans are well fed while 250,000 North Koreans have starved to death in the last decade.
Government-funded population programs are actually counterproductive, because they legitimize command-and-control decision-making. As the great development economist Alan Rufus Waters puts it, “Foreign aid used for population activities gives enormous resources and control apparatus to the local administrative elite and thus sustains the authoritarian attitudes corrosive to the development process.”
This approach usually ends up making poor people poorer, because it distracts developing nations from their most pressing task, which is market reform. When Mao’s China established central planning and communal ownership of agriculture, tens of millions of Chinese peasants starved to death. In 1980, after private ownership was established, China’s agricultural output doubled in just ten years. If Chinese leaders over the past 30 years had concentrated on rapid privatization and market reform, it’s quite possible that economic development would have decreased birth rates every bit as rapidly as the one-child policy.
The problem with trying to win this debate with logic and an arsenal of facts is that modern Malthusianism is not a scientific theory at all. It’s a religion, in which the assertion that mankind is overbreeding is accepted as an article of faith. I recently participated in a debate before an anti-population group called Carrying Capacity Network, at which one scholar informed me that man’s presence on the earth is destructive because Homo sapiens is the only species without a natural predator. It’s hard to argue with somebody who despairs because mankind is alone at the top of the food chain.
At its core, the population-control ethic is an assault on the principle that every human life has intrinsic value. Malthusian activists tend to view human beings neither as endowed with intrinsic value, nor even as resources, but primarily as consumers of resources. No wonder that at last year’s ZPG conference, the Catholic Church was routinely disparaged as “our enemy” and “the evil empire.”
The movement also poses a serious threat to freedom. Decisions on whether to have children-and how many-are among are the most private of all human choices. If governments are allowed to control human reproduction, virtually no rights of the individual will remain inviolable by the state.
The consequence, as we have seen in China, is the debasement of human dignity on a grand scale.
Another (true) scene from a party: A radiant pregnant woman is asked whether this is her first child. She says, no, in fact, it is her sixth.
Yuppies gasp, as if she has admitted that she has leprosy. To have three kids-to be above replacement level-is regarded by many as an act of eco-terrorism.
But the good news for this pregnant woman, and the millions of others who want to have lots of kids, is that the Malthusians are simply wrong. There is no moral, economic, or environmental case for small families. Period.
If some choose to subscribe to a voluntary one-child policy, so be it. But the rest of us-Americans, Chinese, and everybody else-don’t need or want Ted Turner or the United Nations to tell us how many kids to have. Congress should not be expanding “international family planning” funding, but terminating it.
Congress may want to consider a little-known footnote of history. In time, Thomas Malthus realized that his dismal population theories were wrong. He awoke to the reality that human beings are not like Norwegian rats at all.
Why? Because, he said, man is “impelled” by “reason” to solve problems, and not to “bring beings into the world for whom he cannot provide the means of support.” Amazingly, 200 years later, his disciples have yet to grasp this lesson.