Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Are today’s problems caused by the sheer quantity of people?


A week ago or so, the Los Angeles Times wasted space arguing the wrong side, “The world’s biggest problem? Too many people.” Laura Huggins responded with an able rejoinder, showing that such doomspeak is old hat, falsified by experience.

She mentions Paul Erlich’s The Population Bomb, in particular, 1968’s classic in the hysterically overblown prophecy genre. Not mentioned, however, is Julian Simons’s brilliant 1981 rejoinder to Ehrlich, The Ultimate Resource. Simons marshals economic argument and a vast array of factual evidence to demonstrate that human ingenuity and the market order provide amazing solutions to problems of scarcity and limited resources. The more people you have, the more solutions can be found. With greater prosperity comes the best possible amelioration to the resource scarcity that so worries and befuddles environmentalists of the Ehrlich stripe.

But really, this is much older hat than that.

The Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus wrote the first book on the subject, back in 1798, and, even  in the course of his life had to expand his tract — and radically tone down his thesis — to make himself look less of a fool. Later, writers such as Nassau Senior and Herbert Spencer demonstrated why Malthus was wrong. Population growth does not necessarily outstrip agricultural productivity. Human co-operation through markets more than makes up for our physical limitations.

We have the history of the past 200 years to prove it.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor


  1. solow46 says:

    I disagree with your point of view that there is no problem with over population. You are citing 200 years of “experience”. In 1905 the population was approximately 1.5 billion, it quadrupled to over 6 B and the prediction is that it will double again by 2020. If, and that’s big “if”, we wont run out of food we will surely run out of potable drinking water.

  2. gramma4life says:

    The liberals have been good at perpetuating the myth of overpopulation for many years, and now we see that the DHHS with Obama’s approval is assuring the birth control that their prescriptions will be paid for–then, the rising cost to the insurance companies will be passed off to us who have to pay through the nose for necessary prescriptions. World out of whack, for certain.

  3. Northeastener says:

    Although usually 100% in agreement with Mr. Jacob, we differ on this issue.

    The Earth is obviously finite and even assuming infinite ingenuity we are going to bump up against serious limits. There is value in open space and freedom from congestion and I’m skeptical that free markets have a politically acceptable answer on these issues.

    I also fear that high population builds pressure for socialistic solutions which means, of course, less freedom which should concern those of us who support free markets even as we fret about congestion.

  4. Great column.

    To understand the effects of innovation on food production, think of industrialization reducing the fraction of the US population engaged in agriculture from 2/3 to 1/30, and read Wikipedia on Norman Borlaug’s innovation in wheat varieties that lead to the Green Revolution in India.

    Paul Erlich fooled. Julian Simon ruled!

  5. Drik says:

    Homosexuality, like androgeny, might be an instinctive racial response to overpopulation, crowding and stress. Both flourish when empire reaches its apogee.
    _________Edward Abbey

  6. bruce stark says:

    If this is true, why are the Chinese limiting births?

  7. Johnnicza says:

    Does Paul Jacob have any comments on what is happening in, e.g., Somalia?
    One doubts whether the mothers of those skeletal children would derive much comfort from Laura Huggins’ wishful belief that “We consistently fail to grasp how many ideas remain to be discovered. Possibilities do not add up; they multiply”.
    “Northeaster” is spot-on, I think, with his comment regarding damaging pressure for socialistic solutions.

  8. Kay Berry says:

    Cheap and unlimited oil has been the driving force to cause the demise of the self sustaining family farm in this country. We now have large corporate “factory” farms capable of food exports to the rest of the world. However these farms will disappear if oil continues to rise in cost and there is not another cheap source of fuel and fertilizer available. There are other problems of unsustainability as well, such as loss of fertile soil and shortage of fresh water and loss of nutrition in the food produced. All these problems and more that we can imagine can be solved but it will take time and money and who knows the final point of balance between production and demand at this point in time?

  9. Drik says:

    Polyface Farm in Swope Virginia is paving the way as a counterpoint to the corn-based feed mills.

  10. Pat says:

    While it’s true that necessity is the mother of invention, there is only so much space on earth. We need land for agriculture. We need fresh water. We need open areas to support wildlife. While we may be able to support more people than Malthus or others thought possible, common sense dictates that the earth has a limit to its capacity to support life. One suggestion I hear often is to “build up”. We can reclaim lands by building high-rises instead of single-family dwellings but sooner or later, we won’t be able to produce enough food to feed everyone.

  11. Marv says:

    The free market produces wealth, and there is more than sufficient evidence that wealth leads to lower birth rates.
    Global Population increase is slowing, not continuing at the same rate. The solution to population pressure is the free market and individual freedom, not socialist solutions -whether provided by despots or, elites with the best of intentions.

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