How many people is too many?

How many people is too many?

Michael Goodwin wrote a small piece in the New York Post today where he told readers that “population is a growing concern.” He says that “explosive population growth.” is more dangerous than terrorism or swine flu.

The research he cited from Britain states that the global population is at 6.8 billion and that it is growing and that it could pass 10 billion in the next 40 years. Another unnamed report warns that Uganda has a population of 25 million and that it could have 127 million by 2050.

The problem with his piece is that population growth, like any other phenomenon, has to be considered regionally; it also has to be weighed in its overall effects on the well being of groups of humans. The mainstream stopped doing any rational analysis of population long ago, instead adopting an inflexible moralistic stance fueled by negative portrayals of parents raising kids in poverty combined with accusations that the entire lot of children are parented by irresponsible humans who are enjoying too much sex. This is an unfair and not very thoughful view of things.

There are more important things to consider. For example, Uganda’s fertility rate is 6.7 children per woman. The United States is 2.05 and declining. Spain and Italy are at a pitiable 1.31. In short, the “developed world” is not replacing its population. The U.S. is feeling this via a shortage of payers into Social Security. When we speak of our “doctor” shortage, and our shortage of many other kinds of workers, we never mention population loss as a probable contributor to the problem. Clearly though, to have not enough people is to have not enough workers, of any kind. Immigration to the U.S. is not the solution. Phillip Longman explains why in his great book, “The Empty Cradle.” One reason is that many immigrants don’t stay permanently in the United States. They work a few years and then leave when conditions in their own nations improve.

Like other issues therefore, “explosive population growth” is not an issue in all places. To say it is leads the public and those we rely on for good economic policy to believe that the matter everywhere requires the same policy solution. In practice, this has lead over the past several decades to policies that discourage having more than one or two children per family in most modern nations. This has hurt the U.S. and Europe, and has done nothing to reduce the populations of countries where women have far more children than perhaps they wish to see themselves with. It has also hurt the civil rights of women everywhere, as they are criticized for wanting or having more than one kid. Some extreme overpopulation activists go so far as to accuse mothers of two or more kids of being “overconsumers” and “anti-environmentalists” (They don’t say the same of a woman who has only one but then showers that one with dozens of sweatshop made onesies, Coach diaper bags and way more toys than one child can use).

Planned Parenthood, which is supposed to protect the reproductive rights of American women has led the charge in convincing Americans that we are overpopulated just like Uganda (6.7 births per woman, you’ll recall) and Niger (7.7 per woman). In the process, Planned Parenthood has narrowed the reproductive rights of women down to being able to NOT have a baby. It states that women “should only have as many babies as they can afford,” and that “access” to abortion and birth control on demand are needed to promote “personal responsibility” (These words actually appear in Planned Parenthood mailings) As a woman, I nearly fell over when I first saw them use language like this, but remembering my teenage brushes with them, this is not surprising. Their “counselor’s only words to me when I visited them 12 weeks pregnant were “we can do the procedure for you today.” This was hardly empowering. What one can get funded for, sadly, often dictates what advocacy groups believe in, and they are transmitting this blase attitude toward a woman’s reproductive powers to young women, with full funding from the federal government. This is unfortunate and chips away at our humanity.

Planned Parenthood does not carry on any public conversations about the obvious potential class consequences of their actions. But anyone who thinks beyond “liberal” and “conservative” talking points can see that their “liberal” support of abortion on demand means that more poor women will abort than better off women. Their lack of supportive objective counseling to women who come to them also means that women who have no one to talk to outside of Planned Parenthood will be more likely to submit to aborting their pregnancy.

Returning to Mr. Goodwin’s concern on the world’s exploding population, we must remember that a phenomenon is not inherently good or bad by itself. What makes more people bad depends on how their existence and behavior affect the overall well being of a group. Furthermore, too few people can also be “bad.” I’ll illustrate with the following:

In 150 years, population experts predict, Spaniards will no longer exist. Neither will Italians. This is due to their abysmal fertility rates (see 1.31 above). For anyone who enjoys Spanish culture or authentic Italian cuisine, this is bad. From an anthropological point of view, the dying out of these cultures is a tragedy.

If there are not enough people in an economy, the economy will not grow. The U.S. low fertility rate bears part of the blame for our stagnant economy. You don’t need to be an expert to realize that fewer people means fewer purchases. The parents of a baby not born will not buy a crib, or tiny sneakers, or doctor visits, or back to school supplies. No summer camp, no birthday party cakes and favors, XBoxes, schoolbooks, no dance lessons, no late night belly piercings, no college tuition. You can see where this is going. No one to pull my latte, do my dry cleaning, punch my movie ticket, help me take care of my grandma. And despite what some insist, even babies who get welfare payments stimulate the economy. Money is money.

Population growth in the U.S. helped us in the post WWII years. We call them baby boomers, and they are a good thing, though no one mentions now how that jump in population helped us grow powerful. To acknowledge this might get people thinking that we may need to pass some pro-natalist policies around here as one way to combat the recession.

Michael Goodwin is absolutely right that it is politically incorrect to talk about population growth. It needs talking about, but with an eye to the practical consequences it has, not with our usual knee-jerk insistence that population growth is always and will always be bad.

By |2016-10-23T02:33:07+00:00September 23rd, 2009|Uncategorized|0 Comments

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