The Population Hysteria
by Jerome Tucille
(an exerpt from a book)
retrieved from The Libertarian Forum VOLUME III, NO. 11 December, 1971
》The problem of overpopulation is usually the first objection raised against the prospect of extended life.
》If the human race keeps procreating at its present rate there will be only one square yard for every person by the year 2500. How can we think about permitting people to stay alive another twenty or thirty years when there are so many of us going hungry today? When we are increasing our numbers by one million a week? When there will be six or seven billion humans on this planet by the year 2000?
》With the possible exception of environmental pollution, no subject has incited the ire of the Doomsday Prophets as much as the population problem. One can remember the day back in the early 1960's, when the Machine Age Scare was the cause of apoplexy and near-hysteria in Think Tanks around the country. Apparently, we were entering an age of Creeping Mechanization which was destined to drive battalions of American blue-collar workers to the welfare rolls. By 1966, it seemed, the unemployment rate would be pushing 40 or 50 percent, and computerized robots would be prancing about the countryside doing everything from repairing faulty carburetors to boiling three-minute eggs in roadside diners. When 1966 passed into history, human automobile mechanics were still fleecing the public as though they had been tutored by John Dillinger; flesh-and-blood plumbers and electricians were moving into neighborhoods inhabited primarily by doctors, politicians and other racketeers; hash slingers across the nation had been unionized and commanded wages that turned insurance executives green with envy. The machines, far from putting the American workforce on refief, had created entire new industries and thousands of Jobs that never existed before.
》A few years later the American public was treated to the next in a never-ending series of globe-shattering crises: the Famine Scare of 1967. In this year the brothers Paddock, Paul and William, warned us in their highly-acclaimed book, Famine - 1975, that India was doomed to be ravaged by large-scale famines. The famines would occur possibly as early as 1970 or 1971, definitely by 1972 or 1973, and most of its population would be decimated by 1975. The Paddocks promoted a "triage" system. To save the world, a system used in military hospitals during wartime in which only those patients with some chance of survival are given medical treatment. They advocated that the United States, as the most productive country on earth, initiate massive foreign aid programs to those starving nations with a small chance of survival, and cut out foreign aid altogether to undeveloped nations, like India, for whom starvation was inevitable. Fortunately for India several private foundations ignored the advice of the Paddocks, and as a result India was able to develop a hardier wheat strain leading to a bumper crop in 1970. Now we anticipate that - barring some unforeseen cataclysm such as earthquakes or major war - India will be self-sufficient in food production early in this decade. The Paddocks made some other ominous predictions - among them: experimentation with rice and wheat strains would end in failure, and Pakistan would be wasted by famine before 1972. Statistics show that the development of hybrid rice and wheat strains enabled Pakistan to talk about exporting wheat in 1971, prior to the resurgence of its political disputes with East Pakistan and India. 1971 United Nations figures indicate that food production in the Far East - another area condemned to annihilation by the Paddocks - was "rising at a rate comfortably ahead of the population growth because of the development of high-yield rice and wheat strains.
》Another Doomsday Prophet, Dr. Paul R. Ehrlich, Professor of Biology at Stanford University, informed us in1969 that it was utopian to expect underwater agriculture to lead to increased food production in the near future. Farming of the sea is "another myth promoted by the ignorant or the irresponsible," according to Dr. Ehrlich. Yet, the facts show that advances in marine agriculture have played a decisive role in the increase in food production throughout Asia in 1970 - a year after Ehrlich's dire prediction.
》Next we arrived at a point in time when we might normally expect a new crisis of monumental proportions to erupt on the American scene, and the experts have not disappointed us; not many take global famine seriously any longer, but overpopulation and environmental pollution are the twin juggernauts destined to destroy life on earth forevermore. Dr. Ehrlich is back again with The Population Bomb, predictably predicting that, not only are "hundreds of millions of people going to starve to death in spite of any crash foreign aid programs," but also that nothing now can "prevent a substantial increase in the world deathrate..." From this he goes on to tell us that seven billion people will inhabit our little ball by 2000 AD, and by 2800 AD the population of earth will be housed in a two-thousand storey apartment house that covers the entire planet no less. The author, having already determined that the battle against famine was lost and that world-wide famines would grip the earth by the early 1970's does not tell us how we will manage to survive until 2800 AD in sufficient numbers to fill a high-rise dwelling of such mammoth dimensions.
》In the late 1960's, when Madan G. Kaul, Minister of the Indian Embassy, predicted that his country would be self-sufficient in food production by 1971, Dr. Ehrlich dismissed him as a utopian dreamer, claiming that he had yet to meet anyone as optimistic as Kaul. But, as mentioned earlier, India is on the brink of self-sufficiency. When India launched a vasectomy program in 1964 to control population growth, Ehrlich stated that this was also doomed to failure due to the reluctance of the citizenry and the technical problems involved in performing so many. Yet, a New York Times article in October, 1971, informs us that the turnout for voluntary vasectomies has far exceeded expectations, and new vasectomy camps are planned for all of India's 320 districts. The Indian government had originally distributed condoms to the male population but later discovered that they weren't being used properly. Accordingly, vasectomies are now regarded as a safer alternative.
》Dr. Ehrlich presents us with several scenarios for the years ahead guaranteed to titallate the fancies of necrophilec the world over. They range in scope from the destruction of the entire population of earth, with cockroaches as the planet's only survivors, to his most "optimistic" outlook in which only 500 million people will have starved to death by 1980. Even the United States the world's only remaining hope, is doing next to nothing to reduce its own birthrate - merely "bailing out a sinking ship with a small and leaky thimble" is the way he puts it. This last is somewhat at variance with most recent statistics on the subject, showing that U.S. fertility rate in summer of 1971 had dropped to its lowest level since the late 1930's and the trend is ever-downward. The present figure is just slightly above the "optimum" level set by the advocates of Z.P.G. (Zero Population Growth). Moreover, the results of a study released in October, 1971, reveal that half the American population now favors liberalized abortion laws, an incredible jump from the 15 percent of 1968. Ehrlich concludes by criticizing our growing concern for organ transplants and life extension techniques at a time when the human race is tottering over the abyss, and he recommends governmental remedies that border on totalitarianism: prohibitive taxes on cribs, diapers, toys and other baby items; reverse progressive taxation rising for each birth; government-authorized vasectomies; nationalized adoption agencies; and, piece de resistance, a powerful federal agency authorized to take whatever steps are necessary to establish a "reasonable population level" in the United States. The only thing he leaves out is Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal that we eat unwanted children. He suggests that we lower the population of earth to one or two billion from the current level of 3.5 or 3.6 billions of human beings.
》Compared with Dr. Ehrlich, Philip Appleman, another population alarmist who authorized The Silent Explosion, is a veritable Pollyanna. While he claims that his projected world population of six billion for the year 2000 is more than we can properly feed, he at least refrains from predicting the certain demise of civilization by that time. He makes some incisive attacks on both the Catholic Church and the Communist Party for shaping the attitudes of their respective constituencies against the entire concept of planned parenthood. Marxist ideology, says Appleman defines socialism as an economic system capable of providing abundance for everyone on earth. By definition there is no such thing as overpopulation in a communist society. Numbers are irrelevant.
》The Catholic Church, of course, has not only opposed birth control for its own adherents, but it has traditionally fought to impose its own morality on the general population through the legislative process. It has taken the attitude that it is the duty of every Catholic mother to bear as many children as nature will allow, and the moral obligation of the "have" nations of the world to feed them all. The Roman Catholic Church, according to Appleman, "is the only Western institution of any importance that is consciously and actively obstructing population limitation."
》In both cases, however, Appleman concedes that there is ground for optimism. Despite ideology, there is good evidence that Communist China is concerned about burgeoning population and is taking measures to control it behind the scenes. Author Edgar Snow reports that Party functionaries receive no extra compensation for more than two children; contraceptives are widely available and extremely inexpensive; practice, both in Red China and in the Soviet Union, is in dialectical opposition to Marxist propaganda. As far as the Catholic Church is concerned the clergy as well as the "faithful" are in open revolt: Progressive Catholic journals such as Commonweal have been leading much of the fight, exhorting their readers to re‐evaluate traditional Church teachings on papal infallibity, celibacy for the priesthood, and the birth control issue. America, another Catholic publication which used to editorialize against "unilateral depopulation in the West" lest we all "find ourselves eating with chopsticks," has grown less belligerent of late. Ironically enough, Roman Catholics are declining in proportion to the overall population, partly because of defections from their own ranks, partly because of their opposition to birth control for non-Catholics as well as themselves. The Catholic Church at various times throughout its history has violently opposed surgery, inoculation, lending money on interest, eating meat on Fridays, belief in a heliocentric solar system, reading certain books and watching certain films and of course family planning. This last prohibition one can safely predict is destined to go the way of the others.
》Another cause for carefully guarded optimism, according to Appleman, is the decline of militarism among the young. For centuries our generals have been yelling for larger and larger populations, presumably to supply them with fodder for their armies. Presently, the "More People More Power" mentality has been all but discredited in the more advanced countries at least. Latin American machismo which measures a man's masculinity by the size of his progeny is also in a state of rising disrepute. Religious traditions at work in other parts of the world (India, for example, has approximately one-fourth of the world's cattle supply, but refuses to slaughter it for meat because most of the population holds the cow to be a sacred animal) will be challenged with increasing literacy and education of the masses.
》On the other end of the spectrum we have the Utopian Futurists who dismiss all concern over rising population with the same casual optimism they exhibit on the Clonal Hitler Scare. "Don't worry about it. We'll work it out somehow." Arthur McCormack, a Catholic priest who takes a "middle-of-the-road" position on the population issue, has little patience with extreme optimists who claim that "as long as man possesses the capacity for thought, he has no reason to fear the future."
》R. Buckminster Fuller, one of the great visionaries of the twentieth century, has earned the everlasting enmity of Z.P.G. enthusiasts by claiming that he could take the entire population of earth today and provide everyone with decent housing and adequate privacy on the islands of Japan. His plan calls for the erection of a gigantic, mile-high apartment complex, with each unit self-contained for power and sewage and a recycled water supply, and capable of being separated from the complex and used as a vehicle for transportation. In one fell swoop he solves the housing shortage and the parking problem, as well as pollution of the environment. Those who are inclined to shrug off this proposal with a laugh might do well to recall that Fuller's dymaxion houses and geodesic domes were once roundly denounced as "impractical" and hopelessly "utopian," and his theories on the tetrahedronal structure of matter have made a profound impact in the field of sub-atomic physics. Fuller started to talk about building homes with self-contained electricity and recycled water supplies in 1928, thirty years before this concept became a reality in American and Russian space capsules. According to Fuller, there is virtually no limit to the amount of people that can be comfortably supported on earth with proper architectural and recycling techniques. Whether or not one looks forward to sharing the planet with a trillion human beings tiered on top of one another, however privately, in cities reaching to the stars, we cannot help but admire a man with the courage to propose such daring schemes at a time when technology and procreation have become synonomous with racistsexistfascistkapitalistexploitation.
》Another unbridled Utopian is Iranian-born novelist and essayist, F. M. Esfandiary, who teaches a course on futurism at the New School for Social Research in New York City. The highlights of Esfandiary's course are his lectures on physical immortality and the New Technology. He has been called a "radical optimist" by Publisher's Weekly, and his theories have been simultaneously endorsed by Dr. Glenn Seaborg, former Chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission, and a reviewer for the Village Voice. Esfandiary casually discusses such concepts as universal solar and nuclear power and colonization of the planets as though they have virtually been accomplished, and Doomsday predictions are rejected impatiently. He maintains that the human race advanced a half step through-out history until the beginning of the twentieth century, and fifty miles during the past seventy years or so. He charts our present rate of development on a hyperbolic curve quickly accelerating upward toward infinity, and says that no one can fully anticipate the changes that will occur in the next twenty years let alone the next one hundred. Esfandiary considers pessimism to be a result of a lack of historical perspective, an inability to comprehend the fact that forty years ago people spent most of their waking hours scrubbing out a bare existence while, today, technology has freed a large portion of western civilization from the drudgery of menial labor. Having spent his earliest years growing up in Iran, Esfandiary makes the statement "I have seen the past, and it doesn't work" as he awaits the future with optimism.
》Other visionaries have taken the position that there is no need to worry about overpopulation because, with proper technology, the state of Kansas can produce enough food to feed the entire world; there are more open spaces on earth today than a hundred years ago (latest census figures in the U.S. show that both the countryside and the central cities have lost population to the suburbs, resulting in a pattern of more abundant natural land and more even distribution of people around our urban areas); the earth can easily support upwards of 500 billion people; if we gave every family alive today a decent housing plot, they would all fit inside Texas with room to spare; ground fish and other marine products offer a revolutionary breakthrough in the struggle to create a high-protein, low-cost food supply; there is more than enough timber in the Amazon jungle to build a house for every family on earth; when India decides to slaughter its cattle, it will become a major exporter of beef to the developing nations; arid and frozen lands can now be brought under cultivation for the first time. These statements are denounced in the most excoriating language by Messers Paddock, Appleman, Ehrlich and other Doomsday Prophets, and they are given a fair hearing by middle-of-the-road population alarmists like the priest and author, Arthur McCormack.
》Behind most of the hysteria surrounding the rising population of earth is the spectre of the Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus who, back in 1798, presented the world with his now-famous dictum. The Malthusian Absolute holds that population growth increases geometrically, while
growth in food production increases arithmetically. If this is true, it follows that any increase in population anywhere on earth is bound to result in dwindling food supplies, hunger and starvation.
》It is somewhat incredible that this formula is still taken seriously when it was at least partially discredited in Malthus' own lifetime. Neo-Malthusians invariably fail to tell us that the good reverend qualified his own "Absolute" in 1817 when he admitted that some population growth can be beneficial until the time when a "proper or natural limit" is reached. While Malthus lived out his final years, England, his native land, increased its own population fivefold through immigration, rising birthrate and declining infant mortality while at the same time enjoying a period of economic growth and prosperity during the Industrial Revolution. The United States, again experiencing rising affluence and economic prosperity, increased its population tenfold during the nineteenth century. Both England and the United States became major exporters of food while simultaneously importing labor and assimilating more and more people. ln modern times, the island-city of Hong Kong had the fastest population growth on earth during the 1960's - primarily due to mass emigration from mainland China - and it has become a bustling focal point of market activities in the Orient. Conversely, Ireland and Sicily have been losing people steadily from the beginning of the century until the present, and they are among the poorest countries in the West.
》Doomsday Prophets usually cite China as an example of what can happen economically to a nation with too many mouths to feed. What they leave out is the fact that China, with its 800 millions or so, has a population density of only 200 per square mile - roughly a third that of England and a fifth that of Holland which is importing labor from southern Europe to keep pace with a constantly rising living standard. Breakthroughs in marine agriculture and hardier wheat and rice strains have enabled much of the Far East to keep food production roughly 3 percent ahead of population growth in recent years. In addition, freer trade policies with conntries like China are bound to result in an expansion of their-sluggish economies, and a concomitant liberalization of domestic political rule as they open their borders to other countries of the world.
》Another favorite bogeyman theory of the population alarmists is the Spreading Desert Scare. Poor cultivation methods of the past have turned much of the earth into desert, with 17 percent of it now arid and another sizable chunk too frost-covered to farm. The theory holds that poor farming techniques still being used will increase the amount of land unusable by man in the future. But here again we learn from U.N. statistics that most increases in food production during the past thirty years have been accomplished on land already under cultivation; in the United States, for instance, 75 percent more corn is being grown on 27 percent less land than was used in 1938. A new variety of rice developed in Taiwan has six or seven times the yield of the old kind, and is more resistant to adverse weather conditions. Arthur McCormack tells us that the arable land of the world can be doubled easily with present methods, and with heavy expenditures of capital and new techniques it can be increased eightfold if it should ever become necessary.
》As new machinery is brought onto the farms, children are less in demand as extra hands and, instead, become a drain on parents whose rising affluence is independent of manual labor. As we study the history of the industrialized nations, we learn that a general pattern has developed: rising industrialization and affluence results in a leveling off and then a decline in the birthrate. It makes far better sense, then, for proponents of Z.P.G. and other population alarmists to support industrialization rather than oppose it, as many of them have done with their call for a "return to nature."
》A case in point is the hullabaloo over the use of insecticides that gripped the nation in the middle 1960's, and is still with us today. While concern that pesticides eventually find their way into human bodies is justified, pesticide abolitionists have overlooked the fact that some 33 million tons of food a year - enough to feed more than 500 million people - are destroyed by rats and insects. It is a bit irresponsible for people who are worried about food production to take such an extremist position before they investigate alternatives to the indiscriminate use of DDT. Many of these same individuals have also opposed the development of processed marine products, a low-cost protein source, with the argument that ground fish heads and organs are "unpalatable". Yet they rail against the fact that the starch content in the American diet is only 25 percent while it climbs over 50 percent in Africa Asia and South
》Turning again to the United Nations - an organization which no one has ever accused of trying to whitewash the existing poverty in the world - we learn that the problem is largely one of "undernourishment" rather than mass starvation. 14 percent of earth's population is said to be undernourished - that is, subsisting on unbalanced diets usually heavy with starch - a different thing entirely from starvation in the streets. Yet, when an enterprising American firm tried to export a low-cost protein supplement made from marine products, the federal government banned it from the market on the grounds that it was "unsuitable for human consumption." Presumably, the authorities with their boundless humanitarianism preferred that everyone on earth should have a pound of steak each week instead, but, unfortunately for the "Third World" people, there is precious llttle protein content in the good intentions of "humane" politicians.
》In 1950 Julian Huxley warned the world that there would be three billion people on earth by 2006 AD, more than this tiny globe could possibly support. His crystal ball must have been slightly cracked the day he wrote that article, for the figure was reached in the 1960's - almost forty years ahead of schedule - and the general living standard of man on earth has continued to rise with each passing year. U.N. estimates for the year 2000 are for somewhere between 5.4 and 7.5 billion people to be romping about the earth. Dr. Ehrlich states that, unless we reduce our numbers to one or two billion, we will all be starving in the streets; R. Buckminster Fuller maintains there is no limit to what man, with his incredible ingenuity, can achieve.
》Who is right?
》Arthur McCormack, taking his stand with the moderates, says that 50 billion people seems to be the limit considering the habitable land now available, and the possibility that some desert and frost regions will be cultivated in the future. This figure, at the current rate of population growth, will be reached in 2110 AD. Others, a bit less optimistic, put the limit at 30 billion which would be attained in a hundred years at out present rate of growth.
》The key questions it seems to me are, first of all, is there any such thing as a "natural limit" to human population on earth and, second, is it realistic to base projections on the current rate of growth? If it is true, as precedent has shown it to be, that industrialization leads to declining birthrate, and that virtually the entire. planet will be industrialized within the next twenty-five years, then we can expect a sharply reduced birthrate for the whole world before the year 2000. Z.P.G. advocates have been quick to inform us that the rate of growth is a relative factor - that is, it is based on the ratio between the birthrate and the deathrate - and that, if man should finally succeed in conquering death, it will mean that the human race would have to stop reproducing altogether merely to maintain a steady level. But if the day arrives when the human race does attain mastery over natural death, we will still be exposed to the dangers of the unforeseen: the speeding vehicle; a falling rock; environmental disasters. Some of us will elect, for religious, philosophical or psychological reasons, to pass away normally rather than prolong physical life. People will continue to die even if we have the means of preserving life indefinitely, so it does not follow that any procreation at all will necessarily mean a rise in population.
》Another item the Doomsday Prophets never consider is the fact that two-thirds of this planet is covered by water, and the "square yard for every human" projections are invariably based on figures for land mass. We are now talking about building jetports at sea, and once this is done the construction of hotels, shops and permanent communities around the jetports will follow inevitably, Donald H Elliott, director of the New York City Planning Commission, talks about the development of a gigantic offshore complex that will include a jetport, nuclear power plant, waste-disposal center and deep-water seaport, He maintains that the technical problems have already been solved. In Holland a variation of this concept has been realized in the form of "Folders" - area reclaimed from the sea housing more than seven million Hollanders, Cleveland and Chicago are studying proposals for floating jetports and facilities supported on caissons in Lake Erie and Lake Michigan. Cost studies indicate that the sale of land-based airports to private developers could raise much of the money required for the projects. Eventually, the notion of floating cities further out to sea will become a reality. Environmentalists like to howl about the "desecration of the oceans" when these alternatives are suggested, yet they are the first ones to decry the lack of beachfront areas for the masses. Seaborne cities will solve the problem of lebensraum for future populations, and they will also create thousands of miles of man-made "coastline" for surfers and sunbathers throughout the world. International communities for those tired of life in belligerent nation-states should be a more-than-welcome change.
》Surely by the time we have the technology to eliminate natural death as a threat to man, the problems of interplanetary travel and the "homesteading of space will be small in comparison. No one today can seriously doubt that there will be some form of human settlements on the moon before the end of this century; villages on other planets will be established shortly afterward. Until that day arrives, the human birthrate will continue to decline through education, further industrialization, and technological advances.
》The prospect of overpopulation should not be taken seriously as an argument against our efforts to make man immortal. Chances are good that the timber of the Amazon is not going to be merchandised to house the entire world, and Kansas is not going to be called upon to feed it. Even if Buckminster Fuller's schemes for supporting a limitless population should turn out to be practicable, most likely it will never be necessary for the human race to cluster together in mile-high file cabinets. We all have a vested interest in keeping the place we live from becoming as crowded as an anthill. Present trends continuing, the birthrate will continue to decline in the advanced nations and this decline will spread to other areas as they become industrialized. Through cloning and modernized techniques we will be able to lay the Malthusian Absolute forever to rest. And the technology that enables us to minimize the risks of death will also provide means to live our lives in comfort and prosperity.