The Myth of Overpopulation

by Logan Albright

The world is overpopulated. The street are clogged, traffic is in a snarl, and people are living – both figuratively and literally – right on top of each other. There's hardly enough room to swing a cat these days, right? Wrong.

The world is not overcrowded at all. There are vast swaths of unpopulated land all over the place. Siberia, Canada, Africa, Australia, even the rural USA all contain more than enough wide open spaces. So why do people labor so resolutely under this delusion? The reason is simple: most people, especially those with the time and inclination to carp about overpopulation, live in areas of high population density, a non-representative sample of the world as a whole. We call these places cities, and the reason why people live in cities, despite their complaining, is that there are benefits for large populations congregating close together.

It is convenient to live in a place with lots of other people, because each of those people can potentially do something for you, from repairing your shoes, to cooking your meals, to running entertainment venues, to, perhaps most importantly, providing you with gainful employment. Try living out in the middle of nowhere and see how easy it is to feed yourself, much less make a living and survive medical problems. The division of labor means that the more people there are nearby, the more able we are to fulfill our wants and needs. Hence, crowded cities.

This misconception of the world's population problems has led some to celebrate the declining birth rates we now see in most of the developed world. But the anticipation of a little expanded breathing room causes them take the wrong view on the economic impacts of a declining population. This has to do with an incomplete understanding of human action.

Those who worry about overpopulation tend to view people as nothing more than consumers. Resources are finite; humans consume resources. Therefore, fewer humans will mean more resources to go around. This is the core idea behind the opposition to expanded immigration. Namely, the fear that more people will mean less work and less wealth for the rest of us. But while the two premises of this syllogism are true, they are also woefully incomplete, making the conclusion incorrect as well.

The reason is that humans are not merely consumers. Every consumer is also a producer as well, and production is how we have improved our standards of living from the dawn of man till today. Every luxury, every great invention, every work of art, every modern convenience that we enjoy was the product of a mind – in some cases, of more than one. It then stands to reason that the more minds there are, the more innovations we will have as well. A reductio ad absudum reveals the obvious truth that a cure for cancer is more likely to emerge from a society of a billion people than from one of only a handful of individuals.

More importantly, these innovations result in a multiplication of resources, so our syllogism changes to the following: Resources are finite; humans consume resources; humans produce resources; therefore, if humans produce more resources than they consume, a greater population will be beneficial to the species.

That we do, in fact, produce more than we consume is self-evident by looking at the standard of living we enjoy today versus that which we had 50, or 100, or 1000 years ago. As the population has expanded, so has our prosperity, and the reduction in human suffering has been remarkable.

With this in mind, the precipitous drop in global birth rates is alarming. In countries where there is a generous social safety net for the elderly, a shrinking population means that a greater and greater share of resources will go towards caring for the old, while younger generations have insufficient numbers to make up the difference.

As the labor force declines below the level of available capital, machines will start to fall into disrepair and disuse, factories will be abandoned, housing developments will lie unoccupied. All of this results in less economic growth, less wealth, and less prosperity for everyone. Even the aggregate demand-obsessed Keynesians should be able to understand this concept. Fewer people people means less economic activity.

The celebration of low populations largely comes from the environmentalist movement, where anti-human sentiment is frequently overt. Even in less caustic circles, however, the bias against mankind has seeped into the popular consciousness. It's pervasive; an instinct among lefties that – for some reason they can't quite put their finger on – people are just no darn good.

This position is only defensible if you pine for the days of smallpox, starvation, contaminated water, and a constant danger of being devoured by hungry predators. If, on the other hand, you do not view those things as part of an idyllic, all-natural existence, you might consider cutting us humans a little slack.
_
Logan Albright is a writer and economist in Washington, DC.





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Comments 1 - 12 of 12 Add Comment Page 1 of 1
dougo

Posted: May 12 2014, 7:43 PM

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198228 I moved to the last paragraph about a year ago and so far am as happy and relaxed as ever.of course this lifestyle is not for most people.thats ok as I to don't like most people and am happy to acknowledge they probably feel the same about me,so they stay away on their own.The difference is I wish none of them no bad.There is the usual multi worthless over reaching law enforcement agencies looking to ruin life here also.just a little less so far.
Peter

Posted: May 13 2014, 6:19 AM

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193180 Why don't those misanthropes just go bite a bullet or suck a tail-pipe ?
Because, strangely, it's ALWAYS other people (than themselves) there are to many of ..
Frosty Wooldridge

Posted: May 13 2014, 9:19 AM

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17451 Logan Albright lacks any understanding of his ridiculous commentary. Human overpopulation drives every environmental crisis facing every living creature on this planet. I am a six continent world bicycle traveler from the Arctic to Antarctica. The human race faces horrific consequences in the 21st century. Albright doesn't know what he's talking about, but the following scientist know:

If we don’t halt population growth with justice and compassion, it will be done for us by nature, brutally and without pity – and will leave a ravaged world. ~Nobel Laureate Dr. Henry W. Kendall

"The raging monster upon the land is population growth. In its presence, sustainability is but a fragile theoretical construct. To say, as many do, that the difficulties of nations are not due to people, but to poor ideology and land-use management is sophistic.” Harvard scholar and biologist E.O. Wilson

"Unlimited population growth cannot be sustained; you cannot sustain growth in the rates of consumption of resources. No species can overrun the carrying capacity of a finite land mass. This Law cannot be repealed and is not negotiable.” Dr. Albert Bartlett, www.albartlett.org , University of Colorado, USA.

“Most Western elites continue urging the wealthy West not to stem the migrant tide [that adds 80 million net gain annually to the planet], but to absorb our global brothers and sisters until their horrid ordeal has been endured and shared by all—ten billion humans packed onto an ecologically devastated planet.” Dr. Otis Graham, Unguarded Gates

Lester Brown, author of Plan B 4.0 Saving Civilization said, “The world has set in motion environmental trends that are threatening civilization itself. We are crossing environmental thresholds and violating deadlines set by nature. Nature is the timekeeper, but we cannot see the clock.”
GB

Posted: May 13 2014, 10:17 AM

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5076 Human overpopulation causes or worsens nearly every environmental problem there is. Overpopulation also causes or worsens poverty. We are unable to adequately feed and house many of the world''s 7.2 billion people. How can we expect to do so when there are 9 or 10 billion of us? Think about it: is it really easier for a desperately poor family to feed 4 children than it is to feed 2 children?

The author's last paragraph is simply bizarre. Over population causes starvation and contaminated water. And diseases spread more quickly among dense populations.
Fred Elbel

Posted: May 13 2014, 10:27 AM

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50134 Information Liberation is an informative website that presents articles which the mainstream media overlook or underplay.

However, regarding Albright's article,I was immediately struck by the idiocy of the authors' position and the pseudo logic he uses to try to bolster his premise. My immediate reaction was: how could Information Liberation even considering publishing such unsubstantiated rubbish?
Wanda Berger

Posted: May 13 2014, 10:48 AM

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245 "Logan Albright recently completed a Master’s Degree in Economics from Georgia State University. Viewing himself as something of a modern Renaissance man, Logan has an eclectic background, and has collected degrees in such diverse fields as Russian and Music. He is an avid libertarian and follower of the Austrian School of economics, but takes time out from railing against the evils of government to play the part of amateur novelist, beer connoisseur and moustache enthusiast."

Hmmm, odd, I don't see any evidence of science or mathematics expertise. And given Logan's youth he hasn't lived long enough see or understand the consequences of the metastasizing spread of our species. But time will cure all this.
Peter

Posted: May 13 2014, 1:02 PM

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8750 Folks, please stop being part of the problem -
Go buy yourselves a couple yards hemp-rope AND USE IT -
to become part of the solution !
In other words : IF you think there are to many people - Don't sit around and wait for the 'problem' to solve itself, become part of The Final Solution :
GO HANG YOURSELVES .

What this World can NOT afford any longer is 85 individuals owning more than the least wealthy half of the Globes population .
GB

Posted: May 13 2014, 1:33 PM

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5076 Peter, what's with the silly suggestion that people commit suicide? No rational population advocate wants to increase the death rate. Everybody dies, eventually, so there's no need for action there. What we need is a reduction in the number of pregnancies, so we won't keep making so many new people. There are far too many people on Earth, and the solution is better use of contraception.
Peter

Posted: May 13 2014, 4:17 PM

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193180 GB, what's with the silly suggestion that people should stop having kids ?
(And do you follow your own 'advice' ? A shame your parents didn't, no ??)

I'm just sick and tired of hearing people parroting this evil nonsense, that's all . I really don't hope anyone goes and kills themselves, I hope they start thinking a bit for themselves and stop mindlessly repeating the nonsense being spread to serve the interests of the few .
If you knew your history you would know where the kind of talk you and others talk ends - In forced abortions, 'eugenics' and what not .

So, if you really think there are to many people on Earth :
STOP BEING PART OF THE PROBLEM !

But who cares anyway, Michael C Ruppert was probably right ,,
Peter

Posted: May 13 2014, 4:20 PM

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193180 Oh, I forgot ..
'Rational population advocate' ?
Since when did people become 'rational' ??

One thing is what these people say 'on the record', another is what they are REALLY up to .
Patricia Baker

Posted: May 13 2014, 5:55 PM

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97116 We are already seeing the stress placed on water resources by human demand for irrigation (necessary for food production to feed increasing population), personal use, manufacturing, mining etc. I refer you to USGS publication.
http://pubs.usgs.gov/fs/2007/3112/fs2007-3112.pdf. Water is just one of the limited resources we are depleting. We can help by consuming less, but there are minimal requirements per person for shelter, food, water, etc. Ever diminishing resources can only lead to increased competition and human suffering.
GB

Posted: May 14 2014, 10:28 AM

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5076 The suggestion that population advocacy leads to forced abortions or eugenics is simply wrong, and reminiscent of the Taliban and Boko Haram. Anyone who is genuinely concerned about preventing abortions knows that the best way to do so is to prevent unwanted pregnancies. Contraception prevents abortion. People who are opposed to contraception and family planning are selfish, since is it is obvious that large families worsen poverty. We should be trying to prevent poverty, not worsen it.
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