5,999,999,999 and Counting
Should We Be Worried About Population Growth?
DECEMBER 01, 1999 by SHELDON RICHMAN
Filed Under : Poverty
Sometime this fall the world’s population was estimated to have reached six billion. The U.N. Population Fund, which “knows” precisely how many people there should be in the world, also “knows” precisely what day the world hit six billion: October 12.
In fact, no one knows precisely how many people there are on earth. One would have to have an exaggerated confidence in the record keeping of governments to make such a claim. How reliable are the records—birth and death—of, say, Rwanda?
The Population Fund’s perennial campaign to scare us about the number of people is another unfortunate use of taxpayers’ money. On its face the number six billion says nothing. In context it says nothing disturbing. The population’s rate of increase is slowing markedly. Fertility rates have been falling for decades. According to MSNBC, “Since 1992, the United Nations has had to push back its 6 billion estimate by almost two years.”
The Population Fund and its brooding boosters such as Paul Ehrlich and Lester Brown have been predicting disaster from population growth for decades. No set of predictions has been more forcefully falsified. Even Alex Marshall of the Population Fund had to concede that “No one in history thought it would be possible to reach this number with an intact planet; they predicted ecological collapse, famine, and nuclear war, but we are doing rather well and that’s an achievement.” Marshall is apparently unfamiliar with the work of P. T. Bauer, Julian Simon, and others.
Marshall could not resist adding: “But the other side is that so many people are living in desperate poverty and the population is still growing, mostly in the poorest countries to the poorest families.” In fact, people in most places are living longer, healthier lives than ever before. The population grows because the death rate falls.
One of the myths too many of us live by is that people cause poverty. This is worse than wrong. Poverty needs no cause or explanation.
It is wealth that must be explained. And by now we should know the cause of that: people!—more precisely, free and enterprising people living in a regime of private property.
Thus it is interference with private property, not population growth, that should be the cause of concern.
* * *
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