What Is Overpopulation?

Increasingly, modern man has come to believe that he faces a serious problem in the near future because of the so-called popula­tion explosion. The world, he is told, is running out of room and out of food for man, and, as a re­sult, drastic measures may be nec­essary in order to prevent dis­aster.

Before the question, "Does the world face overpopulation?" can be answered, another question must be faced: "What is overpop­ulation?"

Perhaps the best answer to this latter question is that overpopu­lation is an imbalance between the number of people living and their food supply, which results in hun­ger and even famine because the available production of food can­not match the population’s needs.

In terms of this definition, it must be recognized that the world has had the problem of overpopulation several hundred times at least, and probably almost con­sistently during much of its his­tory. This ancient problem of overpopulation can best be under­stood by a few illustrations, and first of all, its history in North America. North America had a continuing problem of overpopu­lation before the coming of the white man. The Indian population was small, perhaps at most 250,­000 to 300,000, and perhaps even less than half that number. Nev­ertheless, overpopulation was a continual problem, and it led to hunger, famine, and cannibalism. The very word "cannibal" comes from the Americas. It is derived from the Spanish Canibales, which came from the Carib calina, galibi, literally, strong men, i.e., those who practiced it. Both among the tribes contacted by Columbus and in the areas now a part of the United States, cannibalism was fairly prevalent. Its purpose was certainly often religious and magi­cal, but it was also clearly econ­omical as well, often dictated by the shortage of food. Among some tribes, its magical use continued into the nineteenth century:

From time immemorial the Skidi Pawnees had offered a human sacri­fice to the morning star each spring in order to insure the success of their crops of corn, beans, and pumpkins. The victim was always a prisoner of war, and usually a pure young wom­an. She was treated kindly by her captors and kept in ignorance of her fate until the morning she was led, painted from head to foot in sacred red and black colors, to a scaffold in the center of the village, tied to the crossbars, and, just as the morning star appeared in the sky, killed by a medicine arrow shot through her heart.¹

This is clearly a case of human sacrifice; human sacrifice was often accompanied by a ritual act of cannibalism. But there also ex­isted extensive cannibalism as a remedy for hunger. Indian canni­balism is very little reported or studied. Older Indians who re­called it were unwilling to discuss readily a subject which brought much disrepute to them. Modern writers, prone to a romantic view of the Indians, tend to mention it only in passing and then to justify it by unfavorable references to cruelty in Western civilization. Most general works give us only a brief, passing reference to such facts as this, concerning a South American people: "Some of the many bands of Tupian people bred their women to captives of war and raised the resultant children like veal calves for butchering."³ In most cases, however, cannibal­ism for economic reasons was a last resort, although not an un­common last resort.

Hungry Hunters

Why were the Indians hungry, when they had the wealth of the Americas at their disposal? The answer is that their food supply was severely limited. A few ani­mals, like the passenger pigeon, were seasonally plentiful, but they were not always available. Before the white man brought the horse and the gun to the Indians, buffalo were much more difficult to hunt, and smaller game was normally depended on. In forested areas, game was scarce. Living off the land is a poor way to live and makes only a marginal and pre­carious existence possible. It was rarely done by white men. The fur trappers went into the wilderness with food and equipment as their capital: a grubstake made survival possible. Settlers moved out in large groups, with at least two years’ income as capital, to clear, plant, and develop the soil. As the settlers developed the soil, the nearby game increased, because the food supply increased. Game drew close to settlements and mul­tiplied, and Indians drew close to settlers to get the game as well as the settlers’ produce and animals. The coming of the white man in­creased the food supply, because the white man developed the earth.4

Here is the key to the problem. The total Indian population in North America was not greater than many an average-sized American city, and yet the Indians were unable to produce enough food to avoid famine. Some coun­ties in California today produce more food than perhaps the In­dians of North, South, and Central America ever saw in a year. For hunting tribes, famine was a nor­mal thing.

From the Abnaki of Maine through the Micmac of Nova Scotia and the Montagnais and Naskapi of Quebec and Labrador, hunger was increas­ingly a part of life and legend, in di­rect proportion as farming dwindled and hunting became the only gainful occupation. Even in a country teem­ing, as the saying goes, with game, the chase is bound to be a shaky pro­vider, there being nothing stable about a supply of wild meat.5

Agriculture, then, was a preven­tative to famine, but it was not a certain preventative. Repeatedly, the farming peoples of Europe have undergone famine. Thus, in England alone, during the thir­teenth century, hunger and fam­ine struck in 1203, 1209, 1224, 1235, 1239, 1243, 1257, 1258, 1271, 1286, 1289, 1294, 1295, and 1298. In 1258, for example, it was re­ported that the poor ate the bark of trees, and horseflesh, and that 20,000 starved in London, which was the report also for 1235. In 1239, we are told that people ate their children, and 1286, a 23 years’ famine began, with the years cited above being simply the severest years.6

The Plymouth colony in New England faced famine immedi­ately as a result of its farming. The cause for this is stated can­didly by Bradford: it was the so­cialistic system of farming which created the famine:

At length, after much debate of things, the Govr (with the advice of the cheefest among them) gave way that they should set corne every man for his own particular, and in that regard trust to them selves; in all other things to go on in the general way as before. And so assigned to every family a parcel of land, ac­cording to the proportion of their number for that end, only for present use (but made no division for in­heritance), and ranged all boys and youths under some families. This had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more concern was planted then otherwise would have been by any means the Govr or any other could use, and saved him a great deal of trouble, and gave far better contents. The women now went willingly into the field, and took their little-ones with them to set come, which before would a ledge weakness, and inabilities; whom to have compelled would have been thought great tyrannies and oppression.

The experience that was had in this common course and condition, tried sundries years, and that amongst godly and sober men, may well evince the vanities of that conceit of Platos and other ancients, applauded by some of later times;—that the tak­ing away of properties and bringing in communities into a common wealth, would make them happy and flourishing; as if they were wiser than God. For this communities (so far as it was) was found to breed much con­fusion and discontent, and retard much employment that would have been to their benefit and comfort.7

The problem at Plymouth Plan­tation was thus a restrictive form of farming, one imposed from London, which undercut initiative and production. Basic to sound farming, therefore, is freedom from statist controls. As Montes­quieu observed, "Countries are not cultivated in proportion to their fertility, but to their liberty."8

Famine Was Normal

Not nature but man is the ma­jor cause of famine. Natural dis­asters such as storms, droughts, and frost can indeed destroy crops, but their effect is local, not total. Free production elsewhere can alleviate a shortage in a stricken area. In 1967, killing frosts in the San Joaquin Valley of California in some cases de­stroyed all the fruit on many farms. Farms sometimes within sight of a devastated farm came through the frost with minor damage. Some produce was in short supply, but other produce supplied the lack by bumper crops. Farmers whose crops were destroyed did not starve. Those who had savings used them to weather the year; many wives went to work to alleviate the fi­nancial crisis. The uses of free­dom and industry saw these farm­ers through a crisis without any famine, nor with any proclama­tion of a national disaster calling for Federal funds.

Walford listed, among the causes of famine, the following factors which are of particular signifi­cance:

  1. The prevention of cultivation or the willful destruction of crops;
  2. Defective agriculture caused by communistic control of land;
  3. Governmental interference by regulation or taxation;
  4. Currency restrictions, including debasing the coin.9

The world, during its least populous eras, suffered most from hunger and famine. As statist controls receded in the nineteenth century, hunger also began to re­cede, and Western civilization in­creasingly saw famine banished and hunger successfully dealt with. A far greater population en­joyed far greater supplies of food.

The reason for this increased supply of food was not simply technology nor the Industrial Rev­olution. The application of tech­nology to Russian farming since 1917 has not seen an increase in the food supply. On the contrary, food production has declined, and the Ukraine, once the bread­basket of Europe, has been un­able to feed the Soviet Union. Technology has not increased the food supply of Red China nor of any other socialist regime. The reason for the increased supply of food was the growth of freedom. Now "thanks to Socialism, famine again stalks the earth…. Like a horse and carriage, ‘socialism and hunger’ inevitably go together." As a result, "much of Eastern Europe, once a granary in its own right, lives off U. S. surpluses, while the fertile farmlands of Algeria, which produced so boun­tifully for the hard-working colons, have turned barren."10 In the United States, as a result of the increasing socialistic controls of farming, food production is de­clining to the point that civil gov­ernment officials can speak of fu­ture food problems, and a con­servative writer can describe the policy as planned famine.11

Hunger Endemic to Socialism

The answer, then, to our prob­lem is in essence this: socialism always creates ultimately an im­balance between the number of people living and their food sup­ply which results in hunger or famine. There is in this sense, therefore, always a problem of overpopulation under socialism. Hunger is chronic and endemic to socialism.

Socialism, moreover, affects both the food supply, by limiting it, and also the population, by both ex­panding it at one stage and limit­ing it at another. Socialism grows in a country by catering to a group or to various groups by sub­sidies. These subsidies penalize the taxpayers for the benefit of favored groups who are termed "needy" but are now in actuality an undeservedly privileged group.

A subsidized group experiences a "population explosion." Being released from the responsibility of work, it lacks inhibitions and feels no constraint about rapid in­crease. Since more children may be a means of increased subsidy, the inhibition of financial account­ability and responsibility is re­moved. Absorption with sex, and irresponsible sex, are products of a welfare economy. Zoo animals have a different sexuality than do wild animals.12 A zoo is a welfare economy, and the zoo animals are privileged—and enslaved—animals. A welfare economics gives a privi­leged and enslaved status to a seg­ment of the population. Again, America gives us a familiar and telling illustration. The American Negro, under slavery, existed in a welfare economy, because slavery is a form of welfare economics. The possession of slaves gave so­cial status but it was not an econ­omic asset. The slave gained cradle to grave security for a minimum of work. His living conditions were sometimes good and some­times bad, but, on the whole, far superior to those of the peoples of Red China and the Soviet Union….

The census of 1860 estimated that the total population of the United States would reach "about a hundred million" by 1900, but it estimated that, with emancipation likely, due to the start of the Civil War, "so many (Negroes) will be transferred from a faster to a slower rate of increase," that "nine millions of the colored, in the year 1900, appears a large estimate."13 The Negro population in 1900 reached 8,833,994, the total population, 75,994,575. There was thus a marked decline in the ratio of the colored population after 36 years of freedom. Slavery, as a welfare economy, had encour­aged the birth rate. The further the Negro left behind slavery and plantation patronage, the more his population statistics indicated a declining birth rate. The follow­ing statistics are revealing:



 White       Negro      Indian     Total























The above statistics do not list Chinese, Japanese, and other groups. The Indians are included to indicate that an Indian popula­tion greater than ever existed in pre-Columbian America now lives with millions of Americans with­out famine. Indian America was overpopulated; modern white America is not.

The statistics are also important in that they show the marked decline in the ratio of Negroes to whites from 1860 to 1930; the In­dians showed some increase in the same time, because the reserva­tion system provided them with a welfare economy. The census of 1860 did not include Western In­dians, but their numbers at that time were limited in the West. Their strong resistance has cre­ated the illusion of great numbers in men’s minds. The Negro ratio declined to 1930 but returned to about the same ratio as 1860 in 1960. In other words, a generation of welfare, beginning with the New Deal of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, provided a re­turn to the subsidized conditions of the Negro of 1860.

The Worst Elements Subsidized

Thus, a welfare economy, up to a point, increases a segment of the population. Whether in ancient Rome or modern America, this in­crease is of the worst segment of the population in ability, intelli­gence, and character. The worst elements of the white and Negro populations are subsidized to the detriment of the nonsubsidized whites and Negroes.

In 1965, in the cities, nearly one-fourth of the Negro women who have been married were now di­vorced or separated as against a 7.9 per cent rate for white women. "Nearly one out of every four Negro babies born" was illegiti­mate, a Negro illegitimacy rate of 23.6 per cent as against a white rate of 3.07. More than half of all Negro children in 1965 were helped by Federal-state Aid to Dependent Children, as against an 8 per cent rate for white children. The birth rate for Negroes was 40 per cent higher than for whites, so that it was estimated that by 1972 "Negroes will make up one-eighth of the U. S. population."15 The situation since 1965 has be­come rapidly worse.

However, with full socialism, the need to gain votes by subsidy gives way to totalitarian controls over all the people, and population figures then show a frequent de­cline. Population figures for the U.S.S.R. are estimates only, in that the data is carefully guarded by that state, and the indications of population decline and famine are many.

The answer to the question, "What is overpopulation?" is that it is an imbalance between the number of people living and their food supply. This is a condition the world has faced during most of its history. As a result, we can answer the question, "Does the world face overpopulation?" that it indeed does face overpopulation, hunger, and famine progressively as it becomes more and more so­cialistic. Socialism has a poor rec­ord when it comes to eliminating problems: its answer adds up to eliminating people. In fact, one of socialism’s major and chronic problems is simply people. Social­ism on the one hand destroys pro­duction, and, on the other, breeds up the least desirable elements. Its answer is to find the people at fault. Socialism always faces over­population; a free economy does not.

The foregoing article is reprinted by permission from the opening chapter of The Myth of Over-Population (Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1969). The Reverend Mr. Rushdoony, who is President of the Chalcedon Foundation in California, deals in subsequent chapters with the problems:

  1. Too Many People?
  2. The Economics of Population Control
  3. The Possibilities of Depopulation

1. John C. Ewers, Artists of the Old West. (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1965), p. 48.
2. Oliver La Farge, A Pictorial History of the American Indian (New York: Crown Publishers, 1957), p. 56.
3. William Brandon, with Alvin M. Jo­sephy, Jr., The American Heritage Book of Indians (New York: American Her­itage Publishing Co., 1961), p. 56.
4. See James C. Malin, The Grassland of North America: Prolomena to Its His­tory, pp. 138-140, Lawrence, Kansas, 1947; and Malin, "The Grassland of North America: its Occupancy and the Challenge of Continuous Reappraisals," p. 10, Background Paper No. 19, prepared for the Wenner-Gren Foundation Inter­national Symposium, "Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth," Prince­ton Inn, Princeton, New Jersey, June 16-22, 1955. See also Marquis de Chastel­lex, Travels in North America in the Years 1780, 1781, and 1782, vol. I, p. 79f., Chapel Hill: University of North Caro­lina Press, 1963.
5. Brandon, op. cit., p. 175.
6. E. Parmalee Prentice, Hunger and History, the Influence of Hunger on Hu­man History (Caldwell, Idaho: Caxton Printers, 1951), p. 6f. See also Prentice, Farming for Famine (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, Doran, 1936), p. 7f. Prentice’s data comes from Cornelius Walford, The Famines of the World: Past and Present, March 19, 1878, Journal of the Royal Sta­tistical Society, vol. 41, p. 433; vol. 42, p. 79.
7. William T. Davis, editor, Bradford’s History of Plymouth Plantation, 1606­1646 (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1908), p. 146f.
8. Montesquieu, Spirit of Laws, Bk. xviii, ch. 3.
9. Cited by Prentice, Hunger and His­tory, p. 4.
10. Barron’s, December 20, 1965, p. 1.
11. Dan P. Van Gorder, Ill Fares the Land Western Islands, 1968).
12. Robert Ardrey, African Genesis (New York: Atheneum, 1961), p. 118.
13. Eighth Census, 1860, p. 8.
14. Ian Golenpaul, editor, Information, Please Almanac, 1967 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1966), p. 324.
15. "Negro Revolt—The Big City Crisis," in San Francisco Call-Bulletin, Saturday, August 14, 1965, p. 2.