The World Population Question

Apr 8th, 2011 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview

In 1798 a British clergyman named Thomas Malthus argued that human population growth would exceed the world?s ability to feed this growth in population.  Robert McNamara in 1968, as president of the World Bank, spoke of ?the mushrooming cloud of population explosion.?  Paul Ehrlich, about the same time, published a book, The Population Bomb, in which he argued that we must ?have population control at home, hopefully through a system of incentives and penalties, but by compulsion if voluntary methods fail.?  The Club of Rome issued its famous report in the 1970s on the ?Limits of Growth.?  Such doomsday speculations produced the following:

  • In China it led to forced abortions and a birth rate wildly skewed against baby girls.
  • In India in the mid-1970s, it led to a mass campaign of assembly-line sterilizations.
  • In South Africa and Namibia, it led to policies that appeared to target the part of the population least able to defend itself?young black women were given contraceptive injections without their consent.

So, where is the world?s population today in 2011?

  • In the 200 years since Malthus, the world population has risen six-fold?to over 6 billion and life expectancy has more than doubled.
  • Chinese people are today better fed than ever!
  • Among nations with some of the largest and most crowded populations in the world (e.g., India and China), we are seeing the greatest economic ?takeoff? imaginable.
  • Many of the nations that once tried to push down their birth rates are now frantically trying to encourage their people to have more children as fast as they can.  Their populations are rapidly aging and their populations must grow.

Technology and God?s common grace have permitted the world to deal with significant population growth and not face the cataclysmic disaster Malthus predicted.  Let?s be cautious about future population doom and gloom scenarios.

See William McGurn?s perceptive essay on which this Perspective was heavily dependent in Imprimis (March 2011).

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