OVER THE PAST SEVERAL YEARS, I HAVE written articles critical of international meetings about population questions, hosted by the United Nations and other government bodies. These articles have usually gotten me in trouble with readers who protested my indifference to the plight of poor nations burdened with "too many people." UNophiles, if I can call them that, are upset that I drew attention to the fact that these meetings, called to discuss world poverty and over-population, have usually been held at high-class hotels in exotic spots at a cost of untold millions -- including limousines frequently flown in to accommodate the plenipotentiaries from the very countries which are the target of everybody's angst.
"The population problem," was first raised by a parson, Thomas Malthus, in 1798 in his now famous Essay on the Principles of Population. His thesis was that since people procreate geometrically and, according to his understanding, food grew linearly, the world was bound to either run out of food, or experience the pestilence, famines, and wars that would control population so as to keep it in line with the output of food.
Of course, Malthus was dead wrong in his understanding about population growth and food production. Wrong because he couldn't have foreseen the evolution of technology and wrong because he misunderstood how human beings make decisions in response to economic factors. Contemporary Malthusians, such as Paul Erhlich and Lester Brown, are just as wrong but without the excuse Malthus had -- in his day, the power of the market was not really understood .
The problem isn't population. It is politics, specifically, bad politics, driven by incorrect ideas about the power of the state to create wealth and ordain human outcomes. It's no coincidence that wealthy but densely populated regions of the world are also regions that rely on markets, while poor countries that are target of our sympathies have typically been marxist, statist, and totalitarian.
The articulation of this response to my critics is something I have long wanted to do. Fortunately, Jim Peron, an expatriate American living in South Africa, has done it for me in this wonderful Critical Issues Bulletin about myths around our understanding of population. Since he has worked independently, we must disclaim any necessary connection with the views of the members or the Trustees of The Fraser Institute. Nevertheless, I commend it to you as a solid, but easily read, modern Essay on the Principles of Population.
Michael A. Walker,
Executive Director, The Fraser Institute