‘Overpopulation’ Fears are a Hoax. Here’s Why Higher Populations are Actually a Good Thing.

Human beings are valuable resources, and the more we have of them the better.

A large crowd of people walking along the water front at the Veemkade street on the Sail Amsterdam event in Amsterdam, The Netherlands on August 21, 2010. Blaming poverty on overpopulation not only lets governments off the hook but also encourages the enactment of harmful, inhumane policies.

By Walter Williams Published on May 31, 2017

In 1798, Thomas Malthus wrote “An Essay on the Principle of Population.” He predicted that mankind’s birthrate would outstrip our ability to grow food and would lead to mass starvation.

Malthus’ wrong predictions did not deter Stanford University professor Paul Ehrlich from making a similar prediction.

In his 1968 best-seller, The Population Bomb, which has sold more than 2 million copies, Ehrlich warned: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

This hoax resulted in billions of dollars being spent to fight overpopulation.

According to the standard understanding of the term, human overpopulation occurs when the ecological footprint of a human population in a specific geographical location exceeds the carrying capacity of the place occupied by that group.

The entire premise behind population control is based on the faulty logic that humans are not valuable resources.

Let’s look at one aspect of that description — namely, population density.

Let’s put you, the reader, to a test. See whether you can tell which country is richer and which is poorer just by knowing two countries’ population density.

North Korea’s population density is 518 people per square mile, whereas South Korea’s is more than double that, at 1,261 people per square mile.

Hong Kong’s population density is 16,444, whereas Somalia’s is 36.

Congo has 75 people per square mile, whereas Singapore has 18,513.

Looking at the gross domestic products of these countries, one would have to be a lunatic to believe that smaller population density leads to greater riches.

Here are some gross domestic product data expressed in millions of U.S. dollars: North Korea ($17,396), South Korea ($1,411,246), Hong Kong ($320,668), Somalia ($5,707), Congo ($41,615), and Singapore ($296,967).

The overpopulation hoax has led to horrible population control programs. The United Nations Population Fund has helped governments deny women the right to choose the number and spacing of their children.

Overpopulation concerns led China to enact a brutal one-child policy. Forced sterilization is a method of population control in some countries. Nearly a quarter-million Peruvian women were sterilized.

Our government, through the U.N. Population Fund, is involved in “population moderation” programs around the world, including in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Mexico, Indonesia, Brazil, the Philippines, Thailand, Egypt, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Colombia.

The entire premise behind population control is based on the faulty logic that humans are not valuable resources.

The fact of business is that humans are what the late Julian L. Simon called the ultimate resource.

That fact becomes apparent by pondering this question: Why is it that Gen. George Washington did not have cellphones to communicate with his troops and rocket launchers to sink British ships anchored in New York Harbor?

Surely, all of the physical resources — such as aluminum alloys, copper, iron ore, and chemical propellants — necessary to build cellphones and rocket launchers were around during Washington’s time. In fact, they were around at the time of the caveman.

There is only one answer for why cellphones, rocket launchers, and millions of other things are around today but were not around yesteryear.

The growth in human knowledge, human ingenuity, job specialization, and trade led to industrialization, which, coupled with personal liberty and private property rights, made it possible.

Human beings are valuable resources, and the more we have of them the better.

The greatest threat to mankind’s prosperity is government, not population growth. For example, Zimbabwe was agriculturally rich but, with government interference, was reduced to the brink of mass starvation.

Any country faced with massive government interference can be brought to starvation. Blaming poverty on overpopulation not only lets governments off the hook but also encourages the enactment of harmful, inhumane policies.

Today’s poverty has little to do with overpopulation. The most commonly held characteristics of non-poor countries are greater personal liberty, private property rights, the rule of law, and an economic system closer to capitalism than to communism.

That’s the recipe for prosperity.


Walter E. Williams is a professor of economics at George Mason University.

Copyright 2017 The Daily Signal

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  • This is absolutely spot on! How insightful. Thank you Prof. Williams.

  • Cynthia Cantrell

    “Human beings are valuable resources, and the more we have of them the better.”

    This neglects the fact that we live on a resource limited planet. We avoided the catastrophes before because of unexpected advances in technology. There is simply no guarantee that this is going to continue happening. We will certainly try, but when we fail, history shows that we are going to start fighting each other.

    Passenger pigeons, one so ubiquitous could blacken the the sky, were once a common food source. They were essentially gone by the end of the 19th century. The Chesapeake Bay once produced billions of dollars of caviar that were shipped all over the world. Not any more. The native oyster harvest in the Cheaspeake iis down to 1% of historical levels. We are desperately spending millions of dollars each year to try and bring them back. There is no guarantee they will.

    We have already​ seen drastic reductions in major commercial fish populations like sharks and tuna.

    Coral reefs (home to loots of food fish) are bleaching and dying by the square mile with little sign of recovery.

    The only things we seem to getting more of in the oceans are acid, heat, and plastic. In a few years, the mass of plastic in the ocean is expected to exceed the mass of fish.

    In rich countries like the US, we have been insulated from these effects because we can easily by food from other locations.

    Sure we can continue for a while, but at some point the food energy required to feed all the people will exceed that which the earth can produce.

    Yes, we have survived several bottlenecks. But if you look closer at human history, we find that a number of great civilizations just disappeared.

  • Cynthia Cantrell

    Mankind is currently causing the largest die-off of species since the dinosaurs disappeared. It is called “the sixth mass extinction.” Somehow I don’t think we are going to be so lucky this time.

    The richest will survive, but with much of our biodiversity lost, it is hard to imagine supporting an expanding population.

    • Cynthia, something else we disagree about:) Have babies!!!

      • Cynthia Cantrell

        Sorry. It’s too late for that! 😉

        • Not you, silly! It was more of a generic call:) It’s amazing how quickly “too late” comes. How quickly everything comes. Cheers!

  • GPS Daddy

    There are other ways that people are devalued. I’m sure the author agrees with my next point: looking at humans as a resource is a problem in corporate America. People are seen as cogs in the system. If the cog is not able to perform its job then that cog is removed, discarded, and replaced. Yet we’re not talking about a cog but a living, breathing person who might end up in economic failure if that happens.

    Technology has allowed us to farm the land and distribute the food in such a way that higher populations are possible. Yet it comes at a price. We have to put such effort into learning technology that we loose in relationships. I know many people who understand that computer but their marriage is in shambles. There’s a guy at my office who is a huge perfectionist. But in his mind his worth as a human being is strongly tied to his job performance.

    Here in the US our communities are suffering from isolation. We have more people than ever before yet lonliness is an epidemic.

    So while population control is wrong, we need people, we’re no where near understanding how to live life.

  • Nobody can circumvent physical laws.
    Mr. Walter E. Williams should learn basics of physics.
    Finite planet cannot feed infinite number of people.
    You cannot eat money.
    Even you cannot make money, when you have no food…

    • QuestionItAll

      The brainwashing is working!

  • chrisinva

    Doomsdayers insist that there are too many people already, when the entire population of the world could fit in Texas in comfortable suburban housing.

    The notion prevails among the left, “There’s just enough of me, and waaaay too many of you” – especially if the “you are black and brown.” In fact it was the black and the brown that was targeted by the founders of Planned Parenthood,, Margaret Sanger, who wanted to abort them, sterilize them, and otherwise annihilate them.

    People who hate people… are the unhappiest people in the world.

  • QuestionItAll

    For anyone really paying attention, the Global Warming/Climate Change meme IS Eugenics 2.0 – period. Make the sheeple – especially Progressives – feel really guilty and bad about themselves, and brainwash them into believing humans are a blight on the planet. Once this was established, it became a simple sell that are way too many humans destroying the place. And, the reality is, all of the world’s population would only fill an area the size of Texas!

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