Starvation and Socialism

Stephen J asks:

there’s only so happy I can be about the fizzling of the population bomb because as much as it is due to human ingenuity finding ways to feed and manage greater numbers, it has also, I think, been tragically contributed to by widespread contraception and abortion. The number I typically hear cited by pro-life advocates is forty million people lost to abortion alone, just in the States, in the forty years since Roe vs. Wade; expand that to the world, and include not just the deaths of abortion but the lives prevented by contraception in the eighty years since Lambeth and the sixty years since the Pill, and I have to wonder if indeed Ehrlich would have been closer to the mark if none of those things had ever happened. (Which is by no means an argument for those things and I don’t want to make it one, which is precisely why I find that whole train of thought so upsetting.)

Am I overestimating the effect of these evils? Or underestimating even yet both Providence and human ingenuity? I would be very happy to be told that both Planned Parenthood and Ehrlich can be wrong.

Answer: Yes. Both are not only wrong, and dead wrong, both have done incalculable harm to so many people that even the sufferings of hell will hardly atone for it. Would there be a One Child Policy in China (which made my daughter an orphan, thank you very much, so I have a personal reason to hate it) were it not for scaremonger Ehrlich and his nonsense?

Both Murder Incorporated and Paul Ehrlich are wrong and for a simple reason: overpopulation is not a number, it is a ratio between the productive capacity of the individual and the drain that individual represents.

If each new baby is a new pair of hands to work, a new brain, and if each new baby over his lifetime produces more than he consumes, then looking at each new baby as a new mouth to feed is folly.

The argument turns on what constitutes a resource. Is copper? You cannot eat it. Yet a man who works in a copper mine produces more than he consumes, and the world would be poorer, not richer, if he were absent. Is oil? Before Standard Oil put the price of oil within the grasp of the common man, oil found on land was a detriment, not a benefit, because it might make crops harder to raise. What about a man who writes science fiction novels, investigates news stories, writes computer manuals, or practices law. I have done all these things. Have I contributed more to the wealth of the world or taken more than I contributed?

If I am taking more than I am contributing, why does any one PAY ME ANYTHING? And yet I am productive enough that I can support five dependents, plus creditors plus the tax man. Through the tax man, I support about as many people as are in my family. In round numbers, there are ten people resting on my work, that is, consumers who are not presently productive. Eliminate me through abortion or contraception, and you eliminate one pair of hands, or, looking at it another way, you increase the unfed mouths by ten.

In the final analysis, there is no such thing as a resource. The amount that we take from nature in the raw is so small as to be below calculation. Oil is worthless without human work, and so is soil, and so are fish in the stream. The question of how to turn a useless material like oil into a substance that serves a human need is a question of human ingenuity.

So, what makes it seem as if there is overpopulation? The argument is based on a simple and absurd error, once which Malthus himself saw and reversed before his life ended: it is the idea that resources are static. Mother Nature has stocked nature like your Cook stocking the shelves of the pantry with eggs. There are only twelve eggs and a pound of butter: if you have twelve children, they each get one egg, and if you have six, they get two. Simple, ain’t it? But what does the mother-nature-as-a-pantry picture leave out? It leaves out the chickens. Mother Nature is not the Cook but the Landlady. The Landlady gives you twelve chickens. If you have twelve children, and each one gets a chicken, so that each chicken is fed, and reproduces, and is made fertile, and does not die of neglect, you end up with many, many, many eggs. If you have six children, six of the chickens go to waste, are not cared for, and die.

Under the egg model, more people means less resources. Twelve children means one egg per child; six children means two eggs per child. That is the opposite of what we who live in America (where obesity-related conditions form the number one cause of death among the poor) have seen since the Industrial revolution. WE HAVE NOT EVEN RUN OUT OF OIL YET. New methods of extraction made things that were not a resource, such as shale oil, into resources.

Under the chicken model, more people means more resources. It means things like silicon and oil and shale deposits for which previously there was no use and no demand now serve human needs. Six children means six chickens goes to waste and die; Twelve children means two or three dozen chickens per child.

Do you see the difference between the two models?

Which model fits the fact of reality as we see them?

The Earth is seven tenths water. Except for a small amount of fishing, it is unexploited. Vast areas of the remaining surface are mountain, desert, ice cap, forest, swamp, and other lands that are unexploited, unused or underused. The physical substances at or near the surface of the earth which presently have no use and serve no human need are infinite. I do not mean infinite in mass or density. I mean infinite in productivity. I mean infinite in what human ingenuity can do with them.

Murder Incorporated and Paul Ehrlich both pretend, absurdly, that Earth is like a lifeboat with a fixed amount of supplies. Oh, no! What will happen if we run out of whales!?! We will have no whale oil to light our homes with oil lamps, no whale bones for buggy whips or for corset stays! What will happen if we run out of tin to make tin foil and tin cans?!?

I am not even going to mention the natural resources available in the near future in outer space, which could be exploited quite profitably even if robots rather than people do all the heavy work.

The problem is purely political. People are starving in the areas of the world run by barbarians, warlords, thugs, or those over-civilized friends of barbarians, socialists. That is what causes starvation. That is what causes overpopulation and it is the only thing that causes overpopulation.

If you want to prevent starvation, shoot a socialist.