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So, what exactly is the problem?

Fri, Dec 1st, 2006
Posted in Commentary

Ho-hum. Another dire warning about the impending crises and calamities to be visited on us because of "overpopulation." Let's see, how many unfulfilled warnings does that make in the past century or two? I would guess that Herb Panko's makes somewhere around the 300 millionth. I wonder - is anyone going to raise the alarm bells about the overabundance of dire and unfulfilled warnings on overpopulation?

Mr. Panko's article two weeks ago was full of alarm, but not much fact. Indeed, he cited not one bad consequence that will result from the U.S. population's increase. However for him and his ZPG (Zero Population Growth) cohorts, the mere fact that the population is increasing is cause for alarm.

But why? Are people unemployed? The unemployment rate is around 4.5 percent, which is pretty average. Are people starving? The FDA just reported a decrease in the number of hungry people in the U.S. There's even an overabundance of food; ag yields have never been higher, and crop prices remain depressed. The environment? Sure, there's a fuss about global warming, but air and water are actually getting cleaner. (When was the last time you heard about a lake catching fire?) How about overcrowding? Look at a world population density map and you'll see that the U.S. is nowhere near as dense as Europe or Asia. In fact, half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of the coasts. Unrest and riots because of dense populations? Can't say that I've heard of those in any major U.S. city in the last 35 years.

Mr. Panko cites the Europeans as a model to follow. But with their population levels well below replacement and falling, Europeans are scrambling. Their pension systems are failing because they can't keep up with payments to their retirees since there aren't enough younger workers to pay into the pension system. France and Russia are practically begging their citizens to have more children and France is even providing subsidies to the tune of around $10,000 a year for couples who have more than two children. And as their native populations decrease, there's an increase in Muslims who move in and let's just say that France's experience with that hasn't been the most peaceful.

What about Japan? Its population shrank by 21,000 last year. The government is obviously not committed to population growth and they don't allow immigration, so they're trying to manage the rapidly descending population. But one can only manage so much. If a country keeps losing its people, it can't defend itself or provide for those who remain. And how long can a population decline before it disappears entirely?

There's a fundamental question that has to be answered, though - what exactly is the problem with people? It seems that Mr. Panko and his ZPG friends have bought into the pessimism inherent in Malthusian thinking. Malthus looked at people solely as consumers, as beings who use and deplete resources. That, however, doesn't square with human experience. People are not just users, but inventors and suppliers. That's why ag yields have been increasing and why, where it's allowed to flourish and is regulated where needed by law, capitalism has led to prosperity, not doom. Sure, we'll have issues in dealing with the population increase. But better that than encountering what many rural counties in the Midwest must face today, even with the increasing population - shuttering entire towns because there aren't enough people to live in them.

Mr. Panko suggests that there are sensitive questions to be raised, like is there a right to reproduction beyond two children? (Funny - a "right" to kill one's unborn child was found in the "emanations and penumbras" of the Constitution in 1973, but it seems some would like to take away the absolute right that has existed since the dawn of time for people to reproduce as they see fit.)

Let me relate a story that puts a rather blunt end to that sensitivity. Some time ago, my wife was shopping with our then quite young twins. In the parking lot, she passed by a car with a bumper sticker that said something "sensitive" like, "One child per family is enough." Fortunately for the owner of that vehicle, he or she wasn't around, otherwise my wife would have brought our twins to that person to ask this rather difficult but, admittedly, insensitive question: "OK, which one of them would you kill?"

Well, Mr. Panko, would you like to answer that question?

Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz lives in Peterson.

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