One of the underlying arguments that we keep coming back to here at this blog is that fears of global overpopulation are, to some extent, dangerous to human respect and dignity. Let me explain. First, there is the concern that overpopulation fears will lead to government programs to “do something” about the “problem”. We have seen such programs in countries such as China, Vietnam and India and the forced sterilisation, abortion and infanticide, the human misery and cruelty that such programs necessarily entail. These governmental programs have been described many times on this blog and will continue to be pointed to in the future. Such examples are warnings as to one possible result of constantly beating the overpopulation drum.

However, aside from potentially laying the foundation for government action that destroys human dignity, human rights and human lives, overpopulation fears undermine human dignity in reducing the human person to a “mouth to feed” or “a destroyer of the planet” or a “user of resources” only. But this is only one feature of a human person. Each human being is also a producer. A thinker. A dreamer, a being that can love and know. A creater. An artist. That is, one aspect only of a person is seized upon as a reason to be concerned about the addition of more people. However, even the arch neo-Malthusian (by affixing the prefix “neo” I can discount anyone’s ideology instantly and without further argument – everyone else does it, why can’t I?) Paul Ehrlich who, despite being wrong about nearly all of his demographic predictions, including foreseeing the death of billions in the 1970s, still gets invitations to speak at places like the Vatican (!!!?), even he could see a plus-side in what he called the “population bomb”. Namely, that there would be “a dozen Beatles and a few Shakespeares”. That is, more people do not simply and only consume resources. The economist Julian Simon, who won a bet with Ehrlich that the price of metals would go down in the upcoming years even as the global population went up, wrote that overpopulation might be a blessing since:

“Resources come out of people’s minds more than out of the ground or air … Minds matter economically as much as or more than hands or mouths. Human beings create more than they use, on average. It had to be so, or we would be an extinct species.”

Or as the Oxford philosopher, Dr Toby Ord, writes:

These upsides may even outweigh the downsides, making a larger population a good thing overall. One example is the rapidly growing information economy. If someone makes a hammer, only a few people get the benefit, but if someone records a new song, writes a computer program, or invents a new technology, everyone can benefit. These activities thus produce more value the more people we have. With twice as many people doing jobs like these, we could all get roughly twice the benefits (more art, culture, science, technology), or they could work roughly half as many hours. A larger population thus has the potential to make life much better, so long as we can find the resources to support it.”

Remember this, an additional human being is not simply a “mouth to feed” any more than he or she was merely a “hand” in Josiah Bounderby’s factory. An additional human being is a human being with all its potential for good or ill. To focus only on one facet of the human person and to ignore the rest is to be blind to human dignity and respect. 

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...