Why Do We Listen To Fools?

Jim Peron, of The Free Market Foundation of South Africa, has a book aptly titled Exploding Population Myths. It catalogs the lies and distortions used by the environmentalist's movement to frighten us. Fear is their tactic to get us to give them more control in the name of saving us. Let's look at it.

Dr. Paul Erlich wrote Population Bomb, widely read on college campuses during the late sixties. Erlich predicted there'd be a major food shortage in the U.S. and "in the 1970s . . . hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death." He forecasted that 65 million Americans would die of starvation between 1980 and 1989, and by 1999 the U.S. population would have declined to 22.6 million. Erlich's predictions about England were worse: "If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000."

In 1972, a report was written for the Club of Rome warning the world would run out of gold by 1981, mercury and silver by 1985, tin by 1987 and petroleum, copper, lead and natural gas by 1992. Gordon Taylor, in his 1970 book The Doomsday Book, said Americans were using 50 percent of the world's resources and "by 2000 they [Americans] will, if permitted, be using all of them."

It's not just these recent doomsayers who have been wrong; doomsayers have always been. In 1885, the U.S. Geological Survey announced there was "little or no chance" of oil being discovered in California and a few years later they said the same about Kansas and Texas. In 1939, the U.S. Department of the Interior said American oil supplies would last only another 13 years. By 1949, the Secretary of the Interior said the end of U.S. oil supplies was in sight. Having learned nothing from its earlier stupid claims, in 1974 the U.S. Geological Survey advised us that the U.S. had only a ten year supply of natural gas. The fact of the matter, according to the American Gas Association, there's a 1,000 to 2,500 year supply.

Idiot outfits, such as Planned Parenthood and the State Department's Agency for International Development, peddle these doomsday ideas to the world's poverty-stricken people as they sought to do at last year's Cairo summit on population control. They say poor countries would develop if only they'd deal with their "overpopulation" problems. Nonsense! There is absolutely no relationship between high population density and poverty. Zaire, with a population density of 39 people per square mile, has to be just about the world's poorest country. Hong Kong has a population density of 247,501 people per square mile - over 6,000 times more crowded than Zaire. Yet Hong Kong's per capita income is $8,260 while Zaire's is less than $200. People are valuable. The Earth is loaded with room and resources to support an even greater population. Even if the Earth's entire population moved to the United States, it would make our population density 1,531 people per square mile. That's a lower density than what now exists in New York City (11,480), Los Angeles (9,126) and Houston (7,512).

What are called overpopulation problems result from socialistic government practices that reduce the capacity of people to educate, clothe, house and feed themselves. Poor countries are rife with farm controls, export and import restrictions, restrictive licensing, price controls, plus gross human rights violations that encourage their most productive people to emigrate. The true anti-poverty lesson for poor countries is the most promising route out of poverty to greater wealth is personal liberty.

Walter E. Williams
January 18, 1995
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