Russell and Duenes

7 Billion People: Blessing or Curse?

with 17 comments

To listen to the New York Times and many other mainstream outlets, one gets the idea that the human population, now at 7 billion, is a cause for great alarm and renewed population control measures. But Christopher White, over at The Public Discourse, argues sensibly that a growing human population is not a problem, but a blessing, and thus, calls for more birth control measures are wrongheaded. He suggests some other possible measures that can help us invest in the unlimited potential of human capital. He concludes:

The lesson is straightforward: Economic and national prosperity rises when individuals and families are educated and engaged in cycles of productivity. Once this engagement with productivity has taken place, additional human resources enable greater economic development. Attempting to achieve prosperity or economic growth by limiting the population decreases possible human resources, and does nothing to produce the desired outcome, which requires an investment in the human person—not fewer people.

Along the road to development, these key economic principles seem to have been forgotten. After almost forty years of failed population-control programs, it is time to learn from past mistakes and establish a new course going forward. Rather than lament a population of seven billion, let us instead welcome what could be the next Einstein, Mozart, or Steve Jobs—or just a future mother or father who will face new challenges and exhibit new forms of ingenuity and creativity to overcome them. Meanwhile, let us begin now by enacting the proper policies and the right conditions for him or her to build on.

You can read the whole piece here.



Written by Michael Duenes

October 30, 2011 at 2:14 pm

17 Responses

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  1. You are correct that human population is a very difficult problem, and that ham-handed efforts at population control create almost as many problems as they solve.

    However, for a thousand reasons, accelerating and continuing population growth is not a good thing. Many evangelicals are unable to examine their motivations for their sentimental attachment to having lots and lots of babies.

    For example:

    1. Not everyone who wants to have a baby or babies succeeds. They can’t stand to feel rage against the mythical being they describe as “God”; so they displace their anger into rage against abortion. I am not a fan of abortion and don’t believe it should be a method of birth control. but sensible birth control is a GOOD thing and abortion (with sensible controls and limitations) should be legal.

    2. Sexuality is one of the strongest human drives there is. It is difficult to direct and control. The evangelical fantasy that all sexuality can be throttled into voluntary abstinence and pastor-approved heterosexual marriage is as dangerous and faulty as the overzealous population control you correctly criticize.

    3. Going along with point #2, evangelicals are outraged that someone might be having fun in some way that they don’t approve of (i.e., singing hymns and listening to sermons in church). I mean if that’s your fun, go for it, but it never has worked for and never work for all human beings. Except when people WANT to have children and are PREPARED to have children, they are better off having sex (admittedly a very dangerous activity in a thousand ways) with birth control and protection against STDs.

    4. One of the main reasons evangelicals are so obsessed with fertility and having babies is that Christianity (like its main competitor, Islam) is a viral religion. Christians in general are obsessed with converting. Even though most people still profess to believe in God, there is less and less reason for believing in this human invention, and it is more and more difficult to convert adults. The only ones you are likely to convert are small children. So if you have lots of children you have lots of captives (kindest word I can think of) to indoctrinate.

    I doubt you (or most evangelicals) are willing to own up to these motivations for cheering on rampant population growth and fertility. But what the heck; go ahead and surprise me.


    October 30, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    • Modesty-

      You do not argue from any fixed point, and yet you state your suppositions as facts. My epistemological questions to you:

      1) How do you know what evangelicals are either able or unable to do when it comes to their own motivations? Have you polled the millions of evangelicals in America and around the globe? Let me make a blanket statement too: “the motivation of all atheists and agnostics to discredit Christianity is due to an overwhelming sense of smug superiority, their fear of death, and their own lack of evidence to disprove the existence of God.” I could, but it would not be based on reason, rather emotionalism.

      2) How do you know that people “can’t stand to feel rage against the mythical being they describe as “God?” And why do you care? If God doesn’t exist, your life is meaningless. You are just a coalesced glob of sub-atomic particles- worm food waiting to be digested and repurposed.

      3) How do you know that Christians “displace their anger into rage against abortion?” Do you have evidence to prove that all Christians do this? Is your PhD. in Christian mind-reading?

      4) How do you know that “sensible birth control is a GOOD thing and abortion (with sensible controls and limitations) should be legal?” From what point do you make this assertion? What evidences will you put forward to make this case? Will you do a statistical analysis?

      Lastly, you may or may not be correct about all Christians wanting to sustain a “viral” religion. I can speak to this personally- it is directly why I have children. I want to have more Christians on earth. I make no apologies for this.


      russell and duenes

      October 31, 2011 at 6:44 pm

  2. They can’t stand to feel rage against the mythical being they describe as “God”; so they displace their anger into rage against abortion.

    You are *this* close to converting. 🙂

    #2 contains a lot of truth, and would need a much lengthier discussion to flesh out.

    #3 likewise contains some truth, although you should omit the tiresome part about evangelicals “outraged that others might be having fun”.

    One of the main reasons evangelicals are so obsessed with fertility and having babies is that Christianity (like its main competitor, Islam) is a viral religion.

    I haven’t heard anyone deny this! I quite agree, and look forward to a more religious future.

    As far as the issue of “overpopulation” goes, I have mixed feelings. It’s probably true that we are not actually running out of resources – in a literal sense, we *can* feed everyone. But I certainly don’t want a population density of a million people per square inch; I think the USA currently has far, far more people than it can *comfortably* hold, even if it theoretically has the capacity to feed and house many more.

    Serious position: it is time to begin colonizing space. We have the technology and the people.


    October 31, 2011 at 8:50 am

  3. Modesty-

    Could you please list a few of the “thousand” reasons population growth is bad?

    I will list a few reasons why it is not bad:

    World wide: wealth is increasing, life spans are increasing, infant mortality rates are declining, calories consumed per person is increasing, etc. etc. Virtually every measure of human health and wealth show positive trends, long term, even though population has increased.

    None of the dire predictions of Erlich (Population Bomb) and his lot have come true in the remotest sense, yet the population growth myth refuses to die.


    October 31, 2011 at 2:43 pm

  4. First of all, I am pleased to see active participation and conversation in this blog.

    Second, I have never lived in Africa. (My brother spent three years in Senegal in the Peace Corps.) When I read selections such as the following about Kibera, one of the worst slums in Kenya, perhaps I am not getting the correct impression about how wonderful and joyful life there is, or how much it might be improved by an even greater spurt to the population.

    Kibera is one of the largest slums in Africa with over 700,000 people living in an area of only four square kilometres…

    They have been crammed into smaller and smaller areas and government investment in Kibera remains minimal.

    To put this in perspective, almost 750,000 people have to share 600 toilets.

    As a result one is warned to beware of “flying toilets” in Kibera – plastic bags are used as toilets and then thrown as far away as possible. Poverty and Disease are rife.

    These are only brief snips. I leave it to you to read the entire article (if you choose) or, if you have personal experience, explain to me how Kibera needs to expand its population rapidly. If you want to complain that the article comes from a few years ago, here is the most recent discussion of Kibera I could find. .


    October 31, 2011 at 7:18 pm

  5. My comment is awaiting moderation. (That’s reasonable; I hope I am moderate enough. I will continue with one more comment for more and return with more later).

    Perhaps instead of a tear-jerking focus on a cramped and miserable place such as the worst slum in Kenya, we should talk about one of the most basic necessities for the survival of life, access to water for drinking, for growing crops, for toilets to flush, and so on. Here are some snips from the article listed above.

    A catastrophic water shortage could prove an even bigger threat to mankind this century than soaring food prices and the relentless exhaustion of energy reserves, according to a panel of global experts at the Goldman Sachs “Top Five Risks” conference.

    Nicholas (Lord) Stern, author of the Government’s Stern Review on the economics of climate change, warned that underground aquifers could run dry at the same time as melting glaciers play havoc with fresh supplies of usable water.

    “The glaciers on the Himalayas are retreating, and they are the sponge that holds the water back in the rainy season. We’re facing the risk of extreme run-off, with water running straight into the Bay of Bengal and taking a lot of topsoil with it,” he said.

    “A few hundred square miles of the Himalayas are the source for all the major rivers of Asia – the Ganges, the Yellow River, the Yangtze – where 3bn people live. That’s almost half the world’s population,” he said.

    Of course, one can always pray for miracles, such as an astonishing breakthrough with desalination of the world’s oceans, or perhaps towing ice-laden asteroids to earth (assuming they don’t melt on re-entry through the atmosphere).


    October 31, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    • Wish I had time to jump into the fray on this one, but alas, my Criminal Law awaits me. Suffice it to say, however, that population control measures, focused as they are on contraception, would do zero to change the situation on the ground in Africa. Indeed, one could argue, and many do, that the introduction of contraceptives in many African societies has exacerbated the unwanted pregnancy problem. But perhaps I’ll write a fuller treatment about this in a post when I finish imbibing Contracts, Property, Torts, etc. Keep up the strong work, gentlemen (Female opinions would be most welcome, too).


      russell and duenes

      October 31, 2011 at 8:34 pm

  6. So much sarcasm on this board!

    Why do 700,000 people live in 4 square kilometers?

    Is it because there is no where else to live? Of course not. The article you linked says they are being forced to live that way, probably by the guys in the article’s accompanying picture that are running around with automatic weapons. This situation isn’t the problem of overpopulation, it’s due to corrupt government.

    And I never said life is “wonderful and joyful” everywhere. I said all long term measures of human health and wealth (including access to clean water and food prices) show positive trends. If population growth were the problem, this would not be the case.

    Additionally, looking across the globe, high population density and poverty are not correlated. If anything, there is a loose correlation between density and wealth!

    For example, Hong Kong, Singapore, Japan, and South Korea are much more densely populated than any African nation, yet they are much wealthier.

    Lastly, all 7 billion people in the world could move to Texas, and it would be less crowded than New York City. Lots of people like living in New York.

    As for
    “A catastrophic water shortage could prove an even bigger threat to mankind this century than soaring food prices and the relentless exhaustion of energy reserves, according to a panel of global experts at the Goldman Sachs “Top Five Risks” conference.”

    These experts at Goldman Sachs aren’t the first to make claims like this. The guy that started the whole population scare in early 1968, Paul Ehrlich, made many claims such as the following:

    “By the year 2000 the United Kingdom will be simply a small group of impoverished islands, inhabited by some 70 million hungry people … If I were a gambler, I would take even money that England will not exist in the year 2000.”

    You’d think he’d be discredited by now, but no, he’s still seen as an “expert”, as the president of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology!

    Food prices are not soaring, long term, neither are energy prices. Prices (adjusted for inflation, of course) are the only meaningful measure of scarcity, and food and energy are cheaper than ever. See the famous Simon–Ehrlich wager, for example.

    Is everything perfect in the world? No. But population density is certainly not to blame.

    Why tow an asteroid to Earth to get ice? Wouldn’t it be cheaper to buy water at 10 cents a gallon and give it to thirsty people?


    November 1, 2011 at 3:10 pm

  7. To me the question is not merely how many people the earth can support, but how many it can support comfortably. Thus:

    Lots of people like living in New York.

    But I daresay that many of them hate it, and only live there for the jobs – hence the growth of exurbs and such around major cities, which I think are prime evidence that overpopulation is a “problem” of sorts even in the US. No, people are not starving for lack of food, but yes, there are far too many people for comfort. I’m given to understand that Southern California is basically hell on earth, with all of its traffic and congestion.

    Another example is hunting: if you hunt, you know that certain game animals, once common, are basically off-limits now. You may not care about this particular example, but it does demonstrate that resources are finite – and that we have actually reached the point of exhausting some of them.


    November 1, 2011 at 7:40 pm

  8. If God doesn’t exist, your life is meaningless. You are just a coalesced glob of sub-atomic particles- worm food waiting to be digested and repurposed..

    This is correct. 1. God does not exist. 2. I am just a coalesced glob of sub-atomic particles. 3. I have written my obituary in advanced, with instructions to submit it to the local newspaper’s obituary editor, as I become weary of all the obituaries which prate about “’X’ joined their maker in Heaven,” blah, blah blah. 4. At the moment my plans are to have my remains cremated, but I am somewhat attracted to the idea of having my extinct carcass (if not too much of a problem with the local zoning and environmental restrictions) buried in my five acres of woods. (We have lots of worms to crawl in and crawl out.) But frankly, I don’t give a d*mn. If my daughter and her partner want to have a service, I will not care a bit. My life is meaningless; that’s why my motto is, “Cheerful despair.” [I was talking the other day with another non-believer who is [I infer without going into details why] actively contemplating suicide. Only humans—compared to other animals—contemplate and commit suicide. Will you argue and document that Christians don’t commit suicide and only atheists and Muslim suicide bombers do?]


    November 2, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    • Well, Modesty, I do appreciate the intellectual honesty here. Many people who believe as you do (or don’t believe as you don’t) would try to argue for some semblance of purpose in life.
      Though you don’t say so, some of what you have discussed reveals that you do find purpose in life- a daughter, land you own, time and thoughtfulness to get a deeper college education. The fact that you attempt to have cheerfulness in your despair does point to your desire for purposefulness. What I mean to say is that within your worldview, how can cheerfulness exist? I would argue that it doesn’t. Nor does despair. Atoms don’t care about things. But, because you do, there may be something you have overlooked.

      russell and duenes

      November 2, 2011 at 7:06 pm

  9. ) How do you know that Christians “displace their anger into rage against abortion?” Do you have evidence to prove that all Christians do this? Is your PhD. in Christian mind-reading?.

    I don’t. It’s an opinion. Just as you have an opinion that there is something called “God,” in Heaven. You might say that God has given you evidence of His presence or something like that. I participated for five years on WorldMagBlog, a leading evangelical web site, and repeatedly asked participants (most of whom, but not all) described themselves as evangelical Christians, why they got so upset about abortion, much more upset (to my perception) than they got about other crimes like murder, genocide, rape, torture. Not that they approved of those crimes, but to my subjective perception there’s just something especially powerful about the evangelical (and Catholic) reaction to abortion. In the discussion at least one of more of the people flaming at me admitted that they had tried to have children, had been unable to do so, had lost children to miscarriages, asked if I had ever known anyone to have such a miserable experience [I have, and its upsetting]. I drew conclusions. It’s not “proof”; I don’t say this hypothesis applies to everyone who gets upset about abortion; nevertheless, I argue that it applies to some people. [I have a Masters degree; it’s not in Christian mind-reading. Is there such a degree? Where does one get it?]


    November 2, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    • It is likely that the “Christian” anger about abortion does not supersede the other crimes and evils you mention (murder, genocide, rape, torture) but rather belongs in the same category. I would say that my own feelings show contempt and abhorrence for all of these things equally.

      russell and duenes

      November 2, 2011 at 7:12 pm

  10. I am going to approach this from a different perspective. I will consider two possibilities:

    0 population. Will this, could this happen? Well, one never knows. Human beings are pretty good at surviving wars, plagues, famines, earthquakes, hurricanes and the like. Nevertheless, we are also very cunning and very vicious creatures, and the universe is full of catastrophes such as asteroids, novas, and the like, so it’s possible that nuclear war, plague (natural or man-made), supernova, or what not might reduce the population to zero.

    Unsustainable population. (I was a little stuck here, as I started to say “infinite population,” but I didn’t want to get into abstract and unreal mathematical concepts.) So I will suggest that one person per square foot would be unsustainable. I haven’t measured this myself, but one web site tells me we are talking about In any event, a little less than 5-1/2 quadrillion square feet. In numerals, something like 5,490,383,247,360,000 square feet. I think this would be plenty of people, but if you want to argue that human ingenuity can sustain 5-1/2 quadrillion people (give or take a few dozen individuals or so) and we will all be the richer for the experience and the amassed human ingenuity and cleverness, go ahead and entertain me.

    So I will suggest that human population should be more than zero and less than 5-1/2 quintillion.

    This reminds me of an old joke. The joke might be considered a little naughty, or it might be considered a little sexist. I thought of rewriting it, but then decided to post it in its classic form. I will make it a separate comment, so if you decide to delete it (on either count, or for any other reason), you can do so without having to eradicate this comment. I may not have time to post it today, or it may have to wait until tomorrow or the next day.


    November 2, 2011 at 2:01 pm

  11. OK, my wife is not home yet and I do not have to leave yet for my afternoon activity at a quasi-religious activity of a group of semi-secular people who sort of worship nature. [I spent the morning volunteering with a group of Lutherans who were splitting wood. Which is sort of like worshiping nature, maybe. I am an oddball.]

    So here’s the old joke. A man and a woman are dancing at a party. Suddenly, the man asks the woman, “Will you go to bed with me for a billion dollars?”

    The woman answers, laughing a bit, probably thinking Unless this man is Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, there is no way he has a billion dollars, “Sure, you hand over a billion dollars, IN CASH, and I will go to bed with you.”

    The man then says, “OK then, well, will you go to bed with me for $100?”

    Outraged, the woman responds angrily, “How dare you? What kind of a person do you think I am!?”

    The man coolly replies, “We’ve already established that. Now we’re just haggling over the price.”

    [You may delete this joke and you may ban me from your blog. Worldmagblog did; perhaps you should learn from them before it is too late.]


    November 2, 2011 at 2:13 pm

    • I think the joke is worthy of keeping.

      russell and duenes

      November 2, 2011 at 7:07 pm

  12. OK, let’s ignore the joke (if you haven’t deleted it). Do you agree that there is some point at which human population on the face of the earth would not be “too large?” Just to leave lots of scope, I have allowed a maximum of 1-1/2 quintillion people. This should leave you a lot of room to maneuver.

    I am not asking you for a specific number. I am just asking for an agreement in principle.

    OK, I am out of here for a while.


    November 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm

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