Freedom limits, not population world’s problem

United Nations demographers estimate that the world’s population has reached 7 billion; it hit 6 billion just 12 years ago. Almost all commentators said this milestone was a bad thing.

Worried the Center for Biological Diversity, an ecology group, “Overpopulation and overconsumption are the root causes of environmental destruction. They’re driving species extinct, destroying wildlife habitat and undermining the basic needs of all life at an unprecedented rate. It has to stop.”

The Scientific American fretted that we could be running out of energy for such a large population, “Simply put, is there enough energy that can be harnessed to provide a rewarding lifestyle to however many billion of us inhabit the planet? Those limits are already being pushed, as can be seen in the large increases in the price of everything from oil to food over the last decade.”

As we have pointed out in previous editorials, this commodity inflation is happening because the U.S. Federal Reserve Board has devalued the dollar, much as happened during another era of rapidly rising energy prices, the 1970s. When measured against the price of gold, prices for oil and other commodities have held steady, or actually have declined, in the past decade.

From our freedom perspective, we look on population growth as something that free people can cope with, and which should not be the concern of government coercion. China is a good example. During Mao’s Great Leap Forward, from 1958-61, collectivization of farming lead to the deaths of up to 46 million people, according to recent estimates. But after Mao died in 1976, under successor Deng Xiaoping, China moved from communism to capitalism, producing the most remarkable economic boom in world history. It now even exports food to your local California grocery store.

But Deng also imposed China’s infamous “one child,” policy in which couples were coerced into limiting their families. The result will be, in about 15 years, a graying of the Chinese population that will cause problems. The Chinese now are recognizing their mistake and are allowing more children. The problem never would have existed if, all along, they just had allowed freedom to flourish.

“It’s a good thing,” Myron Ebell told us of the 7 billion population milestone; he’s the director of the Center for Energy and the Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. “People are a blessing and a resource. Human beings consume, but also work and advance. They have brains and determination to do things. More people will bring more prosperity and more progress.” He quoted the late population demographer Julian Simon, who said that “people are not just stomachs, but minds with abilities.”

Think of the great good done by just one person, Steve Jobs, who died Oct. 5, admired and respected across the world for his incredible innovations. Now imagine if he hadn’t existed. We all would have been poorer for it. The key for Steve Jobs was growing up in an entrepreneurial environment in California. That’s also key to solving problems elsewhere.

Certainly, pollution, overcrowding, malnutrition and other problems exist, especially in Africa and some parts of Asia. But these problems can be solved through capitalist reforms encouraging business and jobs creation. The problem is not too many people, but too little freedom.