ZPG revisited …

Back in the late 60’s and then into the early to mid 70’s there was a social movement known as ZPG, or Zero Population Growth. The guy who started it in earnest was Paul Ehrlich. He wrote a book called the Population Bomb arguing, among other things, that the biosphere cannot sustain anywhere near a doubling of the earth’s population. Yet, here we are with about a doubling of the population and per capita food production is stunning, there are no mass starvations going on, and the biosphere is doing just fine (Al Gore notwithstanding).

What captures my attention about Ehrlich is not the affects of population growth upon the biosphere, but upon liberty. Ehrlich was generally correct in his mathematical calculations of population growth, but completely wrong in the premise of his logical argument which followed that arithmetic observation, i.e. that ecological catastrophe is directly proportional to population, affluence and technology. Had he had a view of the world from the perspective of the loss in political freedom, individual rights, and private property as a natural consequence of population growth he would have been seen today in a much different light. The fact is now obvious to any candid observer – the earth is capable of sustaining a huge population and the environment and biosphere are far more resilient and powerful – by magnitudes. However, there is a critical sliver of insight to be observed from Ehrlich. There is a catastrophe going on, but few seem to see it clearly and it is the catastrophe of liberty lost.

Population growth, per se, does not result in the loss of political freedom, individual rights, and private property rights but the socio-political basis upon which populations grow absolutely has an impact. If generations of people and families are brought into the world under the premise of massive redistribution of wealth as a given, as opposed to laissez faire capitalism, then you do have a direct correlation with population growth and an incremental loss of the freedoms that make living so great/worthwhile. If populations grew based strictly upon their ability to sustain themselves through productive activities, trade (arm’s length transactions), and rational thought that fully reflected the real, measurable, individual costs and thereby reflected fully the market for goods and services then population growth would NEVER nor could EVER be a problem that threatened one’s pursuit of life, liberty and happiness (properly understood as the obtaining and keeping of private property). .

However, if people are conditioned that they can procreate at will without understanding or having to experience (in real terms) the full economic implications of that decision, they will mis-allocate (either over-utilize, or under-utilize) their reproductive abilities at a rate that is either higher or lower than would otherwise be the case were the costs of their actions fully taken into consideration. We have lost, by virtue of the great society idea, the generational radar that tells us as individuals and communicates to our children when to reproduce, at what rate, and under what circumstances it should take place. The immorality implicit in redistribution from producers to non-producers has a long tail of consequence because, just as with socialism, true cost becomes more and more difficult, if not impossible, to calculate.

So, where Ehrlich went wrong was in his formula. Originally, he stated I = P x A x T (where I = Environmental Impact, P = Population, A = Affluence, T = Technology). The proper formula, in retrospect, would show an inversely proportional relationship between the rise in socialism times populations born into it and therefore dependent upon it, to individual freedom, liberty, and the accumulation of private property (the essence of our founding ideal of ‘pursuit of happiness’).

Hence, Ehrlich argues incorrectly that affluent technological nations have a greater per capita impact than poorer nations. This is a conclusion drawn from a flawed premise and therefore unsustainable. What would be worth considering is the idea that nations premised upon redistribution of wealth, progressive taxation, the primacy of government, interventionism, along with all forms of collectivism that emanate from those first steps, will have a huge impact on the pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. Thus it will appear that as population increases things will get much much worse – but this is not the key corollary, the socio-economic system under which the population rises or falls IS.

Man’s inherent desire for freedom and liberty cannot ultimately be suppressed, nor can the self evident revelations of the enlightenment (fundamentalist religions and government education notwithstanding). Neither candidate for President of The United States understands this idea, much less is willing to speak publicly about it. We have both political parties fully invested in more, not less, interventionism as a given (it is simply a difference in degrees and speed). The end result will be as catastrophic as Paul Ehrlich’s warning to us in the late 60’s, but it will not merely be due to population growth but rather the consequence of the socio-politico inbred in those teeming populations, that of men being the tools of men. Or, in the words of Francisco d’Anconia: “Blood, whips and guns-or dollars. Take your choice-there is no other-and your time is running out.”

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