Thomas Jackson, American Renaissance, September-October, 1993
Living Within Limits, Garrett Hardin, Oxford University Press, 1993, 339 pp.
Living Within Limits has a simple message: There are too many of us and too many more are born every year. If we do nothing to control population growth, disease and famine will control it for us.
Professor Hardin covers well-trodden ground to make his case, but he does it elegantly and well-nigh irrefutably — though not optimistically. Corrective action depends not only on a human characteristic always in short supply — foresight — but also on rejection of the socialist sentimentality that dominates public policy and discourse. Prof. Hardin will have a hard enough time just calling attention to the problem; we can forgive him for being coy about solutions.
Otherwise, his book is a charming introduction to what people like Condorcet, Malthus, William Goodwin, John Stuart Mill, Benjamin Franklin, and Aristotle had to say about population, and why so much more nonsense than wisdom is said on the subject today.
Too Many People
There are now well over five billion people on the planet and our numbers are growing by more than a quarter of a million every day. The growth in world population has been recent and explosive; something like the graph on this page. For example, the increase during a single generation in the last half of the 20th century was greater than the entire world population at the time the Second World War began.
Past population forecasts for the planet have been hilarious underestimates. Even forecasts for the United States, a nation about which we have good data, have been wildly off. In 1933, a Presidential research committee concluded that the US population would stabilize below 150 million. It is already 255 million and growing by 1.75 million every year. In 1946, the Bureau of the Census thought that by 1990 the U.S. population would be 165 million. We passed that number in 1960, just 14 years after the forecast.
The world is, of course, already overpopulated. As Prof. Hardin explains, the reason that hurricanes kill 500,000 at a clip in Bangladesh is that people have no choice but to live on flood plains. They drown during storms, but they have actually died of overpopulation. Likewise, drought is said to be killing Africans, but if there were fewer of them they could survive lean harvests.
The United States is overpopulated. Campers must make reservations in national parks, and streets that were uncrowded 20 years ago are jammed with cars. If our population had not increased since 1950, we would not have to import a single barrel of oil. Yet government and media scarcely breathe a word about population. They act as if space and resources can expand infinitely to accommodate ever more people.
Many in the media would have us believe that there is no world population problem because the growth rate has fallen from two percent in the early 1960s to 1.7 percent in the late 1980s. As Prof. Hardin points out, for the past one million years, humans have been increasing at about 0.0015 percent per year. That means that the current rate has dropped from 133 times normal to 113 times normal. Furthermore, growth in the base population has canceled out the decline in the rate, so that the number by which we increase every year — about 100 million — has never been higher.
At our current growth rate of 1.7 percent, people would be standing shoulder to shoulder on every bit of land on the planet in 686 years. Obviously, that will never happen. The average American needs the equivalent of at least 9 acres of productive land when all the crop land, pasture land and forest required for his upkeep are added together. The rate of human increase will therefore drop. Prof. Hardin hopes that it will fall because of wise human intervention rather than because of catastrophe.
We have all the oil and coal we need for the time being, but Prof. Hardin argues that the era of plenty cannot last. Fossil fuels are not replaced, and we burn more of them every year. No matter how cleverly one juggles reserves and resources, it will eventually take more energy to extract coal and oil than can be had from burning them. It is not a question of if but when.
Many people believe that nuclear generation will supply power to an ever-expanding population, but Prof. Hardin disagrees. We have already lost the foolish idealism of 1954, when the head of the Atomic Energy Commission promised nuclear-powered electricity “too cheap to meter.” The real problem is the poisonous wastes given off by nuclear power. They will be dangerous for 100,000 years, and their safe maintenance requires what even proponents of nuclear power have called “a 100,000-year priesthood” of reliable men who will tend the poisons. As Prof. Hardin points out, no nation has been stable for even 1,000 years and we can hardly expect a brotherhood of scientists to last 100 times as long.
The idea of colonizing space with our excess population appeals only to the ignorant. To begin with, we would have to fire off 250,000 people into space every day just to take care of excess production. And even at a speed of 22 million mph — a full three percent of the speed of light and the outside limit for space travel — it would take 140 years to reach the nearest star, Alpha Centauri. No one knows if Alpha Centauri even has planets, much less whether they are habitable.
Assuming that a new home could be found, the people who went on the 140-year journey would have to live within very strict limits of food and energy supply. They would have no choice but to limit ruthlessly the number of births they could have on the way. But this, of course, is the very problem we have been unable to solve on earth. If only those who were willing to control population were shot off into space, the ones left behind would be the indiscriminate breeders who caused the problem in the first place.
Clearly, humans must stop proliferating. If they do not stop naturally or are not made to stop, we will return to the days when hunger and pestilence kept populations from outgrowing resources.
One of Professor Hardin’s central themes, therefore, is carrying capacity. There is a limit to the number of mouths that can suckle at nature’s teat. If, as Prof. Hardin argues, inexpensive fossil fuels cannot be replaced by something equally inexpensive, the earth’s carrying capacity is much lower than the five billion people it now supports. He argues that it is no coincidence that the population curve has climbed in parallel with that of the consumption of coal and oil. When the consumption curve turns down so will the population curve — suddenly and disagreeably. In Prof. Hardin’s view, it is foolish to refuse to face this possibility.
Why are most people so determined to ignore the implications of an exploding population? One important reason is that pessimists have been proven wrong in the past. Thomas Malthus predicted in his 1798 Essay on Population that population would quickly outstrip food supply and poverty would descend on all. In fact, during the next two hundred years, standards of living increased along with population. What happened, of course, was that new and cleverer ways were found to exploit nature.
The current mistake is to assume that discovery and improvement can continue without limits. Better ways to extract and refine petroleum do not make more of it, they only make it last longer. They defer the day of reckoning but not forever. There will continue to be improvements and it may be many decades before Prof. Hardin is proven right, but he makes a convincing case that that time will someday come.
Another reason people do not like to talk about population is that optimism is always more attractive than pessimism and it is not for nothing that Malthus was said to have invented the dismal science. Adlai Stevenson once remarked that given a choice between agreeable fantasy and disagreeable fact, Americans will go for the fantasy every time. This is why people were still trying to get patents on perpetual motion machines as late as the 1980s, and why all candidates for President sound like Pollyanna. Even politicians in blighted Burkina Faso say they expect their population to increase from 6.5 million to 30 million and to have a North American standard of living.
Another reason people prefer not to think about overpopulation is that there is always money to be made in increasing supply but not in decreasing demand. “Growth” swells profits, even if it means fewer forests, crowded highways, and millions of hungry Africans saved from one famine only to make the next one worse. Reduction of demand requires prudence, temperance, and self-restraint, none of which is popular or profitable.
Finally, as Prof. Hardin notes, in a multi-racial nation any talk of reducing birthrates prompts immediate cries of “genocide.” No matter what kind of population control policies were implemented, non-whites would oppose them.
Since we refuse to think about population or about the earth’s carrying capacity, wide-spread propaganda about reproductive rights, human equality and the sanctity of all life is driving us even faster down the road to perdition. The ghost of Karl Marx still hovers over much of what is said about wealth, poverty, and economic distribution. As Prof. Hardin points out, “the formula ‘to each according to his needs’ sounds lovely, but it rewards limitless greed . . .” If people really are permitted to work as little as they like and take as much as they want, society is sure to collapse. Even with a system of regular wages, Communist countries were full of drones and shirkers, but not even the end of the Soviet Union has dimmed dreams of universal bounty and equality.
Broad acceptance of the suicidal idea that it is perfectly all right to couple public cost to private gain is behind such things as socialized medicine, the welfare state, and foreign aid. They are all based on the implicit assumption that supply can expand indefinitely to meet demand. However, by feeding people in countries that have shown themselves unable to feed themselves, and by rewarding teen-age mothers who have illegitimate children they cannot support, practitioners of what Prof. Hardin calls “conspicuous compassion” have stood the ancient laws of nature and individual responsibility on their heads. As he points out, it was not so long ago that people understood there was a price to be paid for recklessness: “Few people felt that there was any community obligation to save brats whelped by the feckless.”
Welfare, of course, only encourages feckless whelping. It would be foolhardy to point out that this is a disproportionately non-white failing, and Prof. Hardin is brave but not foolhardy. Living Within Limits is therefore tentative about solutions, but all its suggestions are sound.
Prof. Hardin discusses the evils of immigration, whereby rich countries suffer because poor countries cannot control their populations. He is also adamantly opposed to the debilitating “diversity” that immigration inflicts on the United States. True diversity requires separation rather than amalgamation. Population control is a national, not a global problem, and each nation must take responsibility for its own policies.
Optimists believe that voluntary contraception will eventually end reckless procreation but Prof. Hardin explains that contraception is self-limiting. Even when it is available to all, only people with foresight and self-restraint practice it. Whether the effect is genetic or environmental, women from large families go on to have large families of their own. Therefore, voluntary contraception only reduces the number of people who are wise enough to control reproduction, and as their numbers dwindle, they are replaced by intemperate breeders. “Like it or not,” writes Prof. Hardin, “the issue of coercion must be faced” — but he does not face it.
Something else he only hints at is the dysgenic effect of voluntary population control. As Prof. Arthur Jensen has pointed out, a certain level of intelligence is required for any means of reproductive control, and stupid people are incapable of it. Without coercion, Prof. Hardin’s message will be heard and acted on — voluntarily — by those who are already having too few babies to replace themselves.
Today, the people who worry most about “saving the planet” are intelligent white people. Most of them are socialist dreamers who never think about population, but eventually they will heed Prof. Hardin’s message. Although they will go to any extreme to save Spotted Owls or Snail Darters, they are blind to the necessity of preserving human diversity. They are perfectly prepared to let Europeans be displaced by North Africans, and white Americans by blacks and Hispanics. Thus, in the absence of coercion, it will be whites who gamely curtail their reproduction only to be replaced by Africans and Hispanics, who are the ones reproducing at rates that threaten the planet.
Although Prof. Hardin says nothing about this, population control is not just a matter of numbers but of quality. To quote Lenin — of all people — “better fewer but better.” In a world of strictly voluntary population control, whites will do away with themselves for two reasons: First, they are the only people who have lost their sense of racial solidarity and are therefore the only people willing — even eager — to lose ground to other races. Second, it is only they who show real concern about the planet and its resources. Whites will do their ecological duty even if it means their replacement by others. Of course, their sacrifice will have been in vain, since the peoples who supplant them will not scruple to plunder the planet.
Indeed, the issue of coercion must be faced, and the sooner the better.