Busting the Myth of Overpopulation

Photo Credit: Getty

Recently PragerU released a new video on “The Myth of Overpopulation,” featuring the Cato Institute’s Marian Tupy. Marian (also the editor of Human​Progress​.org) covers a lot of material in under six minutes, including Thomas Malthus’s original 1798 essay on population, which posited that human population would inevitably increase faster that food supplies, causing famine and misery.

Of course, as we know, Malthus’s predictions did not turn out to be accurate. Tupy points out that the real cost of food—accounting for both inflation and increased earning power—has fallen for blue-collar workers by somewhere between 90 and 99 percent in the last 100 years, depending on the commodity in question. That’s a pretty categorical refutation of scarcity and famine. Once a cyclical and common part of life pretty much everywhere in the world, actual famines these days tend to be found only in active war zones.

But it’s not just 18th century writers like Malthus who predicted overpopulation catastrophe. Scientist Paul Ehrlich, starting in the late 1960s, predicted the same thing in his notorious book The Population Bomb. That dramatic bestseller got Ehrlich an avalanche of press attention and recognition over the years, but the predictions it is famous for turned about to be false as well. Yet Ehrlich, now in his 90s, is still being interviewed and presented as an expert in his field, most recently by 60 Minutes just a few weeks ago. CBS received quite a bit of blowback for giving him a platform to broadcast his long since debunked ideas about scarcity and environmental doom, but I doubt that they will learn their lesson.

For some people, resource use itself is a sin and they have an absolutely religious devotion to the idea that human beings as a species should be punished for their evil consumption of land, minerals, and energy. To this way of thinking, too many people are bad, simply by definition. See my Law and Liberty article from 2021, “Self-Defeating Environmental Activism,” for more on this.

It is often said that you can’t reason someone out of a conclusion that they didn’t use reason to arrive at in the first place. In the case of people who see human being as parasites rather than moral ends in themselves, that seems to be the case.

For better resources on human population and resource use, see the work of Reason magazine’s Ron Bailey, author of such books as Eco-Scam: The False Prophets of Ecological Apocalypse (1993), Earth Report 2000: Revisiting the True State of the Planet (1999), and The End of Doom: Environmental Renewal in the Twenty-first Century (2015). Even more in-depth students will want to seek out the work of economist Julian Simon, especially the Second edition of The Ultimate Resource (1998) and Hoodwinking the Nation (1999).

(We also covered this topic, by the way, in Episode 6 of the Free the Economy podcast. Listen here.)