NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 28, 2010

When the original population scaremonger Thomas Malthus predicted in the 1790s that if people didn't stop breeding then "premature death would visit mankind" -- there would be "food shortages, epidemics, pestilence and plagues" which would "sweep off tens of thousands of people" -- there were a mere 980 million human beings on Earth.  Today, there are nearly seven times that number -- 6.7 billion -- and while there are still problems of poverty and hunger, especially in parts of the Third World, for most of us, living standards and life expectancy have leapt forward, says Brendan O'Neill, editor of Spiked. 

Consider the example of China: 

  • In 1949, the population of China was 540 million and average life expectancy was 36.5 years; today the population of China is 1.3 billion and average life expectancy is 73.4 years.
  • There are now six times as many cities in China (655) as there were five decades ago and around 235 million Chinese have been lifted out of poverty in the past 15 years alone.  

Ironically, it is often people in the most overpopulated parts of the planet who have the nicest lives.  Take Manhattan, says O'Neill: 

  • There are 1.7 million people crammed on to that tiny island and their lifestyles are the envy of millions of people around the world.
  • Yet in Africa, which is far more sparsely populated than some would have us believe, there are still major problems of poverty and malnutrition.  

Despite the claims of cranky outfits like the Optimum Population Trust (OPT) -- which has argued that in order "for the whole planet to avoid the fate of Rwanda, Malthusian thinking needs rehabilitation" -- Africa actually contains 11 of the world's 20 least densely populated nations.  And some of these not-very-densely populated African countries have severe social problems.  It's not human numbers that cause them; it's something else, something social and therefore eminently fixable, says O'Neill. 

Source: Brendan O'Neill, "A prejudice in search of a scientific disguise," Spiked, July 19, 2010.  

For text: 


Browse more articles on International Issues