MALTHUS WAS WRONG

July 25, 2005

In 1798, Thomas Malthus warned that the world's population growth would eventually outstrip the world's food supply, bringing about starvation, disease and wars. Despite continued warnings from Malthus' supporters, humanity still flourishes.

John Downen of the Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment argues that growth and managing the world's resources are not mutually exclusive, as evidenced by current population trends:

  • The United Nations estimates that the world's population will peak at about 9 billion by 2075, then begin declining thereafter.
  • In the poorest countries, where almost all population growth occurs, the average woman has only 2.9 children today, compared to 6.2 children in the 1950s.
  • Additionally, fertility rates in European countries are below the replacement rate of 2.1 children per woman.

As wealth increases and women become more educated, they tend to have fewer children. Furthermore, the world is not running out of resources, says Downen.

  • Natural resources are not fixed, but are determined by advances in science and technology -- oil extraction, for example.
  • As a resource becomes scarce, the price increases, inducing consumers to reduce their consumption or find alternatives.

According to Downen, human ingenuity and technological advances allow societies to find better, more efficient ways of using resources, and a free market is the best way to foster such innovation. Finally, he says, wealth is not a zero-sum game; wealthy countries need not reduce their standard of living in order to increase the wealth of developing countries.

Source: John Downen, "Growth, Globalization, and the Environment" A World Connected, May 18, 2005.

 

Browse more articles on Government Issues