It is an eerie aspect of the modern public discourse just how facile we often are in our judgements on matters of life and death. Eric Parks has just released a post to sharpen our awareness of an imminent threat belonging in this category.
The abuse of democracy from above is no more disconcerting than its abuse from below, when ordinary (relative to a specialised subject-matter) people no longer discern between the right of free speech and the need to speak responsibly and to know the limits of their competence.
As for our inclination to decide matters of life and death on a global scale and in areas entirely outside of our personal range of competence, public discourse concerning population growth and the Third World surely has been a habit-building pioneer.
Consider the following reasoning of P.T. Bauer, one of the great scholars of applied liberalism (meaning libertarianism) of the 20th century.
Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, corporations, governments, and international organizations are dedicating and promising to dedicate enormous resources to reverse the threat of overpopulation. But population density and poverty are not actually correlated.
Poverty in the Third World is not caused by population growth or pressure. Economic achievement and progress depend on people’s conduct, not on their numbers.
Population growth in the Third World is not a major threat to prosperity. The crisis is invented. The central policy issue is whether the number of children should be determined by the parents or by agents of the state.
Since the Second World War it has been widely argued that population growth is a major, perhaps decisive obstacle to the economic progress and social betterment of the underdeveloped world, where the majority of mankind lives. Thus Robert S. McNamara, former president of the World Bank, wrote: “To put it simply: the greatest single obstacle to the economic and social advancement of the majority of peoples in the underdeveloped world is rampant population growth. . . . The threat of unmanageable population pressures is very much like the threat of nuclear war.” And many others have made similar statements.
These apprehensions rest primarily on three assumptions. First, national income per head measures economic well-being. Second, economic performance and progress depend critically on land and capital per head. Third, people in the Third World are ignorant of birth control or careless about family size; they procreate regardless of consequences. A subsidiary assumption is that population trends in the Third World can be forecast with accuracy for decades ahead.
Read on to learn how Lord Peter T. Bauer porposes to refute the legitimacy of these assumptions.