Population Bomb Fizzles?

    By Dave Miller

(So we’re better than three weeks into the new year. How many of you have already reneged on some of your New Year’s Resolutions? I know I have. Blast that old human nature! Nonetheless, one that I am working hard to keep is to post a blog here as often as Lizzie will let me.

While this post is not specifically a “how-to” on homeschooling, it really illustrates a key tenet that most homeschool families will want to adopt; that is, “A faulty understanding of history can lead to an incorrect or downright destructive worldview in the present.” In a quote credited to Sir Acton, “He who knows not the mistakes of history is doomed to repeat them.” One of those errors is the one I have written about below. This would be a great lesson to talk through with your older students. The main idea I want to get across is-as the follow up essay brings home-“With every new mouth to feed comes a mind to think.”


PopulationPopulation Bomb Fizzles? (A history lesson for your Junior and Senior High students)

Have you heard of Thomas Malthus? Here’s a brief bio:

Malthus, Thomas Robert (1766–1834), English economist and clergyman. In “Essay on Population” (1798) he argued that without the practice of “moral restraint,” the population tends to increase at a greater rate than its means of subsistence, resulting in the population checks of war, famine, and epidemic.

Problem is, his theory (Malthusianism) has been proven wrong over and over again ever since he came up with it. In fact, great damage has been inflicted upon the human race in the name of the “population bomb.” Even in Malthus’s time, this “bomb” threatened to explode in England and cause unspeakable devastation. In some instances of government intervention-or lack thereof-disease and squalor were allowed to run rampant throughout poorer villages in hopes of slowing down population growth, especially among this less desirable segments. Then the industrial revolution happened and increased the amount of food available to the population a hundred-fold.

In the early 20th century, Margaret Sanger mixed Malthusian ideas with a generous portion of social Darwinism to create Planned Parenthood. Few are even aware that the vast majority of abortion clinics are located near high minority populations. In Sanger’s writings, her goal was to control the less desirable races, kinda like old Adolf himself.

Do you remember the “vicious beast of Angor” with its “huge and nasty teeth” in one of my all-time favorite films, Monty Python and the Holy Grail? The beast was nothing more than a cute little bunny rabbit. But as Tim, the Enchanter, warned, and the knights of the Round table discovered: “That rabbit’s dynamite!” So were the filmmakers just being silly, or were they interested in pointing out that something so cute and cuddly as a rabbit could really be a ferocious threat? For what is it that rabbits do prolifically? They multiply. And how is the beast of Angor destroyed? With the holy hand-grenade of Antioch, of course! A bomb if you will. And what was one of the issues in the 70s? The coming population bomb!

puzzle brainWhile the world’s population continues to increase, at least in the third world, the food supply has more than kept pace. By and large, starvation is a political crime, as the following essay mentions. I hope you will take the time to read this fine piece of journalism by the folks over at the S & A Digest. If you can’t take the time to read the whole piece, I can sum it up in one sentence: “With every new mouth to feed comes a mind to think.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Explain your answer below.

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The streets of Mumbai, India, are so congested, you can’t walk on them. So the city is going to spend $300 million to build 50 elevated steel walkways to allow pedestrians to get where they’re going. Mumbai has nearly 18 million people and its sidewalks are crowded with street vendors, some of whom have been selling their wares on the same spot for 20 years or more, according to the Wall Street Journal.

I hear the word “infrastructure” thrown around a lot, especially when investors talk about China and India. But I rarely hear anyone tell me what it really means in simple terms that anyone can understand.

A city of 18 million without enough sidewalk space… that I understand.

Mumbai’s space problem reminds me of Julian Simon, economist and author of The Ultimate Resource II. The ultimate resource Simon refers to is human beings. Peak Oil proponents and other environmental alarmists don’t get that with every new mouth to feed comes a new brain that thinks. Though there can certainly be short-term shortages of various goods and services – like walking space – over the long term, the rule for humanity has been abundance.

Think about New York City. Today’s population (19 million) is roughly similar to Mumbai’s. But 150 years ago, the population of pre-Civil War New York wasn’t near its current size, and the city would be hardly recognizable compared with today’s metro area.

Given Mumbai is starting off with enormous population resources, imagine what 150 years of progress will look like there. New York to the 10th power? It boggles the mind.

From a reader: So exactly why do you feel ‘Peak Oil’ is rubbish?

Some concepts we simply get tired of explaining in detail because to us the ideas have become like part of the furniture. In the same way you wouldn’t explain in detail how to use a chair, when discussing economics, we sometimes forget to explain the inter-workings of supply, demand, price, and replacement (human ingenuity).

The germane fact about Peak Oil is: It doesn’t matter. We are not going to run out of energy – that’s all you need to know. We have already discovered vastly more efficient sources of energy (uranium). Thus, were we to “run out” of oil, we would simply become far more reliant on electricity, generated largely by nuclear power (if not by coal or natural gas). This might happen even if supplies of oil increase, simply because uranium is a better (more dense) source of energy and, in theory at least, ought to provide lower-cost energy.

The prophets of doom are always wrong because they truly don’t understand how economics works.

Consider the fate of the worrywarts who said we would run out of copper by building telephone wires. It never occurred to them we’d discover a better way to transmit information. Well, of course we did – light waves through pure glass tubes. As recently as the early 1970s, Paul Ehrlich – a tenured professor at Stanford University – was predicting widespread famine by the end of the 1980s in his book Population Bomb. Why people believe this nonsense, I’ll never understand. (There hasn’t been a famine in modern times that wasn’t caused deliberately as a war tactic. And there won’t be: We’ve gotten vastly more efficient at growing crops, thanks to better farming techniques and better seeds.)

Whether or not we will literally run out of oil produced with geophysical tools simply doesn’t matter. Assuming people are free to invest in the creation of alternatives, we won’t ever run out of energy. That’s all that matters. Free markets and the laws of economics provide all that we really need. The supply of everything actually flows from human liberty and free markets. These are the forces that create innovation and technological replacement.

You see, the folks working on better energy sources aren’t limited by the physics of geology. More importantly, they aren’t hamstrung by the lack of Hubbert’s imagination. (Hubbert was the original Peak Oil theorist.) Scientists like Craig Venter have already proven algae can be genetically altered to produce oil from sunlight and salt water. Whether this is commercially viable in the next decade or not remains to be seen. The point is, supplies of oil and other useful forms of energy are not truly a matter of physics. Supplies of useful energy are a matter of economics, where human ingenuity comes into play. That is what is so important about human liberty and free markets.

As long as people are allowed to save, invest, and invent as they choose, the problems of the world will be rendered into what they really are: opportunities.

S&A Research


    A professional educator since earning his teaching credentials at San Diego State in 1985, Dave’s 26-year teaching career has been both challenging and rewarding, often in the same day. He and wife Renee have lived and taught in San Diego, Germany, and Colorado, traveled to dozens of countries and are still raising six great kids. Along with his role as Guidance Counselor at The Garden School, Dave has been reinventing himself as a work-at-home dad and recently promoted to Vice President at Lightyear Wireless. Now he gets to teach people how to live the life of their dreams.