Nothing brings out the inner Malthus like a newborn baby.
That's especially true when that baby is born to a mother somewhere in Africa or Asia. According to the United Nations Population Fund, some time this coming Monday, probably in India, the world will welcome its seven billionth person. Well, maybe welcome isn't exactly the right word.
At Columbia University's Earth Institute, Prof. Jeffrey Sachs tells CNN "the consequences for humanity could be grim." Earlier this year, a New York Times columnist declared "the earth is full," suggesting that a growing population means "we are eating into our future." And in West Virginia, the Charleston Gazette editorializes about a "human swarm" that is "overbreeding" in a way that "prosperous, well-educated families&q uot; from the developed world do not.
The smarter ones acknowledge that Malthus's ominous warnings about a growing population outstripping the food supply were not borne out in his day. The track record for these scares in our own day is not much better.
The truth is that the main flaw in Malthus is precisely his premise. Malthusian fears about population follow from the Malthusian view that human beings are primarily mouths to be fed rather than minds to be unlocked. In this reasoning, when a pig is born in China, the national wealth is thought to go up, but when a Chinese baby is born the national wealth goes down.
Behind this divide between those who worry about limits put on human exchange and those who worry about limits to growth are two very different views of the human person. The former believe that so long as people are free to trade and use their talents, the more the merrier. The latter treat people as a great mass of more or less interchangeable cogs, hence the worries about "sustainability" and "carrying capacity" and the like.