October 12, 2011


Beware Malthusians posing as progressives: Don't be fooled by the fashionable new crowd of Malthus-bashing greens: they're as misanthropic as old-style population scaremongers. (Brendan O'Neill, 10/12/11, Spiked)

Of course, with yawn-inducing predictability, the old guard of the population scaremongering lobby is out in force in the run-up to 31 October, the day when the UN predicts that humanity will number seven billion. Those rather fusty adherents to the Malthusian outlook - as first posited by Thomas Malthus in his Essay on the Principle of Population (1798) - may have adopted PC-sounding lingo in recent years, using phrases like 'climate change' in place of 'apocalypse', but they're still motored by a misanthropic view of speedily breeding human beings as the authors of society's downfall. Population Matters (PM), formerly the Optimum Population Trust, is marking 31 October by sticking ads all over the London Underground - 'in an environment that itself highlights the problem of overpopulation: the overcrowded transport system'.

PM's belief that overcrowding on the Tube is a result of overpopulation gives a brilliant insight into the narrow-minded, ahistoric thinking of old-world Malthusians. They seem incapable of understanding that squeezed conditions on rush-hour trains are actually down to a failure of infrastructure, a failure to expand and innovate, rather a result of Londoners having too many babies or immigrants coming over here and stealing all our seats. And so it is above ground, too, where global problems like poverty and hunger are a product, not of too many black babies demanding grub we don't have, but of a social failure to develop all human societies and liberate all human beings from need.

The problem with Malthusian thinking is that it misunderstands social problems as demographic ones. It reinterprets social limits as natural limits, repackaging problems of social development as problems of nature's shrinking bounty. Malthus fans make the dunderheaded error of imagining that human population is a scary variable, always going up, while everything else, including the amount of natural resources and the level of human ingenuity, remains constant. This profoundly anti-social outlook means they constantly fret about there being too many mouths to feed, when even just a cursory glance at our history will show that we have continually come up with ingenious ways to get more and more from nature in order to feed and clothe more and more people.

But the new Malthusian-bashers aren't much better. In fact, if anything they're worse, since they pose as progressives who want to protect Africans and Asians from the hectoring of white population scaremongers yet at the same time they promote the central tenets of the Malthusian outlook. Their rallying cry is effectively, 'Ignore the right-wing Malthus-loving lobby - the problem today is not overpopulation over there but overconsumption over here'. How blissful is their ignorance - they seem oblivious to the fact that their fashionable fretting about fat whiteys hoovering up scarce resources is every bit as Malthusian as that guy in tweed who worries about Nigerians popping out too many ankle-biters.

The truth that neither of them can tolerate is that this isn't a special moment in history, just a rather ordinary one on a long continuum. 

Posted by at October 12, 2011 6:15 PM

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