Population Matters

Goldstone’s Population Bomb

March 10th, 2010

Jack A. Goldstone’s article in Foreign Affairs (“The New Population Bomb” January/February 2010) is generating a lot of discussion.  Goldstone offers some sobering insights on how rapid population growth and urbanization in the least developed countries could be economically impoverishing and politically destabilizing, but his suggestion that expanded population growth in rich developed countries is the antidote is simply wrong. The world economy, does not, as Goldstone argues, need “new consumers and new households.”  Simply put, adding more high-consuming people to a world that is increasingly constrained by shortages of food, water, energy and scarce resources will only contribute to greater global destabilization.  Higher and higher prices for commodities like grain, oil and scarce minerals will only exacerbate the divide between rich developed nations and the world’s resource poor countries.

There is no ‘baby gap’ that needs to be closed. It’s true that aging industrial societies face economic challenges as the ratio of workers to retirees increases, but adding more dependents (i.e. children) is not a recipe for prosperity.  If the costs of an aging society are to be borne, and they must be, the proper solution is more savings, not more babies. If the advanced developed nations need more consumers to maintain employment, there are plenty of “new consumers” in China and other rapidly developing nations to employ workers in the U.S. and elsewhere.  In the long run, increased productivity, not procreation, will determine whether America and other countries prosper.

If Goldstone is right in arguing that rapid population growth and urbanization in poor developing countries will jeopardize their food security, result in high unemployment, and create political instability, then we should boost support for international family planning assistance, so that women in developing countries can prevent unwanted and unintended pregnancies.  Boosting birth rates in industrialized nations will make matters worse, not better.

Posted by Robert J. Walker, Executive Vice President

4 Responses to “Goldstone’s Population Bomb”

  1. samuel mwaniki m Says:

    In the long run, increased productivity, not procreation, will determine whether America and other countries prosper.
    Even then Jack A. Goldstone’s article has truth To my understanding most industrialised nations are having negative birth rate yet the rate of keeping resources supply is higher than consumption ,hence need balancing [immigration and extetion of citizeen.
    While in developing nation consumption rate is very high compaired to supply this affect both economic as well as politics.*compaire the two developed and developing nation currently on both political and economic issue.
    Alot of altitude change and understanding is very necessary toward developing nation community more than family planning assistance.living in developing nation Kenya am much aware of ignorant or naivity from community on these issue which even with free birth control assistance can not improve.
    Awareness is very neccesary if resources availability is to meet demand .
    I did advocate Goldstone’s thought on regional birth rate control.

  2. Frosty Wooldridge Says:

    Goldstone chastises Ehrlich without warrant. As global population adds a whopping 77 million annually, the World Health Organization shows 18 million humans die of starvation and starvation related diseases each year. You cannot cover up that HUGE number by dismissing Ehrlich or Malthus. Their timing may have been off, but they nailed it. We cannot count on another ‘green revolution’ nor can we count on enough water. We face species extinction and horrific human suffering on multiple levels. To write excuses for human population growth proves irresponsible and nonsensical. Either humans move toward population stabilization by birth control or Mother Nature will do it for us. And, Mother Nature always bats last. FW

  3. Lee Miller Says:

    What the world really needs, to avoid the dire consequences of overshooting carrying capacity by the temporary and ephemeral use of fossil fuels, is a declining population in all nations and a return to simpler means of food production. We should be embarking on a massive campaign to provide univeral access to contraception and the motivation to use them through education. Since this does not appear likely, given the conservative viewpoints in many nations, it is more likely we will have to deal with lots of turmoil and higher death rates. Mr. Goldstone, I believe did not mention “peak oil” as an important factor in our future, but it will impact food production and prices at a time when the demand for food by growing populations is increasing.
    All of this overpopulation/human condition phenomenon was treated quite well by Ken Boulding when I was a senior in high school. His poem is still an insightful gift to us all. If only more would understand the implications.

    Conservationist’s Lament
    By Kenneth Boulding
    In: Man’s Role in Changing the Face of the Earth, 1956
    University of Chicago Press, p. 1087

    The world is finite, resources are scarce,
    Things are bad and will be worse.
    Coal is burned and gas exploded,
    Forests cut and soils eroded.
    Wells are dry and air’s polluted,
    Dust in blowing, trees uprooted,
    Oil is going, ores depleted,
    Drains receive what is excreted.
    Land is sinking, seas are rising,
    Man is far too enterprising,
    Fire will rage with Man to fan it,
    Soon we’ll have a plundered planet.
    People breed like fertile rabbits,
    People have disgusting habits.

    Moral: The evolutionary plan went astray by evolving Man.

  4. Bruce Howard Says:

    In 1969, I wrote a thousand-word essay for a college english class challenged to solve poverty. I typed “Quit birthing.” 500 times. The professor said either I had misspelled the term for docking a boat, making the essay absurd, or I had used a gerund that is not in the dictionary (1969) which meant half the essay was missing. I failed, but in the world that counts, the professor failed.

    Ordinary people, at some level, know growth hurts — long lines, traffic jams, poor social conditions.
    Underpopulation IS a word.
    Imagine today’s technologies serving yesterday’s population.
    Make love, not kids.
    IUDs save trees.
    Condom, not dumb.
    Perpetual overpopulation, how’s that workin’ for ya?
    Camp in the wilderness? Make your reservation first.
    Modern ag grows food from oil, and we are running on empty.
    Overpopulation = wars ∴ underpopulation ≈ peace.

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