Acton Commentary

UN Report Defuses 'Population Bomb Theory'


The “population bomb” is now, officially, a dud. Planned Parenthood, the U.S. State Department’s Agency for International Development, and even the People’s “Republic” of China used to work in conjunction with the United Nations to slow “unsustainable” population growth. Now the UN has released facts that debunk the notion that an increasing world population is detrimental to our survival.

The Population Division of the UN has now published a report titled “Replacement Migration: Is it a Solution to Declining and Aging Populations?” that addresses a problem population doomsayers did not predict: that within 50 years many countries around the world will be suffering from under population. The report explicitly states, “Among the demographic trends revealed by those figures [generated], two are particularly salient: population decline and population aging.” The report predicts that by 2050, Japan’s population will have dropped by 18 percent, Italy’s by 28 percent, and Europe as a whole by 13 percent. The report offers useful facts and eye-opening assessments, but it takes a wrong turn in its analysis of population decline: “[I]ncreasing the size of the working-age population through international migration is the only option in the short to medium term to reduce declines in the potential support ratio“ (emphasis added).

Yes, it seems the UN–despite its own calculations–has yet to recognize that all the recommended restrictions on family procreation spawned by the myths of overpopulation have contributed to the reality of population decline. That the UN sees increased migration as the “only option” for solving the population decline is disheartening in light of the Judeo-Christian understanding of man’s value.

Economists know the economic value of humans increasing their numbers. Christians can see the transcendent value of this. “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’” (Genesis, 1:28) In this passage, it is important to note the word “replenish,” as it is indicated that by multiplying, man is also replenishing the earth. This idea is affirmed by the renowned economist Walter Williams, who, in his 1995 essay “Why Do We Listen to Fools?” writes: “People are valuable. The Earth is loaded with room and resources to support an even greater population.”

One reason the UN and population doomsayers continue to ignore higher birth rates as a solution to declining population is that they have failed to recognize what Nobel-winning economist Gary Becker describes as human capital. People have certain intellectual, physical, and creative qualities that make them valuable to society. Christians know that each human life is a gift from God, a gift that can and should be a blessing to others, in service to the common good. As John Paul II has put it, “Besides the earth, man’s greatest resource is man himself.” While not belittling serious challenges and constraints in many highly populated but poor areas, it is yet true that high population densities mean that the interaction of people is also potentially a valuable resource: “One reason people are crowded together in cities is because it makes possible many more exchanges and greater specialization of labor, thus increasing living standards.” (National Center for Policy Analysis, 1997)

The UN’s concession that the declining world population presents many challenges is a step in the right direction if it is to approach a moral realization of man’s value. Perhaps now the groups so adamant on stemming population growth by minimizing birth rates, even by immoral methods, will acknowledge that their efforts have been counterproductive to a true common good. Organizations and states–such as China–that limit the freedom to procreate ultimately violate the liberty and dignity bestowed upon man by God. As Williams states:

[Government and international agencies] say poor countries would develop if only they’d deal with their “overpopulation problems.” Nonsense! There is absolutely no relationship between high population density and poverty.

What some call overpopulation problems result from socialistic government practices that reduce the capacity of people to educate, clothe, house and feed themselves. The true anti-poverty lesson for poor countries is that the most promising route from poverty to greater wealth is personal liberty.