Population - Evidence from History

In the 2nd century AC, a Christian theologian, Tertullian, looked around Carthage and said, “Our numbers are burdensome to the world, which can hardly support us.” Two hundred years later, St. Jerome also worried that “the world is already full and the population is too large for the soil.” And then came Thomas Malthus pressing through his Essay on the Principles of Population some tough questions on population growth and diminishing resources at the end of the 18th century. Anyone can see that life is better today with 5-6 billion population than it was in 10,000 BC, when estimatedly 5 million people inhabited the world, or in AC 1, when population rose to 250 million, or 1650, when 545 million people lived on the earth. If it is not because of the “pressure” of more people, what is the explanation for today’s progress and abundance, in sharp contrast to the mass deprivation and scarcity in the past?

When humanists “dismiss” the pure Malthusian arguments of population, it implies they agree with Julian Simon who notes the world population has grown in spurts in response to improved economic and health conditions. The growth then slows “until the next big surge.”

But Malthus’ disciples and “brothers-in-faith” need not feel much disappointed with their dismal record of predictions. None of these “prophets of  apocalypse” has done better. Is it not hard to believe that right in the fourth decade of this 20th century, demographic “experts” lamented if man were doomed — because his numbers were “dwindling to dangerously low levels?” So commonly appearing in the professional and population journals during the ‘30s were articles titled such as “World Suicide by Birth Control.” These “experts” never envisioned the post-World War II baby boom, that itself then set off counter predictions of catastrophic overpopulation. The outcry was once again subdued when by the mid-60s the baby boom was over. Sure, the current rhetoric would also not last very long. All that we see is that “history’s habit of making fools of prognosticators has not kept new ones from rushing in where more modest men fear to tread.” Paul Ehrlich, widely accepted as the guru of population control establishment, who had been suggesting “coersion where voluntary methods fail,” worried about two decades back that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over,” and predicted that soon hundred of millions would starve to death, even if crash programmes were vigorously pursued. It did not happen, even without crash programmes.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.


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