Growth as Propaganda: The Greens and the Reds
by Gary North: Adam
Smith, Meet Oprah Winfrey
in the mid-1960s, a propaganda campaign has been waged against the
West. Those favoring government control over the economy have used
the fear of a population explosion to persuade voters to allow the
governments of the world to interfere with their lives. The Greens
have made predictions about famine. These predictions began in 1798
Essay on Population, written by T. Robert Malthus. The first
edition was published anonymously. His bold prediction of inevitable
poverty was dropped in later editions, but people remember the first
We need to
know how long this nonsense has been going on. We need to recognize
it when we hear it or see it.
population growth escalated in the 1960s, especially after the counter-culture
movement appeared around 1965. A major news magazine in the United
States, U.S. News and World Report, announced in 1965: "The
World's Biggest Problem." It asked: "How can the world
feed all its people, at the rate the population is growing?"
This article had been preceded by "World Choice: Limit Population
or Face Famine." Even National Review, then the most
influential conservative intellectual magazine in the United States,
got on the bandwagon in 1965.
In 1968, Dr.
Paul Ehrlich's best-selling book, The
Population Bomb, was published. In it, Ehrlich, a Stanford
University professor of biology, warned: "The battle to feed
all of humanity is over. In the 1970s the world will undergo famines
hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death
in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now. At this late date
nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.
. . ." A far better estimate of the threat of worldwide famine
was made in 1969 by Harvard University nutritionist Jean Meyer,
who predicted that "food may at some time (20 or 30 years from
now) be removed altogether as a limiting factor in population."
Meyer's viewpoint received very little publicity, although it was
to prove correct within a decade.
famines did not occur in the 1970s or the 1980s. What did occur
was a surplus of food. The apocalyptic critics in 1965 should have
paid more attention to the statistics of food production. After
1950, worldwide grain production increased steadily. From 1950 through
1975, this increase was in the range of 25% to 40% per capita. In
the less developed countries (excluding Communist China), the increase
was in the 13% range. Between 1950 and 1980, the world's supply
of arable land grew by more than 20%, and it grew even faster in
the less developed countries. From 1967 to 1977, the world's irrigated
acreage grew by more than 25%. The price of seed, fertilizer, pesticides,
and farm equipment also dropped in this period, in some cases by
as much as half. In the 1980's, grain farmers all over the world
suffered economic losses as a result of overproduction. While these
trends may not be permanent, they did create a tremendous public
relations problem for the heralded famine-predictors of the counter-culture
What also occurred
was a dramatic fall of birth rates in undeveloped nations: a contraceptive
revolution. In 1979, Ehrlich referred back to his book and others
like it that had prophesied rising birth rates in the 1970s: "But
we were all dead wrong." He still held that a crisis was coming:
perhaps famine, or a pandemic, or nuclear war. In 1980, he made
a $1,000 bet with University of Maryland economist Julian Simon
over the future price of five metals a bet on the limits
to growth. Simon predicted that prices would be lower. He proved
correct; Ehrlich paid off the bet in 1990. He could easily afford
to pay off; in that same year, he was granted a $345,000 MacArthur
Foundation Prize and half of the $240,000 Craford Prize, the ecologists'
version of the Nobel Prize. Simon was unknown to the general public.
The media were overwhelmingly supportive of the apocalyptics. Rival
viewpoints on the population question, despite the overwhelming
evidence, received little attention from the major opinion-makers.
The opinion-makers were strongly opposed to population growth because
they were strongly pro-abortion. The apocalyptics seemed to provide
scientific evidence for a looming catastrophe. This reinforced the
legalization of abortion in 1973 (Roe v. Wade).
In 1942, Warren
Thompson warned of the decline in the birth rate in Western
Europe and its colonies, 1890-1940. "It is the most important
demographic change of our time." This decline in birth rates
in the West has generally continued, although in the early 1990s,
it was reversed in the United States. By the late 1980s, there was
no Western European nation except Ireland with a birth rate anywhere
near 2.1 children per family the family replacement rate.
Had Islamic birth rates been excluded, the birth rate figures would
have been much lower in several nations. West Germany's birth rate
had fallen so low by the late 1970s that the German population will
die out in the year 2500 if the same birth rate is maintained. (There
will be plenty of Muslims, especially Turks, to replace them.) By
the late 1980s, a new warning was being sounded: European life spans
were lengthening, birth rates were dropping, and government retirement
programs were facing a looming crisis: too many recipients, too
few taxpaying workers. Yet the apocalyptics continue to warn of
an impending explosion, a population bomb.
In 1980, a
Presidential Commission reported to the President of the United
States on the impending crises. Unlike most reports from Presidential
commissions, this three-volume report received worldwide publicity.
It was titled, Global 2000 Report to the President, but became
known simply as Global 2000. It was a deeply political document.
It was also a classic Malthusian document, meaning the 1798 Malthus,
not the more mature Malthus. It warned on page 1:
trends continue, the world in 2000 will be more crowded, more
polluted, less stable ecologically, and more vulnerable to disruption
than the world we live in now. Serious stresses involving population,
resources, and environment are clearly visible ahead. Despite
greater material output, the world's people will be poorer in
many ways than they are today.
of millions of the desperately poor, the outlook for food and other
necessities of life will be no better. For many it will be worse.
Barring revolutionary advances in technology, life for most people
on earth will be more precarious in 2000 than it is now unless
the nations of the world act decisively to alter current trends.
this happened. Two comments are relevant here. First, there has
been no revolutionary technological development, for example, along
the lines of nanotechnology, where molecule-sized mechanical assemblers
put together atoms and molecules in order to produce organic as
well as inorganic substances in almost limitless quantities. This
development, if it comes, will at last force a drastic revision
of the legacy of Malthus. It looks technologically feasible sometime
before the year 2070, but it has not happened yet. Second, "the
nations of the world" read: national governments
poured tens of billions of dollars worth of aid into the third world
in the 1980's, but in the handful of isolated socialist economies
of Africa, things nevertheless grew worse. Outside of these tiny
socialist economies, which were also suffering from civil war, the
predicted food crises did not take place.
of crises was predicted by a group of scholars in a book published
in 1984: The Resourceful Earth. This book received very little attention
from the press. Its editors offered another scenario: "If present
trends continue, the world in 2000 will be less crowded (though
more populated), less polluted, more stable ecologically, and less
vulnerable to resource-supply disruption than the world we live
in now. Stresses involving population, resources, and environment
will be less in the future than now . . . The world's people will
be richer in most ways than they are today . . . The outlook for
food and other necessities of life will be better . . . life for
most people on earth will be less precarious economically than it
is now." This prediction came true for all but North Korea
apocalyptics in 1980 dismissed as irrelevant two centuries of economic
and technological progress: 1780-1980. They also ignored earlier
periods of population growth in European history. Economic historian
Karl Helleiner writes:
still widely held, that before the eighteenth century, Europe's
population, though subject to violent short-run fluctuations,
remained stationary over long periods, or was growing only imperceptibly,
is, I believe, no longer tenable. There is sufficient evidence
to indicate that those oscillations were superimposed on clearly
recognizable "long waves." At least two periods of secular
increase can be tolerably well identified in the demographic history
of medieval and early modern Europe, the first extending from
about the middle of the eleventh to the end of the thirteenth,
the second from the middle of the fifteenth to the end of the
sixteenth, century. . . . In this sense the demographic development
of the eighteenth century was not unique. What was unprecedented
about it was the fact that the secular upward movement started
from a higher level, and that it was able to maintain, and for
some time even increase, its momentum. Population growth in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, unlike that of previous epochs,
was not terminated or reversed by catastrophe.
after 1750. The world experienced what Adam Smith taught in The
Wealth of Nations (1776): economic freedom produces rapid,
is necessary but not sufficient to produce long-term population
growth. A religious worldview favorable to large families must accompany
economic liberty. Men must believe what David wrote so long ago:
"As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children
of the youth. Happy is the man that hath his quiver full of them:
they shall not be ashamed, but they shall speak with the enemies
in the gate" (Ps. 127:4-5). The issue here is world dominion
under God. This faith has faded rapidly in the humanist West. With
falling birth rates among the populations of the industrialized
world, rates of population growth are headed lower. When third-world
nations industrialize, they almost certainly a very dangerous
phrase in demographics will experience the same thing. (We
must always add: unless people change their minds and then change
their behavior.) It has already happened in Iran, whose birth rate
is close to Germany's: 1.4 children per woman.
always talk about the burden of more mouths to feed. They never
talk about the economic benefits of more hands to work and more
minds to think creatively beginning two decades later. They ignore
the long-term capital returns from a 15-year or 20-year capital
investment in morality and education. That is, they are present-oriented
and therefore lower-class social theorists. Sadly, vocal Christian
intellectuals in the late twentieth century joined the camp of the
Are many people
facing famine today? If so, what is the proper solution? If not,
why are so many Western intellectuals convinced that famine is imminent?
How could a supposedly serious pair of scholars have written a book
in 1967 titled, Famine-1975!?
The famine never appeared. Instead, food prices fell. Per capita
consumption of food rose. Yet the myth of looming food shortages
continues to be believed. From 1798 until the present, Malthus'
predictions have been refuted by the facts, decade after decade.
The West has experienced a growing population with increasing per
capita consumption of food. Yet the myth still flourishes in the
West. That starvation is possible in a major war is quite possible.
The question is: If we avoid such a major war, is a famine inevitable?
The apocalyptics' answer: yes. This answer has been proven incorrect
for over two centuries, but generation after generation of apocalyptics
learn nothing from the evidence. Theirs is a religious worldview,
impervious to the historical record.
AND SOLZHENITSYN JOIN FORCES
1994, a nationally circulated newspaper insert magazine, Parade,
ran a three-page interview with Mikhail Gorbachev, the deposed ruler
of the Soviet Union (1991), who immediately became the head of an
environmentalist organization called the Green Cross. This worn-out
Communist war horse was proclaiming the statist party line. Collectivist
that he was, his enemy was still the same: the American consumer,
who has too much wealth.
going to protect the planet's ecology, we're going to need to
find alternatives to the consumerist dream that is attracting
the world. Otherwise, how will we conserve our resources, and
how will we avoid setting people against each other when resources
are depleted? . . .
must be an example to the world. America should do what we have
done that is, to abandon any attempt to impose a certain
model on other peoples. If we just say, "Xerox the American
way and standard of living," then we must answer the question,
"What do we do about the fact that 260 million people in
America use 40% of the world's energy resources, and the 5 billion
people in the rest of the world use what's left?" America
must be the teacher of democracy to the world, but not the advertiser
of the consumer society. It is unrealistic for the rest of the
world to reach the American living standard. The world can't support
that. Even now, only one third of the world's population is provided
for adequately. We should, therefore develop other models.
He called for
"a new consciousness based on environmental justice."
There is no blueprint, but there must be action. A new evolution
is upon us. "There is no clear answer, except that the old
ideologies in our civilization must give way to the new challenges
of our civilization. The growing environmental movement must be
a vehicle for that."
What is worth
noting is that only a few weeks before, on November 28, 1993, the
New York Times "Op Ed" page published an essay
by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in which he proclaimed an almost identical
thesis. The article was titled, "To Tame Savage Capitalism."
If any person was responsible for destroying the reputation of Soviet
Communism in the West, it was he. His three-volume study, The
Gulag Archipelago, chronicled the terrorism of Soviet Communism
from Lenin to the 1960s, and he was generally believed by Western
intellectuals, who had rejected similar reports for over half a
century. He was exiled from the USSR in 1974. The critic of the
Soviet Union has also been the critic of Western capitalism. He
now joins hands or at least propaganda efforts with
Mr. Gorbachev, the protegé of Mr. Andropov, the former head
of the KGB, the Soviet secret police that Solzhenitsyn despised.
In his essay,
Solzhenitsyn decried the spiritual vacuum in the former Soviet Union,
a vacuum that capitalism cannot fill. This has been a continuing
theme in his writings: the failure of secularism, East and West.
The West is now in trouble. It now faces "environmental ruin"
and "the global population explosion." The third world
constitutes four-fifths of mankind, and will soon constitute five-sixths.
It is "drowning in poverty and misery," and it will soon
"step forward with an ever-growing list of demands to the advanced
nations." He, too, rejected the growth model of Western capitalism.
"The time is urgently upon us to limit our wants." He
attacked the United States without naming it for having resisted
the demands of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. He did not
mention what these demands were: to reduce industrial carbon dioxide
emissions by government edicts in order to reduce global warming.
are four major problems here. First, there is no clear-cut scientific
evidence of global warming. When the temperature changes of the
world's oceans are included in the analysis, there is no evidence
of directional change, 1890 to 1990. The evidence that temperatures
have increased comes from temperature measurements taken at sites
in or near cities, where temperatures have increased. In any case,
the increase in carbon dioxide emissions accelerated after World
War II, but temperatures have not risen since then. Second, the
major sources of carbon dioxide emissions are natural, most notably
from termites, which contribute some 14 billion tons of carbon dioxide
per year, compared to mankind's supposed output of five billion
tons in an atmosphere of five quadrillion tons. Mankind's
contribution is less than one millionth of the total atmosphere.
Third, there is no evidence that global warming is a bad thing.
Plant life grows much faster in a high carbon dioxide environment.
Fourth, it would be bad economics to invest heavily in anti-global
warming technologies today when far cheaper technical solutions
are likely to appear long before the supposed problem gets worse.
(As for atmospheric ozone, there was no increase or decrease, 1978
In 1977, Ballantine
Books, a popular paperback book company in the U.S., published The
Weather Conspiracy: The Coming of the New Ice Age. The book
began with this warning: "There is growing consensus among
leading climatologists that the world is undergoing a cooling trend"
(p. 5). But there was no temperature evidence for this frightening
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is the author of Mises
on Money. Visit http://www.garynorth.com.
He is also the author of a free 20-volume series, An
Economic Commentary on the Bible.
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