Jeff Jacoby: Shallow Again

Jeff Jacoby is a fellow who writes a column that the Boston Globe deigns to publish on its Opinion page for some reason. He’s usually wrong or he’s propagandizing for the right wing of American politics.

Take today’s column, titled ‘The coming population bust’. His typical tunnel vision leads him to open with the following:

THOMAS MALTHUS has been dead for 170 years, but the Malthusian fallacy – the dread conviction that the growth of human population leads to hunger, shortages, and a ravaged environment – is unfortunately alive and well:

He then lists the opinions of several people who believe that overpopulation is a serious problem. And one person from the New America Foundation who believes we need more people.

Jacoby’s assumption is that the problems the world faces today are due not to overpopulation, but to a falling birthrate.

The fact that in much of the world there exists massive hunger and that the environment is ravaged to the point where it faces collapse seems to have escaped him. The fact that critical resources, water, for example, and raw materials are diminishing, that the oceans are literally being fished out, also escapes him.

Jacoby notes that in the last two hundred years world population has increased seven times, and then says, “And yet human beings today are on the whole healthier, wealthier, longer-lived, better-fed, and better-educated than ever before.”

Kind of depends on where you look, doesn’t it, Jacoby? And apparently you don’t look much beyond the wealthier classes anywhere, conveniently missing the billions who live in poverty and worse than poverty. Apparently Jacoby missed the memo about the people in Haiti eating dirt pies because there’s no food. The Lion doubts the Haitians would be allowed to be part of Jacoby’s social circle.

Jacoby’s paean to the unrestrained growth of human population fails to note that the only reason such growth has been possible can be found in the use of fossil fuels. Not for him to note that those are running out and are the root cause of the devastation the environment is undergoing. Nope. Jacoby just wants to keep on adding mouths to the problem.

Jacoby’s real concern doesn’t seem to be with the folk dwelling in poverty out of his sight. No. Jacoby’s sympathies lie with the corporations who might suffer a fall in profits.

True, fewer human beings would mean fewer mouths to feed. It would also mean fewer entrepreneurs, fewer pioneers, fewer problem-solvers. Which is why it is not an increase but the coming decrease in human population that should engender foreboding. For as Phillip Longman, a scholar of demographics and economics at the New America Foundation, observes: “Never in history have we had economic prosperity accompanied by depopulation.”

Economic prosperity! The Holy Grail of the Jacobys of the world. Of course he’s not concerned about overpopulation. Overpopulation means the human race will breed more consumers, and we know that corporations depend on an unending and increasing flow of consumers to keep themselves profitable. So for Jacoby overpopulation is a good thing. Profits at any cost!

Jacoby seems to believe that more mouths sucking up resources is a good thing because we would automatically get more entrepreneurs, pioneers (whatever the hell he means by that), and problem solvers. That’s the old monkey argument, you know, give a million billion monkeys typewriters and you might get a monkey Shakespeare.

How about fewer people, wiser use of resources, and better education to produce more problem solvers? Jacoby claims that ‘no resource is more valuable than the human mind’. Tell that to a Ph.D. in India who will soon be dying of thirst because so many people for so long have done so much damage to the Earth. A brain is just a mass of neurons, and if it doesn’t get enough food and enough water and a good, strong education, it’s just a mass of useless, dying neurons.

Jacoby closes his column, the first of two, saying ‘The coming demographic winter will chill us all’.

No, Jacoby, the chilling thing is that your mass of neurons can be so wrong so often and yet draw a paycheck for babbling in print.

6 Responses

  1. I didn’t get the pro capitalism part you seem to have. I guess I’d agree with the position that the “fears” he has of depopulation is focused on areas that are most capable of solving problems of over or under population.
    Just curious -do you advocate any type of population control other than natural ones ?


  2. Longman’s quote at the end of the second quotation indicates where these guys are coming from. Economic prosperity depends on continued growth, and prosperity to them means profits. Growth requires more consumption, and that generally means more consumers.

    The planet can’t sustain more growth. The people living on earth now are not doing well, which doesn’t become evident if you only look at those who are doing well, and that’s a minority. If you look at America and decide that the rest of the world looks the same, then you’re deluding yourself, and I think Jacoby is doing just that or something close to it (maybe he’s looking at England).

    Population control will soon become a non-issue. If we don’t cut population through controlling birthrates, the planet will do it for us at great cost to itself and its biosphere. We constantly hear about the need to manage wildlife, deer herds for instance, when they overpopulate an area and there aren’t enough resources for them to survive. What makes anyone think we are different, that we aren’t subject to the same ecological and environmental laws of nature and physics? We can apply technology to mitigate the problem for a while, but ultimately we’re crapping in our own nest and we will die because of it.


  3. Jacoby can settle down. The world population is not likely to level off until well over 9 billion at around the middle of the century. By then, we will have used so many of our natural resources that he (if still around) will look fondly on the days when we “only” had 5 billion people.

    Yeah… 5 billion Homo sapiens. The good ol days.


  4. I’m holding out for homo stupidens.


  5. I don’t think the planet is overpopulated; I think its over farmed, over-fished, etc. etc. Overpopulation to me seems a convenient way to avoid the fact that most of the word is economically oppressed and exploited, and some countries are parasites over using this planet’s natural resources.

    Banana are the staple diet of many third world children, if we can buy them in the supermarket in December, they probably aren’t getting them.


  6. […] – bookmarked by 2 members originally found by savvyandmikBFF on July 14, 2008 Jeff Jacoby: Shallow Again – bookmarked by 2 members […]


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