I’ve written before about my views on Malthusianism. But lately I’ve encountered some particularly good arguments to the effect that Malthusianism isn’t just wrong, but actively dangerous. Bryan Caplan, writing at EconLog, raises some good points about the role that Malthusianism played in the rise of Nazism. In short, Malthusianism, and more particularly the belief that there wasn’t enough room and resources on the planet for everyone, was one of the driving forces behind Hitler’s crimes. As Caplan put it, “[Malthusianism] told them that millions had to die; [eugenics] told them who the victims ought to be.”

This, to me, highlights one of the reasons why it’s so important to speak out against gloom and doom and to be a voice of anti-Malthusian optimism. The idea that scarcity of land and resources demands the restriction of human populations isn’t just flawed, but it can and has caused real suffering. At the bare minimum, it can lead to unnecessary worry. It can also lead to prolonged misery through retarding economic growth and the advancement of prosperity. And at its worst it can, and has, lead to forced sterilizations and mass exterminations.1

The wonderful writer Robert Zubrin has a new book out about the dangers of doomsayers. I haven’t had a chance to read it, yet, but it’s high on my list. Zubrin recently did an interview about the book with Reason TV, and I think he makes his case well:

I like the way Zubrin frames his argument by saying that the dangers from “Merchants of Despair” (his words) actually far outstrips the dangers we face from the evils they’re “warning” us about.

One counter-argument is that Caplan’s article and Zubrin’s interview make Malthusians out to be almost cartoonishly villainous in their plans for the human species. As such, I understand skepticism about whether or not anyone actually believes in the brand of anti-humanist Malthusianism that Caplan and Zubrin describe. One proof of the existence of real-life Malthusians comes by way of the Azizonomics blog which posts excerpts from Finnish writer Pentti Linkola who says, among other things, that:

“Any dictatorship would be better than modern democracy. There cannot be so incompetent a dictator that he would show more stupidity than a majority of the people. The best dictatorship would be one where lots of heads would roll and where government would prevent any economical growth.”

If this were the ravings of a lunatic or a Bell Street trustfund hipster they’d be easy to ignore. But this man is an influential writer and a key figure in the Deep Ecology movement. His views aren’t just considered, but embraced by a segment of the population that would rather see the human race eradicated than see it flourish and who unapologetically embrace dictatorial governance in pursuit of that end.

I think anyone who desires a dictatorship with the explicit goal of murdering people and completely curtailing economic growth is, at best, a moral cripple. And yet we live in a world where people like Linkola are given a serious hearing. Indeed, Bryan Caplan’s essay that I linked to above would be easy to dismiss as its own brand of fear mongering, if it weren’t for the fact that there are people out there today who are actually calling for Nazi-style dictatorial governments for the express purposes of satisfying their anti-humanist urges. And those pro-dictatorial types are using explicitly Malthusian arguments, just as the Nazis did almost 80 years ago.

Meanwhile, thankfully, the human species continues to flourish. Global poverty is declining; global health is improving. Our understanding of the world continues to advance and, with it, the power of the tools we use to shape it. Life is good and getting better. And it is doing so in spite of the Merchants of Despair and their despicable anti-humanism.


Disclosure Notice

1And lest you think that things like forced sterilization are a thing of the past, UN economic aid is often contingent on a country having some method of population control in place. This means that taxpayers in the US and Europe are helping to fund and encourage the forced sterilization of Indian women.