DANIEL VAUGHAN: Population bombs don’t exist, for the Avengers or in reality

May 7, 2018

The last few weeks have marked the anniversaries of two infamous events. The world just witnessed the 200th birthday of Karl Marx, and all the destruction wrought from his utopian fantasies.

It’s also the 50th anniversary of the release of The Population Bomb, a book by Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich. And while the brutalism done in the name of Marx is well-documented, less is said of the cruelty done in the name of Ehrlich.

Paul Ehrlich wrote The Population Bomb in 1968 with his wife, and in it, he postulated that the Earth and all its resources were so finite — and the population was multiplying at such a rate — that the human race would destroy itself in the coming decades. He predicted that humanity would face war and famine that would cause the world’s population to plummet to 1.5 billion by 1985 unless population controls were enforced.

If you’ve been to the movies lately and seen the latest Marvel flick, Avengers: Infinity War, this prediction might seem familiar. The villain, Thanos, has a similar belief that the universe will become overpopulated with too few resources to go around.

He resorts to genocide at random, wiping out half of a species population to bring back “balance.” He even says: “The end is near, and when I’m done, half of humanity will still exist. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.”

Paul Ehrlich isn’t far from Thanos; he similarly argued, “In pushing other species to extinction, humanity is busy sawing off the limb on which it perches.”

To Ehrlich, humanity had to be rebalanced with population growth controls that were enforced with the heavy hand of the state. Ehrlich didn’t march out and murder people like Thanos, but his beliefs sure emboldened regimes who did, according to Human Progress:

The Population Bomb incited global panic with claims that out-of-control population growth would deplete resources, bringing about widespread starvation. Ehrlich’s jeremiad led to human rights abuses around the world, including millions of forced sterilizations in Mexico, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia, Bangladesh and India — as well as China’s draconian “one child” policy. In 1975, officials sterilized 8 million men and women in India alone. The sheer scale of this authoritarian nightmare is difficult to imagine.

To put that in perspective, Hitler’s Germany forcibly sterilized 300,000 to 400,000 people. In other words, Ehrlich’s unfounded fears have motivated far more forced sterilizations than even the Nazi ideology did.

Ehrlich also provided a new rationalization for progressives coming out of the eugenics era of the early 20th century. After Nazism and the Nuremberg trials proved how debased and immoral the eugenics movement was, Ehrlich’s “population bomb” argument provided a new avenue for state power.

And that’s an important thing to note: progressives always swing back around to old ideas, but with new rationalization. For all the talks of progress, looking towards the future, the end goal is still the same: control.

That control is always abused in the end.

The satire site The Onion had a damning headline along these lines recently that read: “Report Suggests Stalin Was Just One Great Purge Away From Creating Communist Utopia.”

And that’s just too perfect for describing the progressive intent to control. Marx, Lenin, and Stalin were always one more purge away from a communist paradise.

Thanos needs infinity stones to wipe out half the population to achieve utopia. Paul Ehrlich just required harsh population control to ensure a perfect balance.

One more dead or castrated person.

I’m sure in 10 to 20 years, we will hear of some new population control rationalization. And we’ll be told, once again, that the state has to purge or castrate its way to a new utopia.

Progressivism always returns to past ideas to achieve its future utopian fantasy.

Here’s the reality: we don’t face an epidemic of too many people; we have an “epidemic of life,” according to Professor Julian Lincoln Simon. His central observation: “Human beings constantly find new and creative ways to take from the earth, increase the bounty for everyone and expand the number of seats at the table of plenty.”

He famously made a bet with Ehrlich in 1980, saying the world would be a better place by 1990. Ehrlich took the wager, believing the world would face a cataclysm by the end of the decade.

Simon won the bet easily.

Fifty years later, “The Population Bomb” is a myth, as is progressivism’s need to control populations and their reproduction. But while the book and its ideas are demonstrably false in every way, the legacy lives on.

One of the hottest leftist books and TV series right now is Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. In it, the author spins a tale where the world is dangerously in need of more people, and the female ability to reproduce is highly regulated.

It’s a tale meant to attack traditional and evangelical notions of sex and reproduction.

However, as Chelsea Follett at Human Progress notes, Elrich and progressives push a reverse version of The Handmaid’s Tale. And they sell this concept based on fallacious lies, purely seeking to control families and female reproduction.

The authoritarianism isn’t coming from the right — it’s on the left.

Fifty years after Ehrlich’s book was published, as he continues to be a celebrated figure on the left, we should look at the tyrannical regimes and ideas to which he provided intellectual support.

He’s every bit the authoritarian figure that Marx and his progeny are to the world.


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Daniel Vaughan

Daniel Vaughan is a columnist for the Conservative Institute and lawyer in Nashville, Tennessee. He has degrees from Middle Tennessee State University and Regent University School of Law. His work can be found on the Conservative Institute's website, or you can receive his columns and free weekly newsletter at The Beltway Outsiders. Connect with him on Twitter at @dvaughanCI.