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DANIEL VAUGHAN: No, leftists. We don’t need to ‘control’ Africa’s population.
One of the fundamental differences between those with conservative and libertarian worldviews and those with liberal and socialist worldviews is a distinct disagreement on the relationship between inequality and economic growth.
To those on the left, the economy can be represented by a finite pie-graph, and it is the government’s job to determine how to how to divvy up scarce resources among the people.
This is why the left focuses their efforts so heavily on advocating for “fairness” and combatting inequality. They view the economy as a fixed entity, wherein every person — and group — should receive a fair slice of the pie. Taxing the rich isn’t just right under this worldview, but it’s a moral good, because it helps to more fairly divvy up scarce resources.
But those on the right view this concept dramatically differently. To conservatives and libertarians, the economy isn’t a static pie that must be divided up among various classes; instead, it’s an ever-growing organic force that has the power to reach every life on the earth. Those on the right believe the market and the so-called invisible hand will find ways to create more resources and more wealth for everyone involved.
In the times of Karl Marx, he and other socialists could only see the industrial world in front of them. Capitalism would burn out, they said, because resources would eventually become scarce. (Marx and others dressed this up in fancy scientific language, but the gist of it was philosophical.)
What we’ve learned since then is that this theory is flat wrong on every count. Capitalism has created new frontiers to blaze. Humanity created an entire virtual world, where a whole new economy is booming and challenging the real world. Our space ventures are bringing us closer to the unlimited resources other planets, comets, and asteroids can give us.
But the way each side views the issue of a growing population — despite changing technology, new frontiers, and new wealth — hasn’t changed.
This comes through loud and clear in a recent Vox article on Bill Gates. In writer Ezra Klein’s account, Gates — and his wife, Melinda — wring their hands over the next big issue in Africa: a population boom.
Vox, realizing later that it might be controversial to suggest there are too many poor Africans in the world, deleted the promotional tweets for the interview. But the conversation is still up on their website.
“To put it bluntly,” Bill and Melinda wrote on the topic, according to Klein, “decades of stunning progress in the fight against poverty and disease may be on the verge of stalling. This is because the poorest parts of the world are growing faster than everywhere else; more babies are being born in the places where it’s hardest to lead a healthy and productive life.”
The Gateses are talking specifically here about Africa. “Africa as a whole is projected to nearly double in size by 2050, which means that even if the percentage of poor people on the continent is cut in half, the number of poor people stays the same,” they write.
This is far from the first time the progressive left has raised the specter of a “population explosion,” or “bomb.” The term “population bomb” was first used by Paul Ehrlich in the 1960s when he urged world governments to prevent overpopulation through harsh means.
Ehrlich’s scaremongering led to mass sterilization projects across the world and gave credence to China’s disastrous one-child policy (which they’ve only recently stopped enforcing because of their impending population collapse). None of Ehrlich’s predictions came true, but even though he’s been thoroughly debunked, his pseudoscientific reasoning still finds a home today — especially on the left, where the belief in a finite number of resources makes Ehrlich’s population control measures seem necessary.
But let’s get back to Gates, Klein, and the progressive Vox crowd, who are suddenly very concerned there are too many poor Africans being born.
For the sake of argument, we’ll ignore the fact that progressives from the eugenics era to Ehrlich always myopically focused their population control efforts on poor people with darker skin color — abortion included. Instead, let’s focus on Gates’ claims that the number of poor people will stay the same.
Will that population explosion hold back the continent? Are there enough resources to handle this growth?
The answer is a definite yes.
In the last 200 years, the population of Earth has exploded sevenfold. In any other era of human history, that level of population growth would have spelled economic doom. But capitalism has dramatically changed the story. Instead of increasing poverty, extreme poverty is getting closer to vanishing from the planet.
But we aren’t just eliminating poverty — we’re redefining what poverty means by sending people up the economic wealth ladder.
It’s estimated that in 1820, more than 80 percent of the world lived in extreme poverty, with more than 90 percent living at least somewhat impoverished.
Today, that number is projected to be below 10 percent — and it’s still dropping.
That 10 percent takes into account every recession, depression, natural disaster, and world war. But through every period of adversity over the last 200 years, capitalism has dramatically reshaped the course of humanity — and there’s no sign that it will be slowing down any time soon. According to Max Roser and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina:
In 1990, there were 2 billion people living in extreme poverty. With a reduction to 705 million in 2015, this means that on average, every day in the 25 years between 1990 and 2015, 137,000 fewer people were living in extreme poverty.
And this is just measuring extreme poverty. If you include the advancements we’ve made in medicine, agriculture, and energy, capitalism has exploded the number of resources above and beyond every need and desire of humanity.
The so-called impending “population bomb” isn’t a problem, because Africa is experiencing the same wealth growth that the rest of the world has experienced. As such, any population control would be little more than a tool used by progressives who want to manipulate and control society. That type of power should always be rejected, because, as we’ve learned from the 20th century, governments controlling their countries’ populations always ends in mass graves.
Don’t worry about Africa’s population. Keep spreading freedom, liberty, and capitalism across the world, and the “problem” will solve itself.
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