The Free Congress © Commentary:

The Underpopulation Problem
By Paul M. Weyrich
July 14, 2003

An editorial in the Washington Post called "The Baby Bust" got me to thinking about the late 1960s through the 1970s when there was hysteria in this country concerning population control. Then-Senator Bob Packwood, Republican of Oregon, spoke about the "population problem" whenever he had the opportunity. To hear him tell it, the United States was just going to run out of space. Moreover there might not be appropriate resources for those who were born. The late Senator Jacob Javits, Republican of New York, suggested that the situation was so bad perhaps the government should consider licensing parents, giving them the chance to have only two children.

Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Lyndon Johnson's number-two man from 1965 to 1969, had a stock speech he gave about looking at the Northeast Corridor from the air at night and seeing no break in the lights from Boston to Washington. People were scared. There were too many people for the resources that were available.

About the same time a group of academics and political figures, largely from Western Europe, formed something called The Club of Rome. Their purpose was to warn governments that if they didn't get their populations under control, there would be widespread famine and economic collapse. The Club's Chicken Little assessment came out in a book entitled "Limits to Growth," which was very favorably reviewed in the Washington Post.

This was all nonsense. We have no population problem. We might have, as George Will put it, a population distribution problem, because people poured out of the rural areas in favor of large cities. But as the United States has demonstrated, we have the resources to feed much of the world and our increased productivity has permitted us to do so on ever-decreasing areas of farmland.

In the 1970s, respected energy analysts told us that we were going to run out of oil and other fossil fuels in about 15 years. Now we know better. Even if we continue to consume oil and natural gas at an ever-increasing pace, there is enough to accommodate everyone for all of this century and way beyond. There is even more coal, if the environmentalists would let us burn it, and nuclear energy offers essentially limitless energy forever.

Our greatest resource is people. The Post, which back then was sympathetic to the population controllers, now is concerned because our birthrate is below the replacement level for the first time in our history. Of course, in Europe and Japan, the situation is so drastic that it is literally possible to chart the disappearance of some of the wealthier nations a few generations from now.

The Post notes that ".... countries with shrinking populations may stagnate economically, intellectually and militarily. If future generations are to carry on the American vibrancy and dynamism, the country must be prepared to embrace more babies, and more adults from around the world."

I seldom compliment the Post, but well said! And welcome to the real world!

In light of these facts, which have always been there for those who would see, what is the United Nations doing? Why, it is busy preparing for its once-in-a-decade conference on population. In past decades, this conference was at the forefront of promoting population control. Much of the utter nonsense being taught in the public schools about this issue originates from the UN. I've got news for the UN. There is a population problem but it isn't the overpopulation the UN has preached, at least not in the non-Muslim states. The states of Western Europe, Japan and the good old USA, which have traditionally paid the bill so the UN could preach its false doctrine, aren't going to have the money for that luxury anymore. Even in China the population has stabilized, for all the wrong reasons, but the fears expressed about China are no longer valid. What is of great concern in China is too many boys. Where the one child policy is brutally enforced, couples choose boys over girls. Perhaps the UN can pontificate on that subject.

If the UN is to retain any credibility at all, it must admit its past mistakes and use its conference next year to, once and for all, smash the ideas of the Club of Rome. Then it can prepare new materials for the public schools reflecting the reality of the situation. If the Washington Post can come around to a sensible point of view, so can the UN.

The problem, of course, is that the UN has a whole bureaucratic structure tied up with the other point of view. Bureaucrats almost never admit they are wrong. Moreover, they most often keep pushing in the same direction even when all the data point to the need for an abrupt about face.

If indeed we have another UN population conference warning us of the dangers of overpopulation, perhaps Russia would like to explain to the bureaucrats that she risks going out of existence if the current birthrate is not reversed. Perhaps the village in Spain, that offers a pig to each set of new parents as an incentive for them to have babies, can explain to the UN why they feel they need to do so. Maybe the nations of Europe can make presentations on their welfare state programs aimed at getting young people to have children. These governments know the truth. It is high time for the UN to acknowledge it and to tell the world what is really happening or we should never support a conference on population again.

Paul Weyrich is Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation.

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