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Bringing Malthus’ pessimistic view of humanity into the twenty-first century, perhaps it was fitting for Nicholas D. Kristof ’81, the United Nations Population Fund, and other population control advocates that the world population surpassed seven billion on Halloween. Time called the birth of the seven billionth child not joyful but “sobering.” Kristof went further, blaming population for everything from “climate change to poverty to civil wars.” Clearly, according to those afraid of overpopulation, people are too expensive.
The foundation of the overpopulation argument is that people are a plague upon the Earth, harming the planet and themselves. Everything from poverty to terrorism is the result of “youth bulges” and “booming populations.” To solve the growing problem of overpopulation, Kristof and his allies argue for “the birth control solution” and ensuring “the protection of reproductive rights.” The United Nations even went so far as to pressure Ireland and nations around the world to legalize abortion as a “human right.” The right to life, it seems, no longer applies when babies threaten the world.
When the “solution to many of the global problems that confront us” is to reduce the number of people on the planet, the assumption is that population is the major cause of global problems. If one accepts the overpopulation argument, however, babies and unborn children are far from the worst threat to the planet. The majority of world population growth comes from the increased life expectancy of the world population, yet population control advocates do not support the end of medical research or medicine. However, the critical assumption behind their argument—that humanity is the problem—leaves them without the principles with which to defend human life from genocide and murder. When deer are overpopulated, people hunt them, yet Kristof would most likely not endorse hunting people to eliminate what he believes is the cause of so many problems. His overpopulation argument, however, would. There is something intrinsically sacred and good about human life that requires humanity to respect it. When the belief that all human life is good is removed, how does one distinguish between who should live and who should not when reducing the world’s population?
For a different perspective, look no further than Anne Frank. Writing with only a trick bookshelf separating her from near certain death, she still found time to remind the world why the human person was good, “Everyone has inside of him a piece of good news. The good news is that you don’t know how great you can be! How much you can love! What you can accomplish! And what your potential is!” All people are capable of great things. Kristof and all others who blame the world’s problems on overpopulation failed to celebrate the death of Steve Jobs or Mother Theresa, most likely because of their contributions to the world. Perhaps they could exercise some humility and recognize the potential and beauty that lies within each human person, born and unborn. As reported by Thomas L. Friedman, Prem K. Kalra is doing just that. In India, where 75 percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, he created an affordable tablet computer to empower the poorest person in the nation. With the computer, millions of students will have access to an education and the tools to escape poverty. Instead of blaming poverty on people, he sought a way use the human potential of each person not only to end poverty but also to create prosperity.
In his last, everlasting words, Ronald Reagan’s tomb was inscribed with the promise of human life, “I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life.” Conservative ideas recognize the intrinsic value of man, and the great potential that he holds within himself. To help mankind and solve the world’s greatest challenges, one must only entrust each person with the tools and faith to succeed. As the world seeks to solve its most difficult problems, it faces conflicting visions: one where humanity is limited only by its potential, and one where it is limited by what some technocrats think that the potential will be. Seven billion people have a rendezvous with destiny, and to place a ceiling on what that destiny could be is to fight blindly against a history of staggering human achievement and advancement. Yes, people are expensive, but our potential is so much greater.
Derek J. Bekebrede ’13 is an economics concentrator in Winthrop House. His column appears on alternate Tuesdays.
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