Population Growth Is Good

As I drove to work Tuesday morning, WTOP Radio in Washington, D.C., broadcast a report on the Census Bureau’s population clock, which at 7:46 a.m. estimated that the number of people in the United States had reached 300 million.

Based on birth, death and immigration rates, the clock assumes the U.S. gains one net person every 11 seconds. By the time I started drafting this column later in the morning, the clock had already passed 300,001,095.

The trend has some people spitting mad. They don’t want more people in the U.S. They don’t want more people, period. Increasing the number of people, they believe, is bad.

After its report, WTOP played a montage of anonymous comments recorded on its “Talk Back Line,” reflecting the anti-people point of view. Jim Farley, the station’s vice president of news and programming, was kind enough to replay the segment for me over the phone so I could quote from it verbatim. One caller spoke derisively of people “rushing out of their McMansions to jump into their giant SUVs to race to the hospital to have their fifth or sixth child.”

The negative comments were followed by comments from listeners expressing a more optimistic view of population growth. Count me among the optimists.

Leaving aside the deadly sin of envy, what rationale could lead someone to feel threatened by someone else’s comfortable home, large car, or sixth child?

It is a rationale tempted to see man as a mere animal—or worse.

Richard Haas, emeritus professor of biology at California State University at Fresno, used the occasion of the U.S. population surging past 300 million (and the global population past 6 billion), to argue in the Fresno Bee that the human race is like a malignancy.

“Growth for growth’s sake is the philosophy of the cancer cell, with predictable consequences,” wrote Haas. “Is the analogy too farfetched? Can reasonable people believe that humans can grow exponentially forever? Three hundred million Americans and 6 ½ billion people is not a fact we should celebrate. The planet is finite. Human capacity for self-deception appears infinite.”

It is worth reducing this argument to its absurd conclusion: A cancer cell is inherently bad. Even one is too many to have in your body. The earlier a doctor finds a cancer—and kills it—the better.

If humans are a cancer, why should even one be allowed to disfigure the Earth? Why not turn back the population clock to zero?

Obviously, even the bitterest anti-people pessimists don’t take the anti-people logic this far. The very fact they persist in living—and complaining about other people being alive—proves they think some people ought to live. That is, they believe their kind of people ought to live.

To this mind frame it is always another kind of person who ought not to live.

For the voice on WTOP’s “Talk Back Line” that someone else was the “fifth or sixth child”—whose parents presumably will strap him or her in a safety seat in their “giant SUV” as they return from the hospital to their “McMansion.”

The thought I had on hearing this comment was that a “fifth child” might be born who grows up to cure the disease that otherwise would have cut short the life of the anonymous caller himself.

A “sixth child” might be born who builds the business that gives the caller’s child the opportunity to work, prosper, buy his own SUV and fill it with up with joyful grandkids.

Who knows? A “seventh child” might become the quarterback who brings joy to millions in the Washington area by finally leading the Redskins to another Super Bowl.

You don’t need to be an economist to see it is a myth that man is a net consumer of material wealth. History proves the opposite. The world is brimming with physical and intellectual improvements made by successive generations of human inhabitants. Its so-called carrying capacity has been determined not by the width of its continents, but by the wit of man.

All this does not mean, however, that unchecked immigration is good.  It is not—because it raises questions of prudence and justice not rooted in population growth per se.  First, by not securing our borders, we leave our country open to infiltration by terrorists, criminals and people carrying communicable diseases, against whom our government has a duty to protect us.  Secondly, illegal immigrants are largely unskilled laborers drawn into the country by employers seeking workers they can pay substandard wages, and thus unfairly drive down the wages paid to American citizens on the lowest rungs of our economic ladder.  Finally, because the vast majority of illegal immigrants now come from the Spanish-speaking nations of Latin America, we risk creating a permanent division in our culture between English-speaking peoples and an unassimilated Spanish-speaking population.

Nonetheless, the 33.5 million foreign-born people estimated by the Census Bureau to be in the U.S. as of 2003 don’t nearly counter-balance the 47 million babies the National Right to Life Committee estimates have been aborted here since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Is America a richer, better, more pleasing place to live for having killed those 47 million? Not a chance.

The Bible tells us God made man in his own image and likeness, gave us dominion over the earth, and told us to be fruitful and multiple. It ought to be self-evident that if the future of the human race is ever endangered, it won’t be from following this pro-life command, but from denying it.