Well, The World May or May Not Be Overpopulated – But It's Energy Production Not Geography That Determines Population Limits.

I love Don Boudreaux. But as a conservative, this post troubled me. It troubled me because while I agree with the conclusion, that conclusion isn’t based upon sound reasoning, and would lead to policy that increased fragility.

The World is UNDERpopulated by DON BOUDREAUX … While many myths compete with “the-world-is-over-populated-with-humans” myth for the honor of being the myth with least empirical and theoretical support, no myth surpasses the over-population myth in groundlessness and, really, absurdity pregnant with totalitarian impulses.

From there Don points to some wonderful graphics that show how little of the earth would be consumed if we had different population densities.

But, one wise visitor replies:

The real limits to population are determined by the energy supply. With energy and food being interconvertable,

And I expand with:

Yes. That is correct. And moreover, moral arguments are nonsense. Political arguments are nonsense. The question of population is determined only how much energy an be converted and put to use.

What we claim (here and elsewhere) are benefits of our ‘technology’ and ‘limitless human creativity” is almost entirely attributable to our ability to convert energy stores to our immediate use. All consequential innovations are dependent upon that one set of technologies. We are coming very close to known physical limits of conversion. And while we are vastly ignorant of our own economies, due to the fact that we collect very poor data, and categorize it even more poorly, we are not vastly ignorant of the laws of physics.

Nor does History consist of ever-onward progress. Quite the contrary. It consists of multiple periods of regression to subsistence. In a world where we can all return to the fields, we just suffer. In a world where we cannot return to the fields, those who can’t are dead.

Black swans that cause these changes are not rare. They are just unforeseen and incalculable. Our only rational choice is to build a world that is not fragile. And to rail against those who create fragility.

I am not arguing with the general criticism of the population myth. I’m arguing that the REASONS why it is excessive or not are not included in anyone’s argument above, and as such the statements above are nothing but naive egoistic folly. Or put in proper economic terms “an attempt to obtain a discount on current consumption by exporting risk onto others.”

It is probably not obvious that there is an identical correspondence between the argument for sound money, and the argument for preserving land against immigration. And if it is acceptable to immigrate, then it is acceptable to debase the currency. But that is another story altogether. The fact that current austrian thinking does not account for opportunity costs — from Mises onward through Rothbard, even though somewhat obtusely corrected by Hoppe, is either a oversight or a deception. I do not know. But Misesians do not account for land holding. If economics is limited in scope to money, and avoids status and opportunity costs, then is not a social science. It is a justification for plunder.


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