The discourse thus far, in this thread about population control, has concentrated solely upon reducing the numbers of children being born. That, I contend, is not the real source of population growth. It’s the number of children that survive.

In Malthus time average life expectancy was 35 years. Today it is roughly twice that throughout much of the world. Back then it was not that no-one lived beyond 35, or even into their 70s. It was that poverty and disease killed the majority long before they reached even that young age.

Infant mortality was much greater than today. Pandemics were common — cholera, smallpox, dysentery, typhus, tuberculosis — all killer diseases we have virtually eliminated throughout the developed world and much of the rest.

Racism need not come into the solution. Let’s be logical: medicine has caused the population growth so let’s look to medicine for the solution. Stop all vaccinations, ban all treatments — convert hospitals into mortuaries.

Let Covid-19 rip, who needs all those over 70s and people with chronic illnesses? They are a drain on society, let them die. Some of them are in the wealthiest 1% of the wealthy 1%. How long would it take to halve the population? Once the present pandemic has started the process, those old diseases would take over — measles anyone? Diptheria? Before World War II those helped keep the infant mortality rates high, they could do again.

As for all those people employed in health care, we could adopt Poll Pot’s policy from the 1970s and send them all to the collective farms, producing food to feed the starving.

Okay, okay, I’m not being serious. But I hope I’ve illustrated how concentrating on one side of Malthus’s equation is foolish. Up to now we have concentrated on the productivity side. In his day immigration was seen as the solution. Parts of Europe might have been overcrowded but there were vast acres of uncultivated land in the colonies.

Everything that humankind has done since to increase food production, directly and indirectly, has made it possible for the planet to accommodate more people. Only now are we reaching the limit. I don’t believe there is a solution that does not involve a great deal of suffering for future generations.

Life is hard. It always has been. It has been easy, too easy perhaps, for many of us fortunate to have lived in the developed world in the second half of the twentieth century and beyond. Those who espouse the ideal of equality see it as levelling down — redistributing some or all of the wealth accruing to the 1%. In reality it has always been achieved by levelling up. But, whilst some are much better off than their parents or grandparents could ever have imagined, they are still a long way behind. And the poorest are still a long way behind that.

In all other species that have access to a rich source of food, population expands to the point where that food source is destroyed and then collapses. Why suppose that humankind are any different?

Frank is a retired Engineer from England now living in Ireland. He is trying to learn and share the lessons of history.

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