Back in the day, I took a very depressing university course featuring the Club of Rome’s 1972 report, The Limits to Growth. Falling into that ageless prediction and prophesy sinkhole, this group of prognosticators forecasts that we will exhaust all of the earth’s resources and energy sources within 50 years. They foresaw overpopulation, mass starvation, and societal breakdowns, among other trends leading to our destruction.
But…to paraphrase a scene and song from the movie “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” we’re not dead yet.
Despite how incredibly wrong they have been, many doomsayers, such as American biologist, Paul Ehrich, continue to spread doom and gloom. Over fifty years later, we can see how wrong the predictions in his 1968 book, The Population Bomb, have been; “in the 1970s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”
The Club of Doom Has a Long and Gloomy History
This club of doomsters is carrying on the age-old tradition of apocalyptic prophecies. In fact, our world is on a long trajectory of growing progress, prosperity, and ever-higher well-being. But you have to look beyond the immediate dire headlines to see what’s really happening.
I was yanked back to those dark days of doom by the character, Thanos, in the blockbuster movie, Avengers: Infinity War. He’s an intergalactic warlord convinced the only way to save the universe is to wipeout half of life. In this pursuit, he lets his own daughter die with this explanation, “Little one, it’s a simple calculus. This universe is finite, its resources finite. If life is left unchecked, life will cease to exist. It needs correction.”
In Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet, editor of www.HumanProgress.org and Cato Institute fellow, Marian Tupy, and associate professor of business management, Gale Pooley, trace the modern roots of these pessimistic predictions to the English cleric and economist, Thomas Malthus (1766 – 1843). The core of Malthusianism is captured in his prediction; “The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race.” Malthus predicted population growth without growth in food supply. He was victim of “the fixed pie fallacy” (more people sharing finite resources). But there aren’t fixed limits to human ingenuity.
From Population Boom and Gloom to Innovation Bloom and Zoom
Superabundance measures our progress through “time prices.” The authors explain, “we buy things with money, but we pay for them with time. A time price is the hours and minutes of work it takes to earn the money to buy an item. It is the ratio of the (nominal) money price divided by the (nominal) hourly income.”
The authors repeatedly show that population growth has led to an even higher growth in innovation and abundance. “Contrary to what many people have been expecting, the growth of the human population from roughly 1 billion in 1800 to 7.8 billion in 2020 has not been accompanied by a lowering of living standards but by an explosion in material abundance…we estimate that personal resource abundance grows by over 3 percent per year, thereby doubling every two decades or so. Our population resource abundance analysis showed that resources have been growing more abundant by over 4 percent per year, thereby doubling every 16 years or so…humanity is experiencing superabundance, a condition where abundance is increasing at a faster rate than the population is growing. Data suggest that additional human beings tend to benefit rather than impoverish the rest of humanity.”
An Abundance of Points to Ponder
This book is extensively researched with technical chapters and detailed appendices for the mathematically or statistically inclined to get deep into the science of their conclusions. My copy is full of highlights and notes. Here’s a few points that stand out:
- China bought into Malthusian thinking in a big way from 1980 to 2015 with their one-child policy. This not only caused incredible suffering, but likely cut their resources and innovation in half.
- Ancient cave dwellers had the same natural resources available as we have today. The big difference is the knowledge and innovation we’ve brought to leveraging those resources.
- Pricing is a learning system that creates public information allowing the open exchange of what people value.
- Economic growth and innovation often lead to resource-saving through miniaturization (such as in computers and phones) and energy efficiency.
- Agricultural efficiency has improved so much that only 2% of the US population are farmers. If the rest of the world’s farmers become as efficient, 146 million hectares of cropland could be returned to nature.
- One hour of light in 1800 costs 5.37 hours of labor. Today it’s less than 0.16 seconds. That’s a 12,082,400 percent increase in abundance. Our ancestors really did live in the dark ages.
- Extreme Poverty – “The share of humanity living on the edge of survival fell from 90 percent in 1820 to less than 10 percent today.”
- “60 workers per 100,000 employees died in work-related accidents as late as 1913. By 2015 that number had fallen to 3.2, a 95 percent reduction in over a little more than a century.”
- Environmental conditions were horrific in the 19th century, with indoor pollution, dirty streets of mud, garbage, and sewage flowing into rivers with little to no fish.
- Cannibalism, executing witches, duelling, bear baiting, cockfighting, legal wife-beating, human sacrifices, and exposing unwanted babies are now considered immoral and illegal.
- Democratic governments don’t go to war with each other.
- Violence declined significantly over the past 250 years.
- The price of sequencing DNA has dropped by 99.99993 percent from 2003 to 2020. The fastest price decline in history.
- Environmental fundamentalists are often eco-fascists who despise humanity. Some rejoiced at the death toll from COVID because “coronavirus is earth’s vaccine. We’re the virus.”
- A growing body of evidence shows “a chronic fear of environmental doom” is increasing anxiety levels and reducing mental health around the world.
Balance Fatalistic with Realistic
I completely agree with Tupy and Pooley’s observations, “Consider some of the extraordinary reports that have found their way into the press over the last 50 years or so, thus scarring and scaring two generations of people throughout the world…instead of an apocalypse that humanity has been expecting since the dawn of time, the world has seen great progress.”
Click The Scaremongers are Wrong to watch a video clip sounding the alarm about alarmists such as Greta Thunberg with an overview of the book’s main message. Click here to read a book summary and the Introduction.
In my first post of this year, I linked to nearly a decade of my New Year’s posts showing how much better our world keeps getting — despite the terrifying headlines and scary clickbait. Superabundance provides a factual counterbalance to what’s going wrong with what’s going right. Documenting how far we’ve come provides energy and positive reinforcement to continue making our world even better.
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