The Electric Commentary

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why is Paul Ehrlich always wrong?

There are many doomsayers out there, and they all share something in common.

There is an experiment that almost everyone does in high school biology. It involves starting a bacteria culture on an agar plate. At first the bacteria grow like mad, doubling at regular intervals, but eventually, the resources start to become scarce, the bacteria start to compete, and they experience a major dropoff in population. Most animal populations follow this pattern in nature, especially when they enter a new environment. The mistake that the Ehrlichs of the world make is extrapolating this pattern to humans.

America gets a lot of crap for its "materialistic" ways, but no one is more materialistic than an animal. Food is the single most important thing in an animal's life. If they don't get it, they die. Simple as that. The way that resources are allocated in the animal kingdom is based on might. If you are stronger, you will survive. Some people, leftists mainly, often compare free-market capitalism to the law of the jungle, but nothing could be further from the truth.

If they were correct in this analogy, then Ehrlich and every other doomsayer would be correct, however, the laws of nature do not apply to societies that practice free market capitalism. This is what we call "civilization." Those that adhere to the law of the jungle do not reside in civilization. Those that exist in some sort of capitalist society, do exist in civilization. Allocating resources without regard to physical strength is what civilization is all about.

If you're a tiger, you have no ability to gauge the antelope population. If you happen to be the alpha-tiger there is always food for you, but the poor beta-tigers have no idea whether they will be eating in any given week. If you are a human, on the other hand, you can figure out, roughly, the amount of cattle out there. Or spinach. Or cheese. Or televisions. Or oil.

If antelope become scarce, tigers starve. If cows become scarce, on the other hand, beef increases in value, and people are warned, via the price, that they should switch to chicken, or pork, or tofu, or seafood, or anything else that people can eat. Price tells us how much of something is out there.

Paul Ehrlich is always wrong because he thinks that people make decisions in a vacuum. He doesn't understand the most basic principle of economics: people respond to incentives. The reason that we do not run out of food, as he has so often predicted, is that when food prices go up, people look for new sources of food. The reason that we do not run out of natural resources is that when they get scarce, we either increase production due to the high price, or we find substitutes. Everyone thinks that the high price of oil is such a catastrophe, but if the price gets too high, we will find substitutes, or we will find more oil.

Unlike animals, people have an early warning system in the even that resources get scarce. High prices tell us exactly what we need to know, and human ingenuity allows us to deal with the problem. No animal population is as well informed about the supply of food, and no animal population is equipped to deal with the problem.

Finally, Ehrlich is wrong about overpopulation because he sees humans as a credit against the available resources. The fact is that many humans, through their productivity, actually increase the amount available for consumption. People, in general, are a net positive. The more the merrier, I always say.

Don't listen to those (like this idiot) who tell us that the world is overpopulated. It's not. The areas of the US with the highest population density (like New Jersey) are doing just fine. Most places with low population density (like sub-Saharan Africa) suck ass, so to speak.

Think about it. Do you expect, one day, to show up at McDonald's only to be told that they've run out of hamburgers? Of course not. That would be idiotic. But that is exactly what people like Paul Ehrlich want you to think.

3 Comments:

  • People like you should be the first to go. Do you realize that you are comparing food to material possesions? The reason that you, along with most Americans, are not starving is because we consume 40% of the worlds resources. Ehrlich is NOT always wrong. Does anyone ever consider that maybe he was just off on the years that he claims all of this would take place? Unlike Sub-Saharan Africa, you actually suck ass. You are the reason that America continues to live in a state of denile and can not comprehend simple ideas like Ehrlich acknowledges. So, go about your ignorant blissful American life with your blinders pointed straight at your local Wal-Mart. At the very least, I know that I am certainly more fit for this world than you and I will eat you if I have to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:56 PM  

  • When has he ever been correct?

    You probably like Daniel Quinn too.

    By Blogger PaulNoonan, at 11:03 PM  

  • Great post. Overpopulation fear-mongers should lead by example, and since they say the world is already overpopulated they should off themselves quickly to avoid the catastrophe. (especially the previous commentator) It's not a new idea. Thomas Carlyle was whining about overpopulation in the 19th century, and I'm sure there are many references prior to that.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:20 AM  

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