Is it necessary to avoid overpopulation in order to feed everyone?

It was the English economist, Malthus, who popularized the idea that the fruits of the earth grow slower than the increase in population. According to Malthus, the production of food would increase in an arithmetical progression  (2, 4, 6, 8, 10) while the population would increase faster in a geometrical progression (2, 4, 8, 16): That’s the same as saying that every new worker in an agricultural land would produce less and less, to a point where the new worker would scarcely produce anything and the new born farmers, when they started to work on the land,  would not be able to produce the necessary food to live and they would, therefore, die of hunger.

 

Simplifying, this death rate would maintain the world’s population stagnant, without any increase, due to the lack of food. And nowadays it is said “ let’s control the new births and prevent that more people are born, in order that they don’t die of hunger”.

 

Nevertheless, in 1994, the population of the earth reached 5.500 million. Nowadays, in 2007, more than 6.000 million (in 2006, an increase of 80 million of people in the whole world for the next years is predicted), after a continuous increase. It seems quite sure, on the other hand, that the population will go on growing, unless unforeseen catastrophes happen.

 

How has the continuous increase of the world’s population been possible with the land producing less and less per worker to the point of not producing anything for a new worker? Perhaps new land is being cultivated? If we take a look around the world, there scarcely is any new land to be cultivated and, in the whole world, cultivated land does not increase. Therefore, if Malthus’ theory were true [he postulated it to the end of the 18th century, when population in England and in the whole world was much lower, six times less actually], the world’s population would have stopped growing a long time ago, due to the lack of food for it (yet world population has  increased 6 times, since Malthus’ time.)

The fact itself that population increases means that the land produces the same or more per new worker (this assertion is reinforced by the fact that the rate of workers in agriculture has decreased a lot).

And, as it could be expected, the data of food production per person ratify what we are saying: the production of food per inhabitant increases with time -there is gradually more food per person. So, in five years, the production of food per person (per capita) increased 2 % in the whole of the developed countries and 5% in the whole of countries that are undeveloped or in the process of development (increase of the mean value of 1986-88 with regard to the mean value of 1981-83 or, according to other sources, in ten years, 3 % in the whole of developed countries and 11 % in the whole of countries in process of development (or undeveloped). (Mean value of 1986-88 compared to mean value of 1976-78)[24]

That is to say that, even in the totality of poor countries, the production of food per inhabitant increases.

This means that, if a farmer produces more and more quantity of food, the standard of living improves proportionally as the population increases, there is more food per person. Therefore, it is wrong for the world as a whole, that the control of births and the decrease in population warrant a better standard of living. Therefore, it is false that it is necessary to have a control of births, sometimes in a totalitarian way (obligation of abortions and sterilizations).[25]

It is true that, in some countries, as for instance in Abyssinia years ago, there has been hunger and lack of food, years ago. But it is also true that, if international solidarity worked,  such calamities of hunger would have a remedy.

 
In the world there is food for everyone.

The argumentation in favor of birth control are, in the whole, false, for there is no problem with feeding an increasing world population, provided that we find solidarity, love for hungry people, and poor countries are helped by countries with a surplus of food. Therefore, the politics of birth control which are sometimes inhuman, as in China, where the number of sons is limited to one per family or, as in India, where they have a savage birth control encouraged by big rich countries, and which is based on Malthus’ theory, false as we have shown, are without any sense, not only from a moral but also from an economic point of view.

For believers, such a conclusion is natural. As the Gospels say, life is more that food and cloth. God, who has given us life, will also give us food. He would not allow men to be born were they not to have any food (except when the evil of some human beings prevent it, for God allows the evil that man performs, even if he punishes it in the other life: God allowed for instance the massacre of the Innocents, although, as we know, they are now in heaven)

But certainly, we must work not only to produce but also to distribute produced goods with justice:“Look for the Kingdom of God and you will receive all the rest in addition,”


[24]  “Hunger and Political Action”, Jean Drèze and Amartya Sen.- Oxford, 1989,  Figure 2-3

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[25]   There are ominous economists who, following Malthus’ error, foretell for 2050 a lack of food for an increasing population, forgetting that Malthus didn’t foresee the just right increase of technological progress in agriculture in order that the population of the future could be fed, but  in spite of this, from the times of Malthus on, the population has increased 6 times and the improvement of agricultural productivity has been constant (new fertilizers and irrigation’s systems, anti-parasitic, green revolution, “transgenics”, etc.). They cannot yet conceive a technologic progress in agriculture which multiplies agricultural production. (See Niall Ferguson, “La venganza de Malthus” (“Malthus revenge”), a pessimistic writing , published in “La Vanguardia”, 5-8-2007).