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An Alabama Reader Says Pat Buchanan—Not Malthus—Is Wrong
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October 31, 2007, 04:00 AM
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From: Timothy Gawne, Ph.D. (e-mail him)

Re: Pat Buchanan`s Column: Apocalypse Now?

Although I am normally a Buchanan fan, I am disappointed in his mindless parroting of the conventional wisdom that Malthus has been proven wrong.

Contrary to the current big-lie propaganda Buchanan—not Malthus—is wrong.

Malthus never predicted a global catastrophe.  He only described what he saw, which is that when everybody has large families starting at age 14, regardless of circumstance, the resulting exponential population growth quickly absorbs natural resources into keeping people alive.

By then, the average person is reduced to subsistence and population stabilizes because of increases in mortality.

Society becomes capital-starved, stagnant and incapable of making large investments. Desperation causes widespread corruption, which magnifies misery.  But because there is no need to pay more than a subsistence wage, the profits and power of the rich are maximized.

If you think that people should not have children that they can`t support (however large or small that number), or that they should wait until they have financial security, then you are a Malthusian.  If you think that 100 people competing for every job causes wages to fall, then you are a Malthusian.

Prosperity always comes after fertility rates have moderated; it never precedes it.

It is not so much the numbers of people, as the rate of increase that is critical. 

China in 1800 had a population of 300 million.  Until very recently the fertility rate was high enough that, with enough food, the population would have doubled every 25 years

If Malthus were wrong and if people can always grow enough food to deal with an exponentially growing population, then the population of China should have been:

1800:     300 million
1825:     600 million
1850:     1.2 billion
1875:     2.4 billion
1900:     4.8 billion
1925:     9.6 billion
1950:     19.2 billion
1975:     38.4 billion

However, the current population of China is only about 1.3 billion.

Where did the extra 37.1 billion people go?  They died of course, not from starvation but from the increased susceptibility to disease that comes from chronic malnutrition, and murdered by parents who had run out of food. 

The Malthusian holocaust is not bad science fiction but established historical fact.

The real issue is whether the standard of living is higher than subsistence.

Per-capita food production is high today because of bias—not because Malthus was wrong. People can grow more food than they need, but there can never be more people than food to support them. 

Average food production per capita has indeed gone up, as Buchanan notes, since the time of Malthus.  But what of it?

If people could somehow live without food, average food production would have dropped.

Gawne has a BS in electrical engineering from MIT, and a Ph. D in physiology from Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda MD. He currently teaches and does research in the field of systems neuroscience.