The decision by the Royal Society, Britain’s premier scientific organisation, to launch a study into the effects of population growth is a retrograde step. There can be little doubt that it represents a move towards adopting a more openly Malthusian outlook: accepting that humans themselves constitute a problem.
Thomas Malthus, an Anglican clergyman, argued as far back as 1798 that population growth would lead the world to disaster. Since population would grow faster than food supply the future was one of impoverishment, mass starvation and endless wars.
In the event his predications proved hopelessly inaccurate. The world’s population has grown from about one billion in Malthus’s time to almost seven billion today. Yet we are better fed and more affluent than ever.
Over two centuries later the Royal Society is set to repeat Malthus’s mistakes. That is because, like him, they essentially see every human as a mouth to feed. We are parasites on the planet who devour resources like a plague of locusts.
What this misses is that we also have two hands and a brain. Every person has the ingenuity to help reshape the world for the better. To produce more resources rather than simply to consume. To grow the economy so we can all live in a more prosperous world.
Daniel Ben-Ami, author of Ferraris for all: In defence of economic progress, published 14 July 2010