I was excited this week to find a copy of the original 1968 version of Paul Ehrlich's "The Population Bomb." I have been itching to find such a copy so I can demonstrate just how wrong and wrong-headed his zero-sum limits-to-growth thinking is.
Now, one may ask, why even bother? You could argue that thoughtful folks have dismissed Paul Ehrlich and his ilk for years, particularly after Julian Simon owned him in their famous bet. However, I find two compelling reasons to take the time to fisk a forty-year-old book:
- Paul Ehrlich and his brethren actually have not been disowned by much of the intelligentsia. The media still breathlessly reprints Ehrlich's and his cohorts' predictions of disaster, despite the fact that all their past predictions have utterly failed to come true.
- The fundamental mistakes he makes in his analysis are constantly repeated today. These mistakes include:
- Static analysis - blind projection of trendlines without any allowance for individuals actually doing something to alter those trends, particularly in response to pricing signals. This leads not only to predictions of disaster, but to the consistent conclusion that only governments coercing individuals on a massive scale can avert dire consequences for humanity
- Zero confidence in humanity - every analysis implicitly contains the assumption that we will never know how to do more than we know how to do today. Kind of an anti-Kurzweil mentality
- Zero-sum economics - the common misconception that wealth can only come at the expense of poverty elsewhere.
I have not had a chance to dig into it, but I will leave you with this tasty teaser from the back cover:
MANKIND'S INALIENABLE RIGHTS
- The right to eat well
- The right to drink pure water
- The right to breathe clean air
- The right to decent, uncrowded shelter
- The right to enjoy natural beauty
- The right to avoid regimentation
- The right to avoid pesticide poisoning
- The right to freedom from thermonuclear war
- The right to limit families
- The right to educate our children
- The right to have grandchildren
Well, that seems to cover it. Anyone want to bet I don't find anything about property rights in this book? Gotta go read the book now, since I have so many questions now: Is it OK if someone kills me with a conventional bomb rather than a nuclear one? Can I sue McDonald's on the basis that yesterday's lunch was a violation of my right to eat well? And just how do I force my kids to have sex and procreate? I can't wait to find out.