Is there a plus side for overpopulation?

Overpopulation has always been put as one of the key problems in our age. With world population currently standing at 7.5 billion people and the UN expecting it to reach 10 billion by 2100 it is certainly something to worry about. The problems with food security, housing, employment and education are only going to get harder.

But according to some authors, we’re are forgetting a plus side for this: more people means more opportunities for great minds and ideas.

Paul R. Ehrlich, author of “The Population bomb” says that in an overpopulated world we would have “a dozen Beatles and a few Shakespeares” at any given time.

Also, Dr. Toby Ord, philosopher at Oxford argues that:

“These upsides may even outweigh the downsides, making a larger population a good thing overall. One example is the rapidly growing information economy. If someone makes a hammer, only a few people get the benefit, but if someone records a new song, writes a computer program, or invents a new technology, everyone can benefit. These activities thus produce more value the more people we have.”

“With twice as many people doing jobs like these, we could all get roughly twice the benefits (more art, culture, science, technology), or they could work roughly half as many hours. A larger population thus has the potential to make life much better, so long as we can find the resources to support it.”

His idea is simple: more people equals more productive work, or at least that more people can do a specialized one. And in our information age we could all benefit from it, but still need to figure out how to provide for all these people.

Dr. Ehrlich himself pointed out that the presence of more great artists is only a consolation prize for that he predicted in the 1970’s as the worldwide famines. He still advocates for population controls and argues families should have fewer children.

On the other hand, Thomas Malthus, the original worrier about overpopulation noted that only a wealthy few would be able to endure a population crisis and that the rest of the population would be living in poverty and misery.

Even if the idea of overpopulation is less discussed today than decades ago and environmentalists have moved from the number of people to their consumption patterns we still need to think about it.

Economist Julian Simon, who won a bet against Dr. Ehrlich on the price of metals going down as resources depleted, was also optimistic about population growth. HE suggested that an increased population will not lead to crippling losses in resources but that it would be a blessing instead.

“Resources come out of people’s minds more than out of the ground or air,” he says. “Minds matter economically as much as or more than hands or mouths. Human beings create more than they use, on average. It had to be so, or we would be an extinct species.”

So how will our overpopulated world will be like? This is a question that is still as relevant as ever.


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