Overpopulation, Hunger & Poverty

We often hear that the cause of hunger and poverty in places like Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and India, is because of so-called "overpopulation." Well, I disagree.

In the early 1990s, Hong Kong had a higher population density than any other country. During that same time, Hong Kong also had the highest per capita rate of Rolls Royce ownership of any country in the world.

During the early 1990s, Tokyo, Japan was the most populous city in the world. During that same time, Tokyo was also the wealthiest city in the world.

If "overpopulation" caused poverty, then Hong Kong and Tokyo would be the poorest places on earth.

So why is there so much hunger and poverty in certain areas of the world, such as Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and India?

The reason that places like Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and India have so much hunger and poverty is because these places do not place any substantial emphasis on things like individual liberty, freedom, private property, free markets, and capitalism.

Hong Kong and Tokyo became wealthy because these places had a strong emphasis on things such as individual liberty, freedom, private property, free markets, and capitalism.

Individual liberty, freedom, private property, free markets, and capitalism are extremely important things.

During colonial days in America, there were millions of buffalo. They were nearly hunted to extinction.

But today, Americans consume 35 million cattle every year. But cattle are not headed for extinction.

Why the difference?

The answer is simple.

Nobody owned the buffalo. Any individual hunter would look around and say to himself, "Hey! The buffalo are disappearing. However, even if I stop killing them, the other hunters are still going to hunt them to extinction anyway. So, there is nothing that I can do to save the buffalo from extinction. Therefore, I may as well kill as many as I can, as quickly as I can."

But with cattle, the situation is different. Cattle are privately owned. A farmer will say to himself, "These are my cattle. I own them. I will kill some of them now. However, I will save some of them for the future. Any cattle that I avoid killing today, will still be there for me in the future."

In other words, private ownership of property encourages people to take care of things.

When you own something, then you will take good care of it.

In the oceans, many species of fish are being overfished. These species could end up going extinct. There are fishing boats that use nets that are 50 miles long. The owners of these boats do not make any attempts to save any species of fish from going extinct. These fish live in the ocean. Nobody owns these fish.

On the other hand, on privately owned fish farms, overfishing never happens. Again, to repeat. On privately owned fish farms, overfishing never happens.

When you own something, then you will take care of it.

Private ownership is all fine and good for renewable resources. But what abut non-renewable resources?

Well, again, even for non-renewable resources, free markets are the best way to go.

As an example, consider oil. Oil is a non-renewable resource. However, I claim that as long as we have free markets, then the world will never run out of oil.

As oil becomes more and more scarce, the price of it will go up. Higher prices give information to producers as well as consumers. To producers, the message is, "Hey, you better look to see if there are any as yet undiscovered deposits of oil. In addition, you better get to work on developing cheaper substitutes, something that people will use instead of oil." To consumers, higher prices say, "Hey! There's only so much of this stuff to go around. You better not waste it. Also, you should consider buying a cheaper substitute."

But what about the 1970s? What about the so-called "energy crises?" What about people who had to wait in line for hours to buy gasoline?

Well, during the 1970s, OPEC limited the oil production from certain countries. By itself, this would not have caused any shortages in the United States. Instead, the OPEC oil embargo, by itself, simply would have caused an increase in the price of oil and gasoline.

Unfortunately, during the 1970s, the U.S. government set price controls on oil and gasoline. Ultimately, it was these price controls that caused the "energy crises" and the gasoline lines.

As long the there are no price controls on oil and gasoline in the future, then there will never be a shortage of these things. We may see a day when gasoline prices hit $100 a gallon or more, but there will never be a shortage of it.

The law of supply and demand is extremely important. Whenever there is a big freeze in Florida, the price of oranges goes up. This is why we never have a shortage of oranges.

In the entire history of the United States, the only time that there has ever been a "shortage" of any natural resource was when at least one of the following three things happened:

1) the resource was not privately owned

2) the government controlled the distribution of the resource

3) the government controlled the price of the resource

Some people claim that the world is "running out" of resources. However, those people are wrong.

Right now, natural resources are more abundant than at any time before. When you adjust for inflation, the price of many natural resources is lower now than at any other point in history.

Right now, Americans have more "stuff" than ever before. Wal-Marts and K-Marts and other such stores are everywhere. These stores have lots of "stuff." And this "stuff" is very, very cheap.

The most important "natural resource" is not coal or oil or natural gas.

The most important "natural resource" is human creativity.

In societies that place strong emphasis on individual liberty, freedom, private property, free markets, and capitalism, human creativity will always be used to it's fullest potential. In free societies, people will always develop technologies to provide themselves with as much "stuff" as they need.

grundle USA - Thursday, March 04, 1999 (Posted in Guestbook of Overpopulation.com)

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