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Cruel To Be Kind

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There is a fascinating website called “Long Bets.” There, people—usually experts—make specific predictions that will come true by a specific date. If somebody disagrees, the parties make a bet, with the proceeds going to charity. Current bets include “routine” commercial flights in “pilotless planes” by the year 2030 and that someone alive today will still be alive in 2150.

The goal of Long Bets is to “foster better long-term thinking” through “accountable predictions.”

If only it, or something like it, had been around 40 years ago!

In 1967, Stanford entomologist Paul Ehrlich began a magazine article by writing that “the battle to feed all of humanity is over.” He predicted that “in the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now” to feed them. His article eventually became a book called The Population Explosion, one of the most influential books of the last 40 years.

None of Ehrlich’s dire predictions came true. People did die, but they died as a result of population-control efforts that were spurred by Ehrlich’s imaginary “population explosion.”

This story is told in a new book, Population Control: Real Costs, Illusory Benefits, by Steven Mosher.

Mosher played an important role in exposing the abuses associated with China’s “one-child” policy. In his latest book he tells us that China does not have a monopoly on population control-driven fanaticism and even cruelty.

The fanaticism started with the belief that “overpopulation” was the source of many, if not most, of the world’s ills: Not only would unchecked population lead to famine, it would open the door to, among other things, political instability, environmental degradation, and even communist subversion.

If this all sounds familiar, it should: “Overpopulation” was an all-purpose bogeyman much like anthropogenic global warming is today. Just as some alarmists today envision New York under 25 feet of water, some population alarmists predicted global population in excess of 100 billion!

In the face of such a so-called “threat,” human dignity gave way. If people did not “voluntarily” limit family size, then coercion and deception stepped in. In India, for example, millions of men and women were sterilized against their will.

What Mosher calls “costs” were not limited to overt human-rights abuses. Around the world, money that should have gone to primary health care was diverted to population-control programs: African doctors report facilities filled with condoms and contraceptives while antibiotics and sterile needles were unavailable.

The abuses and tragedies chronicled by Mosher, which I will discuss over the next couple of days, is an infuriating but strong example of why worldviews matter. What was done to people around the developing world proceeded directly from ideas about the dignity and worth of human life—or, the lack thereof.

You also need to hear this because you underwrote the abuses by your tax dollars. While it may be too late to undo the damage already done, we must learn from this and prevent future abuses.

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