It's Still the Demography, Stupid

For those who weren’t around the early 1970s, the phrase “Zero Population Growth” quickly swept the-then still very much mass media, once Paul Ehrlich’s doomsday eco-crankery, The Population Bomb was published in 1968, and Ehrlich began appearing on shows such as the Today Show and Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show. (Then and now, you can count on NBC for plenty of left-wing doooooom), and Walter Cronkite took up the theme on the CBS Evening News.


Outside of news and chat shows, you can see how the obsession with overpopulation played out in this bottom-of-the-barrel last season Star Trek episode, or several “documentaries” from the period that now look like the ’70s equivalent of Reefer Madness. Or simply check out the trailer for the Mystery Science Theater 3000-quality British sci-fi film ZPG from 1972, starring otherwise A-list British stars Oliver Reed, Geraldine Chaplin and Diane Cilento, then married to Sean Connery:

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Of course, as Canada Free Press noted yesterday, rounding up several quotes from politicians and journalists in honor of the centennial birthdate of Norman Borlaug, who passed away in 2007, Ehrlich hadn’t anticipated on the tremendous advance in agriculture when he wrote The Population Bomb:

Congress gave a place of honor Tuesday to agriculture visionary Norman Borlaug, adding his statue to the Capitol’s Statuary Hall, but congressional leaders said an even better way to carry on his legacy is to continue his research to feed the world. Congressional leaders unveiled a bronze statue of the Iowan on Tuesday, which would have been his 100th birthday and is also National Agriculture Day.—Jacqueline Klimas, The Washington Times, 25 March 2014.

Today, we live in a very different world from the one that Norman Borlaug was born into. It’s a world with less preventable misery, less hunger, and more hope for the hungry . What a legacy for this humble farmer from Iowa — this unlikeliest of revolutionaries, this man who changed the planet with a grain of wheat.—Mitch McConnell, The Washington Times, 25 March 2014.

In the late 1960s, most experts were speaking of imminent global famines in which billions would perish. ‘The battle to feed all of humanity is over,’ biologist Paul Ehrlich famously wrote in his 1968 bestseller The Population Bomb. But Borlaug and his team were already engaged in the kind of crash program that Ehrlich declared wouldn’t work. Their dwarf wheat varieties resisted a wide spectrum of plant pests and diseases and produced two to three times more grain than the traditional varieties. Borlaug, who unfortunately is far less well-known than doomsayer Ehrlich, is responsible for much of the progress humanity has made against hunger.—Ronald Bailey, Reason Online, 13 September 2009.

Norman Borlaug is the best proof of Julian Simon’s belief in humans as “the ultimate resource,” as ingenuity leads to technological advances. And this theory has aged well, evidenced by the world poverty rate declining 80 percent since 1970 as things get better and better. Norman Borlaug lived from March 25, 1914, until Sept. 12, 2009, and is estimated to have saved the lives of 1 billion people. That’s news worth spreading.—Jarrett Skorup, Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 25 March 2014.


Flash-forward 45 years from the days of The Population Bomb and its media aftermath, and it’s come to this: “Video: ‘Do It for Denmark’ reveals demographic trap for Western nations,” as spotted by Ed Morrissey at Hot Air:

The video hints at the problem in Western nations, which is not so much the lack of babies as it is the growing number of older adults in systems with extensive social-support systems. The ad itself doesn’t even bother to make its pitch on the basis of boosting Danish culture as much as it does a self-serving plea for more future workers to support the expanding number of pensioners. Instead, it features an attractive woman in various (but work-safe) states of undress as the enticement to win some free diapers and to be able to claim that “you did your duty.”

While the entire concept is amusing, it’s also astonishingly utilitarian in both substance and presentation. Is the only value of children in Denmark (and other similarly situated countries) their contribution to the pensions of others? Given the widespread acceptance of abortion in the West, perhaps we should not be surprised by this, but it’s still a rather grim and constricted view of the value of life and the blessings of family.

The “kill ’em all, let Gaia sort out it” arguments of Ehrlich and his disciples, who include Al Gore and John Holdren, now Mr. Obama’s Dr. Strangelove-esque “science” “czar,” were entirely utilitarian — and entirely eco-fascist as well, to borrow from the title of James Delingpole’s recent book. So it’s not all surprising that their successors today also argue from a similarly utilitarian worldview, even as they swing — so to speak — in the entirely opposite direction:


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Or to put it another way, “Since 1945, a multiplicity of government interventions – state pensions, subsidised higher education, higher taxes to pay for everything – has so ruptured traditional patterns of inter-generational solidarity that in Europe a child is now an optional lifestyle accessory.” In other words, as Mark Steyn warned in 2006, whether it’s Europe or America, “It’s the Demography, Stupid.” Steyn added that, “By 2050, Estonia’s population will have fallen by 52 per cent, Bulgaria’s by 36 per cent, Italy’s by 22 per cent. The hyper-rationalism of post-Christian Europe turns out to be wholly irrational: what’s the point of creating a secular utopia if it’s only for one generation?”

Related: Speaking of cheesy early ’70s, sci-fi, Glenn Reynolds links to an article on “The Rise and Fall of Professional Bowling.” Which instantly called to mind the Philadelphia UHF channel I watched as a kid on Sunday mornings circa 1972 — which was either Channel 17 or 29 (I think the latter), which aired reruns of Gerry Anderson’s UFO series. UFO was Anderson’s high-water mark for non-puppet-filled shows, and the special effects hold up pretty well, even today. It was followed every Sunday morning by an hour of…televised professional bowling.


I doubt very much Obamacare covers that level of pop culture schizophrenia today, so you imagine how jarring it was back then.



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