14th August 2011
The MASSIVE European “Population Bomb” – why is no one complaining about it?
Extract from draft DOF. (continuing from this blog post)
In the historical context, India is now barely beginning to recover its original ‘share’ of world population after the disproportionate expansion of Europeans during their colonial period (Table yy). I’m not suggesting that ‘historical proportions’ of population have intrinsic meaning, but we must rap the knuckles of those who cry wolf about the so-called ‘large’ number of poor people on earth.
And why did the number of Europeans increase so rapidly in the 18th and 19th centuries? Because of the great boost to commerce, industry and science that arose from advances in liberty and led to startling improvements in health and general prosperity (improvements that Karl Marx the blind ‘economist’ missed). The most significant advance came from simple improvements in sanitation and public health which cut down infant mortality by more than half.
Given that it takes time for people to realise that more children will survive than they initially expected, European birth rates rapidly begin to exceed death rates, leading to a massive growth in population. Like in developing countries later, it took decades for European fertility to re-adjust and return to replacement levels. The ‘surplus’ population so generated migrated across the world and – supported by European technical advances – fuelled colonialism and imperialism.
As a result of this massive European ‘population bomb’ the share of undivided India in the world’s population plummeted from 21.5 per cent in 1750, to 17.3 per cent in 1900. This share has barely recovered since then, and will return to around 22 per cent of world population by about 2020, tapering off in due course as birth rates fall with greater freedom.
Table yy: Population of undivided India as a ratio of world population
Indian proportion of world population
Note: Figures are in millions. *Includes Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India.
Sources: Various, based on research I conducted in 1998 (the 2025 projections were of from reports published in the late 1990s, and may now be over-estimates) [Update using Angus Madison’s last book – will update in subsequent revisions].
In that sense India and other developing nations are seeing a delayed return to their ‘orignal’ share of world population, consistent with global advances of freedom and science. It is clearly a good thing that the world now has a higher (and more innovative) population. The Earth can sustain a very large, prosperous human population. Gandhi was entirely wrong (being ignorant both of science and economics) when he is reported to have said: ‘The earth provides enough to satisfy every man's needs, but not every man's greed’
. I don’t know about greed, but there is enough on Earth for all of mankind, for a very very long time. There is no shortage of resources, since natural resources harldly matter; it is human ingenuity that is relevant.
Cited in Pyarelal, Mahatma Gandhi, Volume X: The Last Phase
, Part II (Ahmedabad: Navajivan, 1958), page 552.