Re: overpopulation - more

Robin Hanson (
Mon, 6 Jul 1998 20:37:10 -0700 (PDT)

Daniel Fabulich writes:
>> So, at least, it might seem. Malthus, who long ago forecast overpopulation
>> doom, would prove to be the bleak prophet of utopia.
>Malthus ultimately recanted his whole theory; not just the date, but the
>whole damnable thing, when he discovered that, actually, food production
>was increasing geometrically too. False alarm, as usual.
>The best and clearest argument is this: economically speaking, people
>produce more than they consume on average; this is a well researched and
>much puzzled at fact. ...
>So we can see already that so long as we don't run out of resources, more
>people leads to more prosperity. The question is, when do we run out of
>resources? ... my money is
>on this not happening for several billions of years, if ever.

Malthus showed that certain assumptions implied subsitence wages. Those assumptions were reasonable for several thousand years before Malthus. Just his bad luck that the world had fundamentally changed about when he did his analysis.

Other assumptions, the ones you obviously prefer, and which have been valid for the last two hundred years, imply increasing per-capita wealth as population increases. You acknowledge one of those assumptions, available resources, but don't seem sufficiently aware of other assumptions made:

  1. The resources need to be close enough at hand; without FTL-travel, it's very hard to see how resources billions of light years away can support current population growth rates over the next 10,000 years.
  2. The technology of reproduction has to not get lots better. Per-capita wealth can increase if wealth increases faster than population. But with upload technology, for example, populations can increase much faster than it seems plausible for wealth to increase. With uploads, Malthus' assumptions may well become reasonable again. (See