In Response: Should There Be A Right To Have As Many Kids As You Want?

| June 15, 2016 | Leave a Comment

Jason G. Brent provides additional thoughts in response to the recently published post to the MAHB Blog: Should There Be A Right To Have As Many Kids As You Want? by Paul R. Ehrlich. The original post can be found here.


Every human right, except the right to produce an excess number of children, is in some manner controlled by society when the exercise of that right harms another person. You have the right to swing your arm, but you do not have the right to swing your arm such that smashes another person in the face. You have the right of free speech, but you cannot yell fire in a crowded motion picture theater when fire does not exist. There is not a single reason why the right to produce an excess number of children is not controlled by society when the exercise of that right will cause the deaths of billions and the total collapse of civilization never to rise again above the level of the early Stone Age.

Since the planet earth is finite, at some point in time population growth will cease. Infinite population growth cannot and will not occur on the finite earth. There are three, and only three ways, that population growth will cease:

1) War (most probably with weapons of mass destruction),  disease, starvation and other horrors beyond the imagination;

2) Voluntary population control; and

3) Coercive population control.

I defy anyone to set forth another method by which population growth will cease. No one on the face of the earth can guarantee that voluntary population control will reduce population growth to zero, or  make it negative (if that is required) such that population growth does not result in the population being controlled by number 1 above. To put the concept in different words— there is a chance that voluntary population control will fail resulting in wars with weapons of mass destruction, killing billions and totally destroying civilization.

Without writing a 10 page essay, I can state that the chance of failure is greater than 10% by the year 2100. If the previous statement is correct, the failure of intellectuals and college professors to demand that society immediately evaluate, discuss, and debate coercive population control in relation to voluntary population control, is an act of potential mass murder.


The original post by Paul R. Ehrlich can be found here.

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The views and opinions expressed through the MAHB Website are those of the contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect an official position of the MAHB. The MAHB aims to share a range of perspectives and welcomes the discussions that they prompt.
  • Max Kummerow

    There are some pretty clear signs of overshoot and impending collapse. The fossil fuel subsidy probably increases economic output by two orders of magnitude and certainly well over half of world food supply is due to fossil fuel subsidies (half from nitrogen made from CH4 alone). Fossil fuels will run out, and supplies will almost certainly peak this century leading to price increases. Soil loss and damage exceeds soil formation on most agricultural land. And there is the cumulative carbon limit for “likely” 2 degrees C that will almost certainly be reached and then exceeded before 2050.

    All societies regulate births already in various ways. Via age of marriage. Marriage institutions. Social family size norms (higher and lower in different cultures, but very powerful), tax laws, child support laws, institutions that privatize or socialize costs of rearing and educating children and so on. Almost nowhere do women have the “natural” maximum of about 14 children during a 30 year period of fertility with about 350 ovulations. So there is no difference in principle in adding additional incentives and regulations to limit childbearing. The morally essential point is to insist that since childbearing is a fundamental right, that it must be an equal right for all. A two child policy probably makes most sense, incentivised by requiring parents of more than two children to pay external costs imposed on others, plus any socialized costs such as medical and education costs that burden other taxpayers.

    Finally, we do regulate other basic rights, especially property rights, where external costs imposed on others are large. Zoning, building codes, health codes, etc. limit property rights. the external costs (and benefits) of “other people’s children” are enormous (ranging from lifesaving to murder). The increase in demand for scarce resources would tend to raise prices for all and so impose higher costs (lower incomes) on others. Economic theory supports limiting childbearing rights.

  • liveoak

    Well, when it comes to estimating probabilities, I think that the probability of a lot of human life being lost from a kind of general systems breakdown is pretty high, well before the year 2100, just due to the complexity of this enormous support system we have constructed, evolving into ever-greater abstraction from the functioning of natural systems even as the size of the population to be supported has ballooned. What would we think of a nonhuman population that did something like this in nature? Some social insects build structures of considerable complexity, but theirs are not separated from supporting ecosystems with layers and layers
    of linguistic/numerical representations.

    Some think that today’s violent conflicts are largely about efforts to shore up and maintain this shaky system; on the other hand, it seems pretty obvious that the process of an inevitable system collapse–its overall structure is clearly inadequate for our present, let alone future, needs, since it is not well grounded in biology, arrogantly “externalizing” nature–is itself very likely to trigger more wars, famines, pestilences and all the rest. At any rate, bringing about a slowing of the growth of, and an eventual reduction in, our human population will require some fundamental changes in the fabric of what is called our “social reality”—you can’t
    just change one part of a system without changing the whole of it–and I do think that the choice between bringing about those changes voluntarily or coercively is a choice is between thinking of humanity as one people or “cutting us in half,” into the managers and the managed.

    We are already living in an era in which the very definition of “democracy” is in question; there was a time when the notion that “every human right is in some manner controlled by society” was a benign thought, but that must have been under an earlier definition of the word. Sure, there is a “chance” that voluntary population control will fail; there’s a darn good change that anything we do now will “fail,” if success is taken to mean keeping alive every human that is here now, along with their immediate offspring, without seriously destabilizing the biosphere. But to avoid a future of even more violent conflicts, I think working for “rapid enlightenment”–not manipulating people into a certain set of behaviors, but getting them to stop the denial and think for themselves–gives us a better shot a planet that might possibly be capable of maintaining a smaller human population over the long term, and would at least remain hospitable to some representatives of the more recent epochs of Earth’s evolution.

    I do appreciate the vehemence of your last sentence, however. Yes, college professors and other intellectuals who shirk their responsibility,–one that attaches to their position in society–to engage everyone in a discussion about how to deal with our unsupportable population trajectory (largely due to lacking the courage to stand up to irrational social pressures?) could be conceived of as complicit in an ongoing murdering of Life on Earth.