The Case for People
There came to me the memory of reading a eulogy delivered by a Jewish chaplain over the dead on the battlefield at Iwo Jima, saying something like, “How many who would have been a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein have we buried here?” And then I thought, Have I gone crazy? What business do I have trying to help arrange it that fewer human beings will be born, each one of whom might be a Mozart or a Michelangelo or an Einstein—or simply a joy to his or her family and community, and a person who will enjoy life?
—Julian Simon, The Ultimate Resource 2
The case against population is simple: Assume a fixed pie of wealth, and do the math. If every person gets an equal slice, more people imply smaller slices. The flaw in this argument is that people are producers as well as consumers. More sophisticated critics of population appeal to the diminishing marginal product of labor. As long as doubling the number of producers less than doubles total production, more people imply smaller slices.
These anti-population arguments have strong intuitive appeal. But they face an awkward fact: During the last two centuries, both population and prosperity exploded. Maybe the world just enjoyed incredibly good luck, but it makes you wonder: Could rising population be a cause of rising prosperity?
Yes. Economists’ central discovery about economic growth is that new ideas are more important than labor or capital. The main reason we’re richer than we used to be is that we know more than we used to know. We know how one man can grow food for hundreds. We know how to build flying machines. We know how to build iPhones. Best of all: Once one person discovers a new idea, billions can cheaply adopt it.
Once you recognize the power of ideas, the value of population comes into focus. People—especially smart, creative people—are the source of new ideas. Imagine deleting half the names in your music collection—or half the visionaries in the computer industry. Think how much poorer the world would be. But population doesn’t merely increase the supply of new ideas. It increases the demand as well. Suppose an idea is worth $1 per person, but takes a decade to develop. On an island with a hundred inhabitants, the idea would remain undiscovered; inventors are better off picking coconuts. But in a world with seven billion customers, inventors scramble to bring the new idea to market.
Government, worldwide, is principally an impediment to both freedom and prosperity. And improving government is really tough. Ask the Tea Party. The GOP horse they backed to cut government’s fiscal throat by cuts in the hundreds of billions proposed a budget that actually cuts less a couple hundred million.
Listen to the following lecture by Patri Friedman and get on board with developing Seasteads to house entirely new polities which will directly compete with governments.