Recently the BIB school of population pundits— “Bigger is Better” — has become noisier. That bigger is not always better is known to everyone with eyes and a memory.
An expanding population erodes individual freedom. The freedom people had to drive their automobiles wherever they wanted to in 1920 has been greatly reduced since then. Timed traffic signals now tell us when we can move and how fast. Parking meters tell us where we can leave our cars, and for how long.
When our population gets still larger, we will lose more liberty of movement. At some level of population, only an elite few will be able to have personal cars. The rest will have to be satisfied with mass transit.
Liberty of location is also lost with population growth. When a population is small, businesses, homes and farms can locate on flatland. The increase in real estate prices that comes with population growth squeezes out first the farms, then the homes. Deep topsoil is paved over, and farms are relocated on slopes where the soil is thinner and erosion is greater. Not an intelligent arrangement
Anticipating higher populations, a society that was willing to restrict freedom of location could save the best farmland for farms. Businesses and homes could use hilly land, where the costs of building is greater but the view is better.
Without such anticipation and rational action, what is called “normal development” produces such abominations as Silicon Valley where fruit trees should be growing. Future food production is constricted.
The free growth of cities progressively produces loss of freedom. Every city is a monument of hope that we can get more people together is a small space without losing anything significant.
The hope is thwarted. People working in the third dimension of a skyscraper must come down at rush hours to be squeezed into the two dimensions of the streets below. The modern city should be called “Bottleneck City.”
The costs to freedom of Bottleneck City are many: traffic jams; waste of travel times; sacrifice of space-demanding amenities like street trees and city parks; loss of clean air from automobile pollution; crowding of pedestrians; more hectic psychological pace; and greater per capita cost of security forces.
The Bigger Is Better population pundits seem unaware of a major principle of all science: the Scale Effect. Growth in size always causes change in properties. There is no way that a hummingbird can be scaled up to 30 pounds in weight and still be a hummingbird: It becomes something like a slow flying vulture.
Likewise there is no way that a nation of our size … can be governed by a Town Meeting; we have to settle for a representative democracy. Group decisions become ever more difficult.
A growing population loses one freedom after another. We have passed the level of economies of scale. From here on out, bigger is not better: Bigger is less free.
The enduring problem for the nation is this: Which freedoms should we prize most? Can we agree to restrict certain lesser freedoms in order to preserve the greater ones? Unless we can find ways to bring population growth to a halt, we surely shall have to give up one freedom after another.
If we choose the freedoms to be renounced, we maybe able to preserve the more important freedoms.
Garrett Hardin, Professor Emeritus of Human Ecology, University of California-Santa Barbara, is the author of a dozen books and more than 200 articles, essays, and reviews on a variety of social issues.