REVIEW of REVIEWS

Can the World Be Overcrowded?

No, Say Statisticians : Checks and Balances Exist That Will Keep World's Population Down Within Economic Limits.

R. R. KUCZYNSKI July 1 1930
REVIEW of REVIEWS

Can the World Be Overcrowded?

No, Say Statisticians : Checks and Balances Exist That Will Keep World's Population Down Within Economic Limits.

R. R. KUCZYNSKI July 1 1930

Can the World Be Overcrowded?

REVIEW of REVIEWS

No, Say Statisticians : Checks and Balances Exist That Will Keep World's Population Down Within Economic Limits.

R. R. KUCZYNSKI

WRITING in a recent issue of the New Republic, Robert R. Kuczynski discusses the peril of overpopulation, according to some authorities, threatening the world.

“The present population of the world,” numbers about 1,800 millions. It is very unevenly distributed over the earth. On tl/e average, about thirty-four persons occupy each square mile of the planet. In the United States the rate is about forty, in England it approximates 700, in the Commonwealth of Australia it is only two. If the whole earth were as densely settled as England, there would be thirty-seven billion inhabitants, or twenty times the present population. Such a crowding of people all over the world is, of course, out of the question. It may, however, seem on first sight as if the earth’s population capacity might easily be ten times its present population. But such a conclusion would be entirely wrong. The earth can under no circumstances car y something like eighteen billion people. How much, then, can it actually sustain?

“The earth’s population capacity is first limited by the potential agricultural resources. The surface of the earth is equal to thirty-three or thirty-four billion acres. How much of this is arable? Professor East, by putting the tillable soil of the earth at thirteen billion acres as a maximum, and the average requirements for each person as at least two and a half acres, reaches the conclusion that the earth can support not more than five billion inhabitants. If, on the other hand, one assumes that there are fifteen billion acres of arable land and that one and a half acres on an average are sufficient to support an individual, the maximum population would not have to be placed at less than ten billions.

“The earth’s population capacity is limited not only by our physical and our intellectual resources; it is limited also, and even much more, by peculiarities of the human character which find their expression in what we may briefly call national egoisms. The maximum population of, say ten or eleven billions can, of course, be attained only with the freest possible immigration. The United States, as all other countries, would have to open her gates to all nations of the world; she would have to accept her due share of the ten or eleven billions, say eight hundred millions. She would have to forget everything about the national-origins clause; she would have to welcome a hundred million or more foreign immigrants without the slightest discrimination on account of color, race or standard of living. If, on the other hand, the people of the United States and of some other countries which are comparatively underpopulated, go on restricting immigration as they do, it is hard to see how the earth—even allowing for every conceivable advance in science and technique—could possibly double its present population.

“But is such a doubling of the world’s present population to be expected in the near future? The question is generally answered on the basis of the present rate of increase. According to the most recent estimates of the International Statistical Institute, the population of the world increased, during the years from 1920 to 1926, by an annual average of 11,400,000,

or five-eighths of one per cent—which rate, if it were to persist, would mean a doubling of the world’s population in 110 years. Such an increase would mean that the earth, which has been inhabited by human beings for hundreds of thousands of years, would reach its limits of population capacity in about three hundred years, even if human knowledge, human organization and human character were in the meantime perfected to a degree which transcends all our ordinary conceptions of real possibilities.

“The Institute of Economics of the Brookings Institution in Washington has recently published a volume on The Balance of Births and Deaths in Western and Northern Europe. It covers Great Britain and Ireland, France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany, Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Finland. This area, in 1926, had a population of 188,000,000 -that is, ten or eleven per cent of the world’s population and had an excess of births over deaths amounting to five-eighths of one per cent that is, exactly the same rate as we found for the world as a whole. Yet, notwithstanding the fact that there occurred 3,613,000 births as against 2,449,000 deaths, fertility was already so low that the population no longer reproduced itself, but had a virtual deficit of about seven per cent. As the book says: ‘According to the fertility and mortality in Western and Northern Europe in 1926, one hundred mothers gave birth to ninety-three future mothers only. With the fertility of 1926, the population is bound to die out unless mortality of potential mothers decreases beyond reasonable expectations. And fertility

continued on its downward path in 1927.’

“Why is it then that the population of Western and Northern Europe is still increasing? The reason is easy to understand. In the present population of those countries, the proportion of women of child-bearing age is particularly large, and the proportion of young children and old persons particularly low. The number of old persons is comparatively low because the generation born in the fifties and sixties of the last century was considerably reduced by a high infant mortality and by emigration. The number of young children is comparatively low because the number of births has considerably declined. It goes wit hout saying that a large proportion of women of child-bearing age tends to swell the number of births, and that a small proportion of young children and of old persons tends to lower the number of deaths. But it is also evident that the persons between fifteen and fifty years who now are so numerous will grow older and will thereby swell those age groups where death claims most victims, while there are not sufficient children to fill up the age groups which are more or less secure against death and which contribute most to the reproduction of the population. With fertility and mortality as they have prevailed for some time, the rate of increase is bound to decline and to give way before long to an actual decrease.

“Are similar conditions to be found in other parts of the world? Does the rate of increase elsewhere convey as unique a picture of the rate of reproduction as in Western and Northern Europe? The Institute of Economics is now extending

its studies on the balance of births and deaths to other parts of the world, and I hesitate to venture an opinion on the results of those studies before they are completed. But a few remarks may not be out of place. Dublin and Lotka, some years ago, found that while the rate of natural increase of the white population of the United States, in 1920, was 1.1 per cent, one-half of the increase was due to the age constitution which tends to swell the number of births and to lower the number of deaths. In the meantime mortality has decreased, but fertility has decreased much more, so that the genuine rate of increase is certainly lower than it was in 1920. Even without having accurate data at our disposal for all the countries involved, we may then at least say this much—that the population of Western and Northern Europe, North America and Australia combined, no longer reproduces itself.

“We thus reach the following conclusion: If fertility and mortality remain

what they are, it will take mankind more, and possibly much more, than 150 years to double its numbers. In the meantime, the race composition of the world, and especially of Europe, would have considerably changed, since the Anglo-Saxons, Germans, Scandinavians and French no longer reproduce themselves, while the Slavs still have an enormous genuine growth. As a consequence thereof, the proportion of Slavs would greatly increase. This by itself would not mean something unheard of. For a long time the Slavic population of Europe has increased much more than the Teutonic, and the Teutonic much more than the Romance. It has indeed been estimated that, in the course of the nineteenth century, the Romance element decreased from three-eighths to one-fourth, while the Slav element rose from one-fourth to three-eighths and the Teutonic element all the time comprised three-eighths. It would be rather irrelevant if in the future the proportion of Slavs in Europe increased not only at, the cost of the Romance but also at the cost of the Teutonic race; it would be rather irrelevant—as long as the Romance and the Teutonic races maintained their own. But once the countries which they inhabit become dependent on immigration in order to keep up population, the Slavs will flock in. They will come because they will find opportunities to work at fair wages, and they will be welcome because — notwithstanding all the eloquently praised blessings of depopulation —no nation wants deserted farms, closed factories, vacant houses, fewer taxpayers.

“As matters stand, there is no real danger of a general overpopulation. Mankind will probably increase much slower than most people nowadays believe. The Anglo-Saxons, the Germans, the Scandinavians and the French will very likely retrogress in the course of this century, and since the Slavs and some other races will continue to grow, the proportion of the Teutonic and the French races will diminish even much quicker than their absolute numbers. It is hard to see how this process might effectively be stopped. But it will be accelerated if the birthrestriction movement should continue to be most successful among those nations which have already ceased to reproduce themselves.”