May 2, 2007
Over at Books & Culture, there's an interesting interview of Phillip Longman, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation. Longman talks with interviewer W. Bradford Wilcox about the current attitude among progressives (Longman calls himself a progressive) regarding population growth.
You are a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a progressive think tank. Why should progressives be concerned about fertility declines in the West? How do fertility declines specifically threaten progressive values and public policies?
It's fair to say that most self-described "progressives" don't agree with me that low fertility is a problem. Many environmentalists, for example, believe that fewer people means a cleaner environment. Other progressives suppose that a decline in population would increase the amount of food and other resources available to the poor. Many feminists, gays, and "childless by choice" people in general feel threatened by suggestions that society needs more children. And when it's pointed out that the lowest birthrates are generally found among the most "progressive" people, then the conversation gets really heated.
On all these counts, I believe progressives are in denial. Today in the United States, for example, we have far cleaner air and water than we did in the 1940s, when the population was just half its current size. That's no paradox. Population growth is a spur to more efficient and cleaner use of resources, so our cities are no longer choked with smoke from steam engines and our cars get far better mileage and are far less polluting. Similarly, population growth is what drove us as a society to find far more productive ways to grow food. Thanks to increased crop yields, per capita food production is higher than ever, even as world population surpasses 6 billion. At the same time, there is more forested land in the United States than in the 19th century because so much less acreage is needed for farmland.
The whole interview is well-worth reading, especially given the ever-increasing number of people on the left who call for fewer babies.