Is Ehrlich Equalitarian?
By Alec Rawls © 1998
Side-bar to Exploit Endangered Species (a critique of Ehrlichian environmentalism)

The generous way to account for Ehrlich's decades long embrace of the same error, urging that those who have the most resources to raise children well are the one's who should most restrain their reproduction, is that he is simply an pessimistic equalitarian socialist. His pessimism leads him to see only what Malthus saw (and what everyone has seen since): that human reproduction can easily outstrip resources.

In economics we call this the law of diminishing returns. More labor, mixed with the same capital, leads to diminishing marginal productivity of labor. Since the competitively determined wage is equal to the marginal productivity of labor, diminishing returns lead to the Malthusian "iron law of wages." If reproduction is unrestrained, population increase will push society out along its production function, diminishing the marginal productivity of labor until wages are down to subsistance. Further reproduction pushes wages below subsistance, causing starvation, which keeps population in check, which starts to bring marginal productivity and wages back up. Thus wages always gravitate towards the subsistance wage. But Malthus failed to account that labor, in addition to moving us out along the production function, can also raise the production function (a point emphasized by Julian Simon in his cogent critiques of Ehrlich). In particular, well educated children have an astounding record of on average growing up to raise the production function far more than they move us out along it. That is, they raise, not lower, the marginal productivity of labor, as can be seen in the fact that, since the industrial revolution, marginal productivity has risen dramatically along with population, and there is every reason to expect this trend to continue.

If environmental costs are properly internalized (as they often are not at present) the raising of the production function by well raised children will induce a net gain in value, including the value of the environment. We will become ecologically more sound, not less, as those who have the resources to raise children well have more children.

But if Ehrlichman is a socialist equalitarian, he cannot grasp any of this. To him, capitalism, economic-liberty, "exploitation," would be presumptively evil and the idea of capitalism actually being good would be incomprehensible. Then the equalitarianism kicks in: if we have to stop having babies, surely we should all bear this restraint equally. In this way one can at least see how he could believe himself to be benign.

The alternative is that he is another "Doctor Death" like Jack Kevorkian, a ghoul in love with death for its own sake (though at least Kevorkian's cause, allowing people freedom of choice about how to die, has merit). Does Ehrlich glory in all the children he has silently eliminated by convincing their parents not to give them life? I actually think this is the more likely explanation, for there is a common evolution of personality in this direction amongst the environmental left. One stands on a hill above a city witnessing the vastness of human development. If the weather has been warm and still there will be a blanket of smog that looks quite dense as one looks through its width. Pictures of rainforests burning well up in the mind. If one has bought into the alarmism of the left, that the environment is rapidly being destroyed, then the question arises: if I had a vial of super-communicable and deadly virus, should I throw it down there?

If the alarmist's presumptions were correct, this would be a legitimate question. Millian utilitarianism might say "yes," if this was the only way to save anything. What makes the idea insane is that the presumptions and analysis of the environmental left are all egregiously wrong. Yet believing that alarmism itself is a good thing (shouldn't we at least be worried?) opens a door to accepting these egregious presumptions.

Now imagine living with that, with the constant sense that, if one could, one might choose to decimate mankind, send us back to the stone age, if we survive at all, and seeing this setback as necessary and good. Every reminder of the vastness of mankind, every traffic jam, every flight over a city, every endless view of industry or mechanically cultivated fields would be an occasion to hate mankind for the horrible threat that, according to alarmism, we have become. I can see how the leftists fall into that anti-human hatred that utterly dominates their population discussions. There is a ghoulishness, not that comes from inside, but which they have immersed themselves in. They wear ghoulishness as a jacket.

Ehrlich sewed that jacket and ushered the well meaning but misguided left into it. He is quite literally the author of the alarmist approach to environmental concerns, unconcerned with truth or sense, treating alarm itself as the thing most necessary. If there ever is an act of anti-human eco-terrorism it will largely be Ehrlich's doing. But where the mielu of alarm offers some excuse for those brought up in it, it offers no excuse for the author of alarm. Further, Ehrlich is an intellectual who has been confronted again and again by correct analysis of every mistake he has ever made. Still he clings and clings and clings to his errors. What can account to this positive immunity to reason and evidence? My suspicion is that the ghoulish jacket of leftist environmentalism is not a jacket at all for Ehrlich, but vibrates to an inner string. I suspect he secretly revels in all the life he has interdicted, just like Kevorkian. He has found an excuse to indulge his inner ghoul and will not give it up for the world. Angel of the left. Serene in his error. Angel of Death. Do you have a better way to account for his absolute disinterest in understanding why his predictions have been so fabulously wrong or otherwise coming to grips with his mistakes?

Then again, one must admit that immunity to reason and evidence is a commonplace amongst those illiberals who call themselves "liberal." Attracted to positions that display most conspicuously the benevolence of their concerns (in Ehrlich's case, pure alarm, or display of intention to protect the environment) they assume that anyone who disagrees with them has less public interested concern--that they are corrupt--and hence should be dismissed, fought, evaded, anything but conceded to. But can one really keep this up for thirty years, without a ray of light penetrating? Well, the gun control morons have. Their response to every eruption of predation is to demand we make it illegal for people to be prepared to defend themselves or eachother, and there is hardly a newspaper in the country that will print a sane view on the subject. Still, the fact that such moral fatuousness is common does not make it easy to account for as less than evil. Immunity to reason and evidence requires dishonesty, which is morally culpable. A posture of conspicuous concern is not the same thing as real concern, which must care only for the truth. The moment must occur when one realizes that one is resisting reason and evidence, at which point the failure to back off becomes the sheerest selfishness, a concern for embarassment, not value out in the world, and this is what lets the opportunity for self-correction pass. Is Ehrlichman that petty: the banality of evil?

As for his equalitarian bent, it is interesting to note that in the case of reproduction it becomes an attempt to eliminate the process of Darwinian selection. No selection is to take place. All are to have the same number of children. Interestingly, the only people who have listened to Ehrlich have been whites. That says something for the intellectualization of white people, but not much for intelligence. So be it. Darwinian selection cannot be stopped and those who listen to Ehrlich will be, in evolutionary time, rapidly weeded out. If reproduction were limited instead by responsible child-bearing, where parents faced the full costs of raising a child and were in that way deterred from having children they could not raise, then the more industrious and the better equipped within each race would have more children than the less equipped. Children would be raised better and on average make a greater contribution than people today to the welfare of each other and the environment.

But what is an equalitarian to do? At some point equalitarians must confront the huge expected net value of a child who is raised to within some semblance of his potential. But as soon as the equalitarian starts analyzing value, that leads to case by case considerations, which raise the prospect of "inequality," which causes the equalitarian to turn away, because he thinks that a delicate concern for equality is the way to be above moral reproach. In the name of "equality," the equalitarians would give us a world bereft of third children. Such is their moral delicacy.


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