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A View from the Land Down Under

Frank Brennan, SJ, is an Australian and a distinguished human rights activist and scholar who spends a lot of time in the United States. Here is his reflection on the current tussles of the American bishops with the Obama administration.


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Luke,I'm not sure about all the prehistory but one simple way I think about the population issue is the following: If you believe that each human contributes a net positive to 'good' over their entire life, then more are better. Implicit in thinking there are too many humans is the belief that humans are net takers over their lives.

Bruce, If your simple equation, which amounts to 'more is better,' were true, China would have five times the GDP as the United States. Again, I refer you to the article in The Economist, linked to above at 9:22 am. There is little question but that controlled fertility is linked to improved economic condition. Regarding Malthus, he was wrong in that he did not account for tremendous growth in agricultural production, the green revolution, nor in the improvement in communication, transportation and market efficiency. Were those economic improvements brought about by uncontrolled population growth? I don't think so.

jbruns,Thanks for the article. I think we still have alot to learn about declining populations and I suspect it will not be pretty.

jbruns,Your China analogy fails for any number of reasons, but poor government practices is an obvious culprit.

Bruce,Of course the world population will continue to increase at least beyond 2050, unless something unforeseen intervenes.

Bruce, your analogy, not mine: "If you believe that each human contributes a net positive to good over their entire life, then more are better."

@Bruce (5/8, 11:03 am) Thanks for your response.I believe (someone please correct me if I'm wrong) that historians reserve the term "prehistory" for the time before written records (which start about 60 centuries ago). For that historical period (the past 6,000 years), it's my understanding that demographers, economists and economic historians generally agree that 1) global human population fluctuated within a fairly narrow band, dependent largely on local food and disease conditions; and 2) global economic output also remained within a fairly narrow band.It's only within the last 2-3 centuries that there's a dramatic change in both global human population and economic output.I think it's worth distinguishing among different "goods" when we think about humans. From a moral, philosophical or theological perspective, one can consider each human "a net positive to 'good' over their entire life". The notion that "every child is a gift from God" encompasses that perspective.From that perspective, a baby that dies within hours of birth can be considered a "net positive", even if its mother dies in childbirth. A child that dies of a communicable disease in the first five or so years of life is also a net positive.From an economic perspective, neither is a "net positive". If, hypothetically, the mother who died in childbirth were a brilliant inventor whose career was cut short and whose greatest intellectual and economic contributions to society had yet to be made, then one could make a case that the baby was a "net negative".For that matter, in contemporary industrialized societies, in which education continues late into one's teens or beyond, there's a case to be made that the teenagers who will die this weekend in drunk driving accidents after their high schools are "net negatives". Their parents, and the wider society, have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in them (food, shelter, clothing, education, etc.) and have only begun to glimpse what the "return on investment" might have been.By comparison, in agricultural societies children deliver a faster "return on investment"---both because they spend less time in formal education, and because they begin doing economically productive work at much younger ages.And I haven't even gotten to the impact each human has in "taking" from the surrounding environment. (Note: Humans in affluent, industrialized societies "take", on average, far more of the Earth's resources than do humans in rural, impoverished societies.)All of which is a somewhat long-winded (for which I apologize!) of saying that I don't think it's particularly helpful or useful to reach the conclusions you seem to have reached based on the conversation we've been having.

Looking back on this thread, and so many others, and post yesterday's poltical outcomes, I am reminded more and more that voices of moderation are veing dummed dowm, that the center has collapsed and in the worls of ewligion, politics ans their intertwine, power is what matters.The voices of ignorance cry out against compromise, dialogue, etc.Intellectual honesty has given way to spin and "apologetics."Hence much of "conversation" in blogdom is just folks repeating what they think.