The U.S. Needs a Vibrant Low-Growth Population Advocacy Organization

By David North on August 24, 2010

America needs a vigorous conversation about the size of our future population, and a vibrant organization making the pro-slow-growth argument.

Such an organization would, among other things, argue for a much lower rate of immigration, but it would do so from a possibly sturdier foundation than the one currently available to the restrictionists.

Instead of saying narrowly, as we do and as we must do, that there are too many people coming to this country from outside, a population advocacy organization would make a more general argument that there will soon be too many of us, no matter our origin.

Too many people means too much pollution and too little green space.

The organization would have three principal policy objectives: 1) it would seek to reduce immigration, generally; 2) it would seek to promote family planning; and 3) it would seek to curtail needless restrictions on abortion.

It would press all three of these issues on the basis of how rapid population growth has terrible impacts on both the natural and the built environment.

The organization would need to make two sets of awkward, but badly needed arguments.

1. The first would be one that I heard initially a couple of decades ago: "The problem with immigrants, David, is that after they get here they start acting like American consumers, and that's devastating to the environment."

Some may find it hard to argue that immigration should be limited because migrants tend to start acting like Americans. (The argument, of course, is right on target; just look at this per capita electricity consumption chart, for instance, showing First and Third World rates.)

2. Similarly, the new entity would point out that unwanted babies born to women who were missed by family planning activities, or to women who would have preferred an abortion, are likely to grow up not only as American consumers, which is bad enough, but, too often, as unhappy, difficult ones as well.

Part of this argument surfaced dramatically a few years ago, but, sadly, few noticed. Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, the authors of Freakonomics, noticed that crime rates in the 1990s had dropped remarkably and that this was about 20 years after the Supreme Court ruled abortions could be legal. According to one news account they:

... came to the conclusion that about 40 percent of crime's decline was the result of locking up a million more criminals. Fifteen percent of the drop was attributed to the waning of the crack epidemic. And roughly 10 percent could be credited to having more cops on the streets.

"What's left over – 30 or 40 percent – I actually believe is attributable to a cause that no one ever expected, which was the legalization of abortion," Levitt said.

"It's a very simple theory. Unwanted children are a tremendous risk for growing up and having criminal lives," said Levitt. "With the legalization of abortion, many fewer unwanted children were born, therefore, the children who were most at risk for being criminals – they were never born."

The Supreme Court legalized abortion in 1973, but crime didn't begin to drop until some 18 years later. Levitt believes this can be attributed to the fact that young adults aged 16 to 24 commit the most crimes.

Unwanted, presumably lightly-educated people, such as the ones that Levitt described, are probably not very careful with the environment, either. (Others have disputed the abortion-crime connection.)

My notion is not that the various and politically diverse restrictionist, pro-choice, and pro-environment groups should slacken their activities – far from it. I want to see a vigorous population movement supplement those efforts, and bring to bear, on the immigration issue, a "too many people" emphasis, to supplement our current "too many migrants" pitch.

Further, it is harder to raise the admittedly phony charge of racism against an organization that simply wants fewer people, not fewer outsiders.

Many years ago there was a relatively vigorous population policy group called Zero Population Growth, and a remnant of it is still around, now called Population Connection, but that remnant no longer deals with immigration issues. And there is Californians for Population Stabilization, but that is state-specific.

Maybe the new entity should be called Too Many People.

Maybe TMP could run some ads showing grim pictures of long lines of cars on our crowded roads, and masses of people packed into our subways. (There have, in fact, been some ads like this.)

Maybe TMP, with its pro-environment flavor, could attract some foundation support to match the heavy flows of funds that currently go to Open Border groups.

It is worth thinking about.