Population Bomb’s Paul Ehrlich Invited to the Vatican

Pope Francis admits that he has “a great allergy to economics,” but that hasn’t stopped him or his officials from speaking about it, almost always critically. Bad economics due to ignorance may be forgiven, however. This contagious, now common Vatican allergy seems to be mutating into something much worse. With the news that Paul Ehrlich, author of The Population Bomb (1968) and long-time advocate of population-control policies, has been invited to speak at a Vatican conference on “biological extinction,” the Pontifical Academies for Science and Social Sciences are giving a platform not just to bad economics but blatantly anti-Catholic, immoral social policies. This is from Ehrlich’s prologue to The Population Bomb:

The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash program embarked upon now. At this late date nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate, although many lives could be saved through dramatic programs to “stretch” the carrying capacity of the earth by increasing food production and providing for more equitable distribution of whatever food is available. But these programs will only provide a stay of execution unless they are accompanied by determined and successful efforts at population control.

As everyone knows, Ehrlich’s predictions turned out to be way off the mark, but they still provided the impetus for population control policies aimed especially at more populous developing countries such as China and India. From The Population Bomb once again:

I came to understand the population explosion emotionally one stinking hot night in Delhi…. The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping, people visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrusting their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people. As we moved slowly through the mob, the dust, noise, heat and cooking fires gave the scene a hellish aspect. Would we ever get to our hotel…? [S]ince that night I have known the feel of overpopulation.

Ehrlich has flirted with the idea of “coercion in a good cause” for sterilizations and population control. For him, the world cannot support teeming hordes of (non-white) people, even if many of his claims have been debunked by other scholars. The Holy See courageously and persistently challenged such specious claims at international venues such as the United Nations, as I can personally attest during my time working for the Vatican in New York and Rome. Are such challenges now considered passé?

Without having to ask, I am sure the chancellor of the Pontifical Academies defends Ehrlich’s participation in terms of a spirit of open inquiry and debate. But that spirit seems to be open only toward the left and even enemies of Catholic teaching such as Ehrlich, who has called the Church’s bishops “one of the truly evil, regressive forces on the planet, in my opinion, interested primarily in maintaining their power.”

Unfortunately, pro-market and pro-life economists and scientists are a minority at meetings of the Pontifical Academies, and the few who are invited often seem reluctant to express their unpopular opinions. The much-vaunted promotion of “dialogue” goes in one direction only, i.e. toward a more socialistic world. Does anyone really think the Pontifical Academy would have invited economists such as the now-deceased Julian Simon, who famously won a wager with Ehrlich over his apocalyptic claims? In his 1996 work The Ultimate Resource 2, Simon argued:

Adding more people causes problems, but people are also the means to solve these problems. The main fuel to speed our progress is our stock of knowledge, and the brake is our lack of imagination. The ultimate resource is people — skilled, spirited, and hopeful people who will exert their wills and imaginations for their own benefit, and inevitably they will benefit not only themselves but the rest of us as well.

Simon was a secular Jew who understood the truth of the Church’s anthropology; he understood it because he was a good economist and paid attention to reality. That would probably be enough to disqualify him from the Pontifical Academy.

Despite his allergy to economics, Pope Francis has sought to reform and consolidate the antiquated workings of the Vatican. Kudos to him for that. We can only hope that something major is in store for the Pontifical Academies for Science and Social Science, which often welcome ideas and policies that have harmed those whom the Church strives to protect.

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