Opinion: Overpopulation is not compatible with liberty

Shawn Mercer

Shawn Mercer

Shawn Mercer is a senior integrated life sciences major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. He can be reached at [email protected]

I would count myself as a libertarian when comes to questions of liberty. It seems to me that the best role for government is to get out of the way of citizens lest they get in the way of each other, by which I mean one citizen violating the rights and liberty of another citizen.

This concept is fairly straightforward but rather complicated in application. For instance, if one citizen is dumping raw sewage into a river and it is harming other citizen’s down river, they have every right to be compensated for and protected from such harm being done to them. At first, the harmed citizens may take the offender to court and be rewarded compensation. Down the road such a society might establish something like our Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to prevent such harm form ever happening, with the risk always being that such an agency may overstep its bounds, regulating to the point of harming rather than preventing harm to citizens.

The question that arises is what happens when said offender has no place to dump his sewage. There may well be so many people that the best and only place for him to dump his sewage is in the river.

Conversely, do the people down river have a claim to compensation when the offender upstream has no other options?

Enter the problem of overpopulation. If there are so many people such that almost nobody has a claim to some of their basic rights, liberty is no longer possible.

At this point, it may be a legitimate claim of the citizens that other citizens should be limited in the number of children they have. If in having children you unacceptably harm everybody else then that is no longer your right.

I am neither the first nor the last to follow this line of reasoning but regardless of who does, the conclusion of the need for population control is rather scary to me.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the population will self-regulate. People are having far fewer children than they did one hundred years ago and the population may well stabilize. It is also possible that capitalism is so great in its ability to develop new resources that we never face this problem, at least here in the United States.

It is also possible that we will have to face this problem but how we do so determines how much we value people. Incentivizing rather than punishing needs to the first line of action if this ever comes to fruition.

For instance, we currently award tax credits to people who have children, removing this may encourage people to have fewer children. Education and encouragement could utilize peer pressure and information to make is socially unacceptable to have more than two children. Possibly providing birth control to those who can’t afford it may also be an option.

There are no easy answers and I hope that we can enjoy the freedoms we have to parent as many children as we want and to pursue whatever life we want but we must keep in the back of our minds the inescapable fact that this may not always be the case.