It seems overpopulation is scaring everyone and politicians, not being ones to miss an opportunity to target and exploit the fears of the populace, are calling for an enquiry into our population to examine the "...environmental, social and economic sustainability of Australia's population and report back by July 1, 2011, after the next election."
Now a lot of the concerns being raised are about things such as water, electricity, transport infrastructure and so on running out - utilities that are currently owned/managed/operated/regulated by the state. This is indeed a problem and if this is allowed to continue along with the forecast population increase then we will get more water rations, more power outages and more congestion on our roads. But before we start panicking and respond with some knee-jerk anti-birth or anti-immigration policy, we need to ask ourselves: why? Shortages, congestion and rationing, for some reason, never occur in the private sector yet are inevitable when the public sector is in charge. For a crude example, when was the last time you saw bottled water being rationed out at the supermarket? The reason why this problem is isolated to the public sector is that if there is an increased demand for a good in the private sector, consumers are willing to pay more for the product and investors invest more in its supply or in alternatives, thus clearing the market to everyone's satisfaction. In the meantime, while investors and entrepreneurs come up with new solutions to solve said problems, higher prices ensure that the available resources are allocated to their most urgent uses. In the public sector, on the contrary, an increased demand for a good (e.g. water) will result in complaints about how we are wasting precious resources, rationing, queues and higher taxes to "solve" these "issues of national significance."
With my little rant on public ownership of goods out of the way, I'm going to borrow from the late economist Julian Simon who throughout his career was generally optimistic about the benefits humans bring to the planet and about man's prospects for the future. He felt that overpopulation wasn't something that we had to worry about; his future outlook was that "...first, humanity's condition will improve in just about every material way. Second, humans will continue to sit around complaining about everything getting worse." How true.
Simon's central premise was that people are the ultimate resource, "...human beings are not just more mouths to feed, but are productive and inventive minds that help find creative solutions to man's problems, thus leaving us better off over the long run." He argued that mankind would rise to any challenges and problems by devising new technologies to not only cope, but thrive. "Whatever the rate of population growth is, historically it has been that the food supply increases at least as fast, if not faster."
To solve the 'problem' of overpopulation, we merely need to unleash the ingenuity of mankind - through the mechanism that is the unfettered market - and enjoy the marvels of human achievement in their fullest.
So with that said, here’s a lengthy quote from Simon's book, The Ultimate Resource:
"A conceptual quantity is not finite or infinite in itself. Rather, it is finite or infinite if you make it so–by your own definitions. If you define the subject of discussion suitably, and sufficiently closely so that it can be counted, then it is finite–for example, the money in your wallet or the socks in your top drawer. But without sufficient definition the subject is not finite–for example, the thoughts in your head, the strength of your wish to go to Turkey, your dog's love for you, the number of points in a one-inch line. You can, of course, develop definitions that will make these quantities finite, which shows that the finiteness inheres in you and your definitions rather than in the money, love or one-inch line themselves. There is no necessity either in logic or in historical trends to state that the supply of any given resource is "finite," and to do so leads to error.
Someone coined the label "cornucopians" for those who believe that the natural resources are available in practically limitless abundance, to contrast with "doomsters." But the stream of thought that I represent here is not cornucopian. I do not suggest that nature is limitlessly bountiful. Rather, I suggest that the possibilities in the world are sufficiently great so that with the present state of knowledge–even without the additional knowledge that human imagination and human enterprise will surely develop in the future–we and our descendants can manipulate the elements in such fashion that we can have all the raw materials that we desire at prices ever smaller relative to other goods and to our total incomes. In short, our cornucopia is the human mind and heart, and not a Santa Claus natural environment. So has it been throughout history, and therefore so is it likely to be in the future."