Committee on Population and the Economy
The Committee on Population and Economy was created in 198s. It said it intended to unite Americans 'who believe in this injunction to be fruitful and multiply.' Among founder Julian L. Simon's goals were reporteldy: 'to promote the idea that rising population actually improves a society's living standards, rather than lowering them.'
According to a report in 1986:
- Simon, a University of Maryland business and economics professor, is a population iconoclast who thrives on controversy and once got revenge on a critic by dousing him with a few gin and tonics. Op-ed page editors, always thirsty for provocative ideas, have made him a fixture on population issues. In a recent New York Times opinion piece, Simon recommended scrapping current immigration law in favor of selling U.S. visas to the highest foreign bidders. A Times editorial later countered that Simon's idea would replace refugee "boat people" with wealthy "yacht people."
- Yet among mainstream demographers and economists, Simon is no longer dismissed as part of a lunatic fringe. They still don't embrace his views, and a bevy of critics have called his scholarship thin or simply wrong. But many population experts say Simon's rosy vision of growth has been useful in reshaping a debate that for years has overstated its negative aspects.
- In the post-Ehrlich 1970s, the accepted view of population growth was that it led inevitably to pollution, depleted resources and hunger. Simon optimistically focuses not on unfed mouths but on productive hands and brains. A favorite theme in his writing is that more people mean more human genius to develop new solutions; instead of worrying about running out of oil. Simon puts faith in some future mind's ability to find alternative fuels. This supply-side view of humans has brought to population theory some of the same notions that Arthur B. Laffer injected into economics. Simon and Laffer will never be mainstream voices, but each has forced some intellectual realignment.
- Simon's contention that "it's better if population grows because you are getting more hands to do more work" is "a little extreme," said Peter A. Morrison, the director of the Rand Corp.'s Population Research Center. But "It's probably a very good antidote to the kind of simplistic thinking you get from ZPG," Morrison said.
- "I think his views are a useful counterweight," said University of Southern California economics professor Richard Easterlin. "But I don't think there are going to be many converts."
There are a few, though. At the 1984 United Nations International Conference on Population, the Reagan Administration drew heavily on Simon's thinking to justify its controversial position denouncing abortion and linking population growth with economic progress. Other Simon adherents include anti-abortion activists and foes of family planning.
- Simon said his own views don't always jibe with those who use him to justify his causes. While he "abhors" abortion, he would not outlaw it or other forms of birth control. "People should be able to run their lives the way they want to run them," he said. He expects that his Committee on Population and Economy will attract support "from [the anti-abortion] movement, like it or not. That may present a difficult public relations problem for us, but we'll live with it."
'So far, the "committee" consists only of its founder and Robert H. Jackson, a former private school principal in suburban Washington who finds Simon's views "intriguing." Jackson, in charge of fund raising, hasn't signed up any firm donors since he began in December. But Simon's strong ties with conservative and libertarian groups, such as the Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute, are likely to help open some wallets.'
- Robert Whelan, Choices in Childbearing: When Does Family Planning Become Population Control? (London: Committee on Population and the Economy, 1992).