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Charity will save world

Letter to the Editor | Monday, September 18, 2006

It is surprising that Liz Coffey, in her argument against large families, employs the example of Thomas Malthus, when – as she admits – his predictions were vastly incorrect, such that one would expect his credibility as a social scientist to be lessened somewhat. But Coffey reissues the Malthusian error unaltered: the human race is outstripping a closed set of resources, with woeful consequences to follow; the only solution is to reduce the human race.

A better response is to question why Malthus failed so miserably, in the hopes of learning from him. To take two examples: what Malthus could not have predicted mathematically was the incredible effect of human invention on the stock and use of resources; and what many should have predicted is the too-familiar effect of wealth on human concupiscence.

Therefore: Malthus firstly miscalculated because in his stock-taking of earth’s goods he did not adequately include human intelligence, which is not materially limited; every new birth increments need finitely, but it is also the birth of a mind, which adds an infinite potential to resources.

Secondly, neither is human desire limited. When more is available, people tend to want more, as Coffey unintentionally demonstrates: the United States, she says, does not have the highest birth rate, but has the highest rate of consumption. But this very fact leads to the discovery that consumption is not proportional; quite the contrary. The United States has dropped nearly to replacement rate, and most of Europe is well below it, such that the West is committing civilizational suicide; and consumption has merely increased in response. A family of three can easily out-consume one of seven, simply because there is no limit to human greed.

That is, no limit except for the virtue of charity, among whose many effects in marriage are fruitfulness and sacrifice, which find in the necessities of a large family thrift and creativity they could not have imagined in the plenty of a small. Charity is, as ever, the only way the world can be saved, materially or spiritually, whatever its population.

Patrick Gardner

grad student


Sept. 14