Thursday, December 27, 2007

From: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


By John Ray

IN THE SOCIAL sciences, and among intellectuals generally, one can detect a quite remarkable consensus on a wide range of issues that can generally be described as 'liberal' if not 'Leftist': Racism is a uniformly bad thing; capital punishment is barbaric; white Rhodesians are villains; BHP makes too much profit; overseas ownership of our industry must be reduced; wage rises for unionists are always just unless the union concerned happens to be the Australian Medical Association; we must conserve our mineral resources; the world is in danger of overpopulation; blacks are just as intelligent as whites; inflation is inevitable without government control of prices; all men should have equal rights unless they happen to be anti-communists; free speech is an inalienable right unless you happen to be the Rhodesia Information Centre; more education is needed; public examinations should be abolished; French nuclear tests are stupid and wicked (but not Chinese tests); the unionists' right to strike must not be interfered with (but they may interfere with others' right to work); Australian industries must be protected from overseas competition; decentralisation is an urgent need; 'the Arts' should be subsidised; we are ruled by a power elite; the workers are alienated; we live in a society that is increasingly conformist; everybody has his own construction of reality, none of which is more valid than any other; man is naturally good, but has been corrupted by "the system"; Marx was a great prophet; science should be relevant; an Arts education promotes critical thought; Vietnam was an American crime motivated by economic self-interest; the West should disarm; armies are not really necessary; police are the sign of a sick society; and competitiveness is the disease of Western society.

Probably very few individuals hold at once all the opinions listed above, and that list itself is but a brief sample of the total field, but none the less, viewpoints such as the above are at the very least much better represented in what social scientists read, write and say than are their contraries. Their contraries are what this book is about.

Social scientists and other intellectuals have created fashions of thought for themselves -- dogmas, creeds and superstitions -- which ought to be challenged by anyone devoted to the truth for its own sake. If social scientists are, as they fancy themselves to be, iconoclasts supreme, they should be careful to set their own house in order first. Before they criticise the rest of society, are their own assumptions open to criticism? I believe they are. Among social scientists, conservatism is the true non-conformity. Through this book it is hoped that all readers will have the opportunity of judging the matter for themselves.

The book is divided (perhaps a little arbitrarily) into two sections: one devoted to popular treatments (generally short) of topical or everyday political issues and the other devoted to longer papers on more academic topics within social science. There is no pretence that the coverage given to the conservative viewpoint in this book is in any way complete. The articles and papers included are simply one selection from a very large universe of possibilities. The guiding rules for selection have centred on the extensiveness of the iconoclasm displayed; its comparative inaccessibility in other sources and its everyday relevance in political debate. Other papers and articles considered but which were excluded for reasons of limited space would alone make up several books as large as the present one.

School of Sociology
University of New South Wales Kensington, N.S.W.
February, 1974.
John J. Ray (M.A., Ph.D. )

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Introduction from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

What is Conservatism? A Personal Preface

John Ray

There is now an extensive body of evidence, drawn from both Australia and overseas, to suggest that what we today commonly call conservatism is an ideology most strongly held by working-class people. (See Lipset [1960], Eysenck [1971 & 1972], and Chapter 43, Part Two of this book for summaries of some of this evidence.) Except where it would be against their own economic self-interest, the workers are strongly conservative in the social policies they would support. The converse of this, of course, is that radicalism or small 'l' liberalism is very much an upper and middle class phenomenon. After all, both Marx and Engels were bourgeois intellectuals -- not workers.

'But wait a minute!' you might say, 'Everybody knows that the workers support Left wing parties. They're not conservative.' For seventy-five per cent of the workers, this is true. The political party one supports is determined very largely by perceived self- interest -- not by ideology. Ideology may be important to the party workers themselves, but, to the average voter, ideology in any form matters very little. Workers vote for radical parties because such parties offer them a better deal economically. The worker who votes for the Australian Labor Party because it offers him a free health service probably does not agree with the Party's attempts to abolish the White Australia policy. In instances where it does not affect his pocket, the worker is conservative.

By "conservative", however, one means something much more than just adherence to the status quo or defence of some orthodoxy. In fact, the origin of the term conservative in British political life was as much abusive as anything else; it was a term of some derision applied to people with a particular set of beliefs. It just happened that that particular constellation of beliefs corresponded fairly closely to what was already considered accepted practice at that time. I would claim, however, that defence of the status quo is not the basic element of what we call a conservative attitude. In fact, there can be circumstances where a conservative advocates change. A strong conservative would for instance advocate that we allow private enterprise competitors to the Post Office. Given the steadily worsening service provided by our present postal monopoly, such an innovative step may be the only chance we have to get rid of the present bureaucratic inefficiency.

From my own research into people's attitudes, I have come to the Burkean conclusion that a conservative is, above all, someone who has a cynical or hardened view of humanity. (See Chapter 54, Part Two.) Without condemning or disliking man, he believes that man is predominantly selfish and cannot be trusted always to do good. This is what does indeed make the conservative cautious about social change and this therefore is what has given rise to the view that conservatism is merely opposition to any change. By contrast, our considerate radical or small `l' liberal believes that man is inherently good and that this goodness will ensure that no matter what you do with good intentions, the desired effects will in the end be achieved. A good example of this is the classical Marxist formula: 'From each according to his ability and to each according to his need.' The radical seems to assume that the very fact that you are giving goods and services to each according to his need will itself be enough to ensure that everybody produces all that he is able to produce. If man were naturally good, this would indeed be true. Unfortunately, it seems that even the Russians have found that man needs other incentives than those provided by moral suasion. As Bob Ellis once put it rather pessimistically: 'The Left-wing intellectual believes that people are the saints they ought to be rather than the slobs they really are.' In Edmund Burke's (1790) terms, the conservative, by contrast, believes that man is 'imperfectible'.

His characteristic orientation towards man does lay the conservative open to the charge that he is "misanthropic" or even paranoid and there is no shortage of research reports that do claim to have shown that conservatives are so characterised. Such research, however, has as its basic weakness the quite false assumption that to be wary of man is to dislike man. That mankind could be loved despite its faults, just does not appear to come within the range of possibilities that our rigid and moralistic Leftists are able to entertain. The only way they themselves appear to be able to love man is by idealising him. To do so they even use such pathological Freudian devices as denial (i.e. refusing to see or recognise the humanity of what is non-ideal in man). This is summed up in a popular poster: 'I love humanity -- it's just people I can't stand.'

As is implied above, conservatives see themselves as realists, and radicals as, at least temporarily, self-deluded. A New York police chief was quoted in Newsweek recently as saying: 'A conservative is a liberal who was mugged last night: In fact realist could almost be regarded as a code-word to identify conservatives by. Many men who would avoid applying to themselves the socially undesirable label of conservative will be much more forthright in claiming to be realists.

As realists, conservatives are opposed to all sorts of political romanticism --reactionary as well as radical, right wing extremism as well as left wing extremism. Just as conservatives (e.g. Churchill) were opposed to Hitler's romantic attempt to return to ancient Germanic values and life-styles, so they are opposed to the reactionary romanticism of what the Duke of Edinburgh calls 'the stop everything brigade' -- the extremist version of the modern-day 'ecology' movement. Ever since Edmund Burke's pamphlet of 1756 on the topic, conservatives have distrusted these recurrent cycles of enthusiasm for "back to nature" movements -- of which hippies also appear to be a variety. This distrust stems from a belief that the enthusiasts have fallen victim to the delusion of trying to 'have their cake and eat it too' (i.e. they covertly or even overtly want the advantages of civilisation without at the same time being willing to accept its concomitant and necessary disadvantages) .

Perhaps because of my working class origins, I am a Burkean conservative. Edmund Burke I believe to be essentially right and relevant to modern times. I believe that the Vietnam war can be justified, that conscription can be necessary, that most ecology activists are cranks, that the twentieth century is the best century we have ever had and that the twenty-first will be even better, that economic growth is a good thing, that strikers who defy the courts should be outlawed, that the White Australia policy is defensible, that Ian Smith of Rhodesia is neither a fool nor a rogue, that our ties with the monarchy are precious and should not be reduced, that we should have more foreign investment and continued population growth. I am in favour of bigger cities and more home-units. I am in favour of States' rights and against socialism. I am against government-sponsored decentralisation and against government handouts to Aborigines. Name any opinion that is unpopular among intellectuals and I am almost sure to hold it.

And this is the point: Conservatism IS heresy. To hold views such as mine is just not the thing to do amongst "nice" middle class people or amongst intellectuals and academics. Regardless of the support views such as mine might have in a poll of the Australian population at large, one just does not expect to find such views among educated people. The educated people who form opinion and provide leadership to the community regard views like mine as hopelessly outmoded, selfish and morally wrong.

Take the White Australia policy. We have a world full of evidence that white people in general don't like black people. We have all the evidence from other countries that are culturally similar to ours -- Britain, U.S.A., South Africa, Rhodesia -- that mixed races lead to conflict. And yet people deride the White Australia policy. In Al Grassby's words, the policy is "dead". Like most conservatives, however, I just don't like the idea of race riots in Australia -- particularly when it is so unnecessary. If we want to help the poorer peoples of the earth, we can surely do it most economically by giving them the facilities in their own country that they otherwise might want to come here to seek. It is not land that the underdeveloped world needs. It is capital. Many of the densely populated areas of the world are among the most prosperous -Singapore, Holland, Denmark, Hong-Kong, Japan. The difference is that they have acquired a large amount of capital per head. What the Indian farmer needs is not new land but a steel plough instead of a wooden stick.

And what about Vietnam? Was it, as the radicals say, a war of economic self-interest pursued by the American military-industrial complex? I don't think so. It was an engagement initiated by that admitted idealist John F. Kennedy! It was he who first sent in so-called American "advisers". His running-mate and chosen successor L. B. Johnson simply continued the process of escalation that Kennedy had started. It was a war motivated by a genuine and generous American desire, widely shared among the American population, to stop the spread of a totalitarian regime. I would not like to live under a dictatorship and by the direction in which the streams of refugees flow, neither do the South Vietnamese. I therefore support the aims of the Vietnam war. In fact, I would claim that it was an exceptionally unselfish war on the Americans' part. They had comparatively little to gain. North Vietnam was far away and hardly likely to go on and attack North America, and anything America could gain from South Vietnam was a mere trifle compared to what America lost there every day.

The execution of the war was another thing. What defeated America in the end was without a doubt the corrupt government in Saigon. Some Vietnamese thought it was even worse than the North. But what could the Americans do? It was the very idealism that made them go there to defend democracy that prevented them from taking over the South altogether. As it is, the strategy seems to have worked to some extent. A communist takeover seems as remote as ever. I don't know how they could have done any better.

`What about the suffering of the Vietnamese?' someone will say. There we come back to what, in my view, is the essential difference between the conservative and the radical. The radical is much more led by his immediate emotions. The thought of human suffering he cannot abide for any reason whatever. Yet it is a necessarily inconsistent position. I have yet to hear a radical who will not admit that the war against Hitler was a good thing. Indeed it was a matter of survival. If we hadn't fought Hitler, there would be no radicals, and there would certainly be enormous suffering. The answer simply is that suffering may be necessary to prevent further suffering. The conservative can accept and deal with this possibility. The radical would rather avoid the choice altogether and run the risk of jeopardising the future for the sake of giving his twitching little emotions a rest.

And this, it seems, is the reason why, unlike the workers, so many intellectuals and university people are radical. Living in their ivory towers, they have been insulated from the brutality of the workaday world and have not become inured to the necessity and inevitability of suffering. They manage to avoid most of it; why shouldn't the whole world?

The beliefs of university staff [faculty members], however, are important. It is their students who go out and fill top jobs in the public service and the media. Many business leaders and politicians who supposedly represent the worker are nowadays university graduates. So after three or more years of indoctrination, it is no wonder that people who have been through university think that the only intellectually defensible opinions are radical ones. The people with influence, then, acquire from their teachers an orthodoxy that is eventually passed on to the community as a whole. Increasing levels of education mean that more people are exposed to this radical or small 'l' liberal orthodoxy and this in turn explains the steady liberalisation of our culture over the years. Conservatism is heresy because radicalism is orthodoxy.

But surely this is a contradiction in terms: Surely what we mean by heresy is something that goes against convention. Heresy must be radical. The answer of course is that it all depends on your frame of reference. Intellectuals conceive themselves as having to fight against the ignorance of the rest of society. What the intellectual believes, is heretical to the worker and what the worker believes, is heretical to the intellectual.

By now it will perhaps be evident why I prefer to use the term "conservative" solely to refer to the content of beliefs. What makes the person we call a conservative tick is not his opposition to change but the fact that he is emotionally able to acknowledge and deal with the destructiveness and aggressiveness in human nature.

To the radical, destructiveness and aggressiveness are the hardest thing of all to accept. They are the things that make him most uncomfortable. He just cannot deal with them. What, then, does he do when he is forced up against them? Unbelievable as it may be, in one way or the other, he simply denies that destructiveness and aggressiveness exist. He tries to deceive himself, states that people are basically pleasant, considerate, and that any deviation from this is merely a mistake or misunderstanding that can be remedied by education. Of violent criminals the radical says: 'They should be re-educated, not imprisoned.' The faith that a man who just enjoys 'smashing people's faces in' can be cured by education is really childlike. Education might help the criminal to learn more about people's faces but it won't prevent him from enjoying 'smashing them in'.

Sometimes however, this evasion just cannot be maintained. Sometimes the radical is brought face to face with aggression. What does he do then? There is only one way then that he can maintain his delusion about the basic 'niceness' of humanity. He just denies that the aggressor is really human. He treats him as a non-person and cuts off all communication with him. To use a psychologist's term, the radical 'leaves the field'. Hitler is treated this way. Words like monster are used to describe him as if he were a freak genetic accident that didn't really belong to humanity as we know it. And yet what Hitler did is clearly in all of us. Sixty million Germans did his bidding and a large proportion did so willingly, without need of coercion. Pre-war anti-Nazi writers like Roberts admit that Hitler was by far simply the most popular man in Germany. If anybody is inclined to say, 'But we're not like the Germans', just go and listen to the crowd at a professional boxing, wrestling or football match. It may be a harmless way of releasing the aggression, but the aggression is there. The mass popularity of such sports indicates that such aggressiveness is the rule, not the exception. People like seeing boxers trying to physically hurt and maim each other.

The radical's endeavour, his need, to ignore such unpleasant realities cannot of course be adaptive. We don't need to go far back in history to find examples of this. Take the pacifists who reigned supreme in Britain after World War I who because of their own horror at what had happened in that war persuaded themselves there would never be a war again. As a consequence, when Hitler's troops marched into the Rhineland in violation of the Versailles treaty, the pacifists found excuses for him. They refused to believe that he was acting malevolently. Conservatives like Churchill, of course, wanted Hitler stopped there and then before he had the chance to build up his war machine. The pacifists however won the day and eventually all the world had to pay the price for that folly: World War II. If the world had not closed its eyes to what Hitler was doing, they could have stopped him before it was too late.

Just as the conservative Churchill was the most effective and relentless opponent of Hitler's Nazism, so conservatives in general are the most effective opponents of totalitarianism in general. They alone can ideologically afford to recognise and deal with the evil , and oppressive intent of such regimes. By contrast, radical policy is the policy of the ostrich.

Man does, then, have a great deal of evil in him and some human suffering will often be necessary if we are to avoid greater suffering. It is indeed a sad thing that such beliefs are heretical. I believe that they are undeniable truths which we ignore at our peril.


Full citation details for the references mentioned above can be found here

It may be asked whether my above contention that realism -- particularly about human nature -- is basic to conservatism is consistent with my contention elsewhere to the effect that respect for the individual and a love of personal liberty is basic to conservatism. Which of the two really is basic -- realism or love of liberty? The simple answer is of course that the two are intimately related. If you are cynical about the good intentions and wisdom of others, you will want the individual to be as free from the attentions of others as possible. A more precise answer, however, is that realism and its attendant cynicism is the motive and advocacy of liberty is the result. Putting it another way, liberty is what conservatives advocate and realistic cynicism is why they advocate it. Putting it yet another way, liberty is basic to conservative politics and realism is basic to conservative psychology.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Chapter 1 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


By John Ray

People create resources

IN THE PROFESSIONAL literature of social science, 'misanthropy' is treated as a form of personality disturbance or maladjustment. It could in fact be argued that for a highly social creature like man, a generalised aversion for his own species would be the ultimate form of maladjustment.

It is interesting therefore to note that there could be few more specifically misanthropic utterances than 'people are pollution' -- which is, of course, the slogan of the fashionable Zero Population Growth movement.

The recent announcement that America's birth rate has dropped to only the replacement rate may indicate that this movement now has to be taken seriously.

If any further evidence for the obsessional neuroticism of this movement were needed, it could be found in the amazing way it treats the entire world population as an undifferentiated, featureless gruel. Because the world population overall is expanding steadily, it is argued that therefore we in Australia should limit our numbers!

This is to regard Australia as being in the same situation as Bangladesh -- which we most evidently are not. If love of sweeping generalisations were the basis for comparison, the ZPG movement could well be compared with Hitler's Nazism.

Indeed ZPG is more extreme. Hitler only generalised about 'Jews' and 'Aryans'. ZPG generalises about 'people'. It should be noted however that the offering of simplistic solutions to complex social problems is characteristic of most messianic cults -- from Communism to Jehovah's witnesses.

The apology that ZPG spokesmen offer for saying that we are in the same boat as the underdeveloped nations is that we use up far more of the world's resources. This thinking however is equally limited. What they omit to say is that resources are not static and most of them we in the West in fact created.

Nothing is a resource until you find a way of putting it to use. Bauxite wasn't a resource until Hall and Heroult discovered a way of extracting aluminium from it. Most of Europe's iron ore wasn't a resource until the Thomas steel process was invented.

We have no reason to believe that this process of resource creation won't continue. In fact, with the increasing level of education in our population, we might reasonably expect it to increase as never before. If it is resources we lack, the way to get them is to increase the population in that part of the world which creates them. The more people of Western European origin we have, the more Einsteins and other resource creators we can expect to have.

Because of just this one man, Einstein, even seawater is now a resource of incalculable value. If we run out of petroleum, it is hydrogen from seawater that will fuel our cars. And how will we get the power to extract the hydrogen? From nuclear power and probably even from thermonuclear power.

Even the Club of Rome didn't attempt to tell us how long we would take to run out of seawater! And note also that when it becomes commercial, thermonuclear power will not create radio-active waste products.

ZPG proponents of course almost entirely ignore technological growth and the consequent resource growth. Manifesting a truly neurotic sense of insecurity, they say that technological growth is too unpredictable. We have to base our planning on what we know, now, to exist.

In doing this they place themselves in precisely the same position as Malthus. It is precisely because he ignored technological growth that his predictions proved so ludicrous. Malthus, however, had an excuse. He had never heard of technological growth. By contrast, when ZPG proponents ignore it, they do so deliberately.

We can see how absurd it is to treat our resources as fixed if we look at any of the many previous false prophecies of doom that have been made based on such an assumption. Where would we be if we had heeded those prophecies? In fact -- as the Americans showed with the Manhattan project and many subsequent projects --technological growth can be turned on largely at will simply by pouring more resources into research.

Note that in such a context what is meant by resources is man-hours. If one wished to fight slogan with slogan, one might reply to the ZPG slogan by saying that 'our basic resource, in fact, is people'. This being so, we want more of them, not less.

Of course, the people we want more of are those who will be educated to their maximum potential. That certainly leaves out most of the underdeveloped world. For them, even ZPG may not be the way forward. They may need population decline [1]. Such a prescription may leave a nasty taste in the mouth, but if it is the surest way to cure the patient, surely that is what matters.

'Populate or perish'?

Australia is one of the few countries that have long had an explicit and 'thought-out' population policy. In Australia, then, the ZPG movement might be expected to meet some opposition instead of merely filling a gap that was not filled before. To use the biological metaphors of which ZPG people seem to be particularly fond, the 'ecological niche' of population policy is not empty in Australia. Before the new species ('People are pollution") can flourish, the old species ('Populate or perish') must be subdued. My aim is to help the old species avoid such extinction.

Briefly, there was for long a bipartisan consensus in Australia that our vast and empty land was a prize, eyed enviously by the teeming hordes of Asia and that the inevitable invasion from that source could be either staved off, or more effectively countered, by filling this land with many more people of our own kind. Australia had, in a word, a maximum population growth policy predicated on strategic considerations. This maximum, in practical terms, was taken to be an overall growth rate of two per cent per annum. Higher growth than this was taken to be too ambitious and potentially disruptive. Since such a rate of growth was considerably higher than the rate of natural increase, the gap was to be made up by officially encouraged immigration from European sources. As described, this was the policy introduced after the second world war by Mr Arthur Calwell, the Labor Party Minister for Immigration. The same policy was followed by his conservative successors. I would like to argue that that policy is as appropriate today as it was then.

Even before the ZPG movement came along, there had arisen some opposition to this traditional policy on economic and social grounds. Migrants were said to be living in 'ghettoes' (nobody favoured that) and were not adapting to the problems of life in their new country. It was also said that migration imposed a special burden on the economy in requiring it to supply larger amounts of social overhead capital (roads and schools for example) than would have been otherwise necessary.

The first of these two lines of criticism I have little dispute with. Originally, there were two prongs to Australia's population policy: encouragement of domestic population growth and encouragement of immigration. The erosion of the first prong meant that undue emphasis was given to the second. The mechanism for encouraging domestic population growth was the 'child endowment' system. This was a system of payments to mothers designed to minimise the economic burden of having children. Over the last twenty years, however, the payments made under this system have barely been increased, even though there has been substantial inflation and a substantial rise in the standard of living over the same period. This has resulted in a payment that was once a substantial contribution to the child's upkeep becoming now only the most token sum. I would favour the resurrection of child endowment as a meaningful redistributive mechanism. [2]

Much of the problem of migrant 'ghettoes' has arisen because of the declining standards that have been applied to the recruitment of migrants. The increasing standards of living in Europe have meant that Australia became less attractive in relative terms. Given Australia's own declining birthrate, this meant that in recent years more and more migrants had to be found from sources that were increasingly drying up. In the circumstances, any pretence of maintaining standards against which migrants had to measure up became increasingly (if not resoundingly) hollow. And yet these 'standards' are vital. They concern precisely what has given cause for disquiet: the prospect that the migrant will adjust satisfactorily to life in Australia. Language is the most obvious of such standards. A non-English speaking person will have difficulties that will need to be compensated by other attributes such as willingness to learn. A person who is non-English speaking, poorly educated, with few vocational skills and who comes from a peasant society is obviously going to be a problem to both himself and his host country if he is encouraged to migrate -- and yet Australia has in recent years accepted legions of such migrants. No wonder there are 'ghettoes'. The domestic birthrate should have been encouraged instead of accepting so many migrants unsuited to living here happily [3]. Revive the child endowment program. To sloganise: 'The best New Australian (an Australian euphemism for 'migrant' ) is the one who is born here.'

There is, of course, no guarantee that restoration of realistic child endowment will in fact raise the birthrate by the required amount. Many years of strenuous pro-natalist policy in France had little success. Nonetheless, it is known that the birthrate is in the long term responsive to perceived economic circumstances. During the Great Depression, for instance, the birthrate dropped below the replacement level. Reviving child endowment is at least worth trying. One can, for instance, argue that the failure of French pro-natalism was precisely because it happened to be accompanied by economic depression.

The economic arguments against immigration are a different matter however, They are much more specious. Migration does mean that we have to spend more on social infrastructure. This, however, would be true of population increase from any source. Only a static population would allow us to spend less. This would mean that instead of building new facilities we would have to spend only to maintain or improve existing facilities. A static population would, in theory, allow more diversion of capital resources into directly productive investments and hence we would have higher per capita living standards. There are two broad classes of saving brought about by static population levels: saving on upbringing and education costs due to the smaller number of children required in the population and the aforementioned savings on investment in new social overhead capital works. With reference to migration, it should be noted that we are getting the former for free. By bringing in migrants to swell our population, we are getting the education and upbringing of the person concerned at no cost to us. In economist's terms, we are being given large amounts of human capital. All we have to find is the social overhead capital.

There are then costs in population growth -- economic costs as well as the aesthetic and ecological costs mentioned by ZPG proponents. These costs to us, however, are decreased, not increased, by finding part of one's population increment through immigration.

The real question in the population issue is not whether growth has costs or not, but whether those costs are outweighed by advantages. To listen to the ZPG evangelists, one would think that population growth had no advantages. One cannot expect Lucifer to expatiate on the good points of Jehovah. It is the purpose of this chapter, however, to set out what some of the advantages in growth are.

The first such advantage was the general one given at the outset: that population growth gives more resource creators and that, historically, the resources so created have been outstripping the resources used up at an ever increasing rate. Our living standards would be no higher than our grandfathers' if it were not so. Historically, growth of living standards has always been accompanied by increasing population --not static or declining population. One notable exception to this is postwar Japan. Japan's culture is, however, a highly derivative one -- it borrows what others have created. Moreover, their industrial workforce has been expanding rapidly in spite of the static overall population. This is because of the increasing employment of women and the vast reduction of the workforce required on the increasingly mechanised farms.

In Australia, these general reasons for growth are reinforced by certain other local reasons. The first of these is of course the one embodied in the slogan at the head of this section: Populate or perish. However true it might or might not be that ZPG is an appropriate policy for America and Europe, it is scarcely appropriate for Australia. Half of Australia's population is concentrated in the two large cities of Sydney and Melbourne. Outside such centres Australia is largely empty. Practically all of Australia's rural land is extensively rather than intensively farmed. A dozen more cities such as Sydney and Melbourne would scarcely make a dent in the amount of land available for rural use. Darwin could be expanded to the size of Sydney with no trouble at all. 'But who would want Darwin the size of Sydney?' say the trendies. 'Most Australians' is the evident answer.

It is notable that people who condemn big cities seldom take any steps to leave them. In Australia, there are a range of cities in all shapes and sizes. No matter what you consider to be the ideal size, you can find one to suit you. Why don't the trendies go there? Why don't they leave their terrace houses in the heart of the Sydney and Melbourne metropolitan areas and go to Perth, Toowoomba, Hobart, Townsville or Gympie? They do not go because the big city has advantages that they cannot do without. When it comes to voting with their feet, it is not hard to see where their preferences really lie. Urban sprawl, urban blight, traffic congestion, air pollution are their plaintive and parrotlike cries, but still they stay put. Surely this is something requiring explanation. The answer is an easy one: we would all like to have our cake and eat it too. Of course the city has the disadvantages mentioned but those disadvantages are the concomitant of the positive advantages that cities confer. It is difficult to have one without the other.

What are the advantages that cities have which continually draw people into them? If they can be summed up in one word, that word is variety. Cities offer variety of employment, entertainment, society and opportunities generally. They offer people, people in abundance, and it is from people that we draw our rewards and our sense of meaning in life. More mundanely it is generally easier to get a job to suit one's own particular needs and abilities in a large city. Employment seems to be the most frequently mentioned reason for people moving to or staying in the city. London is widely said to be a more interesting and rewarding city than Sydney. Why? Simply because it is bigger and hence has more scope for variety. People love big cities -- the protestations of the trendies notwithstanding.

'But could we feed more people?' some will ask. One might as well have asked Arthur Calwell back in the 'forties whether he thought Australia could feed twice the number of people it had then. We know now that it can; and feed them at a higher standard than ever before. More people means more production, more food, more everything. Those extra people don't just sit around and twiddle their thumbs. With some notable exceptions, they work.

'But land area does not expand. Surely applying more and more people to the same amount of land must lead to diminishing returns for each extra man put to work!', some will no doubt say. In so saying they are indeed relying on a classic economic proposition. It is precisely the proposition that Malthus relied upon in coming to his conclusions; conclusions that time has shown to be hilariously pessimistic. As mentioned before, what Malthus overlooked was technological growth. More people means more technologists (not only in absolute, but also in relative terms) and more technologists means more technological growth.

In general, then, as one part of the resources generating sector of the world, Australia has good cause to favour population growth from all sources, but particularly from the domestic birthrate. Except insofar as it raises the educational standards among the children of migrants, the encouragement of immigration from one part of the developed world (Europe) to another does nothing for the world resources generation process.

Where migration does provide a clear gain, however, is in the economic and strategic fields. The economic reason for encouraging population growth, even above what the domestic birthrate can provide, centres around the pervasiveness of barriers to international trade. All countries find themselves under pressure from their domestic manufacturers and producers to protect the local industry. To varying degrees, governments succumb to this pressure. What they do is build barriers against selected imports in the form of customs tariffs. The practice is so well entrenched and so widespread it seems as inevitable as death and taxes. What concerns us in this, however, is that what other people regard as imports are to us exports. When other countries keep out foreign imports, it may well be our exports that are being affected. As we shall see, this is an especially serious matter for a small country.

The efficiency of many modern industries increases as the industries grow larger. The reasons are to be found in any elementary economics textbook and go under the name of 'economies of scale'. Henry Ford's invention of mass production, and the high turnover and low prices of Woolworths are popular examples. This means that an industry with a small home market can never become as efficient as the same industry in a larger country, unless the industry in the smaller country can expand its output by exporting. As we have seen there are very often barriers built to prevent the small country industry from taking the export escape route. The result is that the industry is permanently condemned to lower efficiency and higher costs. This means that it, in turn, must be protected by the smaller country's government so that the customers will not all turn to the cheaper product imported from the larger country. The upshot, as we see it in the Australian automobile industry for instance, is that the inhabitants of the smaller country end up having to pay far more than they otherwise might for what they want to buy. Smallness makes us poor. By growing larger we become richer.

It may be asked, 'What about Sweden and China?' thus naming a very rich small country and a very poor large country. The answer is that size is only one of the determinants of affluence. In fact, the single most important factor is probably the educational level of the population. Other things being equal, however, size must have the effect described above. It is certainly one respect where we in Australia are presently at a disadvantage.

The strategic reason for increasing our population is the obvious one that it lends more hands to our defence. This traditional reason is nowadays likely to be ridiculed among intellectuals, but I would submit that it is now as realistic as ever it was. The betrayal of Israel by Japan and Europe (including Britain) when threatened by Arab countries with an oil embargo shows vividly how small countries cannot rely on international aid to ensure their defence. If their own self-interest is sufficiently threatened, larger countries will abandon all their high-minded principles overnight. For us to rely on such principles as a guarantee of our security would be ostrich-like folly. Like Israel, small countries must be able to look after themselves. If in twenty years time China (to name one possible example) has built herself a powerful navy and sets sail for our shores, how well could we rely on the U.S.A. to come to our aid? The U.S.A. aided Israel because the oil embargo had so little effect on America's own situation. That would not be so if the U.S.A. were faced with the threat of a nuclear attack by Chinese missiles. China already has such missiles. What would the U.S.A. do if faced with a Chinese threat of: 'Don't intervene or else...'? Obviously, we cannot rely on the American response. We must be as ready as possible to defend ourselves. Having the manpower is a vital ingredient of such preparation. If size makes us richer, it also makes us safer.

Some will scoff that the scenario outlined above is a highly unlikely one. Australia seems safe from any threat for many years to come. Such optimism is ludicrous. Wars and revolutions can change the international scene overnight. Population policy, by contrast, is a necessarily long-range affair. Even if Australia is safe for the next fifteen years, what about after that? Even fifteen years is scant time to do much about our population. No, the only safe policy is an unremitting commitment to maximum growth.

'What if all the world thought that way?' some might say. The answer is that what is true for Australia is not necessarily true for others. Again, the optimal policies for the developed and the underdeveloped worlds are different. In this case what is true for Australia is also largely true for the U.S.A., but it is certainly not true for China, Brazil, India or Indonesia. The latter countries already have the maximum advantage they could extract from sheer size and manpower. Their urgent need is to educate the people they already have and provide them with modern machines and tools (or weapons) to work with. The U.S.A., Europe, Australia and Japan, by contrast, have already extracted practically all the advantage they can from education and modernism, and for them the most obvious way forward is an increase in sheer numbers.

'But is all this politically realistic? Can we honestly expect the underdeveloped world to limit its numbers if we fail to limit ours? Surely we have to set an example!' These questions are rather plaintive cries at best. Their total vacuity is exposed when we realise that we are already in precisely the position advocated above. Already China and India have active birth control programs while we in the 'West' do not. The so-called political impossibility is already a political reality.

None of the above is to assert that population growth can go on indefinitely in a fixed area without undesirable consequences. Even underpopulated areas of the world such as Australia and the U.S.A. would, in the very long run, come to the point of standing room only. This very long run involves hundreds of years however. Therefore we cannot practically plan for it. Our distant descendants will be in a much better position to deal with any such problem both by reason of being nearer to it and by reason of possessing more advanced technologies. Long before the standing room only problem arises they will take steps to forestall it. Not having the technology of the future, we cannot know what those steps will be. It would be extremely surprising if, in hundreds of years time, humanity has not expanded to the other planets. It would be all very well if we could now take intelligent steps to plan for the distant future, but given the incredibly rapid changes constantly occurring in human society, anyone who thinks he can so plan is just misleading himself.

The pollution problem, however, is one that we can deal with now and it should be clearly evident that population limitation is a hopelessly indirect and unnecessarily severe way of accomplishing it. The answer to pollution is surely pollution control-not misanthropy. Pollution control is the ultimate luxury. It is very dubious whether Joe the Worker would rather have cleaner air or a new car. I am inclined to think that cleaner air is simply the preoccupation of those who have practically everything else they could want already. At any event, like all luxuries it has its costs and, if it is strongly enough desired, communities will be prepared to pay those costs. I am strongly in favour of pollution control and if the whole community can, via the political process, be cheated into paying for my middle class preferences, I for one would find it hard to resist. The connection between pollution and population, however, is far from a necessary one. Nor should we assume that pollution is a penalty of modernity. For hundreds of years London was one of the world's most polluted cities. Smog killed thousands and the Thames was empty of life. Now, after pollution control legislation, the skies are blue and London is probably the best big city in the world to do your breathing in. There are even fish in the Thames again. This clearly shows that pollution control can work and that pollution is not an inevitable consequence of large concentrations of people. Indeed, the example of London convinces me that as we become more numerous and more- affluent we will become more pollution conscious and pollution will decrease -- not increase.

In summary, population policy must be tailored to the needs of each particular nation. As attractive as the romantic and reactionary generalisations of the ZPG movement might be, they seriously distort the facts. We of the Western world are consistently adding to the world's resources -- not using them up. If the underdeveloped world wants the prosperity that our patio intellectuals affect to scorn, it must pray for more of us not fewer of us. We alone can create the resources that they need.


The first section of this chapter originally appeared as an article in Nation Review, 4 May 1973, p. 882.


The "Zero population growth" slogan has faded out of politics in the 21st century -- as well it should. As I pointed out above, zero population growth had already arrived in the Western world by the 70s. The ZPG brigade were agitating for something that already existed! I guess that must have dawned on them eventually.

BUT the Zero Population Growth nutters are still with us as just one part of the Greenie movement -- and they still have their "people are pollution" attitudes. Only by now they want to HALVE our population! And it does seem to be the old gang from the 1960's again -- including Paul Ehrlich. The abject failure of their earlier prophecies -- e.g. that we would all be doomed by the mid 1970s -- has not dampened them down a bit. "Spiked" has a critique of them and makes a historical point in reply: "Rising living standards and rising populations go hand-in-hand." But the doomsters ignore history, of course. They even ignore the present! The world's population has never been so large -- and prosperity worldwide has never been so great. Even India and China are forging ahead now that they have unleashed capitalism.


[1]. I had in mind here China's "one child" policy -- mentioned later in the chapter.

[2]. There have subsequently been increases in Australian child support payments but the most striking innovation in the policy area concerned has been the system instituted by the Howard government of paying mothers thousands of dollars for each new baby born -- a policy that does seem to have had some effect in increasing births. So there has now been official recognition of my argument above that encouraging births among the existing population is desirable.

[3]. Fortunately, the children of the Southern European immigrants being referred to above did adapt perfectly well to Australian society. A broadly similar cultural background and assimilationist government policies undoubtedly helped in that.

Generalizing that experience to the children of Muslim immigrants in a situation where government policy favours multiculturalism rather than assimilation would be most incautious. And there would now seem to be clear evidence that many young Australians of Muslim origins have NOT adapted well to the Australian scene -- given the high rate of unemployment, lower educational achievement and higher rate of crime in such communities.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Chapter 2 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Will Population Growth Lead to Famine or Plenty?


IN 1949 The United Nations called a scientific conference on the conservation and utilisation of resources (called UNSCUR for short). I was asked to present a paper to the Plenary Session. In fact, my paper turned out to be unduly pessimistic --I overestimated the capital requirements of the developing countries, and consequently underestimated the rate of economic progress which they were to attain in the subsequent decades.

But that is not the main point of the story. If occurred to me recently to look at the table of the estimates of remaining world mineral resources which were presented to the 1949 conference[1], and which were then accepted without question. I took these figures and subtracted from them the amount which we have in fact mined since 1949. From this calculation I find that we ran out of lead and zinc some years ago, and are just now running out of copper.

Now we are presented with a fresh set of figures, again showing that we are likely to run out of these metals in twenty-five or thirty years. There is no real reason for believing them, any more than there was for believing the figures put before us in 1949. It may be that geologists know a little more about their science now than they did then, though not all that much. The truth of the matter is that: (i) most of the world has not yet been explored for minerals, (ii) methods of mineral extraction and refining are all the time improving, and many ores regarded as unworkable in the past have now become workable.

From the way Dr Ehrlich writes he seems to think that things will go on as before until we come up against a complete lack of minerals, or food, or both, and that then civilisation will suddenly collapse. If there were any truth in his ideas about resources (in fact they are completely mistaken) it would not happen this way at all. The supply of minerals and food would become progressively more limited, not disappear suddenly, and there would be a marked rise in their prices. In the case of minerals, this would lead to much more economical use, the development of substitutes of all kinds, and the careful re-cycling of used products.

I believe that those who are talking about the approaching exhaustion of world resources are insincere. If they really believed all they are saying, they would be hurrying out to buy mining shares, and agricultural land, both of which can now be obtained cheaply. I have not heard of any of them doing it. In fact, they probably realise at the back of their minds that the low prices of mining shares and of agricultural land indicate that the world will be faced, at any rate for some years into the future, not by any threat of shortage of resources, but by an embarrassing superabundance.

Dr Ehrlich has published two principal books in this field Population Resources Environment and The Population Bomb. The former is a long and carefully prepared book. It is a strange mixture of scientific statements, supported by tables and diagrams, and quoting sources of information (though generally failing to give precise references), mixed with a number of errors of fact, and a great many unsupported speculations. In The Population Bomb the content of genuine science is much less, and the errors of fact more numerous, mixed with a great deal of what is frankly science fiction. It is this book unfortunately which has had by far the wider circulation.

Storm on the screen

In August 1971 Dr Ehrlich visited Australia, and I was invited to take part in a television debate with him. The usual Monday Conference procedure is to have four or five people around a table who can debate an issue thoroughly through question and answer. At the last moment this arrangement was changed. It became a show with about one hundred participants, the object apparently being to give Dr Ehrlich and his supporters about ninety per cent of all the available time. However I was able to challenge him on his basic error of fact.

In The Population Bomb he had stated that in the developing countries 'food production every year falls further behind burgeoning population growth'. Many people believe this to be the case. But the facts are the opposite. In the developing countries, with very few exceptions (and these can all be explained by political disorders) food production is increasing substantially faster than population [2]. Dr Ehrlich could not deny this. He tried to divert the issue, however, by saying that the developing countries were suffering from a shortage of 'first-class protein'. This phrase is generally understood to mean protein from animal sources.

If this is what he meant, physiologists would disagree. It is true that it was at one time believed that we needed to obtain a substantial proportion of our protein requirements from animal sources. But estimates of our requirements of animal protein have been steadily diminishing. A little late in the day, physiologists have discovered that there are communities of vegetarians, some for religious and some for economic reasons, who lead healthy lives with intakes of animal protein, in some cases, exceptionally small [3].

Dr Ehrlich makes the extraordinary statement that Japan, despite her apparent wealth, is 'desperate for protein'. Somebody ought to tell him that for years Australia has been trying to sell Japan meat, and Japan has been refusing to take it.

It is true that animal protein has a higher coefficient of biological value than vegetable protein, generally about by the factor of three to two. But the widely held belief that Asian diets are inadequate in protein, and need supplementation by fishmeal, dried milk and other commodities which Australia might be able to provide, has recently been sharply questioned by the leading scientists in this field [4]. The conclusion is that what Asian countries need is rather more of their present diets, perhaps with slight protein supplementation. It is true that there has been medical diagnosis of widespread protein deficiency in Asia; but this has now been shown to be mainly a consequence of inability to assimilate protein when the diet lacks adequate calories.

In 1972 Dr Ehrlich re-published Population Resources Environment. The erroneous statement about food production in developing countries falling behind population growth was withdrawn, and the correct information substituted. Little was said on the question of protein, apparently indicating that Dr Ehrlich does not feel very strongly now on this subject either. Unfortunately however it is The Population Bomb, containing this (and many other) erroneous statements, which continues to circulate.

Having been proved wrong on his facts, Dr Ehrlich has resorted to speculations. Scientific writings may contain: (i) observed facts, (ii) theories which will receive general scientific support, though still not to be regarded as final, and (iii) speculations-which ought to be kept as few in number as possible. 'Hypotheses should not be multiplied beyond necessity'-- Occam's Principle, which is still a basic principle of science. Unfortunately, many people reading the writings of certain scientists seem unable to distinguish between facts, established theories and speculations. (I have some advantage in this respect because, although for many years my profession has been economics) my basic training was as a scientist, including a year's laboratory research work.) Dr Ehrlich's rejoinder to Mr Maddox is almost entirely theoretical, and pretty unsupported speculations at that. We are doing things which 'may increase' cancers, birth defects and deformities. The whole text is full of 'may-bes'.

However I agree with Dr Ehrlich on one point when he says that it is utterly wrong to allow human action to lead to the complete extirpation of any biological species. The reason why it is so wrong is because man is thereby wantonly destroying God's handiwork. However Dr Ehrlich would probably be very annoyed at receiving support from such a direction.

There is a curious and inconclusive debate between Dr Ehrlich and Mr John Maddox, each accusing the other (but Dr Ehrlich using particularly insulting language) of failing to understand the principles of demography. Are there signs that the rate of world population growth may slow down? (whether or not this is desirable we will discuss later). Dr Ehrlich thinks that even the industrial countries may continue for a long time in the future to show rates of increase of 0.5-1 per cent per year. This implies net reproduction rates between 1.2 and 1.3 approximately. Nearly all industrial countries (except Australia) now appear to be well below these levels [5].

Dr Ehrlich quotes a study by Keyfitz, though the same was done more thoroughly by Bourgeois-Pichat [6]. This study was provoked by a statement by General Draper, President Nixon's representative to the United Nations Population Commission. At a ceremonial dinner (!) the gallant General pointed out that not only did the United States intend to adopt a zero population growth policy itself, but also expected Latin America to do so by the end of the century. Bourgeois-Pichat points out that he did not make it clear (perhaps his own mind was not qualified to understand the difference) whether he meant an actual equality between births and deaths by the year 2000, or that the average size of the Latin American family would have been brought down to replacement level (2.2 average offspring approximately) by that date.

Bourgeois-Pichat illustrated, the problem by relation to Mexico, where the average family numbers five or six. If it was seriously intended that Mexico should reach equality between births and deaths by the year 2000, this could be attained only by the immediate reduction of the average family to 0.6 offspring, or a little over one-tenth of its former size.

If on the other hand General Draper's policy was that Mexico, and the rest of Latin America, should reduce the average size of a family to replacement level by the end of the century (and Dr Ehrlich is right in pointing out that this is in fact most unlikely to happen) this would mean that it would be about the middle of the twenty-first century before Latin American population would stabilise, and at a level of about three times what it is now.

Mr Maddox is right in pointing out that there have been falls in fertility in some Asian countries, besides Japan. Indeed, these falls have been sudden and violent, particularly in Taiwan and Singapore. But these relate only to the minority of Asians who have come most under Western influence. The main masses of population in Asia, Africa and Latin America are continuing to grow rapidly.

Imprecise statement

To say that a fall in fertility followed the industrialisation of Western Europe and North America is not a sufficiently precise statement, and does not yet give us grounds for saying that it will necessarily happen elsewhere. The theory that fertility will fall as a consequence of the reduction in infant mortality, when parents have greater expectation that their children may survive, is an idea which has fascinated many demographers; but they have been quite unable to prove it satisfactorily from the evidence.

We must first go back a bit farther. Population growth was not a consequence of industrialisation, as Malthusian theory supposes, but one of its principal causes. The historical evidence now seems clear, that an acceleration of population growth preceded industrialisation; and this was not due to any increase in the size of family, or earlier marriage, but simply to a decline in mortality. (The outstanding case where population growth did not promote industrialisation, namely Ireland, is explained by the deliberate blocking of Irish industrialisation by the British Parliament.)

The decline in fertility appeared in Britain quite suddenly in the 1870s, after more than a century of industrialisation. In Germany and Italy it did not appear until the end of the century. In the United States it appeared about 1830 in the North East, but not until very much later in the West. Japanese family limitation began in the 1920s. In France, on the other hand, the evidence is quite clear that the decline in family size began about 1780, long before the country was industrialised [7]. There is no simple sequence here for Asian and other countries to copy.

No French historian or sociologist has yet explained the very early appearance of family limitation in that country-though most of them regret the consequences. The best analysis of the historical causes of family limitation is probably that of Carr-Saunders, who found the causes not to be economic, but sociological. First there is the 'nuclear family', i.e. parents and dependent children only, not the usual rule, but the exception in former days, when families included grandparents, uncles, cousins, unmarried sisters and the like. The old-style rural family may not have been very productive economically; but it was (and is in present-day Asia and Africa) much easier to bring up children in this milieu than it is with us, where the parents have to carry the entire economic and social responsibility.

The next point to which Carr-Saunders drew attention was the prohibition by law (or strong discouragement by social custom) of child labour. With this usually also goes the obligation to send children to school. If you do not intend to educate your children, they soon become economic assets in a farm family. It used to be estimated, in medieval Europe, that by the time a child reached the age of seven the work he did on the farm outweighed the cost of his keep. This may be even more so in many regions in Asia, where the monsoon season is extremely short, and the enforced idleness of the long dry season gives place to a short spell of urgent labour shortage, when even children's hands are valuable.

And we need not go so far back as medieval Europe. Sir Edward Kerry, giving evidence in the 1830s to the Parliamentary Commission on the Government of New South Wales, reported that 'the lower class of settler' had a strong incentive not to send his children to school, because he needed their help on his farm [8].

But even more important is the absence of social services. We take it for granted that if we become infirm or ill there will be some sort of pension for us, not adequate by our standards, but enough to keep us from starving. In Asia, if you grow old without a family to provide for you, you starve --literally. I was once talking to an Indian woman doctor in Lucknow who was a great advocate of family limitation, and was very annoyed when her woman servant (probably miserably underpaid) conceived another child. 'Why should I not have another child? the servant asked humbly. 'The Government of India does not want you to have children' the doctor sternly replied. 'Will the Government of India look after me when I am old?' the servant asked.

We find it very hard to understand that the thousands of millions of people living in poor peasant communities in Asia, Africa and Latin America have their children because they want them, for these reasons, and will continue to do so for a long time in the future -- until they have replaced the security provided by the extended family, have instituted universal schooling and forbidden, child labour, and have established old-age pensions and other social security measures.

In Japan, universal schooling was enacted as early as 1890 (probably the principal factor in Japan's extraordinary economic progress), but old-age pensions did not come until about a generation later. For these provisions to become universal throughout the under-developed world may take fifty years -- I do not see that anyone could put it at less than twenty-five. And even after that, the decline in family size will be slow. The world is still due for an immense increase in population.

But, although most people think the opposite, all the facts indicate that this will be accompanied by a much more than proportionate increase in wealth. The present rate of rapid increase in the world's population began only about 1945; and during these recent decades the rate of the whole world's economic progress has been far higher than it ever was in the past. India in particular, in spite of all the economic mistakes she has made, is now raising production per head about three times as rapidly as in previous decades, or than the rate which even the most optimistic Indian economists were willing to estimate when the country first became independent in 1947. And if we classify the developing countries by their rates of population growth, those with the highest rate of population growth show on the average the highest rate of growth of production per head-the precise opposite of what Malthusian theory would indicate.

Having it both ways

Among the advanced countries, Japan is often quoted as an example of reduced population growth leading to increased prosperity. But for the last twenty years Japan has been having it both ways, by drawing on her demographic capital. The Japanese have raised many fewer children. They still have relatively few pensioners to support --the balance will be quite different in the next generation. But industrially, meanwhile, they have had all the advantages of a rapidly increasing population, with children born in the previous decades coming into the work force, married women going out to work, and farmers coming into the towns. The result of all this has been that the industrial labour force in Japan has doubled in twenty years --a rate of growth attained by no other industrial country [9].

In fact, the principal dangers of population growth may not be that it will lead to poverty, but to excessive wealth; not to famine, but to many people dying of over-eating.


1. Proceedings of the United Nations scientific conference on the conservation and utilization of resources, 1949, 2, p. 7. Details of the calculations are given on p. 16 of my book The myth of overpopulation, Melbourne: Advocate Press, 1973.

2. See FAO Monthly Bulletin of Agricultural and Economic Statistics, January, 1972.

3. For further information see The economics of subsistence agriculture by M. R. Haswell and the present author (Macmillan, 4th edition), p. 7.

4. See particularly Dr Gapalan, Director of the Indian Nutrition Laboratory, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 1970; Dr Sukhatme, until recently Director of Statistics for FAO, Indian Journal of Medical Research, November 1969; and my own article "Calories and Protein in Indonesia", Bulletin of Indonesian Economic Studies, 1972, which quotes a number of further statements by biochemists.

5. My own calculations unpublished.

6. Population (Paris), September, 1970.

7. For further information see my Population growth and land use (Macmillan, 1967) pages 178-182.

8. Reference to Sir Edward Kerry: 'Even at six years of age the services of children become valuable, and with many of the lower classes of settlers this might operate against their wish to send them to school'. Evidence before the select committee on transportation to Australia, House of Commons, July, 1837.

9. Reference to industrial labour force in Japan, International Year Book of Labour Statistics.

This chapter is reprinted (with some added references given at the end of the chapter) from an article in "Current Affairs Bulletin" 1973, 49, pp. 314-317.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Chapter 3 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Is There a Minerals and Energy Crisis?

John Ray

IT SEEMS EMINENTLY commonsense to say that if we are steadily using up our minerals and fossil fuels we must eventually run out, and the sooner we start preparing against that eventuality the better. The fact that we are steadily discovering more deposits of minerals may help postpone but not cancel the day we run out.

An extremely relevant consideration to us, however, is just when that day is due. As far as energy is concerned, the projection must be to millions of years in the future. Match that against the mere six thousand years of our recorded history. True, our fossil fuels will not last that long. Oil may run out within the lifetime of most people now living. Coal may last no more than a thousand years. But nuclear energy and solar power are practically limitless. Already Britain gets twenty per cent of its power from nuclear energy and if it can get that, there is no reason (other than suffering a slightly higher cost) why it cannot get the total. This cannot be an immediate or very short-time transformation. It takes years to build nuclear power stations and a sudden cut-off of Arab oil or some other such man-made limitation will cause temporary disruption, but there are no serious long-term problems.

'But even uranium will run out eventually!' True. But we really have no idea when. Uranium has only recently become an economically useful mineral so exploration has hardly begun. Even so, the already-known reserves will at least last us through the next century. This is particularly so when we realize that there are already in commission in Russia and at Dounreay in Scotland 'fast breeder' nuclear reactors which enable all of the uranium mined to be used, instead of just a small part of it.

Even uranium, however, is merely a transitional fuel. The fuel of the future is sea water -- or the hydrogen which is one of its components. Hydrogen will be used in the future as both a chemical and as a nuclear fuel. As a nuclear fuel it (or its isotope, deuterium) will be used in a fusion reaction, with helium as an end-product. Just as the H-bomb produces far more energy than does an A-bomb, a fusion reaction with hydrogen produces far more energy than a fission reaction with uranium. And the beauty of it is that so little hydrogen is required to do this. Therefore the amount of seawater we have should last us practically forever.

There are great engineering problems in setting up a controlled fusion reaction. So much energy (heat) is produced that the process cannot be contained in a solid container. It must be contained in energy (magnetic) fields. Engineering in energy is naturally a much less developed art than engineering in metals. Even so, the task has already been accomplished. Net energy production by thermonuclear (fusion) means has been carried out, although only for extremely short periods. Seeing that nobody had even heard of nuclear power only thirty years ago, this is very rapid progress indeed. The technical problems will certainly have been overcome long before we need to rely on this source of power some centuries hence.

'But thermonuclear power is certainly not going to be very portable. What is going to fuel the cars and trucks of the future?' The answer to this also involves hydrogen from seawater, only in this case as a recyclable chemical fuel rather than as a consumable nuclear fuel. Once you have a source of power -- be it coal, oil, nuclear or thermonuclear -- you have various options open to you for storing it or converting it to portable form. The electric battery you have in your car is perhaps the most familiar example of this. Another option is to use your power source to break down water into its chemical components, oxygen and hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be stored and used as a chemical fuel in much the same way as we now use petrol. Unlike petrol, however, hydrogen is completely non-polluting and completely recyclable. For this reason, it may come to be used even before petrol runs out. The reason it is non-polluting and recyclable is that when it is burnt it simply recombines with atmospheric oxygen to become water again. As long as you have a source of power, it is the everlasting fuel. Every gutter becomes part of a re-cycling system. Our bodies are as well adapted to dealing with water suspended in the atmosphere as they are not adapted to dealing with the sulphur dioxide that petrol at present puts there. The only reason that hydrogen is not at present used is cost and the fact that it requires a pressure vessel to store it rather than the simple sheet steel tank that presently suffices for petrol. Insofar as it is a worse polluter, then, we must welcome the fact that petroleum is running out.

'But what about nuclear waste-products? Surely they are the worst polluters of all!' This is so. But even that is a transitional problem and their production and disposal is at least far, far more carefully supervised than is the production and disposal of other waste-products. It is a transitional problem because radio-active by-products are an inevitable outcome of nuclear fission only. Thermonuclear fusion in theory need produce no radioactive by-products. Contamination due to accident could occur but the single end product of the hydrogen-based fusion reaction itself (helium) is atomically stable. Thus when thermonuclear power comes in, the age of no-pollution will truly have dawned. Hydrogen is the ecologist's dream fuel. If the Arab oil embargoes hasten our conversion to hydrogen, this could well be enough to qualify the Arabs for canonisation into the ecologists' pantheon.

Another potentially limitless source of power is the sun itself. It has been calculated that five times as much solar energy falls on the roof of the average American house as is used in the form of electrical energy within that house. Except for considerations of cost, we could probably switch to this source of pollution-free power right now. Australia's empty deserts could become a great economic resource -- collecting solar energy every day of the year, converting it to electric power and using that power to produce hydrogen from seawater.

So the 'energy' part of the `minerals and energy crisis' is shown to be in fact no great problem at all. Energy may become substantially more expensive in the near future, but in the long term even this will scarcely be detectable in its influence on the steady upward rise of our living standards. We may have many short-term crises of man's deliberate creation (such as the Arab oil embargo), but all the energy we could ever want is there for us to use if that is what we really want to do. Any limitations are imposed by man, not by nature. Only the unforeseen is dangerous and that by its very nature we cannot plan for. All we can do is make sure that we have many alternate sources for the power we use and this is something that is going on apace. In the future, it is unlikely that the world will ever again let itself become as dependent on one source of fuel as it once did on Arab oil. When thermonuclear power comes in, sources of power will be as common as seawater. Any country with water will be self-sufficient in fuel.

To sum up, then, even without oil, our existing resources of coal and uranium are sufficient to provide us with energy for centuries to come, and long before that time runs out solar and thermonuclear power will have become commercially practicable. As an added bonus, reserves of coal and uranium tend to be located in politically stable countries, such as the U.S.A., Australia, Great Britain and Europe.

The situation with minerals is not remarkably different. Again we have a scenario of possible substitutions stretching into the indefinite future. Additionally, as the costs of particular minerals rise, so it will become more attractive to re-cycle them. One very versatile metal that has come into increasing use in the present century is aluminium. It presently finds a wide variety of uses including structural applications. In alloys such as 'duralumin' its one major disadvantage -- softness -- can also be overcome. In previous centuries it was used very little. Only when a method of extracting it cheaply from bauxite was invented did it become a resource. Now a method of extracting it from that most ubiquitous of materials-clay, has been perfected and a trial plant is already in operation. As it is the most plentiful metal in the earth's crust, this advance is an important one. One of the reasons aluminium is not more used is that it requires a great deal of electricity in its production. With the future advent of thermonuclear power, however, this should be no problem and the price of aluminium should drop greatly relative to other metals. When this happens, the effect will be to reserve our less abundant metals for applications where their peculiar properties are indispensable and aluminium will become the work-horse metal that iron is today. Since the day when we will run out of clay seems extraordinarily far off, there would appear to be no long term worries about the supply of aluminium. The metal of the future is underneath our feet.

No doubt, however, some clays will be better for producing aluminium than others. This is the point: the physical materials of the earth are available practically without limit: sand, clay, rock etc. Given the availability of power, the only decision we have to make is which ones to use. The technological possibilities are so wide that what we use is what is cheapest. We could still use other things if we have to. Take sand, for instance. Sand (silica) is the raw material for glass and with the invention of glass wool and fibreglass, the ways in which glass could be put to use are far greater than is at present economically attractive. Fifty years ago, for instance, who would have thought that suburban Australian fishermen would be putting to sea on weekends in boats made of glass? And yet it is nowadays something so common as to pass almost unnoticed. For all practical purposes, the availability of the materials of this planet for structural and other purposes can be treated as infinite. The only question ever is which ones we use.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Chapter 4 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

The Doomsters Rise Again


'Australia with its minerals is like the bride with the very large dowry. She can wait to be wooed.'

With this little simile Rex Connor, Minister for Minerals and Energy, sums up his policy philosophies. He has never used his analogy in any public medium, only in private conversation. Perhaps his reticence is due to the rather archaic social context of the analogy. Possibly he is biding his time so that departmental work on a major energy policy statement can be finalised, submitted to the cabinet and endorsed as the guidelines within which Australia's minerals will be developed under Labor.

But the allusion to an Australia possessing very rich resources in a world where they will become inexorably scarcer and more intensely needed, is the key to the minister's approach to policy development.

Connor has said he believes there is a developing 'energy crisis' in the world and in the U.S.A., western Europe and Japan in particular. Australia's general strategy should be to quietly take stock of its energy resources and only export them in such quantities and at such a time as his department's planning suggests will maximise the benefits for the nation.

The minister envisages a new regime of government planned and controlled development of Australian energy reserves, based on a judicious exploitation of the 'world energy crisis' and the addition of 'resources diplomacy' to the traditional tools of foreign policy.

The idea of a long-range plan for Australian energy resources is not new and not particularly a Labor Party idea. Commonwealth government officials under the previous regime started work some time ago on the plan which Connor intends to unveil later in the year.

Lloyd Bott, head of the Department of National Development which ran minerals policies in the Liberal era, said in an address last year: 'We will need to decide just what our future fuel needs are likely to be ... my department is in the process of undertaking a major study of energy demands to the end of the century, and I expect that this study should be completed by the middle of the year (1973 presumably). Australia's total energy resources must be balanced against our forecast needs . . .'

That project has been taken over by the new team-Connor, his new tough-minded departmental head of Gorton-era fame, Sir Lenox Hewitt, and the small band of all-purpose under-officers he trails around with him in his jumps from department to department. Asking a government official to estimate mineral reserves is rather like asking a police chief to estimate undetected crime. He has a vested interest in under-estimation, and since no one can possibly know the answers anyway he can throw his figures around confident that no one will be able to prove him wrong. At least, in the case of the minerals crystal ball gazer, his errors will not be provable until he is personally long forgotten.

In 1938, the chief geological adviser to the Commonwealth government, Dr Woolnough, declared Australia's reserves so poor that it would 'in little more than a generation become an importer of iron ore.' By the mid-1960s Australia should have run out of iron ore, and so it was considered imperative in 1938 that there should be a prudent husbanding of the nation's scarce resources. The Lyons government intervened and placed an embargo on iron ore exports, which lasted until the balance-of-payments crisis in 1960 forced its abandonment. It was the Liberals who placed a ban on the export of natural gas and oil and who severely restricted export permits for uranium.

Government restriction on minerals and energy has a long and bi-partisan tradition in Australia, and Connor is merely treading in familiar political footsteps. But he seems to intend to go further along the same track. It is probably good politics. It looks like conserving our resources against covetous, money-making foreigners. But is it good sense? Is there really an 'energy crisis' which requires such action?

Most of the people in America who are talking about an energy crisis there are talking about the next ten to fifteen years. Beyond 1985 or 1990, most people agree there will be new sources of technology available to provide for energy needs-fast-breeding nuclear reactors that need almost no fuel, solar energy, geothermal and tidal power, possibly fusion reactors and fuel cells.

True, some particularly pessimistic scientists calling themselves the Club of Rome played around with potential growth rates of demand and a potential tailing away of technological advance and produced predictions of disaster in a widely publicised book called The Limits to Growth. This work, described by the distinguished British economist Wilfred Beckerman as 'such a brazen, impudent piece of nonsense that nobody could possibly take it seriously', was taken seriously by the World Bank which has produced a painfully long but very thorough demolition of this classic in doom-mongering. Indeed, apologists for the Club of Rome have been reduced since to saying: 'At least they promoted lively discussion.'

Most serious forecasters think that population growth and demand for material resources will decline after 1985 and that radically new technologies will be available to serve energy needs. In any event the problems of the world fifteen years and more ahead are so highly speculative that little purpose seems to be served by predictions.

It follows from this alone that any Australian policy based on the assumption of the world energy shortages lasting into the 1990s and beyond is likely to be ill based. Uranium is not likely to remain in strong demand because of breeder reactors and even oil and gas (not to speak of crude old coal) are likely to be regarded as obsolete and inefficient energy sources.

Over the long span of economic development real energy costs have gone down as technology has advanced rapidly to improve world energy productivity, although there have been periodic episodes when a trend to scarcity appeared for a short while, during which people of very pessimistic nature have each time predicted an eventual 'run out' of reserves.

There have been two surprising counter-attacks against the conservationist policy of the minerals planners in the Federal Government. One came from the Treasury and the other from the Bureau of Mineral Resources.

The Treasury, in a publication 'Economic growth, is it worth having?' has published a major criticism of the idea of an imminent energy crisis and made a powerful attack on export restraint. Connor's idea that Australia might hold back certain minerals for sale in the future is argued against in these terms by the Treasury: 'Possible future gains are being weighed against certain current losses: those in whose interests it is suggested that a certain mineral should be conserved might not turn out to want it at all, or might want it only at a fraction of its current real price. The idea of measuring the scarcity of minerals by extrapolating demand from currently proven reserves is described as "a fallacy of the crudest kind".'

Supporting the Treasury is Mr L. C. Noakes, assistant director of the Bureau of Mineral Resources. The bureau, although an agency which operates within the Connor empire, has a degree of independence.

Noakes in the latest issue of the departmental journal, Australian Mineral Industry Quarterly Review, says: 'It will never be possible to predict confidently either availability of or demand for minerals for years ahead because ore yet to be found cannot be estimated with any confidence, and demand although more amenable to estimation is likely to be controlled by complex factors such as per capita income, population, relative price, substitution and technology . . .' He, too, describes predictions that certain minerals, will 'run out' as 'oversimplistic'.

In relation to coal, Noakes reviews the world and the Australian situation and concludes: 'There is little sense in conserving Australian coal.' Proven reserves are equivalent to 260 years' supply at current production rates, and there would be very many times that if there was any need to go out and prove more. In any case the world coal situation is one of sheer plethora. Already identified reserves of coal amount to about ten trillion tons or many centuries' supplies.

Australia's best strategy for coal is to sell as much as we can as quickly as we can before the Japanese get around to exploiting the vast coal reserves closer at hand in China and Russian Siberia. In the longer term, looking to the 1980s, the market for all kinds of coal seems likely to be steadily undercut by improved methods of electricity generation and steelmaking technology.

Similarly, there isn't any case for keeping our uranium in the ground, because conservationist policies merely encourage other countries to find their own supplies and accelerate progress toward fast breeder reactors and other technology which devalues our reserves.

The petroleum situation is somewhat different. Again there is no question of the world suddenly 'running out' as the dramatists and catastrophists would have us believe. Vast reserves of oil are being proved offshore on continental shelves. Petroleum-poor Britain has suddenly become rich, thanks to oil found under the North Sea, and there is no reason why this discovery should not be repeated in many other places if the necessary drilling is encouraged. Existing wells can be exploited more intensely. But costs are going up and the geological experts agree that demand is pressing more heavily on oil supplies than on supplies of other fossil fuels."

Proven reserves of oil under Australian control are only about 300 million tons or something over ten years' supply at current rates of use. But the prospects for finding more oil are generally agreed among the experts to be good. An oil and' gas specialist of the Bureau of Mineral Resources, Mr M. Konecki, in a paper presented to an Institute of Fuel conference in Canberra last year presented figures suggesting that there could be something like sixteen billion tons of oil on Australia's continental shelf, or 500 years' supply at the current rate of use.

The problem is to find the stuff. The trouble with conservationist measures is that they deter oil search. If the government will not allow you to sell the good oil on the world market, why bother looking for it? The greater the conservationist tendency of the government the more risk there will be for oil searchers that they will not get rewards for even successful drilling efforts. The conservationist policies toward iron ore deterred the proving of reserves for decades and deprived Australia of tens of millions of dollars of export income in the late 1950s, when the economy very badly needed it. The Japanese bought their ores from the Philippines and India when they would have been buying them in Australia but for the local conservationists.

Former PM John Gorton introduced restrictive conservationist principles into Australian oil production, with his enforcement of an arbitrary price freeze and export ban on Australian oil.

It is just this kind of suppression of the price mechanism which has led to the so-called energy crisis in the United States. Connor appears to want to follow the same path with his promise of nation-wide uniformity of natural gas prices. This is the introduction of vague social welfare concepts at the cost of severe distortion of economic resource allocation and a general increase in cost levels.

Connor is also continuing the ban on exports of natural gas, despite evidence that Australia has supplies beyond any conceivable needs. At least, he says he is continuing the ban 'until our reserves are established'. The trouble with this approach is that reserves can never be finally established. In any case Connor's own advisers say that there is a plethora of natural gas. Oil and gas specialist Konecki says: 'Not only will Australia's needs be satisfied, but also considerable volumes of gas will be available for export.'

But government policy towards gas is unlikely to be based on careful, rational analysis. The most striking evidence for this pessimistic prediction is Connor's commitment to a vastly expensive national pipeline grid ahead of any benefit-cost study whatever. Connor has already spelt out how the pipeline at millions of dollars a mile will be extended to Brisbane and Melbourne from central Australia and backwards to the Pilbara, Kalgoorlie and Perth. He is prepared to commit Australia to the most expensive civil engineering project in its history without any expert analysis of the returns which might be expected.

Melbourne stockbrokers, Williams, Tolhurst and Co. who specialise in mineral affairs, say in a recent report that the project 'could be the greatest white elephant this country has seen'.

'Resources diplomacy' is a bright new phrase which is being played with like a toy by government ministers. No one will spell out what they mean by it, but it seems there is a vague idea that Australia may be able to exploit its minerals riches to extract special concessions --of economic and other kinds-- from minerals importers. It seems unlikely that this will be possible, even if it were desirable. Even though Australia is relatively rich in many minerals, it has nothing like a monopoly of any item and prices will be determined by the world market. The withholding of supplies because the government does not like the price offered will merely mean reduced sales by Australia and the diversion of customers elsewhere.

Resource surplus does not give Australia any particular bargaining power as implied by the concept of 'resource diplomacy'. Australia could never threaten to withhold supplies of minerals and expect to make gains. Certainly Japan, for example, is heavily dependent on Australia for supplies of iron ore and coal and could become heavily dependent on Australian liquefied natural gas. But Australia has become just about equally dependent on Japan as a market. We would have just as much as they to lose by disruption of minerals sales, so what diplomatic power do the resources provide? The answer has to be: very little indeed.

The sheiks of the Middle East are at least bargaining for realistic prices for their superb oil reserves. But they are just about as dependent on the oil importers as the importers are on them, and the idea of the U.S.A. being 'held to ransom' or more wittily 'put over a barrel' by the Arabs is rather unreal. The sheiks have had the opportunity to exercise 'resources diplomacy' for a couple of decades, and it has not amounted to much. The U.S.A., for example, continues to sell armaments to their obsessive hate-object, Israel. If 'resources diplomacy' cannot stop that, what can it stop?

Australia is not heading towards any genuine energy crisis but could be facing crises of government policy and regulation, due to woolly thinking and prejudice.

An energy crisis will come if the proposed government minerals authority, staffed by rule-bound public servants and financed in competition with welfare funds, is unable to perform up to the standard of the free-wheeling entrepreneurs with their risk capital, who have traditionally produced the mineral and energy goods.

This chapter originally appeared as an article in "The Bulletin", 14 July 1973, pp. 23-25.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Chapter 5 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974


By John Ray

Amid all the recurrent hysteria about French nuclear tests some very pertinent considerations appear conveniently to have been forgotten. The first is that the French do have a very good reason for continuing to want these tests. To many plastic radicals the very idea of a French nuclear deterrent seems hilarious. What purpose could a French bomb serve in comparison with the overwhelming might of the U.S.A. and the U.S.S.R.? How many times over do we need to be able to destroy ourselves?

Viewed through French (or even European) eyes, however, the question is altogether different. It centres on the reliability of the U.S.A. It didn't come to the help of Europe for several years during the two world wars. Why should Europeans believe that it will do differently in the next one? In the next one, however, even half an hour might be too long to wait. In a limited Russian attack Europe certainly could rapidly be subjugated using nuclear weapons and America might be very tempted not to 'escalate' the war by unleashing its missiles on Russia. Isolationist America is a weak reed indeed for Europe to lean on. In these circumstances Europe must have a deterrent of its own. It is like a crab without a shell until it does.

But how credible is the French deterrent? It doesn't really need to be very credible. Just the chance of one H-bomb exploded over Moscow would surely be enough to restrain any Russian military adventurousness. Missiles are still hard to intercept and only one of the French missiles has to get through to make the gain not worth the cost.

Realising all this then, we can see that France is being far from unreasonable. Indeed what can we expect any member of such a traditionally proud race as the French to think of a deliberate attempt by others to prevent him from having the protection that other nations have already acquired for themselves? This is a point that should be stressed: the U.S.A. and Britain are deliberately trying to exclude France from the nuclear club. If the U.S.A. were willing to share with France the nuclear secrets it already shares with Britain, there would be no need for the French tests. Protests about the Pacific tests should be made as vigorously at the American embassy as the French.

Indeed, pressure on the Americans does seem the most reasonable strategy for those who oppose further tests. France is by now so well and truly in the nuclear club that continued American refusal to share its secrets makes no sense at all. 'Proliferation' has already occurred. It is too late to prevent it. There is even a precedent (Britain) for such sharing once a country has attained independent nuclear capability.

Another thing we need to look at, however, is just how dangerous the French tests are. It should be remembered that they are estimated to increase radiation levels here by only one hundredth of the background radiation level. We all are exposed to radiation from natural sources for every day of our lives. In comparison, the French tests are neither here nor there. If someone is really, worried about radiation causing his wife to have a miscarriage (with a radiation-damaged ovum or zygote your wife probably wouldn't even know she had a miscarriage anyhow. It would just be part of a normal period) he would do more good by ceasing to wear a luminous wristwatch than by protesting about French tests.

The tales we hear about the damage tests will do to the unborn are in fact one of the less creditable forms of scientific generalisation. They are based on extrapolations that assume that if X amount of radiation causes so much damage then one thousandth of that radiation causes one thousandth of the damage. This ignores the possibility (often asserted) that radiation may have to reach a critical level in order to do any damage at all. If normal scientific caution reigned in place of ideology we would have to say that there is simply no evidence that radiation levels as low as those created by the French tests will do any damage.