Population Growth Tied to Freedom Loss (Ashland Daily Tidings Editorial 1993)

          When the United States entered World War II, we were the strongest industrial nation in the world.  Our population was 135 million.  At that time if America stood for anything it stood for freedom.  That 13 percent of the population, the black citizens, had little freedom was ignored by most.  Worldwide America was still synonymous with freedom.

          Eighty years later we have grown to a population of over 330 million people, and a common complaint is that we have lost or are losing our freedoms. ( Figures updated to 2022)

          The fact is that we have lost freedoms, and we will lose more, and the single biggest force causing us to lose freedoms is our population growth.  More people not only adversely affect the environment, but they reduce what people can do without bothering or being bothered by others. 

          If North America had just a few people, those people would have unlimited freedom subject only to possible restrictions during infrequent encounters with each other.  With more people the probability of encounters increases, and thus the probability increases where freedoms are by necessity reduced.  Add even more people and freedom losses accelerate. 

           Since World War II as our population doubled, we faced increased restrictions on hunting, fishing, dumping, burning, logging, land-use, vehicle use, camping, mining, hiking, and many other activities.  Some new restrictions can be attributed to increased
environmental consciousness, but that consciousness arose after evidence showed that all the people in the U.S. were ruining the country.

          Even with unprecedented road building our freedom of movement diminished from traffic increases from ever more people in ever more cars.  More people in more cars also means more stop signs, traffic lights, and driving regulations.

         Legal changes that diminish freedoms evolve slowly, so there hasn’t been mass rebellion, but there is increased discontent.  Most people simply blame the freedom losses on “government” without comprehending what propels government to further restrict freedoms.     

At every government level it is people complaining about the activities of others or government employees quantifying an increasing problem related to more people which then causes city, county, state, and the federal government to enact laws, rules, and regulations further restricting freedoms.  

         The erosion of freedoms isn’t solely from increased U.S. population.  World population growth causes the U.S. government to sign treaties with other governments that restrict U.S. citizens.  Political instability from famine and resource shortages in over crowded countries cause restrictions on the freedom of movement of U.S. citizens and U.S. goods as well as services provided by U.S. companies in those countries.

          While much U.S. prosperity is based on ever more people needing ever more goods, services, and housing, we reached a point where what we give up with more people exceeds what we gain.  That is, if there could be anything gained with more people.

          We don’t need more people to retain prosperity.  That can be achieved with increased trade and by raising the living standards of our 35 million poor.

          But American civic leaders still try to attract more people and more industry in hope of improving local economies.  In these local economic development campaigns little attention is paid to the losses in the quality of life and the losses of freedoms with the increased growth. 

          The problem with assessing freedom losses is that freedoms cannot be easily quantified, and that which cannot be reduced to a cost-benefit analysis is usually ignored in decision making.  As a result, the importance of freedom losses is ignored and dismissed if the issue is raised at all.

          The responsibility for changing our traditional population growth policy rests with The Executive Branch and Congress.  No candidate runs on a platform promoting freedom restrictions, but by not acting to stop U.S. population growth, our leaders do just that. 

         People must cite this relationship to officials in all levels of government for the mentality  to change.  Only then might U.S. leaders move to level U.S. population to better protect what freedoms we retain.

         We can achieve a stable U.S. population by reducing tax exemptions and credits for large families and by lowering annual immigration to 200,000 people.  And only if we move to level our own population will other nations take seriously the need to level world population. 

          We have much at risk in this century as we surpass the human carrying capacity of the planet.  Population growth is not a comfortable issue to deal with, but it is an essential issue, one that government at any level cannot forever ignore.

Brent Thompson