, Volume 21, Issue 1, pp 81-97

No room at the inn, or why population problems are not all economic

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Among the conditions necessary for human well-being is an environment where human populations remain within the biological and cultural carrying capacity of their respective geographies. Overpopulation, although difficult to define precisely, produces serious environmental problems. It might be the case that no one ever died from overpopulation, but certainly many have experienced a diminished quality of life. This paper will argue first, and briefly, numbers do count; second, there are good familiar arguments for restricting the cherished rights to reproduce (and by parity of reasoning property ownership) when these rights conflict with “subsistence” rights; third, some type of government intervention is necessary and desirable if we are to efficiently currtail population growth. This is especially important if we view subsistence rights as positive rights that need official recognition and guidance.

I shamelessly appropriated the idea for this title from an article by Mark Sagoff, “At the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima or Why Political Question Are Not All Economic,”Arizona Law Review, Vol 23, pp. 1283–1298 (1981). I would also like to acknowledge the valuable assistance of the Editor ofPopulation and Environment and an anonymous reviewer who guided this paper through a number of drafts.