From National Review, Kevin Williams’ China’s Population Problem:
Governments always operate in ignorance, and authoritarian governments suffer from this more than the governments of liberal societies. That is because in liberal societies, the spontaneous orders of markets, civil society, and open intellectual life help to organize and deploy useful knowledge in ways that centralized bureaucracies cannot.
Political actors — not only elected officials but also career bureaucrats and expert managers — do not err randomly or in ways that are entirely unpredictable. That is because political actors, even the most intelligent and well-meaning of them, are not the dispassionate philosopher-kings of the progressive imagination. Political actors have incentives, and they act in accordance with those incentives. This produces biases that are mostly predictable: bias toward bigger budgets and bigger staffs, bias toward settlements and procedures that minimize institutional accountability, bias toward relying on metrics of progress that are easy to measure and likely to obscure or minimize ongoing problems (you can tell a great deal about an institution by what questions its managers choose not to ask and which metrics they choose not to measure), etc. Among central governments, the bias tends to be toward centralization. Among local governments, the bias tends to be toward localizing power and delocalizing funding. Police departments are predictably biased against civilian-review boards. Public-school teachers’ organizations are biased against measuring performance rather than relying on criteria such as seniority in decisions relating to compensation and advancement.
The Communist bosses in Beijing have certain ideological biases that have evolved over the years. Unsurprisingly for an authoritarian ideology with its roots in agrarian and pre-industrial social arrangements, the Chinese long regarded themselves as having a population problem. The peasants may have been lionized as the vanguard of the revolution, but there were countless millions of them, and the Communist planners regarded them as liabilities rather than as assets — mouths to be fed rather than a productive work force. Central planners are reliably unable to cope with the organic pace of change as it happens in the real world — which does not operate on a series of five-year plans — and, among their other errors, the authorities in Beijing continued believing that they had a population problem long after it was plain that they did not.
The Chinese are not alone in this. In the West, progressives have been for many years hostage to the deathless superstition of “overpopulation” and all of the predictable Malthusian errors that go along with it. Paul Ehrlich, the wrongest man in the history of modern American thought, captivated a generation with his Population Bomb and his predictions that the world would soon run out of . . . everything, really: food, energy, industrial metals, etc. In 1970, he predicted that “in ten years, all important animal life in the sea will be extinct.” He predicted that the United Kingdom would cease to exist, that hundreds of millions would die in inevitable famines, etc. Subsequent prophets from Al Gore to Greta Thunberg have offered variations on the same theme. Thank goodness we were not persuaded by their forebears back when they were insisting that we were on the verge of a “new ice age” and drawing up plans to cover the polar ice caps in coal soot in order to warm up the planet and thereby prevent . . . climate change.
Worth a read and reread. National Review writers like Williamson and Goldberg are unique by the way they tie the tools of history and political philosophy to current events and problems. This context is sorely lacking in most reporting on current events.
Conservatives and progressives are distinguished by sharp philosophical differences. One is the belief in permanent principles of human nature, and another it whether humanity is an asset or a liability. Some of the greatest moral preening about humanity is often accompanies by the cruelest treatment of individual humans.