In 1960, Richard Nixon gave a speech on the country’s agricultural problems to a group in South Dakota (link) in which he noted that “population here and elsewhere is growing at a remarkable rate.” He also noted that beef consumption per capita had increased by more than 40% in less than 20 years, from 56 to over 80 pounds per person per year, or about a quarter pound per day, a pattern very similar to what is seen in rapidly developing countries now (for meat, not necessarily beef). This certainly sounds prophetic as, 48 years later, we watch improving standards of living in the developing countries combining with burgeoning overpopulation to produce a global consumption binge such as the planet has never seen before.
At the time of Nixon’s speech, U.S. farm prices were being depressed by huge surpluses, and Nixon was working on a number of programs to address the problem, including the development overseas markets to reduce the surpluses. He cited in his speech that “the great majority of people on this globe are hungry or undernourished”, and would welcome the chance to buy American food. He also pointed out that “we see the world population growing at an amazing speed. Some experts expect it to double in 40 years, going from 3 to 6 billion.” and that U.S. population would was expected to grow from 180 million (in 1969) “by 30 to 50 million in the next 10 years and by 50 to 90 million in the next 20 years.” While his speech was focused on measures to help the agricultural community, it is still significant that the population growth projections he cited were so accurate.
In another speech, to congress in 1969 (link), Nixon spoke with impressive clarity about the risks to social and economic progress resulting from rapid population growth. At that time the United States was providing family planning assistance to many countries around the world, and President Nixon detailed his orders to many parts of the U.S. government to place much greater emphasis on measures to deal with population growth. In particular, he cited a report chaired by John D. Rockefeller, III, as stating that high rates of population growth “impair individual rights, jeopardize national goals, and threaten international stability.” I believe this has since been proven out, except that the press, and perhaps culture, in North America at least, have continually swept it under the rug, keeping it from being part of the public knowledge and context.
The report to which Nixon was referring, “World Population, A Challenge to the United Nations and Its System of Agencies” (abstract), made it clear that population growth was even then an extremely serious problem in developing countries. One example it gave of economic impact of population growth was that “if GNP is growing at 5%/year in a society with a stable population, it would take 12 years to double per capita income; if population is growing at 2.4%/year, it would take 27 years to achieve a doubling in income.” This adds to the understanding of the success of China’s now-30-year-old “One-Child Family” law (link). If China has actually avoided 300 million births since the law was put in place, as they claim, or even 60 million births, as skeptics estimate, it has certainly been a significant help in their economic success.
Nixon also clearly stated that “pressing problems are also posed for advanced industrial countries when their populations increase at the rate that the United States, for example, must now anticipate. Food supplies may be ample in such nations, but social supplies–the capacity to educate youth, to provide privacy and living space, to maintain the processes of open, democratic government–may be grievously strained.” I submit that our current issues with an administration that has established significant and undue influence on the judicial branch of government with the help of its political party’s long control of the legislature, are direct evidence of a “grievously strained” democratic process.
Perhaps more importantly, Nixon was not afraid to talk about population growth, as politicians and the press appear to be today. He also supported the idea that the U.N. should have a major role in efforts to reduce population growth rates worldwide. It is unfortunate that our current administration has continued and intensified policies and actions that undermine the United Nations, undoubtedly influenced by conservative interest groups that have opposed the United Nations since its inception. It is even more tragic that our current administration has systematically reduced, hindered, and limited family planning aid to developing and underdeveloped countries, and certainly done nothing about overpopulation in the United States. As a blogger I read somewhere recently said, “If the U.S. isn’t overpopulated, then why must we rely on foreign nations for more than half of our energy supplies?”
In any case, I am amazed to find out just how much was brought into the politics of our country concerning the overpopulation by Richard Nixon. It is troubling that so little action was ever taken, and how far in the opposite direction the current administration has gone. I am amazed, however, at what a visionary Richard Nixon was, in spite of his many faults and problems.
Richard Nixon’s Speech at the 1960 Soil Conservation Field Days, Sioux Falls, SD, Sept. 23, 1960, Vice President Richard Nixon
Special Message to the Congress on Problems of Population Growth, July 18, 1969, President Richard Nixon
World population: A challenge to the United Nations and its system agencies, abstract, 1969, the United Nations Association of the United States of America National Policy Panel
Compilation of Recommendations of The Commission on Population Growth and the American Future, The 1972 Rockefeller Commission Report on U. S. Population, announced by President Richard Nixon on May 5, 1972