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Dan Brown’s just-published pot-boiler, “Inferno,” assumes that because the world’s population has doubled over the past half-century its recent exponential increase will continue until the very survival of humanity is at risk.

Like everything else Brown over-writes, this is fiction. Fashionable, but fiction.

His hero, a tiresomely inept professor of symbology, galumphs through the tourist guidebooks of Florence, Venice and Istanbul unsuccessfully trying to halt the release of a mutant virus designed by a suicidal mad scientist to Save The Planet by rendering a third of humanity infertile.

That’s it. Save yourself the monstrous price of this trashy book and buy an ounce of silver instead.

Let us knock the “population explosion” myth on the head. The totalitarian types are as wrong about the supposed danger of too many children as they were about global warming, breathing other people’s tobacco smoke, eating too much salt, or catching bird flu.

There has been no global warming for two decades; the risk of lung cancer from passive smoking is statistically indistinguishable from that of breathing fresh air; if you eat too much salt the body excretes it harmlessly through the kidneys; and bird flu is for the birds.

This is the Age of Scares. To the racketeering governing class, Scares are profitable. One can spot a Scare by three nannying catch-phrases: the lazy “scientists say,” the propagandizing “raise awareness” and the bossy “we must.”

When the three catch-phrases are combined – “scientists raising awareness of [insert Scare du jour] say we must [end freedom and spend trillions on more taxes and still more regulations]” – that is the moment to hold your pocket-book tightly and run for cover.

Little more than a decade ago, awareness-raising scientists used to say there would be 16 billion people on Earth by 2050, compared with 7 billion today. The U.N. even celebrated the millennium by building a World Population Clock to raise awareness of how much scientists said we must spend.

Shortly before midnight on the last day of the old millennium, the World Population Clock broke down – as well it might. For scientists now say global population will peak not at the 16 billion to which that silliest of propaganda gadgets pointed, but at just 9-10 billion by 2050. It will plummet thereafter.

Not that you will find the startling fact of this drastic downward revision mentioned anywhere in Brown’s oeuvre. He was very careful not to raise awareness of it.

What did the mad scientists and the profiteering U.N. get wrong? They failed to study the real-world demographic statistics going back 150 years. Population figures from all nations reveal one crucial but very seldom stated fact.

The richer you are, the slower you breed.

In the world’s most prosperous nations, such as the United States, the indigenous population is declining. Only net immigration and breeding by recent immigrants is keeping the population trend up. In the Third World, by contrast, populations tend to double every 25 years.

It is now established beyond reasonable doubt that the only reliable way to stabilize the world’s population is to lift the standard of living of everyone on Earth above the poverty line.

Even India, whose program of enforced sterilization failed two generations back, and China, whose cruel one-child policy has likewise failed today, have now come to realize that freedom from poverty is also freedom from over-population.

Despite the malevolent efforts of power-mad totalitarians, mad environmentalists and authors of pot-boilers everywhere, the world’s population is getting richer. As we get richer, we have fewer children.

The reasons why richer populations have fewer children than poorer are well understood. They have little or nothing to do with profitable boondoggles such as “women’s education” or the widespread availability of abortifacient contraception.

Consider a village without electricity. Now add electricity. Suddenly, there are other things to do at nighttime than breed.

Consider a subsistence farmer. If he has many children, they will provide for him in his old age. Now add modern agricultural methods. Suddenly, he can make enough to provide for himself in his old age.

Consider Africa, the most infection-prone continent on Earth. Now add proper medical treatment. Suddenly, the pressure to over-breed to ensure racial survival vanishes.

In one respect, and in one respect only, over-population remains a dangerous possibility. If the crazed environmentalists succeed in their demands that the poor should not be lifted out of poverty, and that the rich nations should once again descend into the poverty from which they have lifted themselves, then the world’s population will continue to grow.

Brown’s dismal, half-baked thesis is that the Black Death, the rat-borne plague that killed a third of Europe’s population in the early Middle Ages, led directly to the Renaissance by making the survivors richer.

Yet the Renaissance happened despite the plague, not because of it. It happened because in Italy, and eventually throughout Europe, the governing class came to value the use of reason and learning.

Today, the world’s governing elites are less well educated – and accordingly more prejudiced – than at any time since the Renaissance. It is precisely because they know so little of what is true that they believe so much that is false.

Scientists say we must raise awareness that our leaders’ belief that over-population is a problem arises not because it is a problem but because those in power are as fashionably, profitably ignorant as Dan Brown.

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