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Thanos can cut population in half, but here’s why it would just go back up

Crowds have flocked to see the Avengers movies, and the films kicked off a debate over the number of humans on Earth, as supervillain Thanos has a scary plan to cure planets of their overpopulation problems. It’s not just mean; it’s also ineffective. But there’s a better way to solve the issue, and it’s already showing results.

Moviegoers have been terrified by the purple-skinned, gold-armored nemesis of the Avengers, who has used some magic stones to make half the people of the planets he visits disappear. But he doesn’t see himself as a bad guy despite his extreme methods.

He tells the green-skinned alien Gamora about why he did away with half her people on her homeland. “Going to bed hungry. Scrounging for scraps. Your planet was on the brink of collapse. I was the one who stopped that. You know what’s happened since then? The children born have known nothing but full bellies and clear skies. It’s a paradise.”

Thanos then outlines his plan. “When I’m done, half of humanity will still exist. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.”

Some might think Thanos has a point. It wasn’t until around 1800 until world population reached 1 billion people. But it only took us 100 years to double that, and barely 50 years to triple that number. Now we’re at 7.5 billion residents on this Earth.

Certainly something must be done, right? But cut that population in half as Thanos suggests and we would be right back at 7.5 billion in just a few decades. If you had surgery to cut half your weight, you’d get back to the same old weight in no time, without a change in behavior.

It’s a similar story with the Earth. We used to have traditional societies with high birth and death rates, with an agrarian lifestyle, many kids to help on the farm, antiquated values, and poor health care practices. Even then, the population grew somewhat, just not as fast.

A lot changed in the Industrial Revolution. Advances in medicine and sanitation dramatically reduced the death rate, but those old-fashioned values kept people having lots and lots of kids, even when it no longer made sense to have so many. Kids are growing old enough to have more kids. And our economic policies on the budgets reward these large families. Syria, Yemen, Uganda, Haiti and Honduras are all in the top 15 in population growth in their regions, and are plagued with internal turmoil due to populations drastically outpacing available resources.

But there’s a solution. Modern post-industrialization has brought down birth rates, and it’s not just family planning. Men and women going to college, delaying starting a family by nearly a decade, are all playing a role. In such societies, kids are also pretty expensive to have. And that’s why Northeast Asia, North America and Europe are having low population growth numbers, zero population growth or negative population growth.

We don’t need a Thanos, a lethal virus from the “Fast and the Furious: Hobbs and Shaw” 2019 movie or one from the film “Inferno,” or a plan to shower the overpopulated Third World with cash. Ignoring the problem there won’t help either, as contemporary villains slaughter populations and chase the survivors away. We need to coordinate plans to help a Guatemala become like Costa Rica, or a Tajikistan to be like Taiwan, or an Angola to be like South Africa. Going back to traditional societies or industrialization won’t solve the problem. In fact, it could make the problem worse.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange. He can be reached at jtures@lagrange.edu. His Twitter account is JohnTures2.

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