I think it was Shostakovich who quipped that Vivaldi only had one idea, which he repeated 383 times. At least Vivaldi’s one idea was a good one. The same can’t be said for Paul Ehrlich, who has a new book out, Humanity on a Tightrope, that is just like all of his other books going all the way back to the book that first made him rich and famous, The Population Bomb. Ever since that infamous book he has come out with a sequel every year or two that repeats his basic Malthusian outlook on humans and the planet. I suppose at least Ehrlich deserves credit for recycling.
Since Ehrlich’s arguments are not new, it is tedious to rehearse the set-piece arguments yet again. I’ve debated Ehrlich twice, and found him to be personally cordial and eager to pursue genuine argument; I once had a fairly serious argument with him about how Hayek’s concept of the “knowledge problem” made his schemes of human improvement both impossible and tyrannical, and he grappled with the argument rather than changing the subject. This sets him apart from spokespeople for environmental groups who recite PR talking points that are so superficial that I conclude they either must know what they say is untrue, or that they are genuinely stupid people. Ehrlich is a slightly better class of misanthrope.
There is one new argument he’s been making in his last few books that deserves a smacking, though. In today’s Los Angeles Times he gives an interview to Pat Morrison, where he says the following:
The idea that corporations should have free speech, I think, is insane. The free speech of the corporations is the petroleum industry and their buddies setting up entire institutions to lie to the public about fossil fuels and so on. I’m pretty depressed about that. If you think that corporations should be treated as individuals, then there’s a whole slug of corporations that ought to be in Guantanamo right now being waterboarded.
Nice. Never mind the flamboyance of his waterboarding quip. The idea that corporations shouldn’t have First Amendment protections because corporations are not “people” is a popular idea on the left these days. I suppose someone can try to argue that the protection of free speech was meant to apply to individuals rather than organizations, but even in Ehrlich’s case the idea dissolves rather quickly when one observes that all of Ehrlich’s book were published by. . . corporations. His latest is from Rowman & Littlefield, Inc. Earlier Ehrlich books were from Simon & Schuster, a really really large multinational corporation. The New York Times is a corporation; would Ehrlich restrict their editorial pages? Would he extend his ban on corporate speech to the Sierra Club, Inc? (In fact, the Sierra Club got fined by the Federal Election Commission a few years ago for running afoul of its regulations against corporate political speech–the regulations that were later voided by Citizens United.)
This is the quality of thought that comes from people who want to extend political control without limit over people and resources.