Military involvement in Haiti is the stuff of nightmares. In comparison, the oil and arms blockade, reinforcements in the Dominican Republic, and sanctions against commercial airline traffic from Port-au-Prince occasion mere despair. President Clinton’s prodemocracy broadcasts delivered via helicopter-borne bullhorn and Quebec-trained Haitian police (fresh from human rights seminars) are but passing comic moments. No international intervention can gain for Haiti the lofty prize of democracy; embargos and beachheads thus pointlessly add to misery.

Installation of an elected president (Aristide or any other) will not bring democracy to Haiti, because impoverished countries cannot be governed democratically. When resources fall chronically short of basic needs, rationing becomes inevitable and democratic solutions to distributional problems vanish.

Resource shortages lead to resource grabs. The real choice is between an authoritarian government that distributes resources in line with its own interests and values and no government at all. The authoritarian governments in Haiti and China are improvements over chaos. Even authoritarian governments have some interest in the well-being of the governed, because stability (public passivity) keeps the established elite in power. The United States, attempting to destabilize governments in order to introduce the chimera of democracy into settings where it has no chance, does a disservice to the common people of every country in which it intervenes.

Alexis de Tocqueville observed that the roots of our democracy were planted in the natural wealth of the continent. With fewer than 50 million people, citizens could prosper without taking from fellow Americans (although history shows that many did take and still, of course, do). Democracy has a chance when each man and woman can create wealth from a bounteous nature. But democracy has no chance after nature has been raped—as in Haiti, where a decent living can be had only at the expense of another’s livelihood.

Population growth beyond the carrying capacity of the environment is the root cause of resource shortage. Haitian women average six children each. The population in Haiti is growing so fast that it is on track to double in 23 years. Haiti can lift itself from poverty and begin to restore its environment only by reducing the number of children each woman bears—the fertility rate—to two or fewer. Assisting Haiti toward this model goal is a proper subject for debate and policy.

Elsewhere I suggest that helping to create jobs for women is the best strategy for slowing population growth; if women’s time has a market value, childrearing carries an opportunity cost. On the other hand, providing large-scale subsidies for Third World “development” and opening the door for the immigration of others’ excess population are the worst strategies. Both mislead ordinary people into the false belief that resources are abundant—in their own country or in ours. And when people perceive expanding economic opportunity, they want more children, not fewer.

United States citizens have acquired a sense of limits. Because many Americans fear for their children’s future, if not their own, family size has shrunk. Out of prudence, young couples often delay both marriage and the birth of a first child. Americans’ self-restraint is nullified, unfortunately, by immigration and the high fertility of new immigrants. Because of immigration, conservative projections show America’s population doubling in 64 years, with no stabilization in sight.

Rapid population growth could even jeopardize our democracy. America’s resources are not limitless. Known and discoverable oil and natural gas reserves are predicted to last 10 to 13 years. (Overseas oil could see us through another 30 years, but at what price?) Our topsoil disappears 18 times faster than it is replenished with current agricultural practices, and even clean water could become a costly commodity. Will our resources be adequate to support democracy as we approach this crowded future? History should warn us against trying to find out.

Meanwhile, let us institute a time-out on immigration in order to enjoy measured growth. And let us encourage Washington to accept different forms of governance worldwide and to recognize that only strong hands can divide few resources among many people. America cannot afford the naive belief that democracy will flourish apart from a gainfully occupied and prosperous citizenry.