The pressures that swelling populations exert against natural resources often increase economic inequality. Fortunately, unequally distributed wealth and power can result in forms of ownership that achieve environmental protection—for example, the arrangements of Colombian ranchers in the province of Cordoba. As Juan Forero writes in the New York Times (August 6): “A few years ago, Sergio Ochoa all but abandoned his ranch. Leftist guerrillas were extorting money from landowners and torching the homes of those who did not pay.” Today, the ranch is protected and operating smoothly, since a privately paid force of paramilitary fighters wiped out the reigning guerrilla groups—all three of them. Like-minded ranchers, businessmen, and law-abiding citizens fund the peacemakers. The Colombian government is apoplectic—but why? Its own battle to subdue or negotiate with the drug-money guerrillas stands at approximately 0-8, or nra’be 0-18.

Sergio Ochoa lives on his ranch once again, expects his family to live there after him, and has even incentive to make sure that it remains productive. Property owners have a natural inclination to take care of their wealth-producing resources, because that which is conserved today will yield profit tomorrow. Conservation becomes a matter of self-interest.

The long-term results of private ownership are seen in the large tracts of open space and wildlife habitat in England and Scotland. These oases of beauty and unspoiled nature endure because of the practice of “enclosure”—fencing in order to exclude the poor and their herd animals, whose growing number once threatened to devastate field and forest. The 19th-century Enclosure Acts confirmed title in the ruthless acquisitions of earlier centuries. Private ownership of large tracts fosters conservation because only a portion of the land is needed for subsistence or profit. The contrast with very small plots, cultivated lot-line to lot-line, where every tree competes with higher-valued crops, appears worldwide.

Shares shrink when the goal of equality forces the redistribution of wealth. The shrinkage is typically mitigated by environmental exploitation. Explore (read; drill) for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge! Open tracks of rainforest for settlement! The “needs” of people trump environmental goals.

Now, I do not think that caribou are harmed by prospecting on a patch the size of a football field. But environmentalists disagree. In a face-off with what people can demand through the ballot box, conservation loses. In the long run, conservation loses every time. Scrap equality. Bet, instead, on private property. (Not to worry. Concentrations of wealth evolve naturally in response to population growth and limited resources.)

Population growth in Colombia is rapid, so strong-arm laws enacted to protect property are no surprise. In the British Isles, centuries of steady population growth (0.5 percent annually with doubling every 140 years after the Black Death) led straight to the eviction of peasants.

The U.S. population is now growing by 1.2 percent, or 3.2 million people per year—70 percent of which is due to immigration. At this rate, our population will double in 60 years. No other industrialized country in the world grows at this rate. “Equality” is vanishing fast, because an oversupply of labor drives down wages in any type of economy. Demographer Ronald Lee studied labor supply and wages in late-medieval England. Comparing wages in periods of labor shortage caused by the Black Death (first wave in 1348; worst in about 1400) with wages after sustained population recovery, Lee concludes that a ten-percent growth in the population had the effect of raising returns to landowners (employers) by 19 percent, at the same time that it depressed real wages by 22 percent.

The lower and middle classes usually do not benefit from population growth. Economist David Ricardo, an early 19th century advocate for free markets, warned that the power elite benefit from excess—therefore, cheap—labor at the expense of almost everyone else. The majority, depending on wages and salaries, ends up worse off.

Economist George Borjas concludes that immigration into the United States costs labor $133 billion annually, while inflating profits by $140 billion. Analysts, most of whom advocate the redistribution of wealth, eagerly explain how much the United States has polarized into rich and poor. Not long ago, one wage-earner’s take-home pay was sufficient for a middle class lifestyle; median wages today are too low to support an ordinary family in many of the cities where working families must live in order to work. Making ends meet forces over half of mothers with preschool children to work outside of the home.

Comparisons among modern industrialized nations show a nearly perfect relationship: Where the rate of population growth is smallest (Japan and Germany), wage inequality is least. The United States has the fastest-growing population and the greatest disparity between CEO pay and worker pay.

Population pressure seems to heighten interest in acquiring remote rural land. Stagnating real wages at the lower end of the economic ladder mean that few will be able to afford the large holdings that promote both conservation and self-sufficiency. But I predict that such holdings, individually and in clusters and entailed by legally binding covenants, will protect ever more agricultural and wilderness acreage.

Governments must be deterred from redistributing wealth—as in China and the former Soviet Union—because the goal of equality in the face of population growth is a phantom—an evil phantom that results in environmental wastelands.

The U.S. government could protect both the middle class and the emironment by stopping mass immigration. Increased law enforcement to curtail illegal immigration and the passage of H.R. 2712, the Mass Immigration Reduction Act of 2001, would help return America to long-held values.