Cornucopian Theory Explained


Cornucopians are futurists. They believe that advances in technology are able to progress at the same rate as human population rates, allowing for material needs to be met. On a basic level, Cornucopian Theory is a belief system that there is enough energy and matter available on our planet to provide for whatever population level humanity may be able to achieve.

The term “Cornucopian” comes from a word that is out of Greek mythology. Translating it to English, we get “horn of plenty.” Many homes use a cornucopia as part of their Thanksgiving decorations. It’s a way to show that not only can our needs be filled, but under the right circumstances, we could be overflowing in what humanity need.

Why Does Cornucopian Theory Focus on Technology?

Human population growth is seen by other theories as a “bad” event because it creates more mouths to feed, people to house, and an increase in other basic needs, such as water consumption. In Cornucopian Theory, an increase in human population levels is seen as a luxury. This is because there will also be an increase in the amount of available labor on the planet.

With an increase in labor, there is a corresponding increase in profit. People create items to further increase their value. As the value from created items increase, profits once again are multiplied. This positive cycle creates a desire for increased and enhanced production.

When there is an increase in the labor force, then this serves to add luxury and wealth to a society, according to Cornucopian Theory. This is above and beyond the original labor cycles, which were required to serve self-survival.

How Does Increased Population Levels Lead to Having More?

When there is a large pool of available labor, people stop becoming generalists. Workers must begin to focus on a specialty or niche to find the work that is needed. This helps to promote innovation in technology, as people focus their energies to a new form of self-survival. Instead of using their talents and skills to grow food or find water, they are using their skills to create innovation to survive.

This is what leads to one of the primary criticisms of Cornucopian Theory. Humans acting out of a need of self-survival are still just fighting to survive. What happens if an individual doesn’t have a niche they can develop which will help them find their place in society? Just like an individual who struggled to grow food in the past, it will be difficult for those people to survive.

The rest of society may be able to have luxury and wealth, but those who do not specialize and remain in the general labor force will be dependent on the generosity of others. And, if current political systems in the future continue to progress in a populist manner, that could make them an unwanted element of society.

Is There Evidence to Support Cornucopian Theory?

According to Oxfam, the global food production capabilities are already exceeding what the current human population requires. About 17% more food is being produced than what the United Nations estimates is required for each person to receive their daily caloric intake for proper health.

For the Cornucopians, this is evidence that their views of the future could be accurate. It isn’t the efforts of the farmers that are failing. It is a lack of technologies in food distribution systems, corruption within political systems, and similar challenges that are creating hunger in pockets of the world.

And, because technology is continuing to evolve, there isn’t a cap on the production potential that is available to the world today.

If anything, the challenges to food production involve land grabs. Many organizations that are involved in food production are transitioning to the luxury and wealth cycles of production to create a higher level of profit. Unfortunately, there are still many areas, especially in Africa and Asia, where there are still basic self-survival production cycles in place.

Those two cycles are not compatible with each other.

In developed countries, there is evidence to suggest that the criticisms of Cornucopian Theory may also be true. There are 1 in 5 children in the United States living in households which experience food insecurity on a regular basis. Since the end of the Great Recession, over 90% of the gains made through the luxury and wealth cycles have gone to the top 1% of income earners.

The idea that the world can produce enough resources for everyone may be true, as could be the observation that those who cannot specialize may get left behind. It is a positive theory for the future, but one that will still require challenges to be met.