Bryan Caplan  

Too Many

Econlib in Classes... Schumpeter, intellectuals and ...
"There are too many X" is usually a socially acceptable complaint.  With one key exception: If the X's are people.  Declaring, "There are too many blacks" makes you a racist.  Announcing, "There are too many Jews" makes you an anti-Semite.  Lamenting, "There are too many gays" makes you a homophobe.

There are however some exceptions to the human exception.  The oddest and broadest: It is socially acceptable to say the words, "There are too many people."  In most of American society, similarly, it is socially acceptable to say, "There are too many immigrants."  It can also be OK for either men or women to say, "There are too many men here."

Other exceptions to the human exception?

COMMENTS (22 to date)
Alex Tabarrok writes:

It is socially acceptable to say there are too many economists at this party. Indeed, it may be wise.

MikeP writes:

Lawyers? Politicians? Criminals?


Peter writes:

These are similar to; There are too many people, here goes..

There are too many neighbors.
There are too many cars... parking, driving, polluting, etc.
Classrooms are crowded.
Airline flights are crowded.
Restrooms (Porta Potty's especially) are sometimes overflowing, especially at large public events.

My favorite: There are too many people who think they know everything, and annoy those of us who do!

Noah Smith writes:

Steve Sailer writes:

"Too many white men" is a sentiment rapidly growing in the mainstream media.

Larry writes:

Earth is so crowded, nobody goes there anymore.

Sam Hardwick writes:

People may not say things like "There's too many black people in this neighbourhood", but their behaviour often reveals that they do in fact believe that.

Terra writes:

I don't think I've heard "too many women" said by men.

Is "There are too many babies" and "There are too many old people" offensive? Ageist!

"There are too many jocks/nerds/hippies/yuppies" may be said insultingly but is acceptable.

"Too many people" is acceptable, but "Too many stupid/ugly/fat/sick people" is offensive and can be socially unacceptable. However the insults are defined within the adjectives.

Wealth? "There are too many rich people" is okay. "There are too many poor people" may come off uncouth, with the potential to become socially unacceptable when used as code. "Too many undesirables" is similar.

@ Sailer
The media uses "Too many white males" to showcase that inequality (and even racism/sexism) may be occurring to the benefit of white males, so saying that is deemed more socially acceptable. This is used the opposite context when saying "Too many black males".

Despite being a diverse minority group, we'll hear "Too many Asians" said in regards to school admissions. That seems more acceptable than saying it about other minorities. On one hand, it has a veil of racism against Asians, but simultaneously it's also is used to highlight the disparity for less successful groups, so it walks a tightrope of (un)acceptability. This is the most tangled one thus far.

Jameson writes:

"With one key exception: If the X's are people."

I think that's just false as stated. The three examples you use are special (the common thread is oppression), and not indicative a general prohibition about complaining against too many of a certain type of person.

How about "there are too many libertarians"?

Daniel Kuehn writes:


Daniel Kuehn writes:

I take that back - you wanted human examples didn't you.

Granite26 writes:

an 'exception' is simply rephrasing it as 'not enough not X'

Not enough minorities and women come to mind.

There's too many (people making bad choices) is pretty popular too (teen mothers, drug addicts, etc) but this is probably a technicality.

Danyzn writes:


Jeff writes:

Seems pretty obvious Russia had too many communists circa 1917. South Africa today has too many rapists. The American south has too many fundamentalists. San Francisco has too many hippies.

The first two are pretty uncontroversial. The latter two are, I think, acceptable outside the south and San Francisco, respectively.

James writes:

"There's too many people" is always used in environmental discussions. If we narrow down to environmentally stressed regions, say China or California, it sounds weird. "There's too many Chinese", just sounds racist. "There's too many Californians", is not used in environmental discussions, but could be. It can be used in the American West in general and Pacific Northwest in particular to refer to California transplants.

Philo writes:

It is not generally offensive to say that certain people should relocate themselves, or should change their role in society--in short, that (presumably for the common good) they should behave differently. But it seems disrespectful to say that a person should simply cease to exist.

"There are too many people" is an interesting case. Though the remark is apparently absolute and unlimited, it really means "There are too many people on this planet," and thus has much similarity to an unobjectionable remark such as "There are too many people in this room." After all, the speaker might be satisfied if the same number of people were distributed over many planets (or, in general, over a much wider area that what is presently available on earth). However, since means are lacking to distribute people more widely, in practice the only way to satisfy the speaker is for some people to disappear. The inoffensiveness of the remark must then be due to its not specifying any particular people or any particular kind of people.

By the way, if a remark is sufficiently odd it escapes offensiveness. "There are too many people who are between 5'7" and 5' 7 1/4" tall is so unmotivated as not to be offensive.

Jay writes:


Given results of elections, budgets and laws passed, I would say that comment is ludicrous.

adbge writes:

You can use Google's n-gram viewer to do a search for "there are too many *". Assuming that the number of times a phrase is used in text is a decent proxy for social acceptableness, "there are too many people" is far and away the most popular such phrase, followed by "there are too many men" and "there are too many women."

For my part, I think there are too many damn mosquitoes.

Bob Knaus writes:

"There are too many experts" immediately comes to mind. As a management consultant I have doubtless been included in that class.

"There are too many chiefs and not enough Indians" was common in my youth but perhaps is no longer PC.

Notorious B.O.B. writes:

To echo Steve Sailer's point:

Periodically over the past 10 years one can observe chalk graffiti all over the UC Berkeley campus, to wit:


It stands for "too many Asians"....and is the inexorable endpoint of the logic of affirmative action and "disparate impact" is highly unlikely that these graffiti are the work of white conservatives at Berkeley, if there are any.

When do liberals' heads explode?

NZ writes:

As other commenters have hinted, the real issue is around the implied method of addressing the "too many" lament.

The first examples you gave (too many blacks, Jews, gays) imply killing the people in question. This doesn't mean that's the actual intended method when you say there's too many of them, it's just what most people have been trained to assume you mean, thus it's a big part of why it's socially unacceptable to say.

Lamenting that there are too many people in general, however, usually implies getting people to not reproduce as much in the future, which may or may not be immoral, but certainly isn't as immoral as killing anyone.

Similarly, lamenting that there's too many immigrants implies restricting their immigration in the first place, or in an extreme case deporting many of them back to their home countries. This would lead to some wailing and gnashing of teeth, but still is clearly not the same as killing anyone.

MingoV writes:

There areā€¦ too many people who support open borders.

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