Population as economic driver



THE perceptive column on population by my fellow columnist Yen Makabenta avers to the meeting of minds between the Church and anti-population planners on the issue of planned parenthood. He quotes from a book of former British Prime Minister Lady Thatcher the following: “Perhaps the single most pressing problem for Western economies and societies is demographic imbalance in part reflecting the sharp decline in fertility rates. Underpopulation not overpopulation is the West’s worry. After years during which it was thought irresponsible to have more than two children, there is even talk of a return to natalist policies of encouraging larger families.”

Informatively, some countries have made it a government policy to have large families. When my grandson in Singapore had a child, within days he received a subsidy from the government. In France, after a couple of children, families get all sorts of benefits, including free tuition.

To support the contention of the benefits of “unplanned population,” we share some observations by the experts and economic historians.

Today countries like Singapore, Japan, France, Russia and others are reeling from the negative impact of underpopulation – the scourge of the “grey dawn, as they call it, which has overturned and upset the social security systems of these countries. When, as in the case of Japan, almost half of the labor force is retirable (the reason why they are extending the retirement age), you are watching an economic tsunami waiting to happen.

The conventional wisdom among pro-population advocates is that population growth can trigger beneficial economic, political and even cultural transformation. For example, population growth can force farmers to change their methods of cultivation, and make the use of land more efficient, so as to be able to service a rapidly urbanizing community. In Europe truck farms that feed the requirements of a burgeoning city population is widespread. There is enough empirical evidence to show that countries with fast growing populations in the face of limited agricultural land—ancient Greece about the sixth century B.C., Holland in the sixteenth century, Britain in the latter part of the eighteenth century, Japan at the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the present century, and we may now be witnessing a similar sequence of events in India, beginning in the middle of the twentieth century—have experienced economic and commercial expansion, in which the development of foreign trade and shipping plays an important part, transforming traditional agrarian communities into modernizing societies.

In the political field there is evidence to show that population growth has led to a freer and more mobile society, both politically and economically. Indeed, an increasing population allows for a sufficient subdivision of economic functions that enhance competition—a prerequisite for the successful operation of a free market. Conversely, a stagnant population normally gives way to imperfect competition lorded over by monopoly capitalism.

There is historical evidence pointing to a stationary or declining population leading to reduced freedom and mobility. The ancient world, at the time of the break-up of Roman civilization, faced with dropping population, could not maintain its growth potential with the loss of sailors or craftsmen, or the other forms of labor needed to keep the economy and the bureaucracy going.

Population increase removed serfdom as landowners and rulers were finding it easier to secure tenants and men to perform essential duties under freely negotiated contracts, which induced them to work much harder than serfs working under compulsion.

Dutch predominance in various spheres came to an end when population growth slowed down. French historians are now blaming the lack of population pressure for the comparatively slow progress achieved by French agriculture and industry in the nineteenth century.

The president of the British Association for the Advancement of Science claimed that there was a logical connection between ‘planned population’ and a restricted economy. He explained his position thus: “Birth control for people demands ultimate birth control for their impedimenta.” So long as population is rising the products and processes in displacing the old are likely to be much more keenly felt, and fiercely resisted by both capital and labor in the declining industries. He went on to suggest that the introduction of all new processes should be deliberately slowed down so as to ensure that, in the older industries or processes which were to be displaced, there would be time for all the men to retire, and all the capital to be physically worn out.

The great British economist John Maynard Keynes contended that a stationary population would render private investment and the free market almost unworkable. This is one of the principal reasons he gave in his early work The End of Laissez-Faire (the central text of which took shape as a lecture delivered in Berlin, of all places). Keeping the free economy and expanding population logically linked in his mind, he nevertheless reversed his proposals in his Galton Lecture to the Eugenics Society in 1937. He preferred to see a free economy and abundant private investment, he said, and for this reason he advocated a rising population which would provide the best conditions for ensuring this.

Perhaps the last word on the politics of population was said long ago by Ardershir the First, King of Persia – “There is no kingdom without soldiers, no soldiers without money, no money without population, no population without justice.”

In this country, which is now enjoying the so-called “demographic dividend” because of its abundant young labor force whose counterpart abroad remits no less than a couple of billion dollars monthly – why are some people, including the government. still insisting on population control?


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