Population Growth: Disaster or Blessing?

By Bauer, Peter T. | Independent Review, Summer 1998 | Go to article overview

Population Growth: Disaster or Blessing?


Bauer, Peter T., Independent Review


The twenty-third General Population Conference of the International Union for the Scientific Study of Population, which met in Beijing in October 1997, focused on overpopulation as a serious threat to human survival and a major cause of poverty. Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, corporations, governments, and international organizations are dedicating and promising to dedicate enormous resources to reverse the threat of overpopulation. But population density and poverty are not actually correlated.

Poverty in the Third World is not caused by population growth or pressure. Economic achievement and progress depend on people's conduct, not on their numbers. Population growth in the Third World is not a major threat to prosperity. The crisis is invented. The central policy issue is whether the number of children should be determined by the parents or by agents of the state.

Since the Second World War it has been widely argued that population growth is a major, perhaps decisive obstacle to the economic progress and social betterment of the underdeveloped world, where the majority of mankind lives. Thus Robert S. McNamara, former president of the World Bank, wrote: "To put it simply: the greatest single obstacle to the economic and social advancement of the majority of peoples in the underdeveloped world is rampant population growth .... The threat of unmanageable population pressures is very much like the threat of nuclear war." And many others have made similar statements.

The Apprehensions Rest on False Assumptions

These apprehensions rest primarily on three assumptions. First, national income per head measures economic well-being. Second, economic performance and progress depend critically on land and capital per head. Third, people in the Third World are ignorant of birth control or careless about family size; they procreate regardless of consequences. A subsidiary assumption is that population trends in the Third World can be forecast with accuracy for decades ahead.

Behind these assumptions and, indeed, behind the debates on population are conflicting views of mankind. One view envisages people as deliberate decision makers in matters of family size. The other view treats people as being under the sway of uncontrollable sexual urges, their numbers limited only by forces outside themselves, either Malthusian checks of nature or the power of superior authority. Proponents of both views agree that the governments of less developed countries (LDCs), urged by the West, should encourage or, if necessary, force people to have smaller families.

National income per head is usually regarded as an index of economic welfare, even of welfare as such. However, the use of this index raises major problems, such as demarcation between inputs and outputs in both production and consumption. Even if an increase in population reduced income per head, a matter to which I shall return later, such a reduction would not necessarily mean that the well-being either of families or of the wider community had been reduced.

In the economics of population, national income per head founders completely as a measure of welfare. It ignores the satisfaction people derive from having children or from living longer. The birth of a child immediately reduces income per head for the family and for the country as a whole. The death of the same child has the opposite effect. Yet for most people, the first event is a blessing, the second a tragedy. Ironically, the birth of a child is registered as a reduction in national income per head, while the birth of a calf shows up as an improvement.

The wish of the great majority of mankind to have children has extended across centuries, cultures, and classes. The survival of the human race evinces that most people have been willing to bear the cost of rearing two or more children to the age of puberty. Widely held ideas and common attitudes reflect and recognize the benefits parents expect from having children. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • A full archive of books and articles related to this one
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Population Growth: Disaster or Blessing?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

    Already a member? Log in now.