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May 11, 2012

The Issue On Population Issues Part1/3

(This blog post was originally written on October of 2011)

Since the verbal declaration of President Benigno Aquino III of his preference for artificial means of contraception as a method for controlling the population, the Filipino society has once again started talking about topics usually not even talked about within the typical Filipino home. The discussion on sex and abortion and contraception and even population control started way back when proponents submitted for legislation the Reproductive Health Bill at the Philippine Congress. The major objectives of the Reproductive Health Bill is to decrease maternal deaths and improve the lives of both mother and her offspring. Of course, the subliminal objective of this bill is to reduce the perceived ballooning population of the Philippines.

Why Control the Population

According to the proponents of population control, it is overpopulation that pushes the Filipino society to become poor, if not poorer. The usual analogy of the proponents would be a family of 6 members sharing over 1 piece of bread. They would relate such a depiction into the Filipino society, where the resources are supposed to be meager and the partakers are too many.

With limited resources on food, clean water and governmental budget for health, education and other essential social services, the fear of many, not only in the Philippines but in other developing nations who are supposed to be facing the same “overpopulation crisis” is that such ill-proportioned ratio between population and resource can cause more underdeveloped societies.

Some would therefore conclude that overpopulation correlates positively with poverty: the more overpopulated a country, the more it becomes poor.

Historically, the concept of overpopulation and poverty going hand-in-hand started with Reverend Thomas Malthus in 1798. His Essay on the Principle of Population generally contends that population naturally tends to increase faster than nature can provide subsistence. Malthus, who was actually an English Pastor, based his theory on his observations of the American colonies. According to his observation, the growth of the population would tend to double every 25 years (geometrical) while food supply through agricultural would only tend to increase in an arithmetical rate. According to his calculations, Malthus concluded that by the end of the first century, two thirds of the global population would be “totally unprovided for.”

The Malthusian theory was actually refuted by Henry George when he wrote Progress and Poverty. His 7th Chapter (Malthusian vs. Facts) implied that overpopulation was not be blamed as the cause of poverty, but rather political policies and even geographical and weather changes within a region. (

Overpopulation And Poverty: What Studies Really Show.

Following the thinking of Henry George, it would be easy for people living in a slum area to say that too much people (overpopulation) can cause a lot of poverty. Of course, people living in this impoverished state could not be blamed for thinking as such. It is perhaps the easiest conclusion to make. For a crowded subdivision however, where most of the upper middle class people reside, it might not be apparent this thinking of overpopulation.

To state therefore that Overpopulation is the cause of our poverty is a narrow-minded way of thinking. Even when one talks about health and the capacity to attain such optimal state of health, one cannot fully conclude that overpopulation is the cause of our poverty. Experts would agree, there is no conclusive research or study done yet to credibly proclaim that overpopulation indeed correlates with poverty. While it may appear that in some countries that are largely poor, their population is also high, correlation in this case does not necessarily imply causality. It may be two distinct phenomena both being influenced by an entirely distinct single factor.

National Academy of Sciences (NAS) in the United States concluded in its 1986 report, titled Population Growth and Economic Development, that it is misleading to equate poverty with population growth per se. It found that the claim that population growth led to resource exhaustion was mistaken and it pointed out that to a great extent environmental problems could be resolved by appropriate government policies designed to correct market failure. This study was later confirmed by the Independent Inquiry Report in to Population and Development (IIRPD) commissioned by the Australian Government in 1994. It acknowledged a positive correlation between population growth and sustainable development.

The World Bank’s World Development Report (1984) and the National Research Council (1986) made almost the same conclusions and as appraised by Dr. Nancy Birdsall, saying that “Rapid population growth can slow development, but only under specific circumstances and generally with limited or weak effects” (Birdsall, 1988).

Another study conducted by T.N. Srinivasan in 1988 concluded that “many of the alleged deleterious consequences (of population growth) result more from inappropriate policies and institutions than from the rapid population growth.” (Srinivasan, 1988). He further stated that “policy reform and institutional change are called for, rather than policy interventions in private fertility decisions to counter these effects”

In the 1990’s, more studies were done to further investigate the relationship between population and economics. In a study in 1995 done by Kelley and Schmidt, it concluded that while birth-rate reductions will have an immediate positive impact on economic growth due to a reduction in child-rearing expenditures, the impacts however will be reversed in 15 years time, when there will be fewer people entering their productive workforce years. This is true now (15 years later) when many countries who aggressively advocated population control are now even hiring overseas to support the health needs of their ever-increasing elderly population.

Kelly and Schmidt did another study in 2000, stating that while population does matter, the impact varies from decade to decade. As a determining variable of long-term economic stability, population’s impact is notable but not remarkable. Population’s impact can be positive or negative, in the short-term of economic prosperity, but only depending on the country’s specific political and economic institutions.

In other words, while Overpopulation can affect (whether positive or negative) the occurrence of poverty, most, if not all studies, still conclude, that what contributes to the existence of poverty are still the political and market forces within a country or region of the world.

The Limited Resources and Overpopulation

A reasonable concern with overpopulation is its potential strain to the perceived limited resources of the world. Among the many issues being cited is the incidence of hunger. The concept of overpopulation being the major cause of hunger in the world (particularly in Africa where it is the highest) is being presented as a justification for population control.

Overpopulation does not simply imply “too much number of people” but it must also consider the “number of people” with reference to something, such as “too much number of people for a piece of land, or a piece of cropland”.

One would therefore expect that if a population per cropland is low, it may obviously lead to a better food supply and therefore absence of hunger or at least signs of malnutrition.

On a study done by the World Resources Institute (1992-1993), Trinidad and Tobaga for example show the lowest percentage of stunted children under five and Guatemala has the highest percentage of stunted children. What is interesting though is that Trinidad and Tobaga has a cropland per person ratio which is half of Guatemala’s only. (Cropland-per-person is a key human population density indicator). One would expect that Guatemala, with a much higher cropland per person ratio would enjoy a much better nutrition indicator than its fellow Central American nation. How come this is not so?

The same is true with South Korea where the cropland per person ratio is way lower than the cropland per person ratio in Bangladesh. However, incidence of hunger is much higher in Bangladesh than in South Korea.

In Europe for example, The Netherlands has very little land per person and yet it has eliminated the incidence of hunger, even becoming a food exporter.

One study even boldly claimed that the world produces enough food for everyone to have 3,500 calories a day (Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy, The Myth-Scarcity: The Reality — There IS Enough Food, Backgrounder, Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring 1998).

According to the Director of Institute for Food and Development Policy, Peter Rosset, food resources are abundant and are not scarce. Even in countries with excess food production, millions are starving. Overpopulation has nothing to do with it. The answer here is accessibility to readily available food.

In a book Rosset wrote, he said that “As millions of people starve, powerful myths block our understanding of the true causes of hunger and prevent us from taking effective action to end it.” (World Hunger: Twelve Myths, Rosset, 1998).

What I loved about what he wrote were these lines: "The true source of world hunger is not scarcity but policy; not inevitability but politics"and "The real culprits are economies that fail to offer everyone opportunities, and societies that place economic efficiency over compassion."

This reminded me of the news article which came out recently regarding the rotting rice being stocked at the various NFA warehouses in the country. We were initially told that we didn’t have enough supply of rice thus the justification for importing them to meet the needs. And yet it defies the previous logic, seeing warehouses(!) filled to the ceiling with sacks of rice rotting. And I thought we were running out of rice!!

For Part Two, Click here.

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