blunt essays with sharp points
Sep 5, 2001 5:55 PM–Economy is usually the primary factor determining variations in population growth. When local economic conditions go from bad to good, the local death rate lowers, as food, shelter and medicine become affordable.
Included in the lowered death rate is a lowered infant mortality rate. But initially, the birth rate doesn’t change, resulting in a baby boom. If the good local economic conditions persist for a generation, the birth rate lowers to balance the lower infant mortality rate, as parents begin to see that more of their children will survive to adulthood.
When children are a local economic asset, the birth rate is highest, as in a society with a labor-intensive economy. But when children are a local economic burden, the birth rate is lowest, as in a mechanized society suffering from recession. And when children are neither a local economic asset nor a burden, then (and only then) does the birth rate depend primarily on well known social factors such as:
- religious and cultural attitudes encouraging procreation
- opposition to birth control (by most major religions)
- taboos against women working
- the phenomenon of post-war baby booms
- machismo (yes, really, its effects are significant enough to be considered)
- religious and cultural attitudes discouraging procreation
- materialism (and corresponding disinterest in spending one’s time raising children)
- educational freedom, especially for women
- concerns about a child’s quality of life
- political programs (criminalization, taxation, propaganda)
- encouraging procreation to increase military and industrial strength
- discouraging procreation to avoid future destabilizing economic crisis
Peter Singer’s idea is that, with enough charitable giving, we can (and should) put an end to people dying of poverty by universal availability of food, shelter and medicine above poverty levels. Let's look at some of the effects this would have on population growth: greater longevity of those already alive; one-generation baby boom while the lowered infant mortality rate is out of balance with the birth rate; longer fertility periods in adults (first, due to general longevity, and, a generation later, also due to reduced risk of childbearing because many fewer are conceived to counter infant mortality); greater demand for world agriculture, including labor intensive agriculture (raising a child’s value as an economic asset). On the political front, for economic reasons, many countries receiving this enormous influx of charitable aid will further encourage procreation so they can take their cut. Some which are overpopulated already may recognize the danger of future collapse and discourage procreation out of fear of destablization. Meanwhile, charitable giving will change very little about religious and cultural attitudes. Singer’s solution will leave population continuing to chase the food supply until we wreck the environment or the economy.
For there to be a real end to world poverty, there would need to be a stable world economy in which raising many children is economically discouraged. So you might think the money would be better spent on mechanization to reduce demand for mass labor. But to avoid a crash, the growth needs to be reversed, and for that, raising children needs to be an economic burden, not merely less of an asset. But the more you mechanize and raise the world standard of living the less of an economic burden children are, except in times of recession. So change in cultural attitudes is also necessary. We can employ education (or propaganda, if you like) to change religious and cultural attitudes (encourage materialism and education and employment of women). But world religions and cultures will be hard to change. Currently, the majority values population growth, and they will continue to dominate with sheer numbers. World religious and cultural attitudes will finally change when our situation becomes so ridiculous that a majority of the world’s population rejects them. What that will take is an experience of widespread world poverty or environmental collapse beyond anything we've seen so far. And, once that occurs, the population will drop dramatically, and the whole cycle will begin again (if humanity survives it) with a post-apocalyptic baby boom. There is no Utopian world culture which does not contain the economic and cultural seeds of its own destruction.
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