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Obsolete Thinking — Again! July 15, 2010

Posted by Maddog in Prolife Issues, Religion and Social Issues.
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In a recent editorial entitled, “Two-pronged war against poverty,” Sun Star Cebu, a daily newspaper, claimed that the Philippines’ rising population is “one of the basic causes of pervasive poverty and which has become central to the reproductive health controversy.”

This is false and obsolete thinking.

Numerous economic studies have shown that there is no causal link or correlation between poverty and population growth. In the paper “A Primer on the proposed Reproductive Health, Responsible Parenthood, and Population Development Consolidated Bill,” Dr. Roberto de Vera cites Nobel Prize winner Simon Kuznets’ 1966 book, Modern Economic Growth: Rate, Structure and Spread, which concluded: “no clear association appears to exist in the present sample of countries, or is likely to exist in other developed countries, between rates of growth of population and of product per capita.”

More recent studies have supported Kuznets’ original conclusion and applied it to all nations in general. De Vera cites five more:

“(1) the 1992 Ross Levine and David Renelt study of the relationship between growth and its determinants found no significant effect of population growth on economic growth;

(2) the 1994 Jeff King and Lant Pritchett study arrived at a similar finding where they allowed the effect of population on economic growth to vary according to the level of development and resource scarcity;

(3) in a 1996 review of the population-growth-poverty relationship, Dennis Ahlburg points out that studies have shown population growth has little or no effect on poverty;

(4) in a 2004 study examining the determinants of long-term growth, Gernot Dopelhoffer, Ronald Miller, and Xavier Sala-I-Martin, found that average annual population growth from 1960-1990 was not robustly correlated with economic growth;

(5) the 2007 Eric Hanushek and Ludger Wommann study found that total fertility rates, which can be seen as an alternative measure of population growth, did not have a statistically significant association with population growth.”

Dr. De Vera goes on to say:

Similar conclusions have been arrived at by the US National Research Council in 1986 and in the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) Consultative Meeting of Economists in 1992.

Moreover, these studies support Kuznets’s explanation of why no direct relationship could be expected between population growth and economic growth. Population growth and economic growth are linked through a “common set of political and social institutions.” Thus, any “direct causal relation” between them “may be quite limited.” Moreover, any relationship that is measured cannot be used as a basis for managing population to affect economic growth.

It is important to note that even if there are recent econometric studies that show that population growth is negatively correlated with per capita income growth in the Philippine case (i.e. an increase in the population growth rate leads to decrease in the per capita income growth rate), these studies cannot conclude that higher population growth rates causes lower per capita income growth rates. It is more probable that there are intervening factors such as those mentioned by Kuznets that may cause economic growth. This these studies cannot serve as bases for a policy that aims to reduce population growth  to raise per capita income growth.

For the Sun Star to say that population growth causes poverty is unscientific. Overpopulation is clearly a myth.

The real causes of poverty in the Philippines are massive corruption, bad governance, economic mismanagement, indiscriminate debt servicing, greed, and war (in Mindanao). The so-called “reproductive health”  bill and its population control measures will not address these issues;  but the Church’s social teaching — if put into practice — certainly will.



1. jayashkal - July 16, 2010

Just substitute Philippines for Egypt, Catholics for Muslims, etc.

While corruption, including mismanagement of the economy & bad governance continue the poverty cycle. Common sense dictates that a finite resource, whether viewed from a national level or from a personal level when ‘shared’ by an infinite number of consumers would exacerbate [financial viewpoint] poverty.

It makes more sense to have one child and be able to afford to raise that child properly, sent that child to the best school, feed that child, clothe that child… otherwise we will be just indiscriminately bringing into this world people who will just fight for the finite resources; instead of contributing to it.

Gone are the days that more labour [i.e., children] equates to financial stability; as in agricultural economies. The net effect now is more population equates to more consumers; especially of non-renewable energies.

if the Philippines is 90% Catholics, how come the Catholic teaching of responsible parenthood, and other social teachings [no to corruption in public & private lives, for example] has nil effect? Isn’t it about time that we respect the programs of the government in terms of controlling the spiralling population growth? While overpopulation is just one of the problems of the country, we can no longer afford to have more & then sent them off to be OFWs. We need to be more responsible in bringing people in this world; as individuals we should have a choice on the matter whether we are Catholics or not.

Maddog - July 16, 2010

You are entitled to your opinions on the cause of poverty, but they simply do not square with the scientific evidence. There is simply no causal link between poverty and population growth/density/size. No one has ever been able to demonstrate such a link. In fact, the evidence clearly shows that other factors such as bad governance and massive corruption are the real causes of poverty, not population growth.

Take note too that the people “sharing: finite resources are NOT infinite. They are most certainly finite. And when you consider the vast amount of physical material that can be turned into resources vis-a-vis the number of consumers, those resources may as well be finite. We are nowhere close to depleting essential resources at all. Not unless, of course, you are willing to make predictions about the future 10,000 years from now (which you cannot reliably do).

Remember that resources are man-made, not static. Something becomes a resource when man finds a use for it. Oil, for example, was useless and depressed property values until man found a way to process and use it; then it became a valuable resources. Silicon too was practically worthless until man found a use for it.

The only infinite thing is man’s ingenuity. Since matter is never destroyed but only transformed, man will never run out of the raw material from which to create resources.

By the way, population control is NOT the same as family planning. Population control is ocercive, useless deadly and immoral means, and is imposed on a large scale, often with disastrous results. Family planning is a localized method that respects the will of individual families. It is not a cure for national poverty. It cannot be since poverty is caused by other facts (which I have already enumerated).

As for your comment that the Church’s teachings have “nil effect,” that’s because not enough people are practicing it. Why? Perhaps partly because of well-funded organizations who work to subvert it and deceive people with overpopulation propaganda.

Pushing the population control agenda is NOT a harmless thing. It diverts effort and resources from addressing the real causes of poverty (thus perpetuating poverty), and results in coercive and deadly policies that harm families and violate human rights.

Let’s stick to the evidence, shall we? Unfounded opinions and speculation are NOT a good basis for national policy.

abrahamvllera - July 17, 2010

Really now, is the world “overpopulated”?

“Sustainable development” is a late 80’s buzzword which today is at the heart of the bickering between pro-life and anti-life advocates. It refers to development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” (U.N. Brundtland Report)

From that definition, it becomes clear why “sustainable development” is such a bone of contention for pro-life and anti-life followers, and that is because, for anti-life advocates, “sustainable development” cannot be had without first “stabilizing population.” (Credit: Nicholas Eberstadt). In the words of a former director of the U.N. Population Fund, it ,means “stabilization of world population at the lowest possible level, within the shortest possible time.”

Since then, as Nicholas Eberstadt in his “Population Sense and Nonsense,” AEI Online September 2002 says: “The quest to stabilize world population has been enthusiastically applauded by a wide array of international institutions and eminent persons: Kofi Annan and Warren Buffett, the World Bank and the U.S. State Department, the Ford Foundation and Al Gore.”

But it’s not “population stabilization” that the proponents are really after; otherwise, they’d do something about the alarming decline of populations in Europe, Japan, and the Russian Federation.

What the proponents are really after is birth control. These people hate babies. Period.

According to Nicholas Eberstadt, the quest to “stabilize world population” is anchored upon four premises not one of which is built around empirical evidence which is at the heart of the scientific method.

The first is that the world is gripped by a world population crisis, one characterized by rapid population growth, which makes even worse an already runaway “overpopulation.” Indeed, ask anybody, yes, anybody at all, even priests and bishops, and they’ll confirm this to be true: the world, and, more so our country, is “overpopulated.”

But what, really, is the case, one supported by empirical evidence? In Nicholas Eberstadt’s words: “All of these premises are highly problematic. None of them is self-evidently true. Indeed, to the extent that any of these are testable, it would appear that they are demonstrably false.”

In other words, it’s not true—using empirical evidence– that the world, or our country for that matter, is “overpopulated.”

Consider population density, which, on the surface, looks like a good criterion for “overpopulation.”

But, by that criterion, Haiti, India, and Rwanda, with population densities six times the world average would be a shoo-in for “overcrowded,” while Bangladesh, with a population density twenty times the world average would top them all.

But wait. That would make Belgium (333 persons/sq km in 1999) more “overcrowded” than Rwanda (275 persons/sq km in 1999). Similarly, The Netherlands would be more “overcrowded” than Haiti, Bermuda more “overcrowded” than Bangladesh, and Bahrain three times more “overcrowded” than India. And what do we say about Monaco, with 33,268 persons/ sq km in 1999 or a population density 700 times more than the world average?

Yet, has anyone heard anybody complaining about “overpopulation” in Monaco? Or in Belgium, the Netherlands, or Bahrain?

How about population growth? Well, sub-Saharan Africa tops them all with a population growth rate of 2.5 percent in 1995-2000. As Nicholas Eberstadt, however, points out, the U.S. had an even higher growth rate in 1790-1800. But could we say frontier America was “overpopulated”?

We could go on and on searching for demographic measures that will pinpoint the source of “overpopulation,” but it’d be an exercise in futility, “because demographic criteria cannot, by themselves, describe “overpopulation.”

Impossible. Why? Because it is a problem which has been garnished with so much misinformation, disinformation, and emotionalism.

Everyone everywhere associates “overpopulation” with hungry children, “overcrowding” with squalid living conditions and slums, “too many people” with the poor making sidewalks their “homes.”

But the proper name for these is not “overpopulation,” it is POVERTY. By no stretch of logic could it be assumed that poverty is a “population problem” simply because it is manifest in large numbers of God’s people.

2. abrahamvllera - July 17, 2010

Really now, is the world “overpopulated”? (2)

Pro-life opponents claim rapid population growth threaten future generations not only by depleting present resources to the detriment of future generations, but also by directly and adversely affecting present living conditions, resource availability, and political stability.

In other words, rapid population growth will not only dry up the oil wells, exhaust supplies of drinking water, squeeze dry the fertility of the soil, leave bald the world’s mountains, deplete the world’s fishing grounds, etc., but also screw up the political situation such that future generations will be left with nothing but a nuclear wasteland populated by people-eating and mankind-hating mutants, right?

Wrong. And for reasons that will absolutely floor you. (Credit: Nicholas Eberstadt)

In the first place, the almost quadrupling of the world’s population between 1900 and 2000, from 1.6 billion to 6 billion, has not been due to too many babies being born too soon, but because of too few people dying too late. In other words, what we’ve been having is not a “population explosion,” but a “heath explosion.”

It was NOT a case of “people suddenly breeding like rabbits, but a case of people stopping dying like flies,” in the words of Nicholas Eberstadt. In the last 50 years alone, according to estimates of the United Nations Population Division, life expectancy improved from 47 to 65 years.

Indeed, as noted British economist Angus Maddison observes: “In the year 1000, the average infant could expect to live about 24 years. A third would die in the first year of life, hunger and epidemic disease would ravage the survivors. There was an almost imperceptible rise up to 1820, mainly in Western Europe. Most of the improvement has occurred since then. Now the average infant can expect to survive 66 years.”

In the second place, this “health explosion” brings with it, not bad news, but good news. A healthier population tends to be a more productive population: healthier people learn better, work harder, and remain gainfully employed longer.

Now whether this potential to be better is, in fact, realized will depend on other factors, e.g., social and legal institutions, economic policies, general business climate. It remains, however, that the improvement in mankind’s health that triggered the “population explosion” was a boon, not a bane, economically speaking.

All other things being equal, one would have expected the health explosion to only benefit mankind by boosting economic growth, increasing income, and spreading wealth. Indeed, this is precisely what happened, so that mankind was gifted not only with a population explosion and a health explosion, but with a prosperity explosion as well.

British economist Angus Maddison, who undertook a prodigious study of world economy, notes that between 1900 and 1998 global GDP per capita (in internationally adjusted 1990 dollars) more than quadrupled.

To be sure, the improvements have not been uniformly the same all over. It remains, however, that every region of the planet became richer. Africa didn’t score as well as the others, yet its per capita GDP was roughly two and a half times higher in 1998 than it had been in 1900.

What this shows us is that, contrary to what anti-life advocates would have us believe, the last century’s population explosion had not dampened the most dramatic economic and social improvement mankind ever had. Poverty remains, no doubt about that, but it’s nowhere near what pro-life opponents would have the world believe given the near quadrupling of the population.

But that’s not all. Contrary to what our Malthusian anti-life friends predict, commodity prices actually fell rather than rose with the rapid rise in population. Yes, the world population nearly quadrupled in the period 1900-2000, the GDP per capita rose four-fold, but global economic output also rose eighteen-fold between 1900 and 1998! With everything going up, one would expect demand for , and consumption of, natural resources to also increase, and, indeed, this is what happened.

But why did the relative prices of virtually all primary commodities fell, many of them quite substantially?

Nicholas Eberstadt reports that: “Despite the tremendous expansion of the international grain trade over the past century, for example, the inflation-adjusted, dollar-denominated international price of each of the major cereals–corn, wheat, and rice–fell by over 70 percent between 1900 and 1998. By the same token: the Economist magazine’s “industrial commodity-price index”–which tracks twenty-four internationally traded metals and other commodities–registered a decline of almost 80 percent between 1900 and 1999.”

Conventional wisdom would predict that commodity prices should increase given the increase in demand brought about by the increase in population, causing the commodities to become scarce, but the prices fell. Why?

Nicholas Eberstadt says there are sound explanations for this paradox, but one thing’s sure: what anti-life advocates say about population growth resulting in increasing resource scarcity is, quite simply, wrong.

3. abrahamvllera - July 17, 2010

The ultimate resource: human resource

(What I will be saying here is not mine, but the arguments of Nicholas Eberstadt in his article “Population Sense and Nonsense” at AEI Online (http://www.aei.org/issue/14294) September 1, 2002. Nicholas Eberstadt is a Henry Wendt Scholar in Political Economy at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. Eberstadt, demographer and economist, studied at Harvard and the London School of Economics.)

In the last two articles, I spoke about “sustainable development” and its hatchet man “population stabilization,” two 80s buzzwords which have become today’s “gospel truth,” proclaiming the nonsense that the world is in the midst of a population explosion, and that, at the rate the world population in increasing, nothing will be left for future generations to live on.

In what follows, I will try to show our readers how these prophets of doom have it all wrong, that what we actually have been having is not a “population explosion,” but a “health explosion”; what we have been having is not a case of “too many babies being born too soon,” but “too few people dying too late.”

Not only that, we have been blessed not only with “a worldwide surge in health levels and an unprecedented and extraordinary improvements in material living standards over the past century, and over the past few decades in particular, but also with a pervasive and dramatic (albeit highly uneven) increases in nutrition levels, literacy levels, and levels of general educational attainment.”

These inter-related trends augur well for “human capital,” what others would call “human resources”—“the human potential to generate a prosperity based upon knowledge, skills, organization, and other innately human capabilities,” a resource that “are, in practice renewable, and, in theory, inexhaustible.”

Alas, dark forces are out to rain on our parade. In the past five years, the country has been divided down the middle by the pernicious and persistent appearance on the national scene of one “reproductive health” bill after another.

In two previous articles “Really now, is the world ‘overpopulated’?” I described the thinking, prevalent in all the world, about “sustainable development”: how the world is supposed to be in the midst of a world population crisis–a crisis defined by rapid population growth, which is taxing an already “overpopulated” world.

I also described the prevalent belief that the present rates of world population growth not only jeopardize the ability of future generations to meet their needs, but are having “direct and immediate adverse repercussions on living standards, resource availability, and political stability.”

In both articles, I described Nicholas Eberstadt’s arguments about how both claims simply have not been based on empirical evidence, and, in Eberstadt’s words “are highly problematic, none of them [being] self-evidently true; Indeed, to the extent that any of these are testable, it would appear that they are demonstrably false.”

But, if there’s nothing to prove the truth of the two prevalent thinking above, why do the beliefs persist?

That’s the question RH bill advocates should answer. Just as important is the follow-up question: if there’s nothing to support the two beliefs, how could proponents of the RH bill insist that the solution is to lower the birth rates to mitigate the adverse economic, resource, and political consequences of rapid population growth?

On the other hand, for the sake of argument, granting that the proffered solution is the correct one, how valid is the assumption that population “doctors” know which public action will lower the population? In the first place, is there such a thing, that is, a public action that will lower the population?

The question needs to be asked because demographers have been studying child-bearing patterns through history, yet they remain unable to explain why fertility changes have occurred in the past, much less pinpoint which buttons need to be pushed to get the desired results.

If demographers throughout history have not been able to do this, how could RH bill proponents pretend to know now?

To illustrate, 200 years ago in Europe, “secular fertility decline”—the sustained, long-run shift from big families to small ones—showed up for the first time. What baffled the demographers, however, is that it did not begin in England and Wales, the most likely place for the phenomenon to happen because of the people in these two places being open, literate, and industrialized, but in France, of all places, which, at that time, was impoverished, overwhelmingly rural, predominantly illiterate, and, to top it all, Catholic. What this experience shows is that the “modernization” model does not account for the fertility decline.

Neither does, it seem, any of the alternative models, suggesting that yes, there exist plausible explanations, but these contradict each other to some degree, and fail to fit some significant part of the facts. This is as true now as it was in Europe 200 years ago.

Yet this did not stop Al Gore and company from assuming the following factors to be securing sustained fertility reductions: high literacy rates and educational levels, especially for women; low infant mortality rates; and easy access to affordable birth control techniques everywhere.

As women become more educated, Al Gore and company believe that they are emboldened to make decisions about the number of children they like to have. With low infant mortality, parents find less the need to have many children to cushion the possibility that some may not reach maturity.

Sounds plausible, with the only problem that they’re not backed up with empirical evidence on the ground.

Mongolia, for instance, had double Tanzania’s adult illiteracy rate in 1998, but Tanzania had more than twice Mongolia’s Total Fertility Rate (TFR). Tunisia and Rwanda had almost identical female illiteracy rate in 1998, yet Rwanda’s TFR is three times more than Tunisia’s. Bangladeshi female illiteracy rate is at 70 percent, yet its TFR fell by almost half between 1980 and 1998.

Neither does a study of the infant mortality establish a correlation such as one Al Gore suggests.

And neither does a study of the relationship between fertility and the availability of modern contraceptives (or national programs to subsidize or encourage their use). In the early 1990s, the rate of contraceptive use by Zimbabwe women 15– 49 years old was three times higher than Romania’s, yet Romania had a TFR of 1.4 to Zimbabwe’s 4.1. Syria’s rate of contraceptive use was higher than Lithuania’s, yet Syria had a TFR three times higher than Lithuania’s.

So, if literacy levels, infant mortality, nor prevalence of contraceptive use do not explain fertility decline, what do?

Nicholas Eberstadt believes that it is the parents who are the single best predictor of TFRs. It is parents, not pills, that has the last word on family size. To national population planners, this pose an embarrassing question: if such is the case, aren’t national population programs, at best, a hit-or-miss affair? The answer has to be “yes,” unless the government embarks on a forcible population reduction program such as one China has.

Which means that, applying the above arguments to the Philippine case, the government must make an important decision: either it leaves the decision to parents and accept a 50-50 percent chance of success, or it must do it like China does.

There is no middle way.

Unfortunately for us, the RH bill, at least as it was worded as RH Bill No 5043, is definitely coercive. It will put to prison parents who obstruct the so-called “right” of their kids, even high school ones, to contraceptive use.

It will force companies to provide, on demand, contraception to employees. It will put to prison government health care workers who refuse to have anything to do with contraceptives.

This guarantees we will miss out on the extraordinary opportunity Nicholas Eberstadt believes is available for us only with the right tapping of one inexhaustible, infinitely renewable resource for economic growth: the human resource.

In the process, we will be flushing down the drain the incredible gifts God seems to have showered mankind in the last 100 years: incredible advances in health, nutrition levels, literacy levels, and levels of general educational attainment.

As a nation, we’re basically doing all right. We are not as economically well-off, at least not as yet, as many of our neighbors are, but we don’t have Thailand’s one million people living with HIV/AIDS nor Shanghai’s problem with a below-replacement level TFR.

We have a people who are clearly intent on making a determined shot for the better—the recent elections clearly showed that. We have the modern means of communication that allow for concerted national effort on anything we feel important. And, yes, we have the Church which will never falter in her mission to shepherd us.

The only thing left for us is to decide. Are we going to throw away the chance we have to do things right: harness the invaluable human resource God has given us?

Or are we allowing ourselves to be duped by dark forces with questionable agenda, who like to bring us to a situation other countries are desperately trying to extricate themselves from?

You decide.

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