Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 38, Number 10. 22nd May 1975
Population Bomb a Dud
Population Bomb a Dud
It was billed as the 'forum of the year', but those who attended the Population Debate in the Union Hall during Capping Week found that the population bomb was a fair dinkum fizzer.
The debate actually had its origins in 1789 when Thomas Malthus published a best-seller called 'Essay on the Principle of Population'. His great appeal was that he made the poor responsible for their poverty. The poor, said Malthus, insisted on indulging in large families.
And as the population grows in the ratio of 2,4,8,16, whilst food production can only grow in the ratio of 1,2,3,4, the numbers of people will always outrun the amount of food. Starvation and poverty are the 'natural' result.
All this was, of course, ordained by God on High. The only escape, said Malthus, was for the poor to practise sexual restraint.
But Malthus' ideas were quickly contested by socialists of the time, who pointed out that the real cause of poverty and starvation was the unjust organisation of society and the unfair distribution of wealth. The solution was not sexual restraint, but social change.
If we substitute contraception for sexual restraint the same debate still rages today. The neo-Malthusians [unclear: sti] have their apologists in Cathy Wilson (Values Party) and Dr. Zogdekar (Demographic Society), while the Socialist's position is ably defended by Nancy Goddard (NZ-China Society) and Fr. John Healion (Young Christian Workers).
The symptoms were familiar — food shortages, pollution, energy crises, cholera epidemics, increased crime, exploding cities and urban sprawl. But it was the diagnosis of the sickness that distinguished the quacks from the real doctors.
Cathy Wilson's logic suggested that pollution, crime and poverty were a result of the inability of the world, because of its limited resources, to provide adequately for its large number of inhabitants. Out came the figures — 3 children arriving a second in 1980, 4 a second in 1990 and if the rate didn't slow down, our grandchildren would be sharing the world with 160 billion people.
John Healion suggested that the world could adequately provide for everyone, but the economic system under which most of the world lived was based on some people having everything, whilst others had nothing. He was backed up by Nancy Goddard, who cited the People's Republic of China as a country which had solved its poverty problem without the help of a single Western expert, while roundly condemning neo-Malthusian theories.
As late as 1960 Western population 'experts' were saying 'China quite literally cannot feed more people ... the greatest tragedy China could suffer, at the present time would be a reduction in her death rate'.
Yet today, China feeds a 100 million more people — and feeds them well. Clearly something was wrong in Western prophecies and Western analysis.
The answer was simple. China succeeded because she first overthrew the oppressive capitalist system to which her people were tied and carried through fundamental reforms leading to a rise in living standards, abolition of unemployment, a spectacular drop in mortality, increasing emancipation or women, social security and education for all By this means she has lowered her birth rate far beyond any other large country in the world.
The lesson to be learnt seems clear enough to everyone except those who have a stake in things as they stand. The Values Party pretends to be against the status quo with such calls as 'a new society is needed' or 'we want socio-economic justice throughout the world', and are now even agreeing that family planning should be in combination with social and economic development. But this development, once again, takes place inside the old framework. Nearly everywhere some efforts are being made to extend the school system, to build roads and other communications, to increase food production and to organise industrial production, but these improvements are absorbed by a small, but rapidly expanding elite and the bulk of the population remains as poor as before, if not poorer.
So if the debate proved anything, it was that anyone who is serious about solving poverty must throw away the Values Party and ideas of 'spaceship earth' and take a long hard look at the structures which are at the roots of the problem.