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Design Review: Volume 5, Issue 2 (May-June 1953)

The Next Million

page 39

The Next Million

In commenting upon the fact that the population of the world is increasing at the rate of over 20 millions a year, Sir Roy Price, High Commissioner for the United Kingdom, pointed out in a recent address that every day there were 60,000 more mouths to be fed.

That is a lot of mouths—about as many as there are in Hamilton and Wanganui combined. So that in every one of our 5-day 40-hour working weeks something equivalent in population to another Auckland comes into existence. And in a little over a month—a month, mind you—the population of the world has increased by two millions—the population of New Zealand.

Arresting figures, aren't’ they? But consider the High Commissioner's further comment that even before the war three-quarters of the world's people were underfed. Since then there has been a further deterioration because, while the population has increased by 12 per cent., food production has increased by only 9 per cent. As Sir Roy Price said, this gives us no reason to comfort ourselves but it does give striking emphasis to the important fact that the world economic outlook favours the food-producing countries.

For us in New Zealand this should be an inspiration. It certainly is a challenge. But can it shake our full-bellied complacency? We don't seem to be aware of the tens of thousands—even hundreds of millions of hungry eyes looking outwards from Asia where the difference between life and death can often be measured in a few grains of rice—where the failure of a crop means certain death for thousands. In face of these conditions can two million New Zealanders hold this favoured country indefinitely? The preponderance of well informed overseas opinions says “No!” What do New Zealanders think about it?

Of course most of us never think about it at all. But there are a few who get a creepy feeling in the back when they hear comparisons between the standards of living here and elsewhere in the world. Even the steep rise in recent years in the population of our own country could easily result, in time, in reduced standards for all of us. Dr. K. B. Cumberland, Professor of Geography at Auckland, gave point to this in a broadcast marking the attainment of our second million in 1952 when he said that at present rates of growth it may take only 25 to 30 years to add another million to our population. We topped the first million in 1908, after 70 years. The second million followed in 44 years and now we are to have a million more mouths to feed by 1980?

Dr. Cumberland went on to say that not only is New Zealand's population growing faster than ever before—“it's growing faster even than India's or China”. It has grown by a quarter of a million in the last seven years. Growth is now at the rate of 44,000 every year, nearly 1000 a week. If it continues to grow at this rate it won't be much more than twenty years—unless there's rapidly expanded production—before we eat in this country all we grow. Unless production increases as fast as population—and it's not doing that—we'll soon have no exports. No exports, no imports. What are the prospects? What do you think? Where's that new car, those dress materials, that bottle of whisky, that new dinner service—where are they to come from if we've not got butter, cheese and meat surplus to our domestic needs?”

That's quite a startling statement. Yet it doesn't seem to have drawn much interest. Certainly not as much as the latest news about Dalray. Let's consider it a moment. If proportionately our population is growing faster than that of India or China—and it is—then we shall need to adjust our thinking about the eugenics of those two countries. For our assumptions about the effects of the general acceptance of birth control apparently do not hold water. Our own experience has shown that an improved knowledge about health with a lower infant mortality rate and a much longer life span can counterbalance a more general practice of birth control. And what is more, the idea that it is the poor that have the children has been falsified by the fact that New Zealand, with the highest average standard of living, has one of the highest rates of population increase. It's on the cards, therefore, that when the Chinese and Hindus cotton on to the idea of birth control and can provide higher health and living standards their population growth may be even higher. This has already happened in Russia. In Britain the population is increasing with the greater spread of the benefits of the welfare state. And closer to home the Maori race, which doubled its numbers in 50 years, has speeded up its rate of growth still further following upon health and social security benefits.

What we do about this in the next 20 to 30 years is not just of domestic concern. It is part of a world wide problem. To those who give it any thought it is a frightening prospect—not so much because of the difficulties of the problem itself but because every one from the Government down behaves as though the problem didn't exist. But for the planner, or for anyone who likes to look ahead in a constructive way, it is highly stimulating. For New Zealand suddenly emerges as one of the most important countries in the world. For this is an age when food is the most sought-after commodity. The Industrial Revolution laid emphasis on the coexistence of iron ore and coal. The motor age added oil and rubber. Food as a commodity was only incidental. But today the production of industry is so great that it is becoming an embarrassment. An economy like that of the U.S.A., when geared to war, can regard peace as an even greater danger. For the difference between the demands of war and peace can mean wholesale unemployment and all the other evils of deflation. A recent statement that all the cars, trucks and tractors in this country could be replaced with new models in fifteen working days gives some idea of the immensity of production in the motor industry of the U.S.A. But an industry geared to such a high pitch as this is very vulnerable. We can go without ears and refrigerators but everyone must have food. And New Zealand produces more food per capita than any other country in the world.

This is not to say that our primary industries are not vulnerable. They are. Take butter as an example.

Continued on page45)