Population control is the practice of limiting population increase, usually by reducing the birth rate. The practice has sometimes been voluntary, as a response to poverty, or out of religious ideology, but in some times and places it has been government-mandated. This is generally conducted to improve quality of life for a society or to prevent a "Malthusian catastrophe." "Population control" has also been conducted in the name of eugenics, racism, and the economic self-interest of corporations to exploit citizens of poor countries. Given the nature of human reproductive biology, controlling the birth rate generally implies one or more of the following practices: sexual abstinence, contraception, same-sex relations, sterilization, abortion, or infanticide.
Orthodox Christian ethics
Contemporary concern about population growth would appear to be a direct contradiction between the Orthodox Christian ethical imperative to "be fruitful and multiply." In the fourth century St. John Chrysostom noted the population question and related it to the need that the sexual drive be fulfilled in marriage. "It was for two reasons that marriage was introduced; so that we may live in chastity (sophrosyne) and so that we might become parents. Of these the most important is chastity...especially today when the whole inhabited world (he oikoumene) is full of our race." Chrysostom's argument is equally relevant today. Humanity has been obedient to the divine command and has been "fruitful" and has "multiplied" and "has filled the earth" (Gen. 1:28). This raises the question for Orthodox ethics regarding the appropriate means for population control. Coercion of the individual couple's choices regarding their obligation to procreate does not seem ethically appropriate. Also, Orthodox ethics opposes the use of abortion as a birth control method. Advocating widespread abstinence from sexual relations by huge numbers of married people without contraception control methods violates some of the purposes of marriage as understood in the Orthodox Church. The use of contraceptives within marriages to space and limit offspring seems to be the appropriate ethical response. Persuasion and education are appropriate means to encourage smaller families. All Orthodox ethicists, however, would hold that respect for the freedom of each couple to decide must be considered an important and significant factor of population control policy.
United Nations Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA)
President Ronald Reagan gave his position on international population policies in the following remarks to Right to Life activists (1987):
- [A]s you may be aware, some international organizations have chosen to support abortion as a means of population control. Well, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, or UNFPA, for example, works with Chinese population programs, which include abortion. Our response to that? We cut off American funds from UNFPA and from overseas organizations that support or promote abortion. We believe population programs can and must be truly voluntary, cognizant of the rights and responsibilities of individuals and families, and respectful of religious and cultural values. Well, that means no coercive measures such as involuntary sterilization and no use of abortion for population control.2
These days the population bomb hysteria that was all the rage in the 1960s and 1970s has largely subsided. Every prediction of massive starvation, eco-catastrophe of biblical proportions, and $100 a barrel oil has been discredited by the global economic and environmental progress of the past quarter century. Intellectually, the "Malthusian limits to growth" menace is stone dead. But within the Clinton State Department, "Malthusianism" flourished. The Clinton administration allocated almost $300 million a year to international population control—or what is euphemistically described these days as "family planning." In countries ranging from India to Mexico to Nigeria to Brazil, the basic human right of couples to control their own fertility and determine their own family size has been trampled upon by the state, thanks in large part to flows of dollars and deluges of false limits-to-growth propaganda supplied by the American government. The UNFPA, however, has had a particularly demon-like presence in developing nations. Back in the Reagan years, Congress sensibly pulled out of the UNFPA because of its complicity in some of the most inhumane forms of population containment. Today the UNFPA maintains the fiction that the agency has fought coercive policies. How does one explain, then, that UNFPA once gave an award to the Chinese government for the effectiveness of its genocidal one child per couple policy? To this day no one knows precisely how many babies and women have died at the hands of the population control officials in China. What we do know is that this program will go down in history as one of the greatest abuses of human rights in the 20th century. The Chinese government's ongoing birth control policy has already claimed an estimated 5-10 million victims. An estimated 80-90 percent of the victims have been girls. UNFPA still spends millions each year on population control programs in China.
The following is UNFPA's overview of China as found on their website:
- The Law of Population and Family Planning of the People's Republic of China went into effect in 2002, introducing client-centered and service-oriented approaches to reproductive health services. Introduction of the law has been considered among the most critical factors influencing the future direction of population policy as well as the provision of family planning services. The law spells out rights and responsibilities for clients, service providers and family planning officials, as well as providing for sexual health education for students. Most provinces have also formulated their own regulations. A client-centered, quality reproductive health approach, pioneered in 32 counties with UNFPA assistance, has been replicated in over 800 other counties (one third of the country's total), resulting in its incorporation into national policy. With a total fertility rate of about 2 lifetime births per woman, China has sustained a reduction in population growth over the past three decades. However, the current total population of 1.3 billion is still a key concern. The government views population issues as critical to the country's development.3
Sheldon Richmond wrote:4
- The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) was established in 1969, shortly after the contemporary hysteria about overpopulation was launched with Paul Ehrlich's book The Population Bomb. Since that time, the UNFPA has propagandized the world with the fallacies that the world is becoming overburdened with people, that the developed world's population is depleting natural resources, and that the developing world is doomed to poverty unless it can curtail its population growth. Accordingly, the fund has spent almost $2.5 billion on its various activities, which range from collecting data to sponsoring family-planning programs.
- But are those programs really necessary, let alone ethical? Are there really too many people? Famine, deepening poverty, disease, environmental degradation, and resource depletion are adduced as the symptoms of overpopulation. Yet on no count does the evidence support the anti-population lobby's case. On the contrary, the long-term trend for each factor is positive and points to an even better future.
- Television pictures of starving, emaciated Africans are heartbreaking, but they are not evidence of overpopulation. Since 1985 we have witnessed famines in Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, and elsewhere. Those nations have one thing in common: they are among the least densely populated areas on earth. Although their populations are growing, the people are not hungry because the world can't produce enough food. They are hungry because civil war and primitive economies keep food them from producing food. In the 20th century there has been no famine that has not been caused by civil war, irrational economic policies, deliberate retribution, or natural disasters. Moreover, the number of people affected by famine compared to the number affected during the late 19th century has fallen—not just as a percentage of the world's population but in absolute numbers.
- Food is abundant. Output has more than doubled in the last 30 years. Per capita food supplies have increased 25 percent in the developing world, where the world's population growth is occurring. The real cost has declined. And what's true of food is also true of other resources.
- The claim that "uncontrolled" population growth depletes resources has no more foundation than the catastrophists' other arguments. For centuries, resources of every kind, including energy, have been growing more plentiful and less expensive. In the developing world, total fertility rates dropped by 40 percent. The population controllers credit their efforts, while still complaining that not enough is being done. But the beginning of the fall in those rates preceded their campaign. Moreover, there is a simpler explanation: as economies develop and become richer, people tend to have fewer children. In preindustrial, agricultural economies, children produce wealth as farm workers, and later they provide retirement security for their parents. Children are assets. A large number of children correlates with wealth. In developed economies, children consume wealth, for education and the like. They are an expense. Thus people tend to have fewer kids. A low fertility rate is an effect, not a cause, of development.
How the new demography of depopulation will shape our future
Newt Gingrich, in his review, wrote:5
- [Ben Wattenberg's Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future] reports conclusively that the world will have far fewer people than was expected even a decade ago, that in numbers and age and gender patterns this smaller population will be distributed in ways that will be significant, and that the implications for the environment, the economy and national security will be quite profound.
- The biggest news is that in sheer numbers the human race is now likely to peak at 8.5 billion people, rather than at the earlier United Nations' projection of 11.5 billion. Even the U.N. demographers now agree that the population explosion will never reach the numbers they had once projected.
- The biggest reason for this dramatic decline was captured in an earlier book by Mr. Wattenberg, "The Birth Dearth." Women are simply having fewer children and the result is that in some countries population is already starting to go down.
- [... i]n order to sustain the current population, the average woman would have to have 2.33 children. Falling below that average will result in a population decline. Today some 40 countries are already below the replacement rate and Mr. Wattenberg expects virtually every country to be below the replacement rate by the end of our lifetime.
- Fascinatingly, after all the focus on Chinese compulsory population control, it is not China that has had the most rapid change in birthrates among Asian countries. That honor goes to South Korea, where women now average only 1.17 children (even lower than Japan). China has dropped to 1.825 and is still declining.
- Mr. Wattenberg makes so many fascinating points in this thin book that it is impossible to cover them all in a review. However, a few deserve to be singled out.
- Europe is going to lose population dramatically by mid-century and therefore become significantly older. This will almost certainly entail a significant shift in power and in economic competitiveness away from an aging and shrinking European Union.
- Mexico is on the verge of dropping below the replacement rate; over the next generation this will almost certainly slow the rate of migration to the United States.
- Russia is facing a demographic crisis, with the shortest lifespan for males of any industrial country and a catastrophic decline in women willing to bear children.
- Mr. Wattenberg highlights the intellectual dishonesty of [...] environmentalists and their factual mistakes over the last generation. Mr. [Paul] Ehrlich had predicted famines beginning in the 1970s. They simply haven't happened. The global warming projections all assumed a population of 11.5 billion. If the human race peaks at only 8.5 billion people—3 billion fewer than predicted—and then starts a long-term decline, human environmental impact will be much reduced.
- [Also highlighted is] the unique role of the United States as the one industrial country that will keep growing. American population growth is a combination of the highest birthrate of any industrial country (2.01 children per female) and our willingness to accept immigration. Mr. Wattenberg projects that the United States will continue to grow in economic and other forms of power, while Europe and Japan decline dramatically. In the Wattenberg vision of the future, there are only three large nations by 2050: China, India and the United States.
He concludes by noting that the less developed countries could in fact experience a "demographic dividend." He notes that poor countries with falling fertility rates are growing wealthier quicker than are the rich modern nations. In the meantime the New Demography is bad for most Western nations. Thus the need to spread the vision of freedom and democracy around the world, lest non- (or anti-) democratic nations (Islamic states for example) win by default, by simply taking over due to sheer force of numbers. No one really knows where these trends will take us. Much of Mr. Wattenberg's book could be called speculative, but it is important that good minds pay close attention to these changes.
- 1 "Malthusian catastrophe" is a return to subsistence-level conditions as a result of agricultural (or, in later formulations, economic) production being eventually outstripped by growth in population. Theories of "Malthusian catastrophe" predict over several generations or centuries.
- 2 Remarks at a White House Briefing for Right to Life Activists, July 30, 1987
- 3 United Nations Population Fund: Overview: China
- 4 The United Nations & Global Intervention
- 5 Warnings for a shrinking world reviewed by Newt Gingrich
- Harakas, Stanley. Living the Faith. Light and Life Publishing Co., 1997. ISBN 978-0937032923
- Wattenberg, Ben. Fewer: How the New Demography of Depopulation Will Shape Our Future. Ivan R. Dee (Publisher), 2004. ISBN 978-1566636063
- Moore, Stephen. Don't Fund UNFPA Population Control
- Richmond, Sheldon. The United Nations and Global Intervention
- Gingrich, Newt. Warnings for a Shrinking World: Geopolitics, Environment and World Economy Affected
- Reagan, Ronald. Public Papers of President Ronald W. Reagan
- United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Population, Health and Socio-Economic Indicators/Policy Developments—China
- Population Control at Wikipedia