Economics Deconstructed-1st Place
By Nathan Marcus Lobow, Christ University
Boon or Bane:
A Study into the Dynamics of Population Control
On the 5th of October 2022, at a Dussehra rally held in Nagpur, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) chief Mohan Bhagwat has flagged the need for a “comprehensive population control policy” that applies to all “equally”, and added it was in the national interest to keep an eye on “population imbalance” (Tiwary). This was not the first time an individual or organization has put forward a demand to introduce population control measures as part of state policy. The last time India had such a state policy was during the torrid times of the Emergency where “Nasbandi” was enforced upon the Indian populace. But what really would be the outcomes of such a policy on the demographics of this large nation? Is their any precedence for such an instance of a state curbing its own population? And more importantly, is there really a need to worry about population growth or are there more pressing concerns in today’s day and age?
The idea of overpopulation being a threat to human survival first came about by classical economist Thomas Robert Malthus. In his essay “Principle of Population”, Malthus had put forward his theory of overpopulation wherein he had stated that population growth and food supply were interlinked. As the population kept growing geometrically (as per his theory) the food supply would not be able to sustain the growth. As a result, there would be a disequilibrium within food supply and population growth and lead to mass starvation. This could only be corrected through positive checks or preventive checks. Positive checks were believed by him to be nature’s reaction to the rise in population such as wars, famines, droughts, floods etc while preventive checks were human methods such as late marriages, self-control and celibacy which could also artificially check untamed population growth (Malthus).
Graph of Malthusian Theory of Overpopulation (D)
Post-independence in India, the leaders under Prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru sought to implement population control measures that would coexist and help in strengthening economic development. Accordingly, the Indian government allocated 6.5 million Rupees to fund such a program (Commission and India, 1952). It emphasized the providing of contraceptive services among the couples to limit their family size. Although the existing hospitals and health care facilities made birth control information available, the government did not make any aggressive efforts to encourage the parents to use contraceptives to reduce their family size. The same strategy of non-coercion was used by successive government apart from the brief above mentioned period of the Emergency from 1975-77 (Wang).
Examples of Population Measures in the 20th Century
So far, we have been able to differentiate population control measures by the state into two categories. One is the method of educating and spread awareness, which is not coercing in nature. Encouraging family planning, incentives for small families, awareness drives etc are examples of such methods. Indonesia is an example of a nation which has successfully implemented such measures. A year after the formal recognition of its independence in 1950, Indonesia had 41.48 live births per 1000 people. As of 2022, the number now stands at 17.095 which would mean a fall of nearly 243%. (Hull et al.) This result is a testament to the success of the Indonesia family planning programme.
Criticisms of Coercive Population Control Measures
When looking at historical examples of coercive population control measures as state policy, one need not look further than the famous (or rather infamous) ‘One Child Policy’ of the People’s Republic of China. The 1960’s had seen a massive population boom in the country which brought the population to a total of 600 million. As a result, the 1970’s saw the state introduce a commission for planning for families which encouraged family planning, contraceptives and birth control amongst the population. However, these measures were ineffective and the population continued booming. After the death of Mao Zedong, the government switched its tactics and brought in the ‘One Child Policy’ in 1979 (Rodrigues). The included special rights and privileges for those who followed the policy and punishments for those who did not in a classic carrot and stick approach. This policy which was flagged multiple times both within and outside the country led to major shifts in the demographics of the nation in terms of population and sex balance. The consequences were a skewed sex ratio (from 107 in 1979 to a peak of 117.8 in 2006), which is yet to reach pre-1979 levels and an ageing population (from a median age of 20.5 in 1979 to 38.5 in 2022) who’s median age is expected to be 50 by 2046.
After years of the implementation of the policy, the state finally softened its stance to allow a ‘Two child policy’ in 2016 which was later changed to a ‘Three child policy’ in 2021. The reasons given were the above-mentioned lopsided sex ratio and the ageing population. While the state had never directly acknowledged the failure of the policy, economists from across the globe are in a consensus that the policy was a miserable failure.
Is the Earth Really Overpopulated?
Thomas Malthus and his ideas still have lived on over the years. They have been used to weaponize xenophobia, racism and intolerance through paranoia and fear while having no basis in science or economics. Rather apart from being used for the aforementioned heinous reasons, they also serve as a smokescreen to avoid looking at the root of the problem, which is inequality, wastage of resources and the weight of a colonial past which affects many countries and social groups. Population control is not an issue on its own, rather it is a product of multiple other issues that plague the world. It would be fair to state that economics, which focuses on productivity and distribution of limited resources, should look at a population as another resource (either a current one or a potential one requiring education and development). And nothing could be more resourceful than looking at populations in this manner. of 34 per 1000 women as compared to 10 per 1000 women in high income nations. Additionally, the global birth rate has been seeing a consistent fall since the 1960’s with many nations such as the Russian Federation and Japan seeing a drop in their populations.
Thomas Malthus and his ideas still have lived on over the years. They have been used to weaponize xenophobia, racism and intolerance through paranoia and fear while having no basis in science or economics. Rather apart from being used for the aforementioned heinous reasons, they also serve as a smokescreen to avoid looking at the root of the problem, which is inequality, wastage of resources and the weight of a colonial past which affects many countries and social groups. Population control is not an issue on its own, rather it is a product of multiple other issues that plague the world. It would be fair to state that economics, which focuses on productivity and distribution of limited resources, should look at a population as another resource (either a current one or a potential one requiring education and development). And nothing could be more resourceful than looking at populations in this manner.
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