Overpopulation: the result of economic inequality?

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dorajar
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Overpopulation: the result of economic inequality?

Post by dorajar » Mon Mar 12, 2007 11:20 am

Overpopulation is touted as one of our age’s gravest threats to the health of the planet, global security, and the economic advancement of third-world men and women. The rhetoric surrounding the issue is so pervasive and persuasive, that it is consistent across party lines, corporate initiatives, UN-sanctioned programs, and even among many organizations dedicated to women’s advancement. I first encountered the argument that overpopulation is the single greatest threat to humanity and the planet as an undergraduate at the University of Kansas, when I happened to pick up Robert Ornstein’s and Paul Ehrlich’s New World, New Mind. I found their arguments so compelling and convincing that they inspired me to choose “Overpopulation” as the subject of my application for the Truman Scholarship that year. My application did not end up advancing me beyond the Semi-Finalist stage, and in retrospect, I am glad. I see now how superficially I actually understood my subject matter, and how thoroughly I was buying into what amounts to a myopic and unbalanced misunderstanding of the complex cause and effect relationship between globalization and overpopulation. In short, I bought into a cultural-deficiency theory of poor and third-world women that led me to believe their “instinct” to produce as many children as possible was keeping them from achieving economic and social equality, as opposed to seeing that economic and social inequality are the cause, and poverty and burgeoning populations the effect.

As Asoka Bandarage writes in her essay, “Population and Development: Toward a Social Justice Agenda,” “The demographic explosion in the Third World, then, is a product of contradictions within the twin forces of modern technology and capitalism. These forces brought down death rates through modern technology, but they could not bring down birth rates because they increased social inequality and undermined economic security and self-sufficiency for the masses” (Silliman and King 26). This makes sense when considered alongside a timeline of population growth. Human population grew relatively slowly until the Industrial Revolution, when numbers began to grow exponentially. As technologies improved, and humans began to be considered in terms of labor potential, populations began to grow at greater and greater rates. In the West, the middle classes were the first to make the demographic transition to smaller families, as they began to enjoy the economic and social benefits of the Industrial Revolution. Historically and currently, it is the poorest people who have the greatest rates of reproduction. Bandarage gives two reasons for this: “First, in poor communities, the marginal cost of raising an additional child is very little…. Second, for poor people without other resources, children are often economic assets, not liabilities” (Silliman and King 26).

Right then and there, it should be intuitively clear that if indeed there is a population crisis and it is a simple matter of sheer numbers, the solution must be economic in nature. As long as the conditions responsible for high birth rates are present, the outcome will be inevitable. In Bandarage’s words, “Voluntary family planning has succeeded only in societies where economic security—including access to material resources, health, and education—has been improved for the general population and for women in particular” (Silliman and King 28 ). It thus seems ironic and even absurd to talk about curbing overpopulation from within an ideology that supports extreme, unbridled capitalism and its associated (and growing) global economic inequality, wherein the labor and resources of poor people are exploited for the wealth and comfort of the rich. "Population Control" within the context of capitalism will result in more and more forceful and draconian measures undertaken to deny women reproductive freedom and rights, such as the governmentally mandated use of dangerous birth control methods like Norplant and Depo-Provera.

Keep your eyes open on this one.

thrice
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Post by thrice » Mon Mar 12, 2007 11:51 am

Quite a lot of material to digest.

One of the major premises is obviously false. Economic inequality and deprivation does not cause the birth of children or overpopulation. Children are normally born as the result of sexual intercourse. All the other factors cited are merely potential obstacles to obtaining birth control, which interrupts that natural process.

I share concerns regarding government mandated birth control. However, in the case of the U.S. unlimited free medical care and family planning information is available to poor women. We have no right to dictate people's choice to have more children, but we certainly do have the right to advise them that we will not provide additional cash payments to women who choose to have additional children while having demonstrated that they cannot or will not work to support the ones they already have. As it stands now, there is a strong incentive to continue having children due to the increases in welfare payments for each additional one.

As the economic trusim goes, government taxes behavior it wishes to discourage, and subsidizes behavior it wishes to encourage.

dorajar
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Post by dorajar » Mon Mar 12, 2007 11:57 am

thrice wrote:Quite a lot of material to digest.

One of the major premises is obviously false. Economic inequality and deprivation does not cause the birth of children or overpopulation. Children are normally born as the result of sexual intercourse. All the other factors cited are merely potential obstacles to obtaining birth control, which interrupts that natural process.
Not just obstacles to obtaining birth control, but to voluntary use of birth control. When having additional children is an economic asset (not liability), and there are clear roles being played by accessibility of health care and education, especially for women, reproduction is not just a simple matter of biology.

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Post by thrice » Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:44 pm

Maybe I would need to read the original study. In pre-industrial rural America, the economy was primarily agricultural, and having large families was an advantage in increasing the number of workers available for the family "business". And of course, child mortality was high enough that most families could count on losing a couple of children in early life.

I honestly don't see the economic advantage of having large numbers of children for landless people in countries with extremely high unemployment rates. Unless the government is paying you to have more children, as we do here, what would be the benefit to the parent? I'm thinking of places where there is no work for adults, much less children.

My original response was a strict application of the cause and effect relationship. Factors that encourage or discourage an action are not the action itself, no matter how we might like to spin it.

dorajar
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Post by dorajar » Mon Mar 12, 2007 12:55 pm

thrice wrote:
I honestly don't see the economic advantage of having large numbers of children for landless people in countries with extremely high unemployment rates. Unless the government is paying you to have more children, as we do here, what would be the benefit to the parent? I'm thinking of places where there is no work for adults, much less children.
Again, it's important to realize that the marginal cost increase per child for those living in extreme poverty is negligble, compared to children living at middle-class consumption levels.

Bandarage writes in her essay, "Unlike middle-class children who remain dependent on their parents until adulthood, poor children in the Third World start to work at an early age. In rural communities, children engage ina variety of unpaid and underpaid work, including agricultural field work, export craft production, domestic work, rearing young siblings, and so on. In urban slums, many families depend entirely on the labor of children working as street vendors, beggars, thieves, and prostitutes. Such children are trapped in a catch-22: they must engage in such activities for lack of survival alternatives in the first place, and then their very labor keeps them from the schooling that might enable them to move beyond such poverty. This contributes to the intergenerational propagation of class status and the perpetuation of the cycle of poverty and high fertility." (27 Silliman and King).

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Post by CraigInTwinCities » Mon Mar 12, 2007 1:57 pm

Overpopulation has nothing to do with "economic inequality."

It's a lot more simple than that: too many people having babies.

Though personally I don't see that problem being much of a problem in America. Maybe in India, maybe in China. Maybe even Japan. But most countries have PLENTY of room to grow.

Anyone who says otherwise needs to re-read "A Christmas Carol." As the ghosts tell Scrooge, "who are you to decide who is part of the 'surplus population.'"

And the world population was a lot smaller back in Dickens' time...

dorajar
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Post by dorajar » Mon Mar 12, 2007 2:00 pm

CraigInTwinCities wrote:Overpopulation has nothing to do with "economic inequality."
Oh.

Well then I guess that's that! :roll:

Take a look around, Craig. Where are the birth and fertility rates through the roof? Where are they stagnating and even falling?

Still think it has noting to do with economics?

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Post by CraigInTwinCities » Mon Mar 12, 2007 2:10 pm

Yes, as a matter of fact, I still don't believe economics has anything to do with who's having tons of babies. Sorry. IMO, it's a false assumption.

dorajar
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Post by dorajar » Mon Mar 12, 2007 2:23 pm

Ok, Craig.
Poverty Fuels Developing World's High Birth Rate
by Win Carty

(August 2002) Poverty fuels high birth rates in poor nations, as documented in the 2002 World Population Data Sheet, released by the Population Reference Bureau. Of the 41 countries designated as "heavily indebted poor countries" by the World Bank, 39 fall into the category of high-fertility nations, where women, on average, bear four or more children. Similarly, the 48 countries identified by the United Nations as "least developed" are expected to triple their populations by 2050.
http://www.prb.org/Template.cfm?Section ... entID=8115

What about this do you think is a false assumption?

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Post by CraigInTwinCities » Mon Mar 12, 2007 7:52 pm

The false aspects are not in the hard facts cited, but in the logic that assumes there's a link.

Sorry, Dora... I just don't buy it. It's politics and spin, fueled by an agenda (in this case, a liberal agenda, though conservatives do it, too), nothing more.

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Post by thrice » Mon Mar 12, 2007 10:18 pm

The reasons behind population booms are complex. To some extent, there is a domino effect involved. If you have a group of people who reach child bearing age at the same time, they tend to bear children during those prime years. Maybe 16-18 years later, you have the same effect, but geometrically increased, since most tend to bear more than one. Hence our own baby boom in the 50's and 60's, and the "echo boom" of their own large number of children.

We are seeing the same thing here in our Hispanic population. As a group, they tend to be a young demographic, and are having children at a much higher rate than the general population. Aside from mass immigration, that is the primary reason that the Hispanic population has become a much larger porportion of the overall US population, and has passed African Americans as the largest non-white population group. While undoubtedly economically depressed, very few exhibit the characteristics cited regarding Third World problems of child labor, prostitution, and lack of access to education.

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Post by dorajar » Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:56 am

thrice wrote: While undoubtedly economically depressed, very few exhibit the characteristics cited regarding Third World problems of child labor, prostitution, and lack of access to education.
The point is the economic consistency.

Child labor, prostitution, etc. are just a few of the symptoms and expressions of poverty in many Third World countries.

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Post by dorajar » Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:01 am

CraigInTwinCities wrote:The false aspects are not in the hard facts cited, but in the logic that assumes there's a link.

Sorry, Dora... I just don't buy it. It's politics and spin, fueled by an agenda (in this case, a liberal agenda, though conservatives do it, too), nothing more.
Why do I feel like I could say, "The sky is blue," and Craig would come back with, "Well that's just your liberal spin, and I simply don't believe it."?

:D

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Post by thrice » Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:25 am

Oversimplification is never a good approach (or is that just a generalization too? Argghh).

Your initial post confused me a bit. Of course, we had to throw in the hot button issue of capitalism into the mix right up front, which immediately suggests to the reader that the author would prefer socialism or communism. That's a tough sell considering their miserable track records. And of course, capitalism is immediately accused of draconian solutions to women's reproductive freedom, like contraceptives. That of course conveniently ignores the fact that the most draconian birth control and abortion policies in the world exist in Communist countries. So it's kind of a no-win, isn't it?

There is no doubt validity to some of the points made. But there is also a strong tendency for people with agendas to suggest cause and effect relationships where they do not exist, particularly when it allows them to villainize their favorite bogeymen. The sky is blue today, and I am hungry at the moment. Therefore the blue sky made me hungry?

I don't want to micro analyize the quotes. I'm always skeptical when I see academics interpreting the behavior of their research subjects. I know a lot of people in various degrees of poverty. They tend to live day to day, and think and plan that way. I don't see two people living in a cardboard shack in Buenos Aires sitting around calculating the economic pros and cons of having another child, which wouldn't represent an economic benefit to them for at least 6-8 years down the road. Most of the illiterate, impoverished people I know don't have a plan for next week, let alone next year. It's really just another case of upper and middle class people in ivory towers who assume that everyone thinks like they do, and that just isn't reality.

There is a rightful and moral role for business and capitalism in alleviating poverty, and their customers should insist that they shoulder that burden. But for the most part, business is not responsible for the chaotic, often self defeating behavior of poor people. Once the basic business of ensuring that people are adequately nourished, clothed, and sheltered is taken care of, they will hopefully be amenable to learning the skills needed to live a smarter, better structured future. People with empty stomachs are not amenable to learning, and their decision making tends to not reach much beyond addressing that immediate need.

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Post by CraigInTwinCities » Tue Mar 13, 2007 6:57 pm

dorajar wrote:
CraigInTwinCities wrote:The false aspects are not in the hard facts cited, but in the logic that assumes there's a link.

Sorry, Dora... I just don't buy it. It's politics and spin, fueled by an agenda (in this case, a liberal agenda, though conservatives do it, too), nothing more.
Why do I feel like I could say, "The sky is blue," and Craig would come back with, "Well that's just your liberal spin, and I simply don't believe it."?

:D
Funny, but not so, Dora. But feel free to think of me however you wish... :wink:

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Post by BrewskiBri » Tue Mar 13, 2007 7:41 pm

thrice wrote:Oversimplification is never a good approach (or is that just a generalization too? Argghh).

Your initial post confused me a bit. Of course, we had to throw in the hot button issue of capitalism into the mix right up front, which immediately suggests to the reader that the author would prefer socialism or communism. That's a tough sell considering their miserable track records. And of course, capitalism is immediately accused of draconian solutions to women's reproductive freedom, like contraceptives. That of course conveniently ignores the fact that the most draconian birth control and abortion policies in the world exist in Communist countries. So it's kind of a no-win, isn't it?

There is no doubt validity to some of the points made. But there is also a strong tendency for people with agendas to suggest cause and effect relationships where they do not exist, particularly when it allows them to villainize their favorite bogeymen. The sky is blue today, and I am hungry at the moment. Therefore the blue sky made me hungry?

I don't want to micro analyize the quotes. I'm always skeptical when I see academics interpreting the behavior of their research subjects. I know a lot of people in various degrees of poverty. They tend to live day to day, and think and plan that way. I don't see two people living in a cardboard shack in Buenos Aires sitting around calculating the economic pros and cons of having another child, which wouldn't represent an economic benefit to them for at least 6-8 years down the road. Most of the illiterate, impoverished people I know don't have a plan for next week, let alone next year. It's really just another case of upper and middle class people in ivory towers who assume that everyone thinks like they do, and that just isn't reality.

There is a rightful and moral role for business and capitalism in alleviating poverty, and their customers should insist that they shoulder that burden. But for the most part, business is not responsible for the chaotic, often self defeating behavior of poor people. Once the basic business of ensuring that people are adequately nourished, clothed, and sheltered is taken care of, they will hopefully be amenable to learning the skills needed to live a smarter, better structured future. People with empty stomachs are not amenable to learning, and their decision making tends to not reach much beyond addressing that immediate need.
I don't think the author is suggesting they prefer communism or socialism but are simply stating that this is non-coincidental. I agree with you, Thrice, that many people who live in poverty do live day to day. But don't you see then why it would make sense that those living in such extreme poverty would have more children? What do they have to loose? Of course they are not "sitting around calculating the economic pros and cons" of having another child but if you have nothing to plan for, why not?

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Post by thrice » Tue Mar 13, 2007 8:38 pm

"Historically and currently, it is the poorest people who have the greatest rates of reproduction. Bandarage gives two reasons for this: “First, in poor communities, the marginal cost of raising an additional child is very little…. Second, for poor people without other resources, children are often economic assets, not liabilities”

Brewski, this is the kind of analysis that I refer to. The authors, in their obvious "noble savage" admiration of the practical thinking of poverty, suggest by this passage that having additional children is a rational and considered decision of poor people. It is obviously not. As you suggest, it is the default action of people who have nothing to lose. It is highly irrational, and obviously makes a bad situation considerably worse.

The statements are ridiculous. The marginal cost of raising an additional child is very little only if you are giving your current children little or nothing. Cutting everyone's ration of bread crumbs and water to feed another mouth is hardly a low impact decision for someone who is already starving. In fact, a major part of the lack of personal progress in starving nations is the mental and physical deficiencies that permanently deprive people of the physical stamina and mental clarity needed to improve one's lot in life.

As far as children being economic assets, as I noted, even for activities such as theft, garbage scavenging, prostitution, and other undesirable economic activities, children are not able to contribute until they are at least capable of independent thought and action, at 6-8 years old, so they are an economic liability up until that point.

I share the frustration of all with conditions of extreme poverty. I have fantasized that if I were wealthy, I would use some of my money to go to underdeveloped countries and start factories or other job-creating activities that would give people a decent standard of living and a stable starting point for a better life. Despite what the fantasy world crowd would like, the enterprises would have to earn at least a modest profit, and produce a useful and needed product, or they would not be self sustaining. Without a need and a profit- which is necessary to maintain the enterprise, create new products, and expand into other areas and activities- the people might as well be employed at digging holes and filling them back up again.

I could go on a lengthy rant about the problems in developing countries that are caused by their own corrupt leadership that stands in the way of aid and development. In many cases, they benefit handsomely from the status quo, and will obstruct the best efforts of any external entity, business or government, that interferes with their golden geese. But even assuming the best of all possible conditions, some situations just make me scratch my head. Consider Mexico City, with a population exceeding 25 million, and let's conservatively assume that 20% of its population is living in extreme poverty. Who in the hell is capable of going in there and creating 5 million well-paying, long-lasting jobs for those people? We can't even find that many jobs for Americans who need them. I wish I had better answers. An honest and cooperative home government would be one helluva start, so that our attempts to aid the situation would at least be used to maximum effect.

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Post by dorajar » Tue Mar 13, 2007 9:28 pm

thrice wrote:"Historically and currently, it is the poorest people who have the greatest rates of reproduction. Bandarage gives two reasons for this: “First, in poor communities, the marginal cost of raising an additional child is very little…. Second, for poor people without other resources, children are often economic assets, not liabilities”

Brewski, this is the kind of analysis that I refer to. The authors, in their obvious "noble savage" admiration of the practical thinking of poverty, suggest by this passage that having additional children is a rational and considered decision of poor people. It is obviously not. As you suggest, it is the default action of people who have nothing to lose. It is highly irrational, and obviously makes a bad situation considerably worse.
It does not suggest that it's a "rational and considered decision." It describes the reality, which you don't need a Ph.D. in Economics to understand: poverty-level consumption (vs. middle-class consumption) is negligible. You're considering this from an American, myopic perspective, thrice. One American consumes as much as

2 Japanese

6 Mexicans

13 Chinese

31 Indians

128 Bangladeshis

307 Tanzanians

370 Ethiopians

(http://www.mindfully.org/Sustainability ... ercent.htm)

When you're existing on practically nothing, sharing it with one more mouth is, perhaps counter-intuitively, not a huge stretch. It's when you "need" to buy strollers and cribs and toys and clothes and special baby formula, etc. that children are an economic burden.

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Post by thrice » Tue Mar 13, 2007 10:01 pm

It is counter-intuitive, Dora. I'm not considering this from a Phd level. I'm considering it from an elementary school math level. In survival mode, if a family of four has to divide their food among five, assuming equal shares, everyone in the existing family has to give up 20% of their caloric intake to feed the new mouth. That's a considerably greater personal cost than Thrice reducing the number of non-necessary accessories, which don't effect the health or development of my offspring at all. I'm not talking about people with moderate degrees of poverty. I'm talking folks who are dividing a single bowl of rice, and every portion counts. When people are picking through garbage dumps and sending their children out into the streets, that is a very realistic scenario, and the math applies without question. It is no more complicated than people dividing rations on a lifeboat.

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Post by CraigInTwinCities » Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:30 pm

What some are failing to consider here on this topic is that some third-world cultures grow accustomed to having tons of children purely for survival percentages. America and other developed nations have a relatively low infant mortality rate and a relatively high age expectancy.

In lesser-developed countries, infant mortality is much higher and age expectancy is notably briefer. But as society modernizes around them, mortality declines and life expectancy goes up, so more of the kids survive into adulthood than they did, say, 50 years ago. So you get a population boom. And initially, folks in that culture are still used to having a lot of kids just to see 2-3 survive to adulthood. So there's an adjustment period that lasts a couple generations, and as they get used to the idea that more of this kids will live, they will eventually have fewer of them.

Of course, the whole topic is really insulting, if you ask me; America has been spoon-fed the liberal ideal of "zero population growth" for so long, people now have this twisted idea that having more than one or two kids as is BAD thing.

Kids are a blessing; it's responsible to not have more than you can provide for, but they're still a blessing.

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Post by CraigInTwinCities » Tue Mar 13, 2007 11:33 pm

thrice wrote:I have fantasized that if I were wealthy, I would use some of my money to go to underdeveloped countries and start factories or other job-creating activities that would give people a decent standard of living and a stable starting point for a better life.
Bill Gates and other billionaires are already trying to do this, and for their efforts, liberals are constantly suing them over one thing or another in an attempt to put them out of business, because "big corporations are evil."

What makes you think you'd be any less targeted by the libs, Thrice? Gates is very private about it, but he's one the world's most generous givers to charities and such, and he's still hated. If you had his net worth, you'd be just as hated, just as overtaxed, just as targeted and pretty soon it'd be hard for you to employ all those workers...

Plus, you'd get the unions against you because you're "exporting American jobs" and "taking American jobs overseas." You wouldn't be hailed as a hero, you'd be hated as a traitor.

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Post by dorajar » Wed Mar 14, 2007 9:11 am

thrice wrote:It is counter-intuitive, Dora. I'm not considering this from a Phd level. I'm considering it from an elementary school math level. In survival mode, if a family of four has to divide their food among five, assuming equal shares, everyone in the existing family has to give up 20% of their caloric intake to feed the new mouth. That's a considerably greater personal cost than Thrice reducing the number of non-necessary accessories, which don't effect the health or development of my offspring at all. I'm not talking about people with moderate degrees of poverty. I'm talking folks who are dividing a single bowl of rice, and every portion counts. When people are picking through garbage dumps and sending their children out into the streets, that is a very realistic scenario, and the math applies without question. It is no more complicated than people dividing rations on a lifeboat.
And I'm considering this from a pretty secure place of facts and data, not to mention my first-hand experience in Burkina Faso.

Everywhere in the world, it is the poorest people who have the highest fertility rates and produce the most children. Undoubtedly Craig's point about high rates of infant mortality has something to do with it. Also, the malnutrition and starvation that occurs among the poverty-stricken is often not a result of a mere shortage of food. It's a shortage of the right KIND of food (food with any nutritional value whatsoever). In Burkina Faso, for instance, the main food source is millet, a grain that is downright abundant there, but has very little nutritional value. You can easily feed one or two or three more mouths from the family toh-pot (toh is the playdough-like substance they make from mixing millet and water and heating it over a fire). And then you will have two or three or four more malnurished, poverty-stricken children appearing on Sally Struther's show.

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Post by OdinofAzgard » Wed Mar 14, 2007 11:26 am

Historically and currently, it is the poorest people who have the greatest rates of reproduction. Bandarage gives two reasons for this: “First, in poor communities, the marginal cost of raising an additional child is very little…. Second, for poor people without other resources, children are often economic assets, not liabilities” (Silliman and King 26).
Does Bandarage distinguish between "the poorest people" and "poor communities"? IOW, do the poorest people in poor communities have more children? Poor doesn't necessarily mean starving, although poorest might in communities without adequate resources or foodsharing.

I once read a biography of a unmarried woman in an 18th century American mining camp who was pregnant and having trouble providing for the couple of young children she already had. She threw herself down some steps to induce a miscarriage. She was well aware of the potential additional costs and apparently didn't consider the future potential economic asset a wise investment of her family's already meager resources. Hard to imagine women whose children are starving having more children for the reasons Bandarage cites, so I wonder if she's been summarized incorrectly or simply uses "poorest people" as synonymous with "poor communities."

Right then and there, it should be intuitively clear that if indeed there is a population crisis and it is a simple matter of sheer numbers, the solution must be economic in nature. As long as the conditions responsible for high birth rates are present, the outcome will be inevitable. In Bandarage’s words, “Voluntary family planning has succeeded only in societies where economic security—including access to material resources, health, and education—has been improved for the general population and for women in particular” (Silliman and King 28 ). It thus seems ironic and even absurd to talk about curbing overpopulation from within an ideology that supports extreme, unbridled capitalism and its associated (and growing) global economic inequality, wherein the labor and resources of poor people are exploited for the wealth and comfort of the rich. "Population Control" within the context of capitalism will result in more and more forceful and draconian measures undertaken to deny women reproductive freedom and rights, such as the governmentally mandated use of dangerous birth control methods like Norplant and Depo-Provera.
My problem with your last sentence is that capitalism need not be "unbridled" and bridled capitalism (as currently practiced in the U.S.) seems to be a fairly good method for lifting even the poorest out of abject poverty. The poor people whose labor and resources are exploited don't usually starve to death and are usually afforded a degree of self-determination greater than under most other systems I'm aware of.

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Post by thrice » Wed Mar 14, 2007 11:47 am

[/quote]

It does not suggest that it's a "rational and considered decision." It describes the reality, which you don't need a Ph.D. in Economics to understand: poverty-level consumption (vs. middle-class consumption) is negligible. You're considering this from an American, myopic perspective, thrice. One American consumes as much as

2 Japanese

6 Mexicans

13 Chinese

31 Indians

128 Bangladeshis

307 Tanzanians

370 Ethiopians

(http://www.mindfully.org/Sustainability ... ercent.htm)

When you're existing on practically nothing, sharing it with one more mouth is, perhaps counter-intuitively, not a huge stretch. It's when you "need" to buy strollers and cribs and toys and clothes and special baby formula, etc. that children are an economic burden.[/quote]

I followed the provided link. The consumption multiples refer to energy use, not food consumption. Little piggie that I am, I still don't think I could eat as much as 370 Ethiopians. One might also rightfully believe that the energy hungry Americans, while lagging woefully in the areas of wicker baskets and mud pots, considerably outproduce the energy thrifty Ethiopian in all other catagories of creating consumer goods and services. If one produces little or nothing, they are unlikely to use much energy doing it.

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Post by dorajar » Wed Mar 14, 2007 12:07 pm

You seem to assume that Western society's out-of-control (and completely unsustainable) production-consumption cyle is a good thing, thrice.

To respond to both that and Odin's comments:

My problem with capitalism is that it is formulated on the premise that we must constantly be creating needs, where none necessarily exist, thereby convincing people to buy, buy, buy, produce, consume, etc. H. Patricia Hynes writes in her essay "Consumption: North American Perspectives" (from the same collection in which Bandarage's essay appears): "National polls conducted since the 1950's show no increase in the percentage of people who report being "very happy," despite the fact that people now purchase almost twice the number of consumer goods and services they did in the 1950's. Time spent enjoying two of the classic sources of happiness--social relations and leisure--has diminished as people work more to purchase more nondurable, packaged, rapidly obsolete, nonvital goods and services" (Silliman and King 194). I don't think this is a sustainable system, nor one that necessarily improves life for the masses. Indubitably, we have enjoyed many benefits of technological advances (longer life spans, greater comfort, less hardship, etc.), but questions of sustainability and social justice are important factors to consider as well.

I don't pretend to have the magic bullet of an answer. But my instincts lead me towards a vague but radical notion of a revitalization of simple living, and local self-sustaining communities, as opposed to global hegemony at the cost of local flavor and self-sustainability.

thrice
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Post by thrice » Wed Mar 14, 2007 1:02 pm

You open a huge subject of course, Dora.

I feel a great deal of contempt for advertising driven "needs creation". I think it speaks mainly to a deficiency of spirit that we suffer, in which people's egos and self image are so fragile that they are easy to manipulate by creating product-linked self images rather than something more solid. Obviously this has been driven by intense manipulation backed by carefully examining psychological triggers- a blatant misuse of a helpful science.

There is much appeal to a simpler, more interdependent life. Unfortunately, you cannot un-invent the wheel. We will not be returning to an agrarian life of small, simple rural communities. That is a step in social evolution that has come and gone. Communal communities do work- on a very small scale. Once populations become large, and work becomes specialized, those systems become cumbersome and inefficient. My chicken for your tapestry works fine one on one. Multiply it by millions, and it's totally impractical. When a society requires millions of bushels of wheat, highly efficient means of producing and distributing them are a necessity, not an option. Small voluntary communities do work, but they cannot begin to meet the needs of modern populations.

Technology is actually producing much more earth friendly practices than many realize. Imagine 5 million Minnesotans scrounging for firewood in this state. In no time at all, we would be living in Haiti, where the people have stripped the environment bare. Contrary to popular myth, indiginous peoples are no more careful of the environment than anyone else. It is only small populations that have reduced the impact of human environmental damage, not some special spiritual superiority. We must somehow marry the benefits of technology with the realities of our needs.

dorajar
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Post by dorajar » Wed Mar 14, 2007 1:18 pm

thrice wrote:We must somehow marry the benefits of technology with the realities of our needs.
And I agree with that.

I agree that we can't go backwards, nor is that what I'm suggesting. I envision some sort of evolution. I hope for some sort of growth on our part, a realization of the flaws, shortcomings, dangers, harms, and failures of our current way of life, and a renewed sense of hope and proactiveness for something better. It frustrates me that when I point out the harmful aspects of capitalism, people suggest that the only alternatives are communism and socialism. Humans invented those systems, and we can invent new ones. Obviously, we haven't done it yet, but I'm currently studying Economics and Gender & Global Politics, and plan to continue educating myself and fanning the flames of hope in my heart that we can evolve to something better; more sustainable; more socially just and less environmentally reckless. I agree that we must look forward, not back. But I don't think we need to resign ourselves to choosing among our current options. I'm interested in inventing new ones.

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Post by thrice » Wed Mar 14, 2007 2:28 pm

I do think that things are evolving, and sometimes in a positive direction. Sometimes we are too close to the forest to see the trees. The world is changing.

It was not too long ago, well within my lifetime, that the media was little more than a PR shill for government and business. The kind of investigative journalism we see today essentially did not exist. Public access to information, and independent inquiry into business and government practices that exists today is unparelleled in history. It's far from perfect, but those entities live in a much more transparent atmosphere than they ever did before, and know that they are much more accountable for their actions than they have ever been.

I am a believer in capitalism, operating within the legal framework of a conscientious government. I have no problem whatsoever with the concept that the person who risks their time and money to set up a business enterprise, with the extremely high probability that it will fail, is entitled to a large share of the rewards of that business. They risk considerably more than the person who simply shows up at their door looking for a job, who risks only the time that they spend working there and can walk away losing nothing. This gets personal for me, because in my own small scale "capitalist investing", I have owned shares in well known companies, including Dana Corporation, Crimmi Mae, and other national corporations, and have lost every single cent I invested in them when they went bankrupt. The frustration is to be lumped with the "greedy corporate investors" when they prosper, but when you lose all, it's just an "oh well". I can't imagine the anger of someone who puts up everything- their time, their savings, their home, and risks it all- and loses it all. To propose that they are entitled to no more than the people they employ is absurd, because the degree of personal risk and commitment is not even comparable.

To me, the great challenge is to create- worldwide- an environment in which useful, meaningful, needed work is available to all that want it. There has to be a profit involved. In my micro fantasy, eventually the profits from Factory #1 that employs 100 people can be used to build Factory #2, which will employ another 100, and the new profits from #1 and #2 can be used to build #3, etc. Using the profits from one successful enterprise to create more opportunities is a natural and sensible way to operate. In addition, the newly employed people will spend the wages they earn in their communities to meet their own needs for food, clothing, housing and other commodities which will in turn create more jobs to support that. That is the kind of creativity and initiative I admire- to create sustainable economic systems. To propose solutions that simply want to re-distribute the assets of "the rich" requires no talent or imagination at all. It is the solution that a five year old would propose in a kindergarden. And it is not a sustainable solution. You will eventually drain the greedy rich, and then who will feed the masses? We need a much better answer than that.

dorajar
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Post by dorajar » Wed Mar 14, 2007 2:40 pm

thrice wrote: To propose solutions that simply want to re-distribute the assets of "the rich" requires no talent or imagination at all. It is the solution that a five year old would propose in a kindergarden. And it is not a sustainable solution. You will eventually drain the greedy rich, and then who will feed the masses? We need a much better answer than that.
There you go, jumping back to communism again, contrasting it with capitalism as the only other option.

I'm thinking way, way outside of those boxes. Utopian fantasy? Maybe. But that's where change and creativity and ingenuity begin.

Building factories doesn't strike me as particularly more imaginative than "re-distributing the assets of the rich". :wink:

thrice
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Post by thrice » Wed Mar 14, 2007 2:55 pm

I use factories as a simple metaphor. Obviously the most efficient and productive systems of producing physical needs are created by using efficiencies of scale.


Actually, there are some interesting approaches between capitalism and communism. It's been a long time, but I remember studying businesses in college that relied heavily on profit sharing as the majority share of employee compensation. Lincoln Electric is one that comes to mind. Their business was very successful, their products were of outstanding quality, their employees had high morale and were very conscious of waste and quality, because they each had a personal and tangible stake in the success of the company. I don't know if they still operate that way, but at the time I thought it was brilliant.

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