Poverty and Population

jacdon at earthlink.net jacdon at earthlink.net
Thu Dec 19 18:58:42 MST 2002

Mike Friedman wrote:
"As a biologist, I recognize that, all else being equal, increasing
population density will exhaust the capacity of an environment to
sustain that population. Carrying capacity is finite. But, I recognize,
as a Marxist, that all else is NOT equal. It is simply wrong to take an
apparent association between population growth and poverty growth, and
attribute causality to the former. Why not attribute causality for
population growth to poverty, as Mahmood Mamdani convincingly did in the
case of  India: people have more babies when the future is less certain.
Other writers have pointed to the "demographic transition" that takes
place, combining increased longevity and decreased birth rates, as a
society's living standards improve. Poverty is a class phenomenon in our
world, and demographics are framed in class ways. Thus, neo-Malthusian
demographic arguments regarding poverty tend, at one end, to become
arguments for charity, as the Mid-Hudson newsletter article does, or
arguments for genocide. Shame on you, Mid-Hudson Activist Newsletter!"

We agree with Mike Friedman's argument regarding poverty as a cause of
population growth and thought we made this point by noting that "most of
the population increase is taking place among the poor -- an age-old
survival pattern." This should have been better explained, but the point
was that poverty generally produces increased population. We noted that
there are two ways to ameliorate the anticipated grave increase in
poverty in the third world, "short of an eventual worldwide uprising of
the wretched of the earth." One way was for "The world's rich nations to
sharply increase their technical and financial aid to the poor nations,
plus remove unequal trade barriers and other practices that keep such
societies in deep debt and poverty."  We did not regard this as a call
for charity but a form of reparations for past and continuing
exploitation and oppression.  We must not let the wealthy capitalist
countries off the hook on this point.  The second way, reflecting the UN
report,  was "Reducing the extreme increases in population in the
developing world through investing in education and health care,
including family planning."  We do not regard this as Malthusian
thinking in the least. The article, however, was not emphatic enough in
terms of class, and we thank Mike for his criticism.

Jack A. Smith, editor

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