13 Responses

  1. Ralfy Mann March 20, 2013 at 10:43 am |

    Population control is an anti-capitalist policy because capitalism requires increasing demand given increasing production to ensure more profits.

    Population control is not an anti-capitalist policy if it leads to lower birth rates which, coupled with economic development, leads to more prosperity, and thus similar (if not greater) demand for increasing production to ensure more profits.

    Thus, capitalists support both, i.e., a birth rate that will ensure a steady increase of consumers, but low enough to ensure more consumption per capita thanks to prosperity.

  2. David Correia March 16, 2013 at 1:40 am |

    Well written retort to the ridiculous Andrews. I can only add that the spurious causative claims regarding population and resource exhaustion/pollution/whatever obscure a basic logical problem with the argument. There is no such thing as population. How do they miss that one? At the very least it remains a much better test of intelligence than the racist IQ test. Andrews fails miserably.

  3. Jeff White March 13, 2013 at 11:59 am |

    The math is even simpler than you think.

    total consumption ÷ population size = consumption per capita

    That’s how per capita consumption is calculated. Transposing one term from the left to the right produces your formula, which is nothing more than a tautology:

    total consumption = consumption per capita × population size

    You might as well say:

    total income = average income × population size

    and pass that off as a brilliant insight into where money comes from!

    There are biological limits to the size of any animal population, including humans. I don’t know what the limits are for human population on this planet, but I do know that the limits are not fixed and immutable. I also know that that limit is much higher if the human population has the power to plan and organize our society and our production of goods in a democratic way that respects and preserves the natural environment, and when we have the individual knowledge and means to plan and control our own reproduction. I also know that such a society is impossible under capitalism, where everything is geared toward the maximizing of private profit and the vast majority of people are disempowered and alienated from their own environment and their own economic life. That’s why Job One is to change the system.

    1. Erik Plahte March 13, 2013 at 3:00 pm |

      Please, there is no need to be sarcastic. Your mathematical reasoning is not correct, but that is beside the point here.

      Socialism is a goal in order to end oppression and exploitation of the working billions. Now it is also a necessity for avoiding a cathastropic development of the climate and the environment. Some people may have thought that under socialism (or perhaps under communism), the road to unlimited affluence would lay open. Today we know better. If it turns out that even under socialism, the present population is too large to secure a desired standard of living for everybody on Earth, one will have to choose between my options (2) and (3). Would it then be reasonable to claim that the poorest people should be responsible for downregulating the size of the population to match the available resources?

      1. Jeff White March 13, 2013 at 5:47 pm |

        Leaving aside the possibility that a future socialist society might face challenges relating to population (or not), the real issue is what do we do today, in today’s society, dominated by today’s social relations.

        I say we have to fight for socialism, because without it, we have no chance of saving the planet.

        Others, like John Andrews, think we can’t wait for socialism; we have to start now to reduce the world’s population. Do you agree with Andrews?

        If so, please tell us what you are advocating that should be done by today’s capitalist governments – the ones controlled by the one-percenters who want to keep the lion’s share of the earth’s consumption and wealth for themselves.

        Forced sterilization? Mass culling of populations? Establishing a maximum lifespan, as in Logan’s Run or Soylent Green? Laws to limit women’s reproduction to two children? one child? none? Or something kinder and gentler, like persuading 7 billion people, nicely, one at a time, not to have too many children, out of consideration for the rest of us?

        After you tell us your plan, please explain how you expect it, even if 100% successful in reducing the world’s population by billions within this century (because that’s all the time we’ve got left, if even that much), to save the planet from destruction by capitalism?

        If you could somehow reduce the population in the next 60 years to, say, 4 billion people, all you’d be doing is setting the clock back to 1975, when the populationists were already screaming that the planet had reached its carrying capacity for people. You wouldn’t be doing anything to change the fundamental nature of the capitalist society that has gotten us where we are now.

        The fact is that no amount of population reduction is sufficient to make capitalism safe for Planet Earth.

        1. Erik Plahte March 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm |

          Against whom you are arguing? I do not agree with Andrews.

  4. Erik Plahte March 13, 2013 at 5:17 am |

    Is there a limit to how large population the planet can feed more or less indefinitely, without depleting non-renewable resources, upsetting the climate, etc? Obviously, yes. Have we surpassed that limit? Most likely, or we will in the (near) future unless steps are taken either to diminish the footprint of each citizen or to curb the population growth. I never wrote that “world’s ills are caused by the world’s relatively wealthy top 10% having too many babies”. Breaking the capitalist rule is imperative, but won’t automatically solve all ecological and resource problems. All other species on earth meet boundaries beyond which they are unable to multiply. Man is hardly different. Even under socialism it may turn out that the world’s population is simply too large. Nobody knows how to feed a world population of the present size or even larger 100% on renewable resources. The math is simple: total consumption = consumption pro capita x population size. If it is necessary to reduce total consumption, either one of these factors or both must be reduced.

  5. Erik Plahte March 11, 2013 at 7:52 pm |

    The Earth is simply not big enough to provide a population of the present size with the Western standard of living. But who are using the resources? Data from the World Bank show that the wealthiest 1/10 of the world population is responsible for 60% of the world’s consumption. There isn’t much left to share for the remaining 90%. If we continue “business as usual” and more and more people aim at a western standard of living, we will run into serious trouble due to resource depletion and climate cathastrophe, not in some distant future, but in this century.
    If we aim at avoiding this, what are the options? (1) The West may use military and political power to keep the billions down while keeping control of resources for our own exclusive well-being. (2) The world population continues to grow unconstrained, but everybody accepts a standard of living that the planet can sustain, given the population size. That means lowering the standard of living in the West considerably, and the more people, the lower the standard. (3) We aim at a western standard of living for everybody, and reduce the size of the world population to a level that makes this feasible and sustainable. (4) We develop space technology and colonise other planets or import what we need from them. (5) We do none of these, and nature itself will ensure that both the population and the standard of living will decline due to climate cathastrophes, food scarcity, epidemics, drought, etc.
    Of these, (1) is no longer feasible, (2) can hardly be agreed upon in any foreseeable future, (4) is science fiction. (5) is a looming danger, and at present seems unavoidable. What about (3)? Severe birth control among the poor masses wouldn’t help, because it isn’t they who deplete the resources, it is the rich 10% minority, and among them, the 1% who commands the capital. As long as the West insists on our high standard of living, the rest of the world will strive for it, too. Therefore, if we want the world population to share evenly a decent standard of living, it is the West that needs to reduce its population and resource consumption. Other countries would have to adopt the same policy, of course, but the West would have to take the lead. Definitely not an easy policy to implement. But are there other realistic alternatives?

    1. Jeff White March 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm |

      As Ian and Simon say in their book, it’s wrong to think the world’s ills are caused by poor people having too many babies.

      But it’s equally wrong to think the world’s ills are caused by the world’s relatively wealthy top 10% having too many babies. To say that “the West needs to reduce its population” is to accept the premise that resource consumption is driven by population, and not by the waste, pollution, overproduction, continual drive for profits, private appropriation of natural and public wealth, and built-in growth imperative that all characterize the capitalist system of commodity production. If you could wave a magic wand and reduce the world’s top 10% by half, they’d simply become the world’s top 5%. They’d still own 85% of the world’s wealth and their economic activity would still account for 60% of consumption. The capitalist system would continue on, with all its exploitation, inequality, and environmental destruction unabated. People would still be starving in Ethiopia.

      Capitalism has trained us to assume that a high standard of living is impossible without a society and economy built on a correspondingly high degree of waste, pollution, and destruction of non-renewable natural resources. I hope for a society in which “standard of living” is not synonymous with “level of consumption”, and consumption itself is not synonymous with destruction of the planetary ecosystem. Such a society is impossible under capitalism, but achievable under socialism. That’s the only realistic alternative.

  6. Stuart Neyton March 11, 2013 at 11:00 am |

    Although access to abortion and contraceptives are noble causes to campaign for, there is absolutely no correlation between these and population growth. China’s one-child policy has resulted in a horrific mistreatment of children born of an unwanted sex or out-of-wedlock, and hasn’t even resulted in a declining population there or a halt to environmental damage. The only real way to shrink numbers is compulsory mass sterilisation, culls, plague or natural disaster. If the populationists aren’t proposing any of these then they’re wasting their time and should be focussing on the real causes of environmental destruction and climate change (capitalism). If they are proposing them then they’re vile and shouldn’t be given any platform anywhere. Either way, blaming climate change on population numbers shifts the blame from the people and structures that actually cause it onto (predominantly black and south Asian) women in the developing world. This is not only incredibly racist and sexist, but a huge distraction from the fight against climate change.

  7. Chris McCabe March 11, 2013 at 5:15 am |

    The more kids we have, the more likely it is that some of our descendants will starve, & easy options are unavailable. China’s one-child policy was often horrible, but so are famine & disease. Social justice, education, (esp of girls), & re-examination of attitudes that encourage people to breed, regardless of vocation, may not spread fast enough to avert disaster, but the future is unwritten, & we may be reduced by natural disaster or disease, epidemics being facilitated by crowded cities & fast, easy, transportation.

  8. Clive Lord March 10, 2013 at 8:02 pm |

    John Andrews does seem to be typical of a view of population before eco-awareness was a factor. In those days, only ‘right wingers’ were interested. An unfortunate hangover is that for ‘left of centists’ who still discount concerns that we might be reaching the planet’s ecological limits, there is an assumption that anyone who does mention population must be racist.
    Although as a founder member of the Green Party, before its ethos became indistinguishable from Old Labour, I do regard sheer numbers as ultimately crucial, I could be accused by the likes of Andrews of complacency. It is clear to me that cultural patterns and infrastructure can be developed whereby security and care do not depend on either damaging the environment or having children to make sure you are cared for in your old age – this becomes a communal responsibility. If women in particular can believe that their first two children will survive, and are given control of their bodies and their lives, birth rates will fall as they have already where this is the case.
    It is a simple fact that Britain already has a much larger eco-footprint than its productive capacity, but the primary response to this should be greater social justice as between nations – to remove the desperation which forces people to risk death in freezer vans to get here.
    Once that can be taken for granted we can concentrate on the possible inverse correlation between low birth rate and per capita consumption, which does threaten the planet.

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