Why cutting population won't end poverty…

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Capitalism will always be a system of profound inequality, no matter what happens to the birthrate ….

Discussions of population and food supply which leave out power relations between different groups of people will always mask the true nature of food scarcity — who gets to eat and who doesn’t — and lead to “solutions” that are simplistic, frequently oppressive and which, ultimately, reinforce the very structures creating ecological damage and hunger….

Globe, Inc. is “overpopulated.” And as long as access to food and other resources is determined by inequitable power relationships, it will remain so.

Because no matter how much food is produced, how few babies are born or how dramatically human numbers fall, it is the nature of the modern market economy remorselessly to generate “scarcity.”

Blaming such socially-generated scarcity and ecological degradation on “overpopulation” or “underproduction” has long provided the more powerful with an explanation for human misery that does not indict themselves and that legitimizes various ideologies of exclusion.

Without changes in the social and economic relationships that currently determine the production, distribution and consumption of food in the world, there will always be those who are judged “surplus to requirements” and who are thus excluded from the wherewithal to live.

The human population could be halved, quartered, decimated even, yet hunger would still remain. So long as one person has the power to deny food to another, even two people may be judged “too many.”

From “Too Many for What? The Social Generation of Food ‘Scarcity’ and ‘Overpopulation’,” by Nicholas Hildyard. Published by The Corner House. Read the full article here


  • More debate on this topic at my blog bccwords.blogspot.com — all from the populationist side, according to them I have been “drinking from the dogma of Ian Angus”…

  • If, as Gardner admits, reducing the population won’t solve the problem (which in Hildyard’s words is “who gets to eat and who doesn’t” and in Gardner’s words is “haves and have-nots”), then what’s the point of making population control the central issue? Gardner seems to be totally incapable of coming to grips with this question.

    Hildyard says: “Because no matter how much food is produced, how few babies are born or how dramatically human numbers fall, it is the nature of the modern market economy remorselessly to generate ‘scarcity.'”

    Gardner has no answer to this. He is under the misapprehension that socialism is about “just redistribution of wealth”, whereas it is also about the freedom and empowerment of all humans to control their own lives and live in harmony with the environment. That is the only way to bring about Gardner’s goal of “long-term sustainability”; yet he clings to the long-discredited idea that “population growth is the underlying source of the problems”, as his pal Albert Bartlett proclaims on Gardner’s own website.

    Uncontrolled economic growth is only one aspect of modern capitalism, albeit a highly destructive one. Like the blind man trying to describe an elephant after feeling its tail, Gardner thinks he’s got it all down pat. The problem is that he is blind to the other various aspects of capitalism – its seizure, commodification, and destruction of the commons; its need to create pools of “excess population” as reserves of cheap labour; its inherently wasteful and cruel modes of production and distribution; its concentration of wealth into the hands of the few at the expense of the many; its need to maximize profit without regard to human need; its denial and subversion of democracy and its need to foster ignorance and disinformation in order to preserve its power; its externalizing of costs, to be borne by nature and society as a whole; to name but a few. Gardner has nothing to say about all this; he’s still singing the one-note samba of population control.

    More to the point, capitalist economic growth (as measured by GDP) does not bear a direct relationship with population growth. Many countries, for example, have negative fertility rates alongside of rising GDP levels. In other words, capitalist economic growth is not driven by population growth any more than a horse is driven by a cart. Capitalist economic growth is anarchic, uneven, and driven by the internal contradictions of its mode of production. It is always an imperative: grow or go bankrupt. It is not something that is intentionally turned on or off, and it is certainly not a reaction to fluctuations in population levels.

    Capitalist economic growth is unsustainable because it robs from and destroys nature, which is a finite resource. Reducing the number of people won’t change that.

    Gardner refuses to admit that reality. He prefers to imagine that growth can be stopped without dismantling the capitalist system, by — having fewer babies! But capitalists could no sooner give up economic growth than cut their own throats – because it amounts to the same thing either way.

  • It’s true the system is stacked to create haves and have-nots, and that needs to be fixed. Reducing population won’t solve that problem. But it is a necessary part of any solution that hopes to eliminate hunger and starvation over the long haul (long-term sustainability). Socialism alone will not create fertile soil, fresh water, or more oil to fuel perpetuatual “green” revolution. We need more than just redistribution of wealth.

    Dave Gardner
    Producing the documentary
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity