A vicious attack on the poor

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Instead of confronting the system that creates poverty and causes environmental degradation, the  population controllers aim to eliminate the poor.

by Richard Mellor
Facts for Working People, December 8, 2011 

By sheer coincidence, after blogging the other day about the Neo Malthusians or populationists as they are called (they do differ from Malthus on some of the specifics but agree with him in general) I watched a report on Al Jazeera about the efforts in India to limit population growth.

As I pointed out in that earlier blog, I have always been against this view (in my conscious political life anyway) that the crisis of society, both social and environmental, is women having too many children.

I recall as a young kid in Catholic school in Britain and the “too many kids” argument being used to explain why Irish people were so poor.  Too many children, too stupid, dirty, ignorant etc.  That the country was one of the first colonies of the rising British capitalist class which meant the ownership of the land was in foreign hands so Ireland was but a source of cheap Labor and cheap food for export by British concerns was never brought up.  Hundreds of years of occupation, plunder and a racist war by British capitalism is why Ireland remained an impoverished country way in to the 20th century. (more on this and the famine here)

The problem is not that the need for food is greater than human society and the planet’s ability to provide it. The problem is in the way food production is organized; there’s plenty of food but it is not for those that need it.  Capitalist food production is inefficient and wasteful. Food is a commodity just like a car or a refrigerator.  The reason whole societies in the third world are incapable of providing basic health care or of eliminating diseases that were eliminated long ago in the advanced capitalist countries is because there is no profit in investing in such things. As one author points out, “Food goes to those who have money to buy it.” [1]

But even in the US, capitalism cannot provide these things.

Not everyone espousing the populationist argument is a racist or hates the poor.  Some may well believe that they are helping the poor in the long run.  But when I was watching the video above it confirmed in me the need to take these ideas up very strongly because, as we wrote earlier, the too many babies argument blames the victims.

India does not have mass hunger or mass poverty because women are having too many children. India is poor for the same reason the Congo, a resource rich country is poor, because of a couple centuries of colonialism and the continued existence of an economic system where production is set in to motion for the sake of profit.

The solution to the population problem is always an attack on the rights of the poor and a racist one as it is not in the US or Rotterdam (a high density area) where women are being offered fridges, mobile phones or TV’s  but India or Bangladesh.  It is always the uneducated and “impoverished” as the woman in the video says. It is also inevitably women.  The young woman says it will improve her life.  But her having children is not the cause of her impoverishment, capitalism is. The so-called free market is the cause.

Think of this tragedy, one woman in another video says good fortune has come to her as she is “Lucky enough to have her name picked” so she could win a car for her sterilization.  Attacks on women in India like these have a sordid past as the video points out.  In the 1970’s forced sterilizations caused many deaths and disfigurement.  In Uttar Pradesh, the people from the lowest  caste represented 29% of the population but were 41% of those sterilized.[2]

Poor women, often women of color in these United States, have been sterilized also but no matter what the public explanation, the main reason is the fear the rich have of the poor and as a means of obscuring the real problem.

“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.”[3]

The strategies for dealing with population control so that we can supposedly save the planet are always designed in the universities and populationist think tanks in the advanced capitalist countries. The UN, a capitalist club dominated by the western industrial nations exports these methods in to the former colonial world.  Aid or political favors are often denied if these policies are not adopted.  “I’m not going to piss away foreign aid in nations where they refuse to deal with their own population problems.” said US President Lyndon Johnson.  And as Angus/Butler point out, Indira Gandi was awarded the UN Fund for Population Affairs’ World Population Prize in 1983.

The capitalist class is concerned that as market induced poverty increases the more chance of social unrest and animosity toward the market and capital as we are seeing around the world including in the US.  As this occurs, people become more critical of the system and more open to socialist ideas.  The way to deal with poverty is eliminate the poor, not the economic system of production that creates the scarcity or causes the environmental degradation. This idea only makes sense if you are one of the 1%.

The other aspect of this is that where I live, one family of two probably has a more damaging carbon footprint that 100 Ethiopians.  We consume more lumber and therefore forests.  We consume more steel, more rubber,  and more energy.  The US with 5% of the world’s population consumes some 25% of the world’s energy. Then there is the meat, as we pointed out yesterday, 40% of the world’s grain harvest goes to feed cattle to feed beef to western populations.

This video made me angry in that it is reported in a very matter-of-fact manner.  These population control measures are a vicious attack on the poor by the wealthy and are racist and sexist.  Most important of all, they let the real culprit off the hook.

[1] Nicholas Hildyard,  quoted in Ian Angus and Simon Butler, Too Many People? (Haymarket Books 2011), 76.
[2] Too Many People?, 92
[3] Hildyard in Too Many People? 76


  • It flies in the face of human nature to expect the majority of those who benefit from a system, i.e. the 1%, to automatically or naturally, query that system because to them the system is like water is to a fish. That they should support population control measures is therefore not at all surprising. The challenge as I see it is how to bring people generally to a realisation that endemic poverty is a product of the economic system as currently organised and one of its many unfortunate by-products is individuals having more children than they or their society can properly support.

  • Despite its brevity, Simon Ross’s comment reveals a lot about the hypocrisy of modern populationism.

    Ross is the head of the UK-based Optimum Population Trust, also known as “Population Matters,” one of the world’s most influential population reduction lobbying groups.

    Just three months ago his organization signed and published a Position Statement that called for “Support, fund or ensure universal access to family planning information and services worldwide, as agreed at the 1994 Cairo Conference.”

    As Ross knows, a key feature of the Cairo Conference Plan of Action was its explicit rejection of “social and economic incentives and disincentives that affect individual decisions about child-bearing and family size.”

    And yet, Ross’s latest comment blithely dismisses concerns about a population control program that clearly violates the Cairo agreement, one that not only pays poor women to accept permanent sterilization but increases the incentive with a “lucky draw” for a car, motorcycle or refrigerator.

    Betsy Hartmann recently discussed such programs in The Return of Population Control: Incentives, Targets and the Backlash against Cairo. [PDF]

    “The use of such incentives in the population field raises troubling ethical concerns. Paying poor people to be sterilized or to use a certain form of contraception distorts the whole notion of reproductive ‘choice.’ …

    “Sterilization, for example, should be one option among many and not promoted over other methods, especially given its permanence. …

    “No amount of smart design or monitoring can correct an approach that is fundamentally flawed. To pay, pressure or force poor people to make certain reproductive decisions over others is a violation of human rights.”

    As Ross’s comment shows, ideologues who view third world women and their children as excess to requirements are all too ready to ignore human rights if they might interfere with getting the numbers down.

    [See also: OPTional reading: Comments from a drive-by populationist]

  • This appears to be an initiative offering a free life enhancing medical procedure, some spending money and the chance to win a car. Vicious, indeed!