Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interventionism and Neo-Malthusian Solution to Overpopulation

For the past several days, I was sidetracked by numerous readings, but I accomplished almost nothing in terms of writing a review. So among numerous ebooks I have on economics, I choose Henry Hazlitt's "The Conquest of Poverty" for review. But it has twenty chapters. It's too big for me in view of the fact that I also have many teaching responsibilities. So I decided to digest the book two chapters at a time. 

In reading the first two chapters, I selected three quotations, which I consider best capture the idea of the chapter. In chapter 1, the "Problem of Poverty", my chosen quotation is about the impact of government intervention on the economy of Argentina and Russia. Here is the quote:

"Foolish governmental interference led the Argentine, once the world's principal producer and exporter of beef, to forbid in 1971 even domestic consumption of beef on alternate weeks. Soviet Russia, one of whose chief economic problems before it was communized was to find an export market for its huge surplus of grains, has been forced to import grains from the capitalist countries. One could go on to cite scores of other examples, with ruinous consequences, all brought on by short-sighted governmental policies." (p. 19)

This quote from Hazlitt speaks about the economic destruction resulting from government intervention in the affairs of the free market. Hazlitt can identify additional examples, but he limits himself only in the experiences of Argentina and Russia.

In chapter 2, "Poverty and Population", the name of Thomas Robert Malthus plays a significant role. This is because he wrote a book that is considered a landmark in the discussion about the correlation between poverty and overpopulation. 

The two quotations I selected talk about the contrast between Malthus and neo-Malthusians' solutions to the problem of overpopulation and poverty. Malthus as an individualist and libertarian, the solution he proposed to overpopulation was both voluntary and simple. For him, the role of an individual particularly individual responsibility is primary. A responsible individual will not bring a child into this world without first finding the necessary livelihood to support him. 

However, the neo-Malthusians didn't follow the footstep of Malthus. Since the neo-Malthusians are collectivist in ideology, they came up with a different solution. Their remedy to overpopulation resorted to government coercion, propaganda, sterilization of men and women, and even abortion. To my mind, this shows their determination to stop populationg growth at any cost. Moreover, they justified their action by claiming that since it is the community's responsibility to keep an individual alive, it is also the community's prerogative to decide whether to procreate or not. 

Here are the two quotes from chapter 2: 

"What, then, is the solution? Most of the neo-Malthusians, unfortunately, are collectivist in their thinking; they want to solve the problem in the aggregate, and by government coercion. They not only want governments to flood their countries with propaganda for The Pill, The Loop, and other methods of contraception, encouraging even abortion; they want to sterilize men and women. They demand 'Zero Population Growth Now.' A professor of 'human ecology' at the University of California declares that the community cannot 'watch children starve.' Therefore: 'If the community has the responsibility of keeping children alive it must also have the power to decide when they may be procreated. Only so can we save ourselves from the degradation of runaway population growth.' " (p. 29).

"Malthus was an individualist and a libertarian. His own proposed remedy for overpopulation was both voluntary and simple: 'I see no harm in drawing the picture of a society in which each individual is supposed strictly to fulfill his duties The happiness of the whole is to be the result of the happiness of individuals, and to begin first with them. No co-operation is required. Every step tells. He who performs his duty faithfully will reap the full fruits of it, whatever be the number of others who fail. This duty is intelligible to the humblest capacity. It is merely that he is not to bring beings into the world for whom he cannot find the means of support.' If each of us adhered to this principle, no overpopulation problem would exist." (p. 30).

Source: Hazlitt, H. 1996. The Conquest of Poverty. New York: The Foundation for Economic Education, Inc. 

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