7 Billion need not be too many

Today, the estimated population of the world reaches 7 billion or 7,000,000,000. Thats a lot, by anyone’s standards.

Of course, it’s only an estimate, we just don’t have the infrastructure to count every single person. Even in developed countries, an error margin of 1-2% is presumed. In poorer, developing nations, especially those experiencing clear population booms, the accuracy of these figures is sketchy at best. However, the statistical consensus is not if but when. We may be already passed 7bn, we may not get there for another year but we will certainly be there soon. 50 years ago, when the world’s population was less than half the current estimates, the huge population growth we have seen in the developing world was seen as the second biggest threat to global stability (nuclear war being rightly seen as the most dangerous). Malthusian limits to the global human population have so far been proved false and I can see no reason why they should become true in the forseeable near future.

Despite the lack of food seen in many parts of the world, we see no slowdown in the population growth rates in these areas, in fact they seem to be increasing in many places. Why is this? Some would have you believe that the aid often given to these people helps fuel these growth rates, that without the aid many children would die and the growth rates would fall. This lack of humanitarianism fails to take into account the thoughts and intentions of the people involved. Nobody wants to live in a place where they cannot grow enough food to feed their families and statements like “well someone has to live there” are clearly wrong. No-one “has” to live in an area that is incapable of supporting human life. It is the misfortune of being born into such crippling poverty with their ability to relocate to more fertile lands crushed by government corruption or roving bands of local militias that keeps so many people in environments unable to support them. One of the main reasons people in these circumstances feel the need to have so many children is because of the harsh environment they find themselves in. Low nutrition rates and poor medical care mean that many children die before adulthood and those that survive do not often make it into what we would call ‘old age’. To ensure the continuation of your family line and to have the possibility of someone to care for you in your retirement you need to have many children. While these may be changing in fact, they are still entrenched in many cultural norms worldwide. A period of rapid population growth is inevitable while the cultural practices of local populations catch up with the medical realities of the present day. This was seen throughout the industrialised nations of the Victorian age and is mirrored in the developing nations of today.

Clearly ongoing charity donations for an indeterminate period of time will never solve the problems, only postpone the necessity of finding a solution. Simply removing the obstacles stated above and giving them enough land to farm will not solve these problems either. Subsistence farming by individual families is an incredibly inefficient way of producing food and will not be able to support large increases in population. People only use subsistence agriculture when they cannot afford to buy food at market prices, this is generally because they have nothing to sell in exchange (I include labour as a sellable commodity in this example). Almost everything we know about industrialisation tells us that economies of scale will always deliver cost savings to large-scale production, be this of food or any manufactured goods. The only way out of the food poverty trap for any developing nations is for them to do exactly as the name suggests, develop. If their populations have access to employment they will be able to afford the food produced more efficiently on larger farms, reducing their reliance on the developed world charities. As this development continues their demand for consumer goods will increase, thus contributing to the economies of the industrialised world. This form of development does not have to happen at the current locations of the people who need it, it just has to be made available to them as an option.

All the studies I am aware of show that it is development and economic growth that fuels a lowering fertility rate, not the other way around. If a family can be sure that their children are likely to survive into adulthood and they can afford to save for their own retirement having many children becomes a burden on family resources rather than a necessary investment. Fertility rates the world over are lowering with industrialisation but are still well above replacement rates. Even once they get down to two children per woman (currently about 2.5) we will still see growth for a generation while the children born during the above replacement rate period have their own children.

None of this can happen however without education on a massive scale. Education of both boys and girls without the hideous excuses of religious or racial prejudices and traditions can be the only solution for the poverty and hunger seen throughout large parts of the developing world. The advances made by large parts of China, India and many of the so-called “Asian Tiger” economies in the Asia-Pacific region have shown us that improving the quality of a populations education and investing in modern industry will almost inevitably improve that nation’s economic strength. Even if the employment opportunities are not yet present in the country, a well-educated, mobile workforce, willing to travel to find work is a benefit not just for the nation of eventual employment but also the home nation as money is often sent home to support waiting families.

It is for the good of both the giver and the receiver of aid that long-term solutions to poverty and hunger are found. Gifts of food and medical supplies cannot improve more than the immediate situation, foreign investment into industry without the necessary supporting infrastructure will be doomed to fail if a local workforce cannot be found with the necessary skills. Development in all nations begins first with emancipation (and preferably suffrage) then continues with compulsory education for all. If foreign aid is needed to supply this, then we, as a developed nation supplying the aid, should look beyond the immediate hardships and into the future of not just the nations being aided but also the entire world. It is, after all, the politics of the short-term that has caused and is still causing so many problems in the Southern Eurozone now.

Thanks for reading

Rowan

All comments welcome, I’ll answer as many as I can.

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