Sunday, July 11, 2004

Population Myth 8: Overpopulation is the chief cause of poverty.

"In reality, problems commonly blamed on "overpopulation" are the result of bad economic policy. For example, Western journalists blamed the Ethiopian famine on "overpopulation," but that was simply not true. The Ethiopian government caused it by confiscating the food stocks of traders and farmers and exporting them to buy arms. That country's leftist regime, not its population, caused the tragedy.

In fact, Africa, beset with problems often blamed on "overpopulation," has only one-fifth the population density of Europe, and has an unexploited food-raising potential that could feed twice the present population of the world, according to estimates by Roger Revelle of Harvard and the University of San Diego.

Economists writing for the International Monetary Fund in 1994 said that African economic problems result from excessive government spending, high taxes on farmers, inflation, restrictions on trade, too much government ownership, and overregulation of private economic activity. There was no mention of overpopulation.

The government of the Philippines relies on foreign aid to control population growth, but protects monopolies which buy farmers' outputs at artificially low prices, and sell them inputs at artificially high prices, causing widespread poverty.

Advocates of population control blame "overpopulation" for poverty in Bangladesh. But the government dominates the buying and processing of jute, the major cash crop, so that farmers receive less for their efforts than they would in a free market. Impoverished farmers flee to the city, but the government owns 40 percent of industry and regulates the rest with price controls, high taxes and unpublished rules administered by a huge, corrupt, foreign-aid dependent bureaucracy. Jobs are hard to find and poverty is rampant. This crowding leads to problems such as sporadic or inefficient food distribution, but this problem is caused — as in Ethiopia — by that country's flawed domestic policies.

It is often claimed that poverty in China is the result of "overpopulation." But Taiwan, with a population density five times as great as mainland China's, produces many times as much per capita. The Republic of Korea, with a population density 3.6 times as great as China's, has a per capita output almost 16 times as great.

The Malaysian government abandoned population control in 1984, ushering in remarkable economic growth under free market reforms, while Ecuador, Uruguay, Bulgaria and other countries complained at the International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo that though they had reduced their population growth, they still had deteriorating economies."

err, what she said.

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