Should We Control World Population? - Diana Coole - ebook + książka

Should We Control World Population? ebook

Diana Coole

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Opis

By 2100, the human population may exceed 11 billion. Having recently surpassed 7.5 billion, it has trebled since 1950. Are such numbers sustainable, given a deepening environmental crisis? Can so many live well? Or should world population be controlled? The population question, one of the twentieth century's most bitterly contested issues, is being debated once again. In this compelling book, Diana Coole examines some of the profound political and ethical questions involved. Are ethical objections to government interference with individuals' reproductive freedom definitive? Is it possible to limit population in a non-coercive way that is consistent with liberal-democratic values? Interweaving erudite original analysis with an accessible overview of the crucial debates, Coole argues that a case can be made for reducing our numbers in ways that are compatible with human rights. This book will be essential reading for anyone interested in one of the most important questions facing our planet, from concerned citizens to students of politics, sociology, political economy, gender studies and environmental studies.

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Contents

Cover

Copyright

Introduction

1 Should Population be Controlled?

The demographic context

Arguments for stabilizing and/or reducing human numbers

Economic arguments for and against demographic intervention

Conclusion

2 The Ethics of Population Control: Reproductive Freedom and Human Rights

Reproductive freedom and collective action

Reproductive rights as human rights

Conclusion

3 The Means of Population Governance

Contemporary governance versus control

(Neo)liberal governance and the means of reproductive behaviour modification

Conclusion

End User License Agreement

Guide

Cover

Table of Contents

Begin Reading

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Political Theory Today

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Christopher Bertram, Do States Have the Right to Exclude Immigrants?

Diana Coole, Should We Control World Population?

Should We Control World Population?

Diana Coole

polity

Copyright © Diana Coole 2018

The right of Diana Coole to be identified as Author of this Work has been asserted in accordance with the UK Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

First published in 2018 by Polity Press

Polity Press65 Bridge StreetCambridge CB2 1UR, UK

Polity Press101 Station LandingSuite 300Medford, MA 02155, USA

All rights reserved. Except for the quotation of short passages for the purpose of criticism and review, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher.

ISBN-13: 978-1-5095-2344-3

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Coole, Diana H., author.

Title: Should we control world population? / Diana Coole.

Description: Medford, MA : Polity Press, [2018] | Series: Political theory today | Includes bibliographical references and index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2018000380 (print) | LCCN 2018005762 (ebook) | ISBN 9781509523443 (Epub) | ISBN 9781509523405 (hardback) | ISBN 9781509523412 (pbk.)

Subjects: LCSH: Population policy--Moral and ethical aspects. | Reproductive rights. | Birth control. | Overpopulation.

Classification: LCC HB883.5 (ebook) | LCC HB883.5 .C66 2018 (print) | DDC 363.9--dc23

LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2018000380

The publisher has used its best endeavours to ensure that the URLs for external websites referred to in this book are correct and active at the time of going to press. However, the publisher has no responsibility for the websites and can make no guarantee that a site will remain live or that the content is or will remain appropriate.

Every effort has been made to trace all copyright holders, but if any have been overlooked the publisher will be pleased to include any necessary credits in any subsequent reprint or edition.

For further information on Polity, visit our website: politybooks.com

Introduction

Since 1950, the world’s population has trebled, from around 2.5 billion to more than 7.5 billion in 2017. It is projected to exceed 9.7 billion by mid-century, rising to around 11.2 billion by 2100. Given a simultaneous rise in living standards and in environmental degradation, it seems timely to ask whether such numbers are sustainable. Demographic change can have enormous national as well as global impacts, especially if a population is growing (or diminishing) significantly. Higher densities affect everyday lives; more (or fewer) people may place substantial strains on social and ecological services; shifts in the ratio between births and deaths alter a country’s age profile and economic prospects. In short, demography matters. But should governments therefore try to control trends that are judged sub-optimal? This became one of the most bitterly contested issues of the twentieth century. Today, the outstanding question is not whether massive increases will continue indefinitely but, rather, whether the pace of fertility decline and slowing growth rates now witnessed virtually everywhere will, if left untended, yield a sustainable population within the constraints of the biosphere. If not, strenuous political efforts may be needed to achieve it. But can they be justified ethically?

Population control is commonly (although not necessarily) identified with reducing, even reversing, population growth. This only emerged as a serious issue during the eighteenth century, especially in ‘old’ countries like Britain that were already considered ‘over-peopled’. Industrialization showed that resources were more elastic than previously imagined. The idea of ending worldwide expansion of human numbers only emerged during the mid-twentieth century, with the appearance of new ecological sensibilities that recognized planet Earth as a single but fragile life-support system on which billions now depended. In ‘overdeveloped’ nations, evidence of environmental deterioration was attributed to the combination of a post-war baby boom and rising production and consumption; in ‘underdeveloped’ nations, rapid population growth was understood as an obstacle to development and a catalyst for an impending humanitarian crisis. The 1960s and 1970s were the heyday for heroic population-control narratives and policy initiatives that have since been disavowed as coercive. This is the core concern that any new intervention will need to address.

Despite the topic remaining toxic, there are renewed claims that world population growth is contributing significantly to a planetary environmental crisis and calls for government action to reduce it. The terminology of ‘population control’ is absent from this contemporary discourse but a goal of ‘population stabilization’ is not. In fact, most nations do practise interventionist policies: a majority of the 197 countries surveyed by the United Nations (UN) in 2013 reported policies for raising or reducing growth rates, primarily through influencing fertility behaviour. The population question has not been much discussed over recent decades but, as it re-emerges, it seems important to revisit and update arguments, taking into account the unprecedented biophysical circumstances, altered geopolitical relationships and novel discursive resources of the twenty-first century.

Three principal variables determine demographic trajectories: fertility, mortality and migration. Public interventions designed to increase life expectancy are commonplace and seldom questioned, although debates about voluntary euthanasia and the right to die are still in their infancy. Certainly, measures designed to limit numbers by raising the death rate would be universally reviled. Population control is primarily interested in fertility rates. ‘Future population growth is highly dependent on the path that future fertility will take, as relatively small changes in fertility behaviour, when projected over several decades, can generate large differences in total population.’1 Population control is defined in this book as a policy regime designed to modify fertility trends through deliberate interference in reproductive behaviour, with the aim of influencing demographic outcomes. The total fertility rate (TFR) is the crucial variable here: in simplified terms, it refers to the average number of children a woman will bear over her lifetime. Over time, replacement-level TFR (of 2.1) results in a stable population as each generation replaces itself. To modify the TFR, population controllers must influence individuals’ reproductive behaviour. This is not just a complicated undertaking; it is also profoundly controversial. Liberal values of freedom, autonomy and human rights are entangled here with contested definitions of sexuality, gender roles and identities, family norms and embodiment, as well as with ideological disputes over the role of the state and its powers.

Migration, finally, is a somewhat different demographic phenomenon since it refers to the mobility of existing peoples. Migration can nonetheless affect local fertility and death rates. Some environmentalists and security experts warn that increasing numbers may themselves cause mass migrations or life-threatening conflicts. Because of migration’s national impact on other demographic variables, immigration and emigration are widely used as policy levers to address perceived size or age imbalances. Regulating people’s movement, especially by enforcing national border controls, is both common and contested, although this is not conventionally understood as population control.

The concept of population control contains an ambiguity that is reflected in the book’s organization: it refers to both ends and means. Ends concern demographic outcomes and associated ambitions to manage them, in order to achieve collective benefits (for the planet and its wildlife, for all or some humans, for future generations). This consequentialist approach is discussed in chapter 1. The question of population control as a matter of means, on the other hand, is both interwoven with and logically separate from disagreements about goals. Hostility to population control may stem from a belief that government meddling with private reproductive behaviour in pursuit of demographic ends is inherently coercive and thus illegitimate, irrespective of the merits of the ends pursued. This ethical objection is examined in chapter 2. For other critics, the issue is more practical: regardless of any benefits population policies might bestow on the commons, they doubt there are fair, non-coercive means for pursuing them. This policy dimension is considered in chapter 3.

The book’s title is intentionally provocative. By asking ‘Should we control world population?’, it aims to present a highly controversial topic in a bold and unvarnished way, acknowledging that each term within the question – population, control, we – contributes to its controversial reputation. The concept of population is a modern construction born – as Michel Foucault explains – of unprecedented population growth triggered by European development from around 1750, of new statistical techniques capable of aggregating bio-demographic data and measuring trends, of novel (biopolitical) micro-powers capable of permeating and reconstructing everyday habits, of modern states that colonize these techniques and use them to discipline behaviour, of classical political economy’s interest in maintaining a productive labour force. Whether contemporary public policy should continue to focus on this aggregated, structural level or on a more micro-level of households and personal choice; whether nations can or should still think of their citizens as a population, given their diversity; whether the numerous but often invisible biopolitical interventions that have become normal features of governance are justifiable: these remain lively questions for critical inquiry.

The idea of control is no less politically contentious. Controlling the natural forces that yield bio-demographic phenomena, for example through birth control or disease control, seems congruent with a modern desire to dominate nature through science and action, as a precondition for rational government and personal liberty. Biological connotations of pest control, or political associations with authoritarianism, seem more sinister. The two most familiar examples of population control programmes – China’s one-child policy (1979–2016) and the compulsory sterilizations undertaken in India, especially during its State of Emergency (1975–7) – are notorious. Whether they can be justified by their demographic outcomes, and whether any state can legitimately interfere with private family decisions even if it renounces coercive means, raises profound political and ethical questions that are not readily resolved.

This normative terrain is further complicated by new models of governing. During the 1980s, objections that population control is an unjustifiable invasion of privacy became entangled with political rejections of top-down, centralized planning regimes. The ‘command-and-control’ model that was conducive to managing demographic trends, and the bureaucratic welfare programmes that were congenial to providing comprehensive, goal-driven family planning services, have been displaced by models of decentralized governance associated with neoliberal preferences for privatized risks and services. As political conceptions of individual freedom mesh with economic notions of rational personal choice, definitions of coercion and voluntary consent become less clear-cut. On the other hand, whether it is by a liberal model of government that privileges human rights, or by a neoliberal model of governance that privileges market forces over state action, population control has been reframed by a starker opposition between individual freedom (or choice) and (coercive) state control than was formerly the case. This dichotomy is challenged at several points in the following chapters.

The we, finally, poses some particularly intractable political difficulties since it concerns the distribution of power and the identity of the agents who would exert control (or comprise their targets). Do governments have the right to tell (some?) people how many children they may bear when the common good is at stake? Conversely, do couples have a responsibility to take into account the effects on other people, future generations and different species of their procreation? If so, do rulers (or experts) have a role in educating or advising them, and does the public also have a part to play in debating population policies?

The ‘we’ provokes additional geopolitical critiques, given regional disparities in which uneven demographic trends map onto unequal development. If the planet is unsustainably peopled, who is responsible? Who should act? Some critics challenge the idea of a tragedy of the commons shared by all current and future generations of humans (and other species). In particular, they may reject the blanket suggestion that fewer people are needed to avoid environmental collapse or global injustice, especially if this ignores the diverse contributions and responsibilities of different regions. Given the demographic and economic disparities between the global North and South, and their disproportionate contributions to population growth and environmental degradation, they equate the idea of a worldwide population problem with neo-colonial sophistry. Indeed, some critics deny that a problem of overpopulation exists at all, especially inasmuch as this casts blame on the high-fertility nations of the less developed world, and attribute responsibility for environmental unsustainability entirely to overconsumption in wealthy countries.

Yet others are wary of reducing the ‘we’ to western interests since this both denies agency to poor countries and neglects adverse effects of rapid population growth on their own interests in development. From a demographic perspective, it seems pragmatic to concentrate on helping regions where population growth is most evident, especially if this impedes their aspirations to eliminate poverty. The principal locus of concern has shifted since the late twentieth century from Asia (with its populous nations and now emergent economies) to Africa (where most least developed countries are situated). ‘In all plausible scenarios of future trends, Africa will play a central role in shaping the size and distribution of the world’s population over the next few decades.’2 Yet focusing attention on fertility reduction here provokes accusations of racism and eugenics, a charge exemplified by Hardt and Negri’s assertion that it is ‘difficult to separate most contemporary projects of population control from a kind of racial panic’.3 The intersection of causality, blame and interests marks one of the most politically combustible arenas in population disputes.