The economic prosperity of a country is bound up with the size and composition of its population. Small population makes it impossible for a country to harness properly its natural resources; on the other hand, if population is abnormally large, the per capita income will be low. India having the second largest population in the world is also one of the poorest countries.
Rapid population growth in India has constituted a formidable obstacle to economic progress as it has tended to cancel out the margin of economic advances. It has also necessitated the diversion of the limited resources from production to consumption channels, leaving narrower and narrower the resource base for future economic development.
Gunnar Myrdal has aptly put it: Most of the countries of South-East Asia have entered a critical phase of sharply accelerated population growth and are now witnessing a veritable demographic revolution, the pace and dimensions of which are without precedence anywhere in the world.
Unless this “demographic revolution” is taken into account economic planning will fail to produce tangible results. Population control programmes should go hand in hand with economic growth and prosperity.
It has been generally assumed that the true wealth of a nation lies in its manpower resources-that “more people mean more wealth”.
Perhaps for this reason most of the religions of the world welcome and encourage population growth. Other things remaining the same, the greater the number and the greater the labour force of a nation, the more likely is the nation to be prosperous.
Put for this to be true, two conditions must be satisfied: (i) that the entire labour force must be employed and (ii) that the employment must be productive.
To put the same thing in a different language, the size of population is one thing and the labour force participation is another thing, i.e. a distinction has to be made between total population and that part of it which is gainfully employed.
In an under-developed country like India both these conditions are absent. An increase of population does not add to the labour force but only swells the army of the unemployed.
Since rapid population growth tends to retard growth in per capita income, economic vigour is diminished rather than enhanced by the phenomenon of the high rate of population growth. Therefore, the converse of the above mentioned proposition is true for a labour surplus under-developed economy— “More people means more poverty”.
It is apparent that in many countries population growth may threaten the basis of the good life and perhaps the very foundations of civilised society.
The population increase and migration from the countryside have outstripped the capacity of many of the world’s great cities to supply minimum levels of housing, sanitation, education and transportation.
Uncontrolled fertility has been accompanied by increasing resort to abortion—both legal and illegal. Moreover, the numbers of illegitimate children is increasing without the benefits of family life.
These conditions multiply individual frustrations and take their toll on society in the form of delinquency, crime, revolution and even war.
Thus the rapid growth of population has come to loom as one of the great problems of the age. It is not merely a problem, it is a paradox.
Until it is solved, other measures to bring about economic prosperity would be futile. Familiar metaphors like the ‘population explosion’, or ‘the population bomb’, indicate the public awareness of the danger the problem entails. Growth of population at a rate more than 2% is referred to as population explosion.
There are political thinkers who have recognised the ominous possibility of man-made famines and even of direct genocide as a means of reducing existing overpopulation.
In The Origins of Totalitarianism Hannah Arendt contends that rapid population growth in the over-crowded countries of Asia has created hordes of ‘superfluous’ people who constitute an ever-present temptation to resort to political mass murder.
And indeed, a continuation of the pressure of rapid population growth is bound to heighten the appeal of totalitarian techniques as a form of drastic demographic surgery, for totalitarianism is essentially a method of disposing of social problems by eliminating whatever and whoever makes them.
What is particularly interesting is that we note a change even in the attitude of the communists to population problem.
As Russell observes:
Both China and Russia have been compelled by hard facts to take up an attitude not consistent with what communists have hitherto regarded as Marxist orthodoxy.
They have been in the habit hitherto of proclaiming that under capitalism a population problem does exist and that under communism overpopulation cannot occur in any foreseeable future. In Russia abortion, which Stalin had made illegal, was again made legal by a decree in 1955.
China, during the past years, has permitted and even encouraged propaganda for scientific methods of contraception avowedly ‘at the request of the masses’, and in the hope of bringing about a steady fall in the birth rate.
The growth in world population began to assume the shape of a problem from the middle of the 19th century.
Since the mid-nineteenth century, three profound revolutions have taken place: a technological revolution, which promises to accelerate food production still faster; a demographic explosion which is also accelerating and places the problem of population in an even more dramatic context; and changes in human attitudes—the revolution of rising expectations.
Population increase, says Prof. Viner, hovers like a menacing dark cloud over all poor countries. Once Nehru said, ‘we should be a far more advanced nation if our population were about half of what it is’.
In other words, vast population is a crushing liability and not an asset. Successful industrialisation in an underdeveloped country would be difficult if its birth rate is too high. Sir Julian Huxley has rightly said that “In order to industrialise an underdeveloped country, you need a great deal of capital and you need a great deal of human skill and expertise.
If you have too many human beings to feed, house, educate, service and all the rest of it, that capital and skill will be used up in looking after the growing generation and you won’t be able to industrialise”.
Professors Coale and Hoover point out in their study that unless India reduces its birth rate by about 50 per cent in the next 35 to 40 years, it would never be able to break through to an advanced industrialised economy.
Incidentally, it should be noted that the Black Death which carried away nearly one half of the total population of Europe in 14th century, was a necessary condition for the later emergence of the Industrial Revolution. Rapid increase in population pushes down living standard. It can offset the contribution to economic prosperity which all other factors can make.
It will be damaging if the increase in population is more rapid than the rate of expansion of opportunities for productive employment. It is imperative to understand why.
The reason is that the governments of poor countries must divert an inordinately high proportion of their limited national savings away from productive investment simply to maintain the current low level of existence.
If we assume a capital output ratio of 3:1, it means that in order to achieve a 3 per cent increment, about 8 per cent of the national income would be needed just to maintain the status quo. All gains in per capital income would come from still higher levels of investment.
Moreover, high fertility and a high rate of population growth diminish the per capita supply of savings at the same time that they increase the demand for savings. Per capita individual savings are reduced because large families with higher pressures to consume save less than small families with similar incomes.
Secondly, the age composition of a population is somewhat more unfavourable to per capita saving when fertility is relatively high.
Empirical studies indicate an increase in fertility is generally accompanied by an increase in the relative number of persons under 20 years of age who do not contribute to the national product but add to the total burden of dependency.
Plans for progress in a developing economy overburdened with high birth rates evaporate into massive efforts merely to maintain the status quo. Unless income increases at a faster rate than the growth of numbers, the whole process of development is likely to be frustrated.
With growing population pressure, development is certainly handicapped. “Contrary to the stagnation theory, population growth, if it is in a backward country, does not induce capital widening investment or innovations.
Instead, it diminishes the rate of capital accumulation, raises costs in extractive industries, increases the amount of disguised unemployment and in large part simply diverts capital to maintaining children who die before reaching a productive age. In short, resources go to the formation of population, not capital”.
Overpopulation is synonymous with underdevelopment. In Ricardo’s words, to say there is a great abundance of labour is to say that there is not an adequate capital to employ it.
The accelerated population growth will therefore pose a serious problem for labour surplus underdeveloped economies since these countries require enormous amounts of additional capital equipment for the full employment of an increased labour force.
Unless the growth of population is checked, the “revolution of rising expectations” must remain unfulfilled. Developmental efforts of these countries should concentrate on ‘increasing the fertility of the soil and reducing the fertility of human beings”.
Therefore, the tragic truth is that problem of excessive population growth plagues man in the present and will destroy much of his future, should he fail to solve it. ‘It is by half a dozen criteria the most delicate and difficult issue of our era—perhaps of any era in history.
The misery of the underdeveloped world is today a dynamic misery, continuously broadened and deepened by a population growth that is totally unprecedented in history. If population explosion is not dealt with reasonably, it will in fact explode— explode in suffering, explode in violence and explode in inhumanity’.
In India, population growth is not constant but accelerating, explosive increases are foreseen in the period ahead. Unless, therefore, the development of population policy helps to bring down birth rates, the danger of diminishing returns to labour is real.
What is gained in aggregated output with the help of development plans may be lost through the multiplication of the consumers.
In the industrially developed countries, however, population increase poses no problem since ‘the power of population’ marched in line with the ‘power of production’. In these countries population nearly trebled but output increased by over 20 times. Per capita income rose more than seven times.
Population increase is represented by the excess of births over deaths. Unto the 19th century the two had been in relative equilibrium. Since the mid-nineteenth century, they became seriously unbalanced.
‘It required 1600 years to double the world population of 25 crores as it stood in the first century A.D. Today, the more than 300 crores on earth will double in 35 years’ time and the world’s population will then be increasing at the rate of an additional hundred crores every 8 years’.
In India the present rate of growth of population is 2.5 per cent. Few people would deny that the rapid rate of population growth in India is one of the greatest threats to her hopes of prosperity. Acharya J.B. Kripalani humorously remarked that the only industry prospering in India was the children—every home was a child producing factory.
The brutal truth about Indian economy is that there is an addition to the population at the rate of 15 to 18 million every year. To appreciate the gravity of the situation one has only to realise that every year we add to our population as many people as there are in Australia and every two years as many as in Canada.
Current high birth rates are seriously hampering our developmental efforts. They pose grave economic problems and bedevil all our short-run calculations. It threatens to nullify all our efforts to raise living standards. We have to run faster and faster merely to stand still.
There is no alternative to a decline in population growth and one way to achieve such decline is the increase of death rate or a relaxation of death control.
However, nobody in a democratic set-up favours the first choice since this really offers no long-run solution. It is like curing the disease by killing the patient.
The second choice is not practicable these days. Migration on a large scale is not possible. No country is inclined to add a large number of foreigners to its population.
Moreover, there is no new country which can afford to accept millions of foreigners. Consequently, the third one is the obvious choice. ‘The desirable remedy does not lie in restoring the death rate to its former level. It lies in adopting births to deaths’.
The effect of rampant population growth will be particularly serious for India whose present populations are already large in relation to their potential agricultural resources.
For India not only the full employment of an increased labour force require huge amount of additional capital, but to support an increased population at reasonably acceptable standards of living will also necessitate a marked expansion of exports.
It is sometimes argued that we should concentrate on economic progress instead of worrying about birth control campaigns, for economic progress will obviously permit more people to live, at a higher standard of living.
But those who advocate population control policies do not see such policies as an alternative but as a pre-requisite to economic development.
As Sir Julian Huxley observed “I would say categorically that the control of population, birth control applied on a large scale, is a prerequisite for anything that you can call progress and advance in human evolution, even in-the immediate future”.
So a developing country cannot afford to follow a lassez-faire policy with respect to population growth than they can with respect to capital accumulation and economic growth.
The conclusion is inescapable that unless we encourage effective population control policy we will be choosing economic disaster. We have to choose between two alternatives: Plan or Perish. Family planning is not designed to destroy families.
On the contrary it is designed to save them. It is high time to check the growth of population by adopting a pragmatic population policy if we are serious about eliminating poverty and unemployment.
Although the problem of population control has acquired new and dangerous dimensions in recent times, the problem is not a new one. It is as old as Aristotle. It is gratifying to note that progressive intellectuals through the ages have favoured population control policy.
Aristotle in his Politics warns that a neglect of an effective birth control policy is a never-failing source of poverty among its citizens, which is, in turn, the parent of revolution and crime and advised couples with an excessive number of children to abort succeeding pregnancies “before sense and life have begun”.
J.S. Mill, a great thinker of the 19th century felt that education was of greatest importance in changing social attitudes towards child bearing. He pleaded for an extension of female education as well as political, social and economic emancipation of women.
Rabindranath Tagore welcomed birth control policy. “The birth control movement is a great movement not only because it will save women from enforced and undesirable maternity, but because it will help the cause of peace by lessening the number of surplus population of a country scrambling for food and space outside its own rightful limits”.
In his essay entitled ‘Economic Possibilities for our Grand Children’ Keynes suggested that the future rate of economic progress would, inter alia, depend on our power to control population.
India is now in ‘Malthusian trap’ and can be extricated by forceful means of birth control. M.C. Chagla has rightly observed that in India, as in other similarly situated countries, civilization must advance on two fronts.
The one front relates to the improvement in the health of the people. But the other front should not be neglected—population control and family planning—because India’s future is bound up with the question of the pressure of population. It would lead to a terrible imbalance if the advance is maintained only on one front.
It was only after the World War II that the governments started taking serious notice of the population problem. It was envisaged that if development progress is to be made and economic gains achieved and consolidated, attention will have to be given to the problem of curbing population growth.
Consequently, governments of developing countries increasingly started adopting or supporting family planning policies with or without a formal population limitation policy.
Though Japan based the Eugenic Protection Law in 1948, India was the first country to launch in 1951 a nationwide official programme. This has now been followed by many countries.
Family planning or Planned Parenthood is the only way to demographic breakthrough. Economic growth and prosperity rise in the per capita income, adequate nourishing food are basic prerequisites for the welfare of the people.
These cannot be achieved in the present era unless drastic measures are adopted to stabilise the population within the shortest possible time. In this context, family planning must be considered as an important sector of the countries economic development plans.
Family planning programme i.e. to bridge the gap as also balance the economic growth with the population, thereby help to raise the per capita income and give the people a higher standard of living.
Starting from a major emphasis on IUCD in the fifties, we have reached the stage of cafeteria approach. Under the latter, freedom is available to the individual to choose the method he or she likes.
The cafeteria approach has recently been reinforced by campaign for sterilization. The point is that even though the programme has been going on for nearly three decades now, it has not produced the impact that it was expected to. This fact has been admitted in the first seminar on Family Planning held by the Indian Institute of Public Administration in 1973.
“By hitching the family planning wagon to the passenger train of public health and not to the express train of development, the Plan blundered and part of the blame for this must be shared by the Planning Commission.”
In the first Five Year Plan the problem of population growth received attention in the very first chapter but the advocacy of the need for population control was cautious.
The second Plan put the same idea in a more forthright minner: in a country like India, a high rate of population growth is bound to affect adversely the rate of economic advance and living standards per capita.
Given the overall shortage of land and capital equipment relative to population as in India, the conclusion is inescapable that an effective curb on population growth is an important condition for rapid improvement in incomes and levels of living. The third Plan considered “the significance of population in relation to economic development”.
The objective of stabilising the growth of population over a reasonable period must therefore be at the very centre of planned development. The fourth Plan makes a plea for “a strong, purposeful government policy”.
It says, population growth on this scale can be a crippling handicap since our population in relation to resources is already large, incomes are low and economic development is a desperate need.
The speed at which a country develops depends largely upon its ability to direct a larger part of its growing resources to investment rather than current consumption.
A growing population with a high proportion of dependent children will find it increasingly difficult to do so.
If population keeps growing rapidly, the major part of investment and national energy and effort may be used up for merely maintaining the existing low living standards. Population growth thus presents a very serious challenge.
It calls for a nationwide appreciation of the urgency and gravity of the situation. A strong, purposeful, government policy is an essential condition of success.
Population control cannot be achieved without transforming the attitude of the people towards the size of the family, towards marriage, towards women, towards children and towards the use of birth control devices. People, should be impresses upon to adopt a planned family as a way of life.
A free society must necessarily make free choice rather than coercion as the basis of its population policy.
But time is of the essence. The rate of growth of world population is so great and its consequences arc so grave that this may be the last generation which has the opportunity to cope with the problem on the basis of free choice.
Let us conclude in the words of Dr. B.R. Sen: “The next 35 years, till the end of the century will be a most critical period in man’s history. Either we take the fullest measures both to raise productivity and to stabilize population growth or we shall face disaster of an unprecedented magnitude.
We must be warned that in the present situation lie the seeds of unlimited progress or unlimited disaster, not only for individual nations but for the whole world”.