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 Population - the ultimate resource
Population, angels and demons
The Financial Express, India Monday, July 19, 2010

There is much interest in the population question after decades. When malthus made his predictions, little did he know about the fact that innovations in technology would help the world cope with a higher population. The anti population drive in India in the 70's had bitter consequences, writes Renuka Bisht in The Financial Express.

After decades of slumbering on the political backburner, it looks like the population question is inching its way back to the centrestage. A radical philosophical shift has taken place in the interim. Where we used to see only Malthusian monsters, we are now sort of looking at sleeping beauties.
... ...

When Thomas Malthus wrote in 1798 that, “the power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race”, he little anticipated how the balancing power of agricultural science could enable the planet’s natural capital to stretch nurture to increasing millions. For him, sicknesses, epidemics, wars and suchlike represented ‘positive’ checks. Yet, as the planet.

If Malthus just couldn’t conceptualise a demographic dividend, the corollary was that he couldn’t imagine anything like a demographic deficit either. To be fair, neither could India when it went into population control overdrive in the 1970s—again with lots of unanticipated consequences. China is obviously a textbook case. Within a quarter century of the world’s harshest population control policies, it did succeed in bringing down the number of people living in extreme poverty by more than two-thirds.

None of the 23 European countries that had fertility rates above replacement levels 30 years ago can claim the same today. In fact, as per present trends provided by the Optimum.


But none of this justifies just sitting back on our haunches. Adding an Australia a year—even as the planet adds on two more Chinas or eight more Americas by 2050—does not make for a rosy picture even after admitting that it’s not quite the nightmare that modern Malthusians make it out to be. An increasing burden on natural resources not to mention a thinning of the government’s ability to provide essential services remain very credible sources of concern. The point hitherto has been that draconian measures, whether in the shape advocated by Malthus or practiced by China, can be rather counterproductive. Instead, as India begins to reconsider the population question seriously, it needs to consider a more holistic address.

The last census not only showed that India’s fertility rate had dropped considerably through the first decade of liberalisation, but also that it was 2.02 for literates as opposed to 3.09 for illiterates.


This article was published in the The Financial Express on Monday, July 19, 2010. Please read the original article here.
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