By Peter Nolan
There is no pressing need for a population policy and the climate of opinion fostered by the Family Planning Association and conservationist groups is "irrational and immoral" a Cambridge lecturer, Geoffrey Hawthorn argues.
Mr. Hawthorn, Fellow of Churchill College, accuses such groups of being "irrational in their hysteria about population and immoral mmoral in their im plication that the basic right to own m determine one's n fertility must fall before the new and undefended crime of having more than two children.— Mr. Hawthorn's Fabian Society pamphlet Population Policy: A Modern Delusion was published last week.
It appeared the day 54 Conservative backbenchers signed a motion supporting a Bill calling for free comprehensive family planning and birth control services, which was being debated in the House of Lords. The background to the backbenchers' motion was Commons select cornmittee House of Com
mittee report on overpopulation. Mr. Hawthorn details falling European birth-rates and undermines many of the basic to support popula ,a.roglitimpleanntnsintised g.
"Comparisons both 'within and beyond Europe (except for the United states) snow tnat Great Britain is virtually unique in displaying a widespread concern with the possibility of overpopulation and thus unique in having a government which has been forced to make at least a token response to such a con cern," he writes.
"By 1971, the annual birthrates in Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the German Federal Republic, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were all below what would be needed for replacement in the long run, and although the rates in other countries in this year were above replacement, those in Austria, the German Democratic Republic, Portugal, Switzerland and Yugoslavia were only just so, and had been displaying a fairly consistent decline for several years . . .
"Japan, after a transition from relatively high to relatively low rates of fertility and mortality, only exceeded in its speed by some of the less developed countries of Eastern Europe, is now officially committed to raising fertility to the extent of escaping from the trend, which began in 1957, of a rate of natural increase too low for replacement in the long run." Mr. Hawthorn warns of the difficulty of predicting population trends with any accuracy. "The government actuary and registrar general are the first to admit that their projections are tentative. It is essential to understand that these projections are projections and not predictions. They are not based on a law or set of laws about the causes of fertility, migration and mortality. They are merely what they say, projections from present trends," he adds.
"The variations in the population projections for Britain for the year 2000. made between 1960 and 1971, have been of the order of 11 million, rising from 63.8 million in 1960 to 74.7 million in 1964, falling back to 63.1 million in 1971. The most distant projec tion, for 2011, is for a total population of 66.3 million." Mr. Hawthorn also questions the idea that there can be such a thing as an 'optimum population' or an 'optimum rate of growth.' "An m optimu population is a population of a size at which the returns to labour are greater than they would be with any smaller or any larger number of people. In calculating it, it is assumed, unrealistically, that both technology and the amount of capital are constant. Neither assumption is at all valid for an industrial society, and the second assumption is probably not valid for any society at all," he maintains. Pointing out that money not
spent by having another child necessarily be need not nece saved, Mr. Hawthorn continues, "The higher the rate of growth the higher the proportion of young people in the population and thus the higher the proportion of young workers." Substantially the same argu ment applies to pollution. At any given rate of pollution per head, more heads mean more pollution. However it is not the same as
s cause dis
proportionately that more head proportionately more pollution, which appears to be the gist of many popular polemics. As has been shown very clearly for the United States (Barry Commoner, "The Closing Circle", London 1971) not only has population growth not contributed disproportionately to the increase in pollution but neither has a rising standard of living.
Discussing overpopulation being responsible for congestion, he writes:
"In several respects, real pop
ulation densities have been falling; the number of people per room is dropping decade by decade, and there is a progressive thinning out of urban centres. Even such a committed protagonist as Paul Ehrlich has admitted (in private conversation) that not one study has shown a causal connection between sheer overcrowding end social or psy chological breakdown in human beings ... the observed pathology can always be ascribed to other causes." "It is probably true to say that possible e with the pxception of Roumania's decision to make abortion more difficult to obtain, and the recent efforts of the People's Republic of China, no population policy has had a significant demographic effect, and none at all seems to have had a long term impact; but these
arguments are not decisive," he states. "Industrial countries, on the other hand, whose deliberate population policies have been so un successful, have characteristically been concerned to raise their fertility."
Copies of Population Policy: A Modern Delusion can be ob• tained for 30p from: Fabian Society, 11 Dartmouth Street, London SW I.