Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Population policies, the government and the individual

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All governments formulate population policies for their citizens, as they want to improve their productivity and happiness. Unfortunately , they end  up focusing primarily  on numbers . In the past , the holy grail was zero population growth ( ZPG) .Experts fervently believed that limiting population size held the secret to the future growth of the entire nation . This was completely logical, because too many people would end up consuming too many resources as a result of which they would never be able to come out of the poverty trap. Billions of rupees were spent on family planning program and trying to persuade and coerce couples to have no more than 2 children.

We now know that this theory was completely wrong, as a result of which we are now benefiting from the demographic dividend . The citizens of India had enough sense not to listen to the demographers and the experts .

Sadly, nothing has changed , and the experts to continue to focus on numbers – it’s just that the numbers we pay attention to have changed ! These days , the number which everyone focuses on is the child sex ratio , the hypothesis being that having one girl and one boy in order to have a sex ratio of one would be perfect for society.

Unfortunately, when you focus on numbers and ratios by putting the population first, we lose sight of the fact that populations consist of individuals . Our citizens should be making their own reproductive decisions , to maximize their own personal benefit. The ideal population policies which would be one which would create circumstances which would allow individuals to ensure that every child they bring into this world is a wanted child . Each family could then decide exactly how many children to have , and when to have them , without having to worry about what the government felt was the optimal number for them.

Unfortunately when we start putting numbers first ( because experts are good with numbers and not with people) , we end up creating all kinds of messes. Unfortunately, we don't even know what the long-term consequences of these decisions will be – and don’t have the humility to acknowledge our ignorance. Because everyone is singing the same tune, groupthink becomes the norm. In our enthusiasm to implement some of these policies , we end up creating a lot of inadvertent harm be forcing couples to make decisions they are not happy with. It’s easy to put this down to “ collateral damage “, and because it hurts an individual , it's not publicized and doesn't receive enough attention .

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  1. Dr, I appreciate your view. But, do you think that the benefit of the individual translates to the benefit of the society as a whole?

    I live in a country which has an opposite problem as ours. There the government is pleading its citizens to procreate :) Germany has an inverted, constrictive population pyramid, where younger generation are very few and the society is filled with older people. It means they are running out of workforce to keep their economy steady. German government provides money to parents for bringing up every baby they produce. It is called ‘kindergeld’ and you get it as a rule until the children turn 18, though it can continue until they are 25 if they are still in school. You get €184 per month for each of the first two children, €190 for the third child and €215 for each subsequent one. Great right! :) But German citizens are very reluctant to multiply in spite of the massive help their government is ready to offer :)

    On the other hand, in China ‘One-Child Policy’ has created lots of chaos in the society from abortions to infanticide. But, there are people who argue that it is a sensible thing to do because society benefits from it due to less pollution and better quality of life. Can we entirely rule out this argument? But all these kind of artificial manipulation in order to create a better life quality will create lots of strain at the individual level which will ultimately lead to the disruption of a natural balance in the ecosystem (society). What happens when a country with such a huge population ages fast? (With fewer youngsters and more pensioners). It will be a complete disaster and will take lots of time to heal.

    Should or can individual organisms restrict their reproductive potential altruistically for the good of the species? Isn’t procreation the basic reason for our survival? What will happen if we try to artificially restrict individual organism’s basic reproductive right? Aren’t we interfering with the way how natural selection works? Is it possible to artificially skew the sex ratio? Even if it is skewed won’t nature try to bring back the balance?

  2. You ask - But, do you think that the benefit of the individual translates to the benefit of the society as a whole?

    I think this is irrelevant. Individuals should not have to sacrifice their personal good in order to " benefit society " !

    A good society is one which allows individuals to make decisions which are right for them personally. Society benefits when all its members make decisions which maximise their personal benefit !


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