planned pregnancies, unintended consequences, and Uncle Sam's bad image

By Phil Lawler (bio - articles - email) | Nov 15, 2010

Former President Bill Clinton, speaking about economic growth to an audience in the Philippines, makes a remarkable statement: 

"You have a huge population, which is a positive..."

 A large resident population is the key to economic growth. Yes, statistical data will bear out that premise. 

Why, then, has US foreign policy aimed to curb population growth in undeveloped countries-- not just under Clinton, but under every president since Eisenhower? Does the US want to prevent poor countries from attaining one of the key factors needed for economic development? Not at all. The proponents of family-planning programs have more benign motives. They want to prevent babies from starving in the Third World, and the simplest way to do that (or so they say) is to prevent those babies from being born. 

Still the long-term result is the same: the population doesn't grow. The economy doesn't grow. Babies still starve.

It's true that every newborn baby imposes a burden on his family and on society. As the late, great Julian Simon demonstrated in The Ultimate Resource, those babies eventually become productive citizens. If you refuse to accept the burden of child-rearing in the short run, you can't enjoy the production of adult citizens in the long run. Sure, with a smaller population you need less food. But with a smaller population you also have a smaller workforce, a smaller market, a smaller chance of producing the dynamic growth that propels an economy out of poverty. The poor countries that have been accepting money and advice from Washington for the past 60 years are still poor. 

It's not true that American foreign policy is deliberately designed to keep the Third World in poverty. Still you could argue that continued poverty is an unintended consequence of the policies Washington has promoted. One can begin to understand why conspiracy theories about American intentions thrive in the Third World.

Again, this is not a partisan argument. Republican presidents have pursued the same policy, more or less as vigorously as Democrats. Nor is it exclusively an American problem; the UN and the European Union have been singing the same population-control song. In fact, for the past 60 years, the Vatican has been the one major institution on the international scene consistently preaching what should be an obvious economic truth: that you can't build a better future for humanity by refusing to welcome future humans. 


Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

Sound Off! supporters weigh in.

All comments are moderated. To lighten our editing burden, only current donors are allowed to Sound Off. If you are a donor, log in to see the comment form; otherwise please support our work, and Sound Off!

Show 1 Comments? (Hidden)Hide Comments
  • Posted by: TheJournalist64 - Nov. 16, 2010 9:55 PM ET USA

    About seventeen years ago I wrote an article for Culture Wars entitled "Contracepting Social Security." It's available here and there on the web, particularly at EWTN's site. Worth another read now that the chickens have come home to roost and SS is paying out more than it's taking in, five to ten years earlier than they expected. Demographics drives economics.