Saturday, January 11, 2014
The Immorality of Western Family Planning Programs in Africa
Some recent discussions with friends about the current explosion of family planning policies in Africa are leading me to present an interesting point of view about the morality of those policies mostly imposed by the Western world in Africa.
This point of view was published by my late father Fernand Bézy in 1975 under the title “Démographie et Sous-Dévelopment” (Demography and Under-Development). I remember my father telling me that this book was so controversial that no publisher agreed (or was authorized) to publish it. The main reason for this is probably that his thesis was going against the interest of rich countries (particularly the USA) that were sponsoring the family planning policies. He demonstrated that the reasons used to justify these policies were erroneous and actually that the main reasons was that “ the working classes in Anglo-Saxon countries became aware of their privileged position on the planet: the American worker knows that his purchasing power is much higher than that of an Asian or even a European; there is much more to lose than to gain from a general sharing with the world”.
So my father decided to use his own money to publish it, but obviously, it did not reach as many people as he wanted. In addition, it was written in French. I have translated that study in English and you can find it in my father’s website as REF8 in the bibliography web page.
This blog posting is an edited summary of that study. I did not reproduce the references but they can be found in the original document. Also remember that it was published almost 40 years ago, so some numbers like China’s population are not current anymore.
Here it is:
In the early seventies, some preachers of the Apocalypse, as evidenced by the titles of their works: “The Hungry Future” (R. Dumont and B. Rose), “Geopolitics of Hunger” (J. de Castro), “Famine” (Paddock brothers), “The Population Bomb” (R. Ehrlich) have led to the emergence of a neo-Malthusian strategy across the planet. It can be briefly expressed as follows: excessive population growth is the main obstacle to the development of the third world; therefore birth control must be the essential element of any development strategy.
And the fascination with such a notion is even stronger because the cost of a birth control program is negligible compared to the costs required by alternate development policies. In the words of Lyndon Johnson, former president of the United States marking the twentieth anniversary of the UN (June 25, 1965), "An investment of less than five dollars in population control is equivalent to an investment of one hundred dollars in economic growth”.
Speaking at the Second Asian Conference on Population, the American William H. Draper, adviser to the UN Fund for Population Activities (UNFPA) has estimated at one dollar per capita the operational costs of birth control services: "In total, therefore it will cost about three billion dollars per year for Asia, Africa and Latin America. This is only one eighth of the amount spent annually to purchase arms, and only 0.1% of global domestic product”. And to conclude, in a beautiful euphoric burst of enthusiasm: “Just three billion dollars to convince three billion people that the two-child family is the right size for their well-being and happiness!”
But are family planning programs really designed for the well-being and happiness of African population? Or are they rather designed to benefit the developed countries?
If the answer is the second one, it is long overdue for one to wonder if the politics of birth control can be morally tolerated.
The problem of overpopulation belongs primarily to economic science, as it is true that what is at stake is the allocation of scarce resources to alternative use among users whose number and capacity for consumption are ever increasing.
The first theory goes back to Malthus, who fully associated human multiplication and animal multiplication, failing to clearly separate sexual instinct from reproductive instinct. History has proven him wrong on this point, but his error is shared today by demographers arguing that if poor nations have as many children it is because they cannot help but to have them. In other words, they are not aware of methods of birth control or they could not afford to get instruments of birth control. Frankly, what are they thinking about men and women of the third world? That they are mentally handicapped?
First, let’s make a distinction between the instruments of birth control, coming from the pharmacy or the toolbox of the family planning propagandists, and the non-instrumental methods, such as withdrawal, periodic abstinence, late marriage, etc.
Until proven otherwise - but we need serious and credible evidence - we argue that the majority of third world people are deliberately prolific in their majority, (and the exceptions that can certainly be explained, prove the rule). Obviously, for certain categories of individuals, it is probably not with a light heart: the African girl is probably not excited by the prospect of eight births, in God knows what conditions and for how many pregnancies. And we understand that she confides to the investigator from family planning organizations who seek nothing else, her desire to have fewer children. But as undesired as they are, she wants these children, and the clan requires them: infertility is a disgrace.
Another interpretation —an interpretation that is just as disrespectful of the intelligence and observational powers of third world people — posits that the fertility of the present generation is a continuation of the mortality level of previous generations. It is nothing more natural than peoples’ desire to compensate for high mortality through a high birth rate: in India, to ensure the survival of at least one son when the father reaches the age of 65, a couple must have a minimum of five children; in several regions of West Africa, the figure is more than seven.
But if we take this very natural concern for the fundamental explanation of natalist ideology, we cannot fail to be puzzled by noting that birth rates remain around 4 or 5%, when those mortality rates gradually lowered at 3, 2 or even 1%. It would suit then to reconsider the explanation. Some provide it by invoking the idea of a delay between the drop in mortality and the collective realization that such a drop has occurred.
This interpretation once more implies that adults living in poor countries are mentally handicapped.
In our opinion, it is not through ignorance that poor people remain fertile despite reduced mortality; instead reduced mortality is rather seen as a good opportunity to increase their living family. This means that in their view, their family had not reached its optimal size in the previous situation.
Another explanation advanced to account for the natalist ideology is its prominent position in the moral code of many religions that have retained their power in the third world. This is both true and false; one should be careful to distinguish between proximate cause and remote cause.
There is no doubt that religions promote the fertility cult, which is used to form the basis of the socio-political structure of traditional societies. For example, what constitutes the essence of Bantu philosophy, is the vital force, related to the notion of being that is supposed to move from divinity to humanity through the channel of the tribes’ founders (the archipatriarchs); then the departed ancestors, now spiritualized and participating to some extent to the divine Force; then the living chief, the Elder, who distributes it to all that is living in the clan: it is he who strengthens the lives of men, animals, plants. This principle of continuing transmission of the being has two consequences: it is the seniority which determines the whole social structure and it is the fecundity— the most obvious expression of the vital force— which best ensures social promotion. It goes without saying that such a philosophy is encouraging prolificacy.
The economic structure of society is characterized inter alia by the variety and relative importance of the production factors it implements: what economists call its manufacturing coefficients or its production functions. In the underdeveloped world, the combinations of factors are intensive in unskilled labor; the use of capital is very low. In contrast, in industrialized countries, the functions of production are capital intensive and using skilled labor.
We argue that it is their economic structure which dictates natalist ideology to developing countries because the child is really not a burden but an advantage, more a necessity, and this both for a production and savings point of view. It is precisely because of the domination of unskilled labor in the production function that the child represents an early economic value, while in the developed world he acquires value only at the end of a long and expensive training. Indeed, even as low as it is, the child’s productivity is significant in relation to that quite low level of the adult worker who only produces enough to feed 1.5 to 2 people annually in the country side. So, in developing countries, the child brings up more than he costs.
Some will object: how is it possible to draw an argument from the contribution of child labor in economies that are distinguished by underemployment and disguised unemployment? This is because although important - but is it really important everywhere? -unemployment is only seasonal. In non-mechanized agriculture, the crop cycle includes periods of, sometimes short, but crucial intense activity in which any impairment of labor results in a collapse of production. The abundance of child labor is then vitally important.
So far, our argument’s relevance comes from the characteristics of production function in the countryside. For the record, it is because two-thirds of the third world active labor force is still employed in agriculture.
We know that in traditional societies, social structure is characterized by the predominance of the extended family, which includes all members of the same lineage, compelled to a series of several obligations, under the rule of an undisputed chieftain. On the contrary, in modern societies, the sociological unit is the nuclear family, which counts only the father, mother and immediate descendants. Not only is this unit independent of those that are related, but dependency within that unit is attenuated significantly after education and social security, as we know, took over support from young to old.
The requirements governing the operation of the clan provide parents with the personal enjoyment of the work of youngsters, which are in a way their pension scheme. Should these rules come to weaken, and it should not be surprising to see the natalist ideology being questioned. Here is what Alfred Sauvy believes: "The father does not want more children from the day they cost him or when he no longer has full authority over them". That is indeed what occurs, with varying intensity in the developing countrires’ cities when the bonds of extended family are weakening.
In modern societies, the child never contributes more than he costs. Better, he is expensive and brings nothing. To allow him to integrate into a technical economy, parents need to provide him with a lengthy and costly training. And once this training is acquired, no sociological imperative compels him to surrender the fruits of his work. Socially and economically, modern societies are the antithesis of traditional societies. Need we say more to account for a difference in procreative behavior, which is fundamental and not subject to the level of contraceptive information. The proof is that if the policy of birth control can take advantage of some success in developing countries, it is precisely in those few countries that actually entered into the path of development, which involves a transformation of their economic and social structures: this was the case yesterday in Japan, in Taiwan today. But in other countries, if our friend, William H. Draper is trying to persuade the poor that "two-child family is the right size for their well-being and happiness", he runs great risk of sounding insane and rightly so!
Certainly, with adequate pressure - and we are unfortunately on the way to doing just that - it is not impossible to convince the poor families to follow the views of the Malthusian apostles. The ability of advertising, injected at high doses, to shape the consumers’ behavior against their interests is not the least of the paradoxes of our consumer society.
It is here that the moral question shows its true cruelty. We will deal with it in the last part of this study.
We have defended the idea that children, as numerous as they are, for families in developing countries, are a real economic value and we have to condemn a Malthusian view that can only increase poverty if not preceded by a fundamental organic transformation of production methods.
The economic history of agrarian societies attests unequivocally that the earth has never been a limiting factor. Everywhere populations have developed or reduced under the influence of exogenous factors and a wide range of farming systems have emerged in response to the different pressures of men on the regions, and agricultural production has adapted to the population expansion.
Could the less dense countries show a faster growth, offsetting in the global development statistics a slower or even a growth decline in overpopulated countries? It is not. G. Ohlin, who certainly did not fail to carry out audits of this nature, concludes: "In the present circumstances, it is easy to show how it is absurd to claim that the population density alone is a determinant of economic prosperity. Whichever way you measure it, we find that the density is high or low in poor countries as in wealthy nations, while we can’t detect any systematic trend”.
So we will rely upon the per capita product, measuring instrument of well-being - or rather well have. Regression calculations, performed worldwide, clearly show that countries with the highest population growth rate present, on average, a faster increase in per capita product, as is the case today in Rwanda.
It is also one of the most widespread errors to attribute famine to overpopulation.
Developing countries and Africa in particular have been and still are subject to many famines, naturally attributed to overcrowding, with no more reason than for the pre-industrial Europe. In an underdeveloped society, famines come primarily from the technical inability to comply with the agricultural calendar or to address the irregularities of climate. And in that matter, tropical agriculture is unfortunately much more vulnerable than that in temperate regions. Colin Clark tells us that in Kenya, for example, sorghum has a yield of 1.7 tons per acre if planted before the rains, yield which reduces by 27% if one waits just four days after the early rains, and 50% at least for a delay of seven days. Maize, which produces between 1.5 and 2 tons per hectare depending on the season if planted before the rains, is losing 40% of its performance for a delay of six days.
When nothing is done to remedy the drawbacks of agriculture in areas with highly irregular climate, crop size can vary from 1 to 8 depending on the years: in Libya, the barley harvest was 22,000 tons in 1947, the year of drought, and 177,000 tons in 1949, the year of plenty.
There would be a remedy: the support of the regions suffering from shortages by those who enjoy plenty, but the developing countries are poorly integrated (particularly in Africa): the frequency of famine is also the result of a lack of transportation infrastructure and trading. It is well known that in late nineteenth century, parts of India have been depopulated by starvation, while others lived in abundance.
The obsession with physical limitations, which inspired the Malthusianism of a privileged class in England in the late eighteenth century, is at the origin of a neo-Malthusian, but this time on a global scale and from all privileged nations, including the United States. This is the view of Alfred Sauvy: "The sense of international solidarity, the Malthusian paternalistic concerns, occurred also on a broader level: the fear of global overpopulation. As soon as the commercial if not political dominance of the West was not as absolute, and as soon as various forms of assistance, somewhat comparable to the "Law of the poor" emerged, the fear of the excessive number would preoccupy minds. And it was logical that it developed especially in the richest country, that is to say the United States. The fear of having to feed needy people, and even stronger the fear of having to one day open a place for immigration in their vast barely exploited territories, had to awaken this Malthusian
"On the other side, the working classes in Anglo-Saxon countries became aware of their privileged position on the planet: the American worker knows that his purchasing power is much higher than that of an Asian or even a European; there is much more to lose than to gain from a general sharing with the world ... ".
In a strong article, Peter Pradervand cites several statements by U.S. officials, immediately revealing the concerns of their countries about the third world. Here, as an example, that of ex-President Johnson, who at least had the merit of frankness: "There are 3 billion people around the world and we are only 200 million. We are
outnumbered 15 to 1. If the force was the law, they would sweep the United States and take what we have. We have what they want ".
And don’t believe that the Malthusian ideology is the monopoly of politicians from the rich world or official aid agencies, such as AID. It clearly contaminates the specialized agencies of the United Nations, such as FAO, UNESCO, WHO, the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, etc. It is found in scientific institutions financed by major American foundations, such as the Population Council which does not just "study the problems posed by growing world population, in terms of material and cultural resources…stimulate and support research ... ". It helps governments, they send special units to deal with issues of information and education related to family planning, it participated in the production and distribution of contraceptives, both through government programs and through commercial channels. That a body funded mainly by the Ford and Rockefeller Foundations, outside the scope of scientific research became the producer and distributor of contraceptives is very surprising.
Since population policies are so dependent on ideologies, it is necessary to carefully scrutinize the validity of the criteria that inspire them.
Should we use the axiology? If the problem of relations between people and natural resources belongs to economics, can we rely on economists? After all is this not simply a matter of optimization? Far from it. A pure product of Western civilization, economic science does not challenge its specific aims. There is no universal economic science: the one whose authorship is attributed to Adam Smith is based on data presented as based on human nature, while they are purely contingent and related to industrial societies’ culture. That is the case for example of the assumption of the homo economicus: the individual is assumed to be determined by his greatest material interest. That such a philosophy of life characterizes the West is all too true. But we cannot say the same of Bantu, Muslim, Hindu civilizations.
In every society, the different structures (religious, social, economic) are more or less integrated, of course, but on different planes: they are hierarchical. And culture is nothing other than the identification of that hierarchy in the social mentality: it is a value system that imposes standards of behavior. And from one civilization to another, we observe fundamental differences in the order of importance of the structures which are the very expression of their specificity. In modern societies, it is the techno-economic structure that is predominant; in traditional societies like in Africa, it is the religious structure, or the social and prestige structure.
Therefore the economic optimum is not the maximum possible use of production factors, but their use that best fit for the operation of each society in its specificity. This means that the rationality of intentional economic behavior of members of a given society is always aligned with the basic unintentional rationality of the hierarchical system of structures that characterizes that society. Therefore there is no rationality by itself, nor is there a final form, a model of economic rationality (M. Godelier).
Nothing is less objective than the notion of well-being: each civilization has its own. In the West, growth in production has often been regarded, at least implicitly, as the growth of welfare or even happiness, so much so that recently it seemed to be the necessary and sufficient condition for human progress in all social systems. The West has been claiming to impose this design on the universe: to colonize was to bring back the world's diversity to unity of which two or three Western countries were then the models and the recipients (J . Berque). And everywhere there was an elite that swayed towards the West, which seemed the ideal model of all civilization and real culture (A. Memmi).
But even here in the West, the dogma of economic growth is questioned. We begin to become aware, even if we are still confused, of the harm of growth and its fatal results: destruction of nature, abuse of the concentration of economic power, frustration due to growing inequalities, etc... Then a council of wise people advocated zero growth, under penalty of apocalyptic disasters, and the American economist JK Galbraith reassures us: "Fear not, St. Peter will not ask you how you have contributed to the growth of national output!”. Finally some calming words! This is the end of Eurocentrism: each culture has its own system of values and there is none that can boast of being superior. The comparisons are pretty useless, everyone being only able to appreciate each other's culture through its own, which removes any objectivity in the comparison. Suffice it to acknowledge that while economic growth will increase the control of man over his environment, and even increases its freedom, it is subject to a purpose that goes beyond economics and may vary from one society to another. Few economists have bothered to rise to this level of thinking. One is of them is LH
Dupriez, penetrating analyst of the secular expansion of industrial society: "After reflection, the purpose of economic action cannot be ended in the realization of the human condition most conducive to secular economic expansion. For if this were so, the expansion would be the very purpose of the entire production process and maintenance of human qualities would be appreciated only in terms of the resulting
efficiency. . . The human qualities required for the secular expansion turn out to be necessary conditions, but they present the subjective problem in a way which may not present any real purpose.
This purpose can only be found by going beyond the political economy, which cannot lose its specificity of being a resource science. As such, it cannot comment on whether the increase in goods and services actually benefits men, it cannot, let alone claim to measure the intensity of progress in the human condition. It must stop at the point where it finds that man becomes more powerful at mastering of nature. Except for things related to conditions of survival, it must yield to other disciplines to judge whether the use made of this control of nature is subjectively good”.
"Beyond the economic argument it falls to the field of philosophy and even beyond it, to the religious conceptions of human destiny. The first will tell us, with the help of subject disciplines, to what extent the orientation of economic expansion and forms of economic progress are conducive to the development of human faculties and improving the human condition, on the natural plane. The second reminds us of the insufficiency of such an objective and the need to report the economic achievements, like all other forms of action to the achievement of purposes higher than human destiny ".
So, as long as the conditions of survival are assured - which would require sacrificing everything for it - the basic choices are not economic. Should we prefer the domestic product growth to other objectives? And if there is growth, should it be more or less rapid, in relation to other purposes? It is the responsibility of the ethics of each society to decide. And there is no a priori reason to advocate for a single ruling solution at the global level.
Consider first the agricultural land, which is very unevenly distributed. China, India and Japan, which grouped 40% of world population and have rapidly growing economies, have only 10% of the land; on an equal area, Canada, Australia and New Zealand have 1% of world population, with derisory growth rates. For an area of the same order of magnitude, Brazil and China have respectively 100 and nearly 800 million inhabitants; Argentina and India 25 and 570 million. Two times more populous than New Zealand, Australia, and Canada combined, Bangladesh has only 1 / 125th of their area. And those Commonwealth countries are practicing, as we know, a very restrictive policy of immigration of people of color. How can we get these people to recognize the merits of the restricting births policy that we want them to practice?
With regard to industry, it is estimated that 6% of the world population consume more than 40% of raw material resources. Based on the current U.S. standard of living, we are told, the world could maintain up to 600 million people. And if we wanted to ensure for the third world the same standard of American life in 1967, we would need to extract more than 50 billion tons of iron, 1 billion tons of copper, 100 million tons of tin, etc. However, for iron, copper and tin, known reserves amounted to 98 billion tons, 280 million and 6.6 million. We are far from sharing the pessimism of these forecasts, based on fragile estimates, and deliberately ignoring the substitution possibilities and especially the effect – totally unpredictable – of technical progress. These data are presented here merely to emphasize the inequality of the current consumption of raw materials.
There is also a synthetic expression of this inequality: the income gap per capita. Assuming, as a rough approximation, that consumption of resources is proportional to income1, we must admit that an American consumes as much as 43 Indians or 80 people living in poor countries of Central Africa (Upper Volta, Rwanda, Burundi). Therefore, the 205 million Americans have the luxury of a consumption equivalent to 9 billion Indians or 16 billion Rwandans.
In these circumstances, they have some nerve to preach continence to poor people!
It requires a certain audacity to advocate zero growth. The model of the Club of Rome is in fact serving the interests of the rich: stopping growth means maintaining an established order. In the short term, only the rich have a vested interest in maintaining an environment and reserves that they are alone to enjoy. Ultimately, what is at stake is not so much the problems raised by the growth as it is the additional product composition and the distribution of the fruits of progress.
Finally what can be criticized is the allocation of scientific and technical resources of the world. About half is devoted to military purposes, or for pure prestige, against less than 2% for urgent problems arising from agriculture, ecology and the industrialization of developing countries. How would these countries not conceive bitterness thinking of that relative ridiculous cost, and the almost miraculous effects of the green revolution? The solution of its problems is in easy reach for the rich world. How not to suspect the good faith of those who advocate the Malthusian formula as an alternative?
If poverty is widespread in the developing world and their economic growth is poor, it is not proved so far that the fault lies to extreme densities or excessive survival rates. Instead, the highest rates of population growth are often combined with a rapid increase of domestic products. In terms of individual producer, as long as modes of production are basically using labor, the large family is economically profitable. Unless all this is reversed, Malthusianism must be held as fatal. That poverty must be eradicated, nothing is more desirable; that the prevention of births has the power of doing it, nothing is less clear.
It is beyond our purpose to judge the moral attitude of couples towards contraception. What is at issue in this study is the legitimacy of government decisions and international agencies to organize and promote contraception especially among people who do not practice it deliberately and clearly show no desire to receive assistance in that matter.
The family planning policy is multifaceted and includes the following methods, listed in order of increasing constraints:
—Removal of benefits granted to large families;
—Lifting of the ban on selling contraceptives;
—Legalization of abortion;
—Free distribution of contraceptives or reimbursement by Social
—Organization of advertising campaigns;
—Benefits (monetary or others) to couples who agree to limit their offspring, or to be sterilized;
—Penalizing families at the birth of Xth child;
—Automatic enforcement of sterilization.
All this is more or less happening, including the most extreme measures. Dr. Cecile Goldet, deputy secretary general of the medical college of "Family Planning", assures us that in some countries, they automatically insert an IUD into all women who come to the hospital to give birth to their second, third or fourth child without asking for their consent. And the constraints are used at all levels: in a press conference that raised a lot of resentment in the third world, Mr. McNamara, president of the World Bank, even said that he would refuse economic assistance to countries that have no program of birth control. Peter Pradervand, describing the remarks, in fact, commented: "Apart from the fact that this statement shows a worrisome misunderstanding of the problem by a person occupying a position of such importance, that is exactly the opposite of what he should have said: we will provide assistance in the field of population policies only to countries that pursue an aggressive development policy".
Alas, the Malthusian ideology is becoming wicked. This is the opinion of the late Joshua Castro, who has devoted his life to fighting hunger: "In the century of science and technology, the neo-Malthusian policies sound more like a magic trick from the barbarian times than a scientific prescription. It does not appear that there is a big difference between the attitude of some primitive peoples of Polynesia, who ascribe volcanic eruptions to evil spirits of nature and seek to appease their wrath by sacrificing animals that are thrown into the craters of volcanoes and the pseudo-scientific attitude of those who attribute hunger to the wickedness of nature and who order the sacrifice of lives in the form of genocide, mass abortions, birth control to appease it… And there is no doubt that the attitude of the latter proves far more
barbaric and far more dangerous".
Finally, it all depends on the value one places on human lives—even if they are miserable. One can indulge in laxity if we agree with Jacques Sternberg, author of the Dictionary of contempt: "When a car speeds through the night, one finds hundreds of insects stuck to the radiator killed by the speed and the headlights beam. The human life at the global scale has exactly the same importance. Neither more nor less". But of these insects, if we consider that they think and have a soul, we will be compelled to join - and this time in a spiritual sense - the views of Jean Bodin, a philosopher of the sixteenth century: THE ONLY WEALTH IS MEN.