Written by members of the World Youth Alliance, Trinidad and Tobago Chapter
More than 40 years after the theory of ‘overpopulation’ was first placed on the global health agenda, does the Catholic Church realise its place in the direction of demographic interpretations?
We ask this question as Catholic members of the World Youth Alliance. The World Youth Alliance, an NGO with no faith affiliation, was formed to counteract the undervaluing of human life implicit in population control directives, and to re-educate people on the profound logic of investing in human life and not against it. Our own chapter in Trinidad and Tobago recently established, we have been empowering each other to re-think the meaning of human dignity for the sake of sovereignty and sustainability, and write about it. If you are a young adult thirsty for truth and national transformation, we encourage you to stand with us.
Thomas Malthus was the primary advocate of the theory of overpopulation—the need to reduce global population sizes, especially in the less developed world, in order to sustain the earth’s pool of material resources.
Despite the attractiveness of his argument, its persistence in schools of demographic theory and its re-emergence in sensationalised accounts such as The Population Bomb (Paul Ehrlich 1989), all its theoretical pillars have failed in proof and none of its forecasts manifested.
In fact, the histories of many Asian nations have defied these predictions by unprecedented levels of economic growth in the midst of population densities far beyond their predicted ‘carrying capacity’.
Hong Kong, for instance, was predicted in the 1950s to collapse under the weight of its population due to a high birth rate and an influx of refugees. However, the country experienced its greatest economic boom that placed it among the ‘Eight Tigers’ of the East, despite being among the most densely populated places on Earth.
William McGurn, in unpacking the Hong Kong conundrum, drew the three true factors of development that cannot be separated from the uniqueness of human life—enterprise, creativity and risk.
The Earth’s materials are not economically fixed, per se, but become resources only when touched by human ingenuity; we are the greatest factors of development.
When individuals are treated as assets rather than liabilities, their innate capacities invested in, the world is transformed in ways that no reductive science can predict. The example of Hong Kong shows that human beings are adaptable, and that a growing population does not promise a future of poverty. It shows us that investing in people and not against them through an increase in government transparency, an emphasis on education, and a strengthening of the economy through innovation and business growth are truly effective ways to exit poverty.
Ultimately, the most important factor of economic growth in any society is maximising the potential of the human person.
For us Catholics, McGurn’s argument was brought into new relief when he extended it into Catholic social teaching. The Catholic Church has long maintained its objection to abortion and the use of contraceptives, which is no surprise for its doctrine is rooted in the value of nurturing and protecting the gift of human life. Yet, McGurn suggested that even the Church herself has not adequately come to terms with the relevance of these teachings to global health, often taking an ambiguous approach to the overpopulation thesis despite remaining pro-life.
Only the vindication of an anti-overpopulation approach can bring such relevance to the fore, in the absence of which the Church’s stances on fertility risk appearing contradictory to development.
In other words, if large populations automatically weaken economies, then limiting children through abortion or contraceptives appears responsible.
Like the Church, the World Youth Alliance recognises the value of the human person from conception to natural death. However, population control simply sees life as a burden; using McGurn’s imagery, a pig’s birth in China is given more value than a human child’s.
In the end, solving poverty means investing in people, not the poor having fewer children.
It is the responsibility of the Catholic Church in Trinidad and Tobago and worldwide to promote a positive view on the gift of life and human potential, allowing our nation’s greatest asset, our people, to flourish.